Monday, November 30, 2009

So farewell then one o eight

I discovered today that my favourite lunchtime haunt in Leicester has closed. It was firmly locked and there were legal reposession orders pasted up in the window.

It was nice while it lasted. I shall miss the seat in the corner by the radiator.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Liberal Democrat economic policy


Despite being much in demand to speak at fringe meetings, I was able to snatch a few minutes with Vince ‘High Voltage’ Cable at Bournemouth to discuss the party’s economic policies for the next election.

“It’s very simple,” he told me. “We are proposing savage spending cuts to please the voters in Southern seats where the Tories are challenging us and my new mansion tax to please voters in the North where we are trying to win seats from Labour.”

“That’s all very well,” I returned almost immediately, “but what happens if the voters in the South hear about the mansion tax and the ones in the North hear about the savage spending cuts?”

He went rather quiet after that.

Earlier this week

Own Goal of the Day

Well done, Piotr Skiba of Farsley Celtic.

Britblog Roundup 250

This week with Charles Crawford.

My Tweetcloud

Thanks to Colby Palmer.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Seekers: Georgy Girl

A film trivia question: Who is the only Carry On regular to have been nominated for an Oscar?

While you are considering that, enjoy this performance from the Seekers' farewell concert in July 1968. I remember seeing the show on television at the time.

Because the Seekers were huge in those days, having two number ones in 1965. I suppose they sound pretty tame now but, especially when you consider that she is singing live here, Judith Durham has a great voice.

And the answer to the question? It is Jim Dale, who wrote the lyrics to this. It was the theme from the 1966 Lynn Redgrave film and was nominated for the Oscar for the best song from a film that year. The music was by Tom Springfield, the brother of Dusty.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: A new gun dog


A busy day on the old demesne supervising Meadowcroft as he sweeps up the fallen leaves and training my younger gun dogs. One puppy catches my eye in particular. While I cannot fault it for keenness, it is given to jumping up and pawing one and, when the guns go off, to barking wildly and rushing off in all directions.

I have decided to call it Clegg.

Earlier this week

Richmond Park: Lib Dem Hold

News of the day is that Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative for Richmond Park, has admitted that he claims non-domicile tax status.

How this will go down with the hard-pressed taxpayers of Richmond we can, I think, all imagine. More damaging still may be the light that will be shed upon Goldsmith environmental credentials.

It is not so much that the Sunday Times report reveals his great wealth:
Goldsmith’s 300-acre ecological farm in Devon and a house in Richmond are both owned by companies based in the Cayman Islands. The farm was bought in 2001 and the house in Richmond was bought in 2007 for £7.75m. A house in Fulham, west London, was bought in 2004 and is owned by an investment company based in Liverpool.
though some will ask how this extraordinary personal wealth can be squared with Goldsmith's talk in an Evening Standard article from September of "insatiable consumption". I presume what he meant was other people are consuming too much. I am not sure there is a logical contradiction here, but it suggests Goldsmith lacks a sense of the ridiculous.

No, what will really damage Goldsmith is that this story will bring his local credentials into question.

Go to the What the papers are saying... page of Goldsmith's website and you will find quotation like this:
For Goldsmith, it (Richmond Park Constituency) is eminently winnable – not least because he’s local - Evening Standard.
Zac's passion for the natural world is rooted in local soil - The Richmond Magazine.

Zac Goldsmith is helping to turn the Tories green. He is also one of Richmond’s proudest sons - The Richmond Magazine.

This matters. It happens that I cut my political teeth in Richmond in the 1980s and I think I understand the constituency. People who live in urban villages like Kew adopt green and community causes in part because it is a way of showing that they have arrived and no longer live in a faceless suburb where the only thing to do is moan about the level of council tax.

The Tories realise this, which is why they were clever in adopting a liberal candidate in Jeremy Hanley at the 1983 election. He managed to hold on to the old Richmond and Barnes seat for them by just 74 votes. (Even so, a more energetic Liberal candidate than Alan Watson would have won it that year.)

Zac Goldsmith must have looked like a super-Hanley to Richmond Tories when he was adopted, but he does not look that way tonight. Look how "a spokesman for Goldsmith" attempts to defend him in the Sunday Times:

“Zac Goldsmith, along with other members of his family, some of whom live in different parts of the world, is a discretionary beneficiary of a trust ... The trust owns a number of properties around the world,” the spokesman said.

“The UK element of the trust’s portfolio includes homes which are made available for Zac and his family. These homes are not owned by Zac and are trust assets."

Doesn't look so local now, does he?

Note, too, that though the Tories urge home ownership on everyone, even to those who can scarcely afford it, Goldsmith at the age of 34 does not own his own house. Isn't that rather demeaning?

As well as being dismayed at his avoidance of tax and disappointed at his tarnished local credentials, the people of Richmond may decide that they do not want to be represented by an economic adolescent.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Carnival of the Liberals 99

Welcome to this month's selection of the best in Liberal blogging - or the best in North American Liberal blogging, to be precise. As this carnival's occasional token British host, every now and then I get an unrivalled opportunity to catch up with what is happening on the other side of the Atlantic.

The rules have changed since the last time I did this. These days I have to choose the best 10 posts from those nominated and then list all the rest that have been nominated this month (apart from those from the lady who sent in 15 different posts from her own blog).

The Top 10
Let's begin with My Political Side, where Susan Gaissert writes: "We need a new myth. The cowboy is a man of the past."

I had a cowboy suit and a gun that fired caps when I was a little boy in the 1960s. And I came to appreciate Westerns later in life when I realised that they are the American version of the Classical myths: wild country, strange weather, hostile forces.

But I think Susan is right when she says:
The cowboy myth, with its “bring it on” swagger, is outdated. Even the pioneers didn’t stay pioneers. They formed towns and cities and states and a country that must keep advancing in the way it treats people. Therefore, little boys must grow up and stop playing “cowboys and Indians.”
But then my favourite Westerns tell you just this. Little Joey has to stay and grow up to be a farmer rather than ride off with Shane. In Once Upon a Time in the West the men kill one another with their silly games. It is Claudia Cardinale who endures and builds the town. As the camera pulls back you are suddenly aware of all the Black and Chinese faces among the labourers. She has built America.

