Sunday, February 28, 2010

End of the Month Lolcat

Welcome to the birth of a new tradition. I have been posting these on bank holidays, but we just don't have enough of them.

So I present the first End of the Month Lolcat...

Funny Pictures of Cats With Captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

The Purple Gang: Granny Takes a Trip

An article in the Guardian from 1992 tells the story of this single:
Granny Takes a Trip was recorded at Sound Techniques, a converted slaughterhouse in Chelsea, the day after Boyd had produced Arnold Layne, the first single by a young group from Cambridge called Pink Floyd, in the same studio. Beard remembers: "Syd Barrett [the Floyd's enigmatic leader] was there when we were recording. He loved Granny and said we would be No 2 in the charts when they went to No 1. He even offered us a song of his, Boon Tune, for the follow-up."
Unfortunately, it is not to be:
"We we were getting well known - we were booked to appear on Top of the Pops and Juke Box Jury," says Beard. "We had an LP coming out and we thought we were on our way. Then Transatlantic got a letter from the BBC accusing us of 'attempting to corrupt the nation's youth'. Someone had noticed the word trip in the title and decided it was about acid. We were banned and all the big things planned were dropped overnight." The BBC also accused Peter Walker of being a "self-confessed witch" - to be fair, his stage nickname was Lucifer - and said the group "would not be tolerated by any decent society".
Because of this history, "Granny Takes a Trip" was thought by many to be a long-lost psychedelic classic. But as Left and to the Back says, this reputation is hardly deserved:
Sonically it's also about as psychedelic as Lonnie Donegan, and is really some rather pleasing, toe-tapping jugband riffery. If isolated from the scene it emerged from, one would be tempted to argue that it was actually - for it's time - a seven years out of date novelty track. Still, the notoriety lead to a steady, constant trickle in sales, and whilst it didn't make the charts, copies are hardly difficult to come by these days as a result.
It also appears on many sixties compilation discs, which is how I came across it.

And The Purple Gang are still around. They have a website and here they are performing Cream's "The White Room" a couple of years ago.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Kingdom Hall, Market Harborough

This morning I was passing the Jehovah's Witnesses' hall in Market Harborough. There was the notice of a planning application on the gate and a lot of people around.

I asked one of them and, sure enough, it is being demolished in a few