I don't know where this new myth is to come from - it is the people that chooses their myths not governments that impose them - and here in Britain the lack of a frontier or wilderness - real or metaphorical - is at the root of our malaise. But I am sure Susan is right.

Almost as American as the Western, we European liberals tend to think, is the death penalty.

Joint Stock Company has a thoughtful post on State governors' approaches to clemency appeals:
Sometimes it seems like Gov. Perry isn’t concerned with doing justice, and would rather not be bothered by the details. It takes a special kind of hubris to be so sure based on such little evidence. The Dallas Morning News calls it a “political blunder“, but isn’t the bigger point that we should consider this an ethical blunder a breach of the governor’s public duty to seek justice?
Another form of American (and other) government-sponsored killing is that taking place in the Middle East. The End Times Hoax looks at the effect of this back home, concentrating on the case of Major Nidal Malik Hasan.

It is not the main point of the post, but I was struck by this observation:
In other mass casualty shootings across America one of the common denominators conveniently overlooked is the use of psychotropic drugs by those doing the shooting. The media has generally ignored the more pervasive and dangerous legal prescription drug pandemic going on in the public school system.
(((Billy))) the Atheist looks at the continuing Conservative reaction to Obama's victory in the last Presidential election. Maybe I am misreading him and he is being ironic all the way through, but I sense he shares my disappointment with modern Conservatives. Where are the Conservative virtues like respect for authority, love of tradition and high moral standards? They just aren't very Conservative these days.

Still we mustn't be too hard on them. The Primate Diaries points us to research showing that:
determined was that Republican men showed significant reductions in testosterone after they learned that their candidate had lost the election.
Marriage is a concern of the next two posts. At Sex and Relationships, Mandy van Deven looks at the work of Lauren Rosewarne, who asks if sleeping with a married man is sexist. Rosewarne concludes that it is, but feminist flesh may be as weak as any other.

Meanwhile, Michelle Ball at The Gaytheists pledges:
I’ll continue to fight for marriage equality for same-sex couples, to hit the pavement and talk until people’s ears bleed, because without it, my [straight] marriage isn’t equal.
On to health reform. At Disillusioned Words, Jeffrey Slingerstein sets out his ambitions:
In a country that has more wealth than any nation in the history of Civilization, it is abominable that some Americans must go without. We can achieve change. We can have a system that works. We can have the highest life expectancy in the world. The question is whether or not we have the will.
Jacob Johnson at Common Sense Caucus would sympathise. He believes that Democratic campaigning on the subject has not been ruthless enough so far, but that there is still time to put things right.

Finally in the Top 10, Correr Es Mi Destino writes on the travails of being an atheist in North America:
Religion isn’t part of private life: it’s everywhere. It bothered me for a while that public buses in Ottawa have religious-supported anti-abortion ads. Abortion is legal in Canada and although it can be your choice not to go that way if you ever find yourself facing this issue, let others make up their mind.
I don’t like when people come to my door and try to convert me. I’m busy and you are invading my private space, no matter how nice you are.

The Other Nominations ("You're All Winners")

Let's see if we can sort these into categories.

Humour (You say "Humor" I say "Humour")
Mad Kane's Political Madness submitted five limericks:

Sexual politics

Andrew Heath on The Ugly Side of Workplace Discrimination against Gays and Lesbians.

The Primate Diaries says The Gay Animal Kingdom Should Now Be Required Reading.

Disillusioned Words sees The Bigots Win in Maine. give their WTF of the Week: Et tu Maine?

Culture (aka I can't think of any more categories)

The Evolving Mind offers Quick Hits: Nurturing Pro-Social Behavior

Martial Development looks at When the Powerful Copy the Weak: Eric Hoffer’s American Prophecy

The Primate Diaries tells us to Remember, Remember the Fifth of November. Eric Johnson might be reassured to know that in the town where I live (Market Harborough, since you ask) the best firework display on 5 November is the one held by the Roman Catholic primary school.

Greg Laden's Blog cries Let the War on Christmas Begin. Atheist Style.

The Richmonder searches for The invisible campaign of Creigh Deeds.

Joint Stock Company is Rethinking aid: Getting the Basics Right.

Winter Harvest is Reviewing the Insanity Plea.

Rough Fractals says Let Us Now Praise Famous Men - Mike and Son...

U.S. Common Sense has the pithiest title of all - Nigel Coleman: Idiot

I had not heard of Mr Coleman before, but I feel I know him now.

Next Time

The next Carnival of the Liberals will be posted on 26 December at And Doctor Biobrain's Response Is... All nominations via the Carnival home page please.


British Pathe film of Peter Scott's lighthouse near Sutton Bridge

Back in the summer I visited Peter Scott's old home in the East lighthouse at the mouth of the River Nene near Sutton Bridge in Lincolnshire.

Click on the photograph above and you will go to newsreel footage of Scott, his home and the wildfowl he conserved there.

Cartoon: A Good Deed

Cartoon by Marian Kamensky.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Rutland's computer industry


It is true what they say: Britain lacks enterprise these days. Perhaps you saw my recent appearance in the ‘Dragons’ Den’? I offered the assembled moguls the chance of investing in a distinctly promising chimney-sweeping business (the labour costs were extremely low); not only did I not get a bean, but they threatened to call the police!

If I had taken such an attitude back in the 1980s, Rutland would not today be at the forefront of the personal computer industry. Looking back on those days, the machines we sold seem terribly primitive. The first of them was large enough to hold a man standing upright – indeed, it did hide a man standing upright (the Professor of Hard Sums from the University of Rutland at Belvoir) when we won the inaugural British chess computer championships – but we believed in our ideas, and the result is the 'silicon shire’ we see today.

Wiltshire, incidentally, is known as the ‘silicone shire’ because it leads the breast-enhancement industry. Each to his own.

Earlier this week

Friday, November 27, 2009

Pictures of Edinburgh

House Points: Search Hansard from 1803

My column in today's Liberal Democrat News is largely a cut-and-paste job from this blog. I have added some hyperlinks here that do not appear in the printed version.

Gems from Hansard

House Points is nothing if not loyal. Nick Clegg called for the Queen’s Speech to be abandoned, so we are ignoring this week’s proceedings and looking at political history instead.

A valuable new resource has appeared on the net. Thanks to a company called Millbank Systems (as with all the sites mentioned here, it is easy to find them with Google), you can search Hansard right back to 1803.

Already a couple of bloggers have made good use of this facility. Croydonian has been running regular 50 Years Ago and 100 Years Ago features. And Mark Pack has been entertaining readers with some of the quirkier questions and debates.

On Liberal England I have used the search facility to find snippets of local history.

Here is John Baldock, then the Tory MP for Harborough, speaking in December 1953:
On Saturday I went to see a train leave Market Harborough Station. It was larger than the customary trains which have been leaving on that line for a considerable time, and it was headed by a very ancient Midland engine. On the platform were a very large number of people to see this train, the last ordinary passenger train on this line to leave Market Harborough for Melton Mowbray. … Many who witnessed the departure … were wearing mourning clothes with black ribands and armlets.
Back in April 1889 Henry Labouchère, the radical Liberal MP for Northampton, made a more political point with this question:
I beg to ask the Postmaster General whether he is aware that a printed placard, announcing that a Primrose and Conservative demonstration will take place at Husbands Bosworth on 8th August, at which there will be addresses from two Conservative Members of this House, dancing, a dinner, a donkey race, and other similar amusements, is exhibited in a prominent position in the post office at Market Harborough; and whether he will issue orders forbidding such placards to be exhibited in post offices in future, and will see that this particular placard is forthwith taken down?
The Postmaster General said he would do just that.

Small beer if you are not from Market Harborough, perhaps. But there are gems from your own patch waiting to be found in Hansard too.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The Queen's lorry-driving career


An early start finds me enjoying breakfast at a transport café on the Great North Road. They do the finest bacon sandwich in Rutland here, and the tea is strong enough to go 15 rounds with Marciano. I spot a familiar face in the corner: we exchange smiles, but I do not compromise her privacy by speaking to her.

My readers will recall that the Queen – for it is she – was a driver with the ATS during the War; what is less well known is that she has kept her hand in ever since. Indeed, she is never happier than when at the wheel of a pantechnicon, finding it a blessed relief from the pressures of reigning.

Many are the motorists on the high roads of our nation who have been surprised by a shout of “Get on with it, Granddad! One could get a tank through that gap,” followed by a distinctive wave from a hunched figure in a headscarf.

I watch her fondly as she drains her tea and heads for Selby and the A19.

Earlier this week

Monday: Trapped inside Phil Drabble
Tuesday: The Liberal Democrat Attack Unit

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Jackie Ballard's new job

Jackie Ballard is one of the candidates to join the board of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, set up after the expenses scandal. Her name was among those announced by John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, on Tuesday. She will have to be approved by MPs.

As the BBC website reminds us, Jackie:
was Liberal Democrat MP for Taunton from 1997 to 2001 and has served as director general of the RSPCA. She is currently chief executive of the Royal National Institute for the Deaf.

Golden Wonder offices may come back to life

Good news in this week's Harborough Mail. Edinburgh House, where I worked when it was the head office of Golden Wonder, may come back to life.

The building has been empty since the company went into administration in January 2006. Now a local developer is proposing to convert it for retail and restaurant use.

David Cameron and Michael Gove: Two faces of Conservatism

David Cameron's early success as Conservative leader was built upon the emphasis he put upon the more appealing aspects of Toryism, such as conservation and localism. To a large extent he is a traditional aristocratic Tory, seeking power to ensure that those who are doing well out of the current system (notably D. Cameron) maintain their position.

This kind of Conservative seeks power in part to prevent anyone else winning it. Similarly, you sense that stopping Labour was the chief reason for Boris Johnson's standing as Mayor of London. It was not so much that he had great ambitions of his own for the post.

But there is a different kind of Conservatism these days. It is far more explicitly ideological and has its roots largely in North America. Many of its concerns, such as a strong support of Israel, are rather alien to traditional Toryism.

A good example of this sort of Conservative is Michael Gove. And it was Gove who clearly inspired David Cameron's attack on the government over Islamist influence in schools at prime minister's questions.

That attack came over badly - and not just because Gove's office does not appear to have done its research properly. Cameron needs to decide whether he wants to appeal to the liberal-minded voters who have deserted his party since 1992 or to Conservative activists and bloggers, among whom the Goveite wing of Conservatism is well represented.

Team of the Week

It's the "specialist fish rescue team" on hand as Foxton Locks are drained for maintenance.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The Liberal Democrat Attack Unit

A second day with the doyen of Liberal Democrat parliamentarians.


To Cowley Street for the first meeting of the ‘Liberal Democrat Attack Unit’ put together by Clegg to direct our fire upon the Tories.

I happen to be the last to arrive and find an encouragingly ugly crew already present when I enter the room. In the chair is Chris ‘Hard Man’ Huhne, and around the table I recognise Knuckles Oakeshott, Norman ‘Bite Yer Legs’ Baker and Norman Lamb, who made a good living as a masked wrestler (‘The Sheringham Strangler’) before he entered Parliament.

Having given my apologies, I waste no further time in handing out orchard doughties to all present and advising them to give their opponent one up the snoot when he is not expecting it. Huhne urges us to think up some new ways of attacking George Osborne, concentrating in particular upon his lack of experience. After some discussion, my plan of catching him in the dorm while Matron is having her nap, cramming him into a laundry basket and pushing it down the stairs is agreed by acclamation.

Earlier this week

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

J. W. Logan: Pioneer of pigeon racing

The Up North Combine reveals another side to one of my political heroes:
Although a man of many interests John W. Logan was destined to become the pioneer of distance pigeon racing in England.

Last orders at the Pump and Tap

Today's Leicester Mercury reports on the last night of business at the Pump and Tap yesterday.

The pub is being demolished, along with the Bowstring Bridge, to make way for a new swimming pool for De Montfort University.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Trapped inside Phil Drabble

It is high time we spent another week with Rutland's most popular fictional peer. Liberator 336 has long been with subscribers.

As it is Wednesday we shall start with...


Autumn has come to Rutland and the season of agricultural shows has drawn to a close for another year. While I always enjoy the opportunity to display my Longhorns, for me the highlight of these events is the sheepdog trials. It is, I hasten to add, many years since any dog was executed: these days they take place merely for entertainment.

I fear, however, that the wider public has a wholly unrealistic picture of what a dog can accomplish because of the activities of Phil Drabble. ‘One Man and his Dog’, his moving television programme, enjoyed great popularity in the 1980s until it became embroiled in a notorious scandal. You see, the sheep on his show were not sheep at all, but out-of-work actors in woollen costumes. While this provided welcome employment to former cast members of ‘Triangle’ and ‘Howards’ Way’, the public felt cheated when the practice was revealed and the programme was taken off the air under something of a cloud.

Drabble, incidentally, later decided he was ‘a woman trapped in a man’s body’ (which must, in all fairness, be Terribly Uncomfortable), had the operation and now enjoys some success as a novelist under the name Margaret.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tony Greaves and anger management

The leader of the Labour group on Pendle District Council suggests that Tony Greaves should sign up for an anger management course.

Typical New Labour therapism.

What Tony displays is righteous indignation. We could do with more of it.

Baroness Ashton

Last week she was unknown in Britain.

Today she is unknown all over Europe.

Brian Eno and Nick Clegg

Does anyone know how Brian Eno - "stalwart member of 'The Roxy Music' and heir to the fruit salts fortune" according to Lord Bonkers - is getting on as Nick Clegg's adviser on youth affairs? We have not heard a great deal about this role since his appointment was announced.

Some wondered at the time whether Eno was to old for the role. However, he is a full three days younger than Steve Winwood, who would obviously have been this blog's choice.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Memorial plaque for airmen who died on the Stiperstones

Today's Shropshire Star reports the unveiling of a memorial to five airmen who died when their Whitley bomber crashed in Mytton Dingle during World War II.

Back from Edinburgh

I have never been wholly convinced that heavier-than-air flight is possible, so it is good to be home again.

Alison Uttley shows how to deal with child readers

Yesterday, at a specialist children's bookshop on Edinburgh's Royal Mile, I picked up a book of pieces by Alison Uttley. They dealt with her childhood home of Cromford in Derbyshire.

It put me in mind of an item I read in the Guardian in the summer, having performed the not inconsiderable feat of finding a twee, hippyish coffee shop in Desborough.

That item dealt with Alison Uttley's behaviour at a children's bookfair. Gwyn Headley, then a literary publicist, wrote:

I'd arranged for everyone attending the fair to be invited to come and meet Alison Uttley. At half-hourly intervals the PA system hollered out "ALISON UTTLEY! LITTLE GREY RABBIT AUTHOR! HERE AT 12!"

Teachers were whipping their charges into a state of frenzy. I just wanted to sell some books. We'd placed Uttley on a curtained dais, and on the dot of 12 the curtain rose. A howling crowd of excited children stormed the stage.

As Uttley hadn't bothered to listen to a word I'd told her, she was completely unprepared for this. Dimly, she perceived an overwhelming mob running at her and with British pluck she unhesitatingly grabbed her duck-handled umbrella and waded into the attack,

Alison Uttley died in 1976. They don't make 'em like that any more.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Britblog Roundup 249

With Trixy at Is There More to Life than Shoes?

Jonathan Glancey on the Bowstring Bridge

Although I am in Edinburgh, the support of the excellent Jonathan Glancey for my current favourite Leicestershire lost cause has not escaped me:
The fight is on — perhaps too late — to save what the city council hasn’t managed to demolish of the Bowstring Bridge at the junction of Leicester’s Western Boulevard and Braunston (sic) Gate. You would have to be deeply thick to even think of wrecking this special stretch of late Victorian engineering.
Or a member of Leicester's ruling Labour group.

Shop Name of the Day

Runrig: Skye

Writing, as I am, in an Edinburgh hotel bedroom, this seems an appropriate choice.

Runrig began as an almost wilfully obscure band. Its roots were in Skye and the Outer Hebrides and many of its early songs were sung in Gaelic. I have their third LP -"Recovery" - from 1981 (Market Harborough Woolworth's bargain rack in used to broaden my tastes nicely), and much of it is concerned with the history of the crofters.

They later became more commercial, with anthems like this one and "Loch Lomond" (still with a Gaelic interlude) becoming particularly popular.

Runrig are a political band, not only in the concerns of their songs, but also in their personnel. The keyboard player here is Pete Wishart, now an SNP MP at Westminster. And Runrig's long-term vocalist Donnie Munro left the band to fight the Ross, Skye and Inverness West seat in the first elections for the Scottish Parliament, but was defeated by the Liberal Democrats' legendary John Farquhar Munro.

In the years since Munro left them Runrig have veered more to the middle of the road. World music, when crossed with soft rock, all tends to sound the same, whatever part of the world it comes from. There is a tape they play in Thai restaurants that sounds oddly like late Runrig.

I saw Runrig play life at Portree Town Hall (which in truth is more like a village hall) with a fellow blogger 10 years ago. It was a good night and the sense of a band coming home was palpable.

Being carried sideways through the night: The Caledonian Sleeper

I don't like this, being carried sideways
Through the night. I feel wrong and helpless - like
A timber broadside in a fast stream.
I remember David Steel choosing the Norman MacCaig poem "Sleeping Compartment" when he took part in Radio 4's With Great Pleasure some years ago. And it conveys well the oddness of travelling by sleeper train.

There is the magic of going to bed in London and waking up somewhere near Edinburgh. There is the personal service of being asked if you would like tea or coffee the next morning. And there is the old-fashioned strictness of being woken so that you are up and dressed and off the train as soon as it arrives.

But it is a very odd experience too. Being carried sideways through the night means that you feel every ounce of braking and acceleration in a way that you never do when seated normally. (One of these days I will lie full length on the table while commuting between Market Harborough and Leicester to see if I can produce the same effect.)

Sometimes with the rocking and lurching you feel that you are on board a ship rather than a train. Sometimes, as you feel every bolt in the train straining, it is like being on board a jet as it comes in to land. All this is compounded by the anonymity of election traction: you never hear the locomotive straining as you would with a diesel.

The consensus among the Scottish politicos is that you don't get a full night's sleep travelling this way, so you don't want to do it too often. But I am glad I have had the experience and it certainly beat trying to fight my way through Friday's rush hour to get to Luton Airport and EasyJet.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Vince Cable interviewed in Total Politics

Iain Dale: So you don't do what Ming Campbell used to do every morning when he was shaving and think: "God, I wish I'd stood against Charles Kennedy?"

Vince Cable: No, absolutely not, I genuinely don't. I quite enjoyed the 'acting leader' period, and did quite well, but I've got a very full role.

Read the whole thing in Total Politics.

Headline of the Day

From BBC News:

Cocaine-snorting rabbi "lonely"

Scottish Lib Dems HQ, Clifton Terrace, Edinburgh

I am at the first Lib Dem Bloggers Unconference, which is being held at the Scottish party's office in Edinburgh.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Steve Winwood, Ronald Reagan and Jacques Derrida

How can I resist this essay on The Rumpus?

It is a meditation on "Higher Love" - which is not one of my favourite Winwood songs either - and takes in Reagan, Derrida and Levi-Strauss:
I would volunteer the hypothesis that no matter how abject the pop confection is, there is often a moment of the sublime hovering in there somewhere ... and that Steve Winwood, with his rather thrilling past, his past of greater accomplishment, was calling forth this possibility of music, that it can fuse us to some more interesting set of forces and meanings, something more comprehensive than just what’s happening on the surface. A dreadful song, therefore, with a useful philosophical nugget concealed deeply within.
The comments are worth reading too.

Incidentally, I have never heard Winwood live but I did hear Derrida.

The shorter Iain Dale

Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells.

House Points: Pork Pie Poujadist or Stilton Stasi

I am posting this from the first class lounge at Euston. I shall fulfill a long-held ambition and catch a sleeper train later this evening, waking up in Edinburgh for the first Lib Dem Bloggers Unconference.

Meanwhile, here is this week's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News.

The Queen's Speech

They’ve gone again. Only four weeks after the end of the summer recess, the Commons had a break before this week’s State Opening. Some observers seethed about MPs’ long holidays; cynical old hands reasoned that at least it limits the damage they could do.

But the real problem is that, however long they spend at Westminster, there is little MPs can do to hold the government to account. And few with only a few months left until the election, there is little the government can do either.

Which is why Nick Clegg was right to call for the inevitably electioneering Queen’s Speech to be abandoned (David Cameron forecast it would be “shameless”, which conjoured up an unwelcome vision of Frank Gallagher on the throne) and the remaining time to be devoted to some reform of the Commons itself.

If you doubt that reform is needed, listen to the Labour MP Kevin Barron speaking in a health debate in Westminster Hall last week:
Members of Parliament are sent to the House because our constituents want a representative of the state. That is the whole point of the exercise and why we are sent to Westminster, whether we are in government or opposition ... We are the state's representative in our constituencies.
You could say that he was just being a socialist, but MPs of all parties have to be careful not to fall into this trap. They must always remember that they are not at Westminster to speak for the government or their party: they are there to represent the electors who sent them there.

Which is why I have some sympathy for the Norfolk Tories – the very term “Turnip Taliban” is redolent of metropolitan contempt for the provinces – who felt Liz Truss had been wished upon them by Conservative Central Office and that they had been told less than the full truth about her.

Imagine their chagrin when they discovered she had conducted an affair with a married Tory MP and –worse – was a former Liberal Democrat who used to write rude articles about the Royal Family.

And if that identifies me as the East Midlands equivalent of the Turnip Taliban – a Pork Pie Poujadist or a member of the Stilton Stasi – then so be it.

Market Harborough autumn

Thursday, November 19, 2009

David Curry, Chairman of the Parliamentary Standards and Privileges Committee, resigns

From the Daily Telegraph this evening:
David Curry, the MP who heads the committee responsible for policing Commons expenses, has claimed almost £30,000 for a second home that his wife has banned him from staying in.
Mr Curry has resigned his chairmanship of the Parliamentary Standards and Privileges Committee and told the Telegraph that he will refer himself to the Parliamentary Commissioner.
The newspaper goes on to allege:

The Conservative MP is accused of having an affair with a headmistress in his Yorkshire constituency and using a taxpayer-funded cottage to meet his lover.

A Telegraph investigation has learned that four years ago, after discovering the affair, Mr Curry’s French wife Anne demanded that he does not stay at the Yorkshire property as a condition of the couple’s reconciliation.

However, the former Conservative minister has continued claiming thousands of pounds a year for the house – which he could expect to sell for a substantial profit after leaving Parliament.

Irfan Ahmed implodes

Many readers will remember Irfan Ahmed, the enfant terrible of Liberal Democrat blogging. He removed his blog from the LibDemBlogs aggregator a few months ago and little has been heard of him since.

But it seems that his idiosyncratic views have landed him in trouble and that he has closed his blog down as a result. Full details on Political Scrapbook and in the Burnley Citizen.

I hope we will see an older, wiser Irfan return to blogging one day.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Statues at St Pancras

I was down at St Pancras today for a business lunch - there is a phrase you would not have written a few years ago - and noticed that Paul Day has now added a frieze to the base of his giant statue The Meeting.

It does not make me warm to the statue, but it the frieze itself is a striking piece of work. I did not have my camera with me today, but Londonist has posted a video of it.

The photograph above, which I took on an earlier visit, shows Martin Jennings' charming statue of John Betjeman.

Labour MP denies he is dead

From The Journal:

A North East MP has insisted reports of his death are an exaggeration after rumours swept his constituency that he had died.

Whispers grew across Blyth Valley from Sunday night that Labour MP Ronnie Campbell had had a fatal heart attack.

But he would say that, wouldn't he?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Lib Dem Bloggers Unconference: A reminder

Don't forget the get together for Lib Dem bloggers in Edinburgh on Saturday.

The details are on Lib Dem Voice and a number of Leading Scottish Liberal Democrats have promised to look in.

I hope to see you there.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Britblog Roundup 248

With Clairwil.

Liz Truss and my sneaking sympathy for the Turnip Taliban

News has just come through that Liz Truss's selection has been confirmed this evening by a substantial majority. But I find myself with a sneaking sympathy for the Turnip Taliban in South-West Norfolk, if only because the very name is redolent of metropolitan contempt for the provinces.

What appears to have happened is that Liz Truss was presented to the local party as a model Cameroon candidate. Only after she had been selected did the locals learn that she had a) conducted a widely publicised affair with a married Conservative b) is a former Liberal Democrat activist who used to write articles attacking the Royal Family.

I imagine that b) was more damning than a), but it is quite possible not to approve of adultery without being a prude.

Yes, it is easy to laugh at South-West Norfolk Tories - I myself RT'd a tweet saying something like "Don't they have the Google in Norfolk?" - but imagine it it was you. Wouldn't you feel a little used by Central Office?

We Liberal Democrats are vocal about our local candidates for local people, and localism was one of the more attractive aspects of Mark 1 Cameronism. So I don't feel too guilty about my sneaking sympathy for the Turnip Taliban.

Edward Woodward and 1990

I was sorry to hear of the death of Edward Woodward.

There is an obituary on the BBC website, but it does not mention his series 1990.

Child migrants to Australia

As this story is in the news again because of the Australian government's apology, it is time for a quick plug for the column by Professor Strange that I posted here in June.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Chris Farlowe: Out of Time

Like Friday on My Mind, this is a song I have always known but would have been hard pressed to tell you who sang it until I looked it up.

Chris Farlowe, one of the great underrated voices of British blues and soul, topped the singles chart with this Rolling Stones song in 1966.
Farlowe has his own website and is still performing. A work colleague saw him and Alan Price in a concert a few weeks ago.

Road Sign of the Week

I suspect the one across the road used to have this explanation too.

Bishop Hill wins Quote of the Day

Well done, Your Grace:
The mindset of most of the writers at Liberal Conspiracy is not that of the liberal. It is that of the conservative. These are people who hate diversity, who despise people who don't think like they do. They are Tories of the left.
Judge for yourself.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Corridor: Mortimer Also on Jackanory

A bit of cricket-related children's TV nostalgia from me over at The Corridor.

Later. Note the comment by Tim Rice's brother.

Does Eric Avebury own a big cat?

The latest issue of Fortean Times carries the news that an American tourist saw "a largish, dark creature moving slowly up the mound" of Silbury Hill back in July. The magazine also has pictures showing "the usual ambiguous black blob against the famous prehistoric hill".

As we revealed a couple of years ago, Silbury Hill - a man-made earthwork - belongs to the Liberal Democrat peer Eric Avebury.

This is a good opportunity to send our best wishes to Eric Avebury, who is recovering after breaking his hip last month. He has recently posted X-rays of his injury on his blog - this is the sort of transparency we should encourage in our politicians.

J. W. Logan in Punch

A bit of Googling reveals that my hero J. W. "Paddy" Logan, former Liberal MP for Harborough, was mentioned in a poem in Punch in 1891.

The poem is prefaced by a quotation from Logan, who had just gained the seat from the Tories in a by-election:
"Believing firmly in the absolute justice of woman's claim to the 'Parliamentary' franchise, I shall at all times support that claim."
The poem is long and facetious to modern tastes, but its ending is worth recording here:
And now there comes another name
To raise for Shes the party slogan.
Well, trust, dears--if you like--to LOGAN;
He "will support you _at all times_!"
Keep your eye on him! SHAKSPEARE's rhymes
Tell you "Men were deceivers ever."
M.P.'s wise, foolish, crass, and clever,
Are--nominally--on your side,
And--privately--your cause deride.
Take the straight tip, my dears--I glean it
From private talk--_they don't half mean it!
Logan had two spells as Liberal MP for Harborough. One of the people who held the seat for the party in between them was Rudolph Lehmann. Lehmann was a regular contributor of poetry to Punch, but I have no reason to suspect that he was responsible for this.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The furries and Monty Python

There is an article in the Magazine section of the BBC News website today that looks at the furry scene.

It explains:
No standard definition exists but generally furries are people who have a fascination with anthropomorphic animals. These are animals that are given human traits, like walking and talking. They can be anything from cartoons characters like Bugs Bunny to computer game personalities like Pokemon.

The scene has its own art, animation, comic books and literature, but activities are largely conducted online - where furries adopt "fursonas" for role playing.

But for some it is about meeting other furries in person. Groups around the world meet regularly and there are conventions in the US, UK, Germany, Mexico, France, Russia and Brazil.
There's more:

But, inevitably perhaps, there's a sexual element too. In a recent court case in the UK, two men who met on a furry website, and shared sexual role-playing fantasies, were convicted of plotting to kill one of the pair's adoptive parents.

Christopher Monks, from Lancashire, and Shaun Skarnes, from Cheshire, were found guilty of meticulously preparing the killings via the internet. They are currently awaiting sentence.

Furries will not thank the pair for casting their hobby in a negative light, and tend to argue the sexual side is hugely overplayed.

The BBC takes it all terribly seriously - and look out for "Species Identity Disorder" in the comments - but I was reminded of a Christmas early in the 1970s. I was given a Monty Python LP and it contained the sketch "The Mouse Problem":

Linkman Yes. The Mouse Problem. This week 'The World Around Us' looks at the growing social phenomenon of Mice and Men. What makes a man want to be a mouse.

Interviewer, Harold Voice, sitting facing a confessor. The confessor is badly lit and is turned away from camera.

Man (very slowly and painfully) Well it's not a question of wanting to be a mouse... it just sort of happens to you. All of a sudden you realize... that's what you want to be.

Interviewer And when did you first notice these... shall we say... tendencies?

Man Well... I was about seventeen and some mates and me went to a party, and, er... we had quite a lot to drink... and then some of the fellows there ... started handing ... cheese around ... and well just out of curiosity I tried a bit ... and well that was that.

Interviewer And what else did these fellows do?

Man Well some of them started dressing up as mice a bit ... and then when they'd got the costumes on they started ... squeaking.

Interviewer Yes. And was that all?

Man That was all.

Interviewer And what was your reaction to this?

Man Well I was shocked. But, er... gradually I came to feel that I was more at ease ... with other mice.

Watch the rest for yourself...

David Dimbleby and Question Time: Shock new poll findings

An opinion poll asked who should chair Question Time if David Dimbleby were to be injured by a bullock again.

The results were as follows:
  • John Humphrys - 17%
  • Jeremy Paxman - 14%
  • Jonathan Dimbleby - 6%
  • The bullock - 63%

Shropshire rheas: The nightmare continues

It seems I spoke too soon.

From the Shropshire Star:

Two giant birds, which were part of a flock of rheas that ran amok in the Shropshire countryside, are still on the loose.

Their owner, farmer Tom Evans, is calling for anyone who might have seen the 6ft birds to contact him so he can capture them and return them to their rightful home.

The other birds have already been returned.

Mr Evans, of Wheatcommon Lane, Ashford Carbonell, near Ludlow, made the appeal after the birds escaped and attacked a member of the public.

House Points: After the Berlin Wall

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

Civil wall

In Berlin Angela Merkel watched Mikhail Gorbachev and Lech Walesa stroll over the ruins of the Wall. Back in London our government chose a different way to mark the 20th anniversary of one of the most joyful events in European history.

It overturned Lords amendments so it will be able to hold inquests in private. It confirmed plans to compile a database, open to 653 different public bodies, of every phone call, text message, email and website visit made by British citizens in the past year. And Ed Miliband came to the Commons with plans to remove local democratic control from many planning decisions.

The end of the Cold War and the way the British people have accepted the erosion of their liberties ever since are connected. While the Soviet Union existed we – that is, the greater part of British society (leaving aside a large wedge of Labour activists) – had a clear model of the sort of society we must never come to resemble. Now that awful warning has gone.

But Monday’s events also reflect the way mere survival is now our highest aim. Liberty and the pursuit of happiness are nowhere in British politics these days. So national security is the justification the government gives for both secret inquests and its elephantine new database.

The welcome the green movement has given to Miliband’s plans to allow central government to impose anything from a nuclear power station to a wind farm on local communities shows it too been succumbed to this emphasis on survival. Forget enjoying the natural world: the environment is all around us and it is out to get us.

We needed light relief on Monday and Philip Hollobone was there. He is not quite David Tredinnick, but it was Hollobone who broke into the heated Commons question time on the death of Baby Peter last year (“On another subject...”) to urge Ed Balls to encourage children to take up the ocarina.

His contribution this time: “Rugby has Twickenham, football has Wembley, and now volleyball has Kettering. Would the Minister like to congratulate the English Volleyball Association on choosing Kettering for its national training and competition centre?”

Think of Mr Hollobone as the sort of harmless eccentric we fought the Cold War to defend.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Blogsitting: A new business idea

For the past few weeks I have been contributing the occasional post to The Corridor. This is because its owner is struggling to find the time to blog at the moment, but wants to keep it running. So he has asked a few other cricket fans to help out.

I was talking about this with someone at my writing club this evening, and we hit upon the idea of blogsitting.

It would work like this. If you were going on holiday, busy with your day job or needed a break from blogging then I would offer you the following service. For a fee I would contribute regular posts to your blog reflecting your political views and in your usual style.

Tories, Labourites, Lib Dems, Welsh Nationalists, nihilists. Philosophers, humourists, swear bloggers. Blogsitting can handle them all.

Last hope gone for Leicester's Bowstring Bridge

From this evening's Leicester Mercury:
A last-ditch effort to save Leicester's historic Bowstring Bridge from demolition has failed.

Campaigners' final hopes of preventing the destruction of the bridge in the West End were dashed yesterday when their latest appeal to have the Victorian landmark listed was turned down.

The application was rejected by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, which upheld an earlier decision by English Heritage.

It was ruled that the bridge was not of sufficient architectural or historical interest.
I don't blame them: I blame Leicester City Council.

David Dimbleby's bullocks

Thanks to today's news I am reminded again of Carry On... Up the Khyber:
Brother Belcher: I've never ridden in a cart pulled by cows before.
Captain Keene: Bullocks, Mr Belcher!
Brother Belcher: No, I haven't, honestly.

The shorter Seumas Milne

All them cornfields and ballet in the evening.

Collision (2009) and Train of Events (1949)

Collision, ITV's drama this week, reminds me of the 1949 Ealing film Chain of Events.

As Wikipedia says:

The film opens with a long shot of a Liverpool-bound train waiting to depart from Euston station. The train leaves with various characters on board.

After dark, the train is still travelling north at speed when a light being waved by the trackside is seen by the driver. Alerted to possible trouble he applies the emergency brakes, but a road tanker stalled across a level crossing is looming up just ahead. Plainly, there is not enough room to stop. Just as the collision is about to occur there is a fade out, which is succeeded by a general view of the railway locomotive sheds at Euston, three days prior to the accident.

Several personal stories are then told in a series of flashbacks which make up the train of events referred to in the title.

I didn't think the crash was that well staged in Collision, but I have to admit that it is better than the special effects in Train of Events.

Still, the train is driven by Jack Warner. And I remember that in an early scene someone makes his way across London and passes a neon sign advertising Nicholson's gin. That is Nicholson as in Emma Nicholson - she comes from the distilling family.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Quiz cancelled

Sorry folks.

The prize quiz I promised you a few days ago isn't going to take place. The PR company were originally keen on the idea but later discovered that they were not able to send me any DVDs after all.

Liberal Youth bootcamp: Exclusive photo

When Lord Bonkers heard that Liberal Youth was holding a bootcamp for its members he was enthusiastic. "We won't build a society in which none shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity without a bit of discipline," he told this blog.

More by Elaine Bagshaw on Lib Dem Voice.

The dangers of giving victims a role in sentencing

Those who support giving the victims of crime influence over sentencing think the practice will bring airy-fairy judges into contact with the real world and result in harsher penalties. But it does not always work like that.

Today a youth of 16 was convicted of raping a five-year-old boy. The offence took place eight days after he had been given a three-year community order for an earlier rape of a seven-year-old.

The Guardian says:

When sentencing the teenager for the first rape, the other judge is believed to have taken into consideration the views of the victim's family, who forgave him because of their Christian beliefs.

But the three-year community order prompted an appeal by the Crown Prosecution Service and the police.

This scandal reveals the reasons why it is wrong to involve victims in sentencing.

It is wrong because it brings a random element into the process. The sentence given for the same offence will vary depending upon who the victim happens to be. That must be incompatible with justice.

More fundamentally, it is wrong because it is not the victim's place to decide on the sentence. That sentence is not a piece of vengeance that can be set aside if the victim happens to be particularly forgiving (or foolish or gullible). The sentence is passed on behalf of the whole community.

In today's case the parents of the first little boy had no right to speak for the rest of us.

The Day of the Triffids

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Putting up the Christmas decorations

Market Harborough, 8 November.

More for Fred Titmus fans

I have just posted something on the great man over at The Corridor.

The content will be familiar to regular readers of this blog.

Protester comes down from Bowstring Bridge

Today's Leicester Mercury reports:

A woman braved freezing temperatures and spent 12 hours chained to Leicester’s Bowstring Bridge in an effort to save it from demolition.

The protester, who identified herself as a mother and grandmother called Karen, was escorted from the bridge by police at 6pm.

Members of the public who had gathered at the site, in Duns Lane in Leicester’s West End, cheered her as she was led away.

The Mercury story goes on to say:

Leicester Civic Society last month asked the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to review English Heritage’s refusal to list the bridge.

Stuart Bailey, of the civic society, accused the council of “arrogance” for allowing demolition to continue while the Government was considering the case.

Headline of the Day

A rare success for the Daily Express:


Lucy Evelyn Cheesman: Gumley Hall to New Guinea

One last fruit of my summer obsession with Gumley is the discovery of Lucy Evelyn Cheeman.

Her entry in Ray Desmond's Dictionary of British and Irish Botanists and Horticulturists: Including Plant Collectors, Flower Painter and Garden Designer reads:

CHEESMAN, Lucy Evelyn (1881–1969)
b. Westwell, Kent 1881 d. 15 April 1969

FRES. Governess with Murray-Smith family, Gumley Hall, Leics. Botanised in Leics. Entomologist. Made a number of insect collecting expeditions on which she also collected plants. Pacific, 1924–25; New Hebrides, 1929–31; 1954–55; Papua, 1933–34; New Guinea, 1936, 1938–39; New Caledonia, 1949–50.

Things Worth While 1957.

Fl. Malesiana v.1, 1950, 106. Times 17 April 1969. Who was Who, 1961–1970 199. Entomol. Mon. Mag. 1969, 217–19 portr. A.L. Primavesi and P.A.Evans Fl. Leics. 1988, 78. M.Tinling Women into the Unknown 1989, 85–91.

Plants at BM(NH), Kew. British herb. not traced

There is more about her on Wikipedia, which says that she published many books (including Camping Adventures on Cannibal Islands) and had several reptiles and amphibians named after her.

Definitely a lady to investigate. I am sure that if Lord Bonkers every employed a governess she would be just like Lucy Cheesman.

Monday, November 09, 2009

The TaxPayers' Alliance jumps the duck

The TaxPayers' Alliance has had a lot of success in getting media coverage, even though it clearly has no right to speak for taxpayers - in other words the entire population of Britain.

Especially when its own director has admitted that he does not pay British taxes because he lives in France.

Perhaps that gives us a clue as to why the Taxpayers' Alliance has so misunderstood the British people today.

The Alliance has been widely quoted as criticising the fire service in Gloucestershire for rescuing a duck that was trapped in a water pipe. According to the Independent a spokeswoman for the Alliance said:
"Whilst no one likes to see a duck suffering, animal rescue is not the central job of the fire service. In this case there were no emergency calls pending, but calls can crop up at the last minute which could be much more pressing than the rescue of a duck."
They are obviously very bright over at the TaxPayers' Alliance. Because they are absolutely right. Animal rescue is not the central job of the fire service.

(If you are not as bright of them and are in doubt as to the central job of the fire service, there is a clue in its name.)

Amazingly, though, the same thought had occurred to the Gloucestershire Fire Service. The Independent report quotes Chris Barton from Stroud Fire Station as saying that if there had been an emergency the crew would have broken off from the duck rescue and returned later.

Isn't it remarkable how sensible some people can be, even if they are not clever enough to work for right-wing think tanks?

The trouble is, people who work for right-wing think tanks tend to be the sort of people who can imagine nothing better than an evening at home sniffing their money. Dead ducks mean nothing to them.

Give me the British people's sentimentality about animals instead.

Liberal England beats Guido Fawkes to story by five months

Yesterday lunchtime Guido Fawkes posted about Adrian Hicks, the Liberal Democrat councillor who saw an alien in Winchester High Street.

I pointed you to a video of Cllr Hicks discussing this encounter on 17 October and first wrote about it as long ago as 3 June.

Liberal England: First with the stories that matter

Woman chains herself to Leicester's Bowstring Bridge

The Leicester Mercury reports:

A protester chained herself to Leicester's Bowstring Bridge this morning in a last ditch effort to save it from demolition.

The woman, who called herself Karen, breached the razor wired security cordon around the Duns Lane bridge, in Leicester's West End, at 6am.

She said she had wrapped herself in chains and attached herself to a girder on the bridge, which about 40ft above the road.

Speaking down from her position, she said she had taken the extreme step because she believed demolition was about to begin today.

And the BBC News Leicestershire pages have a video of her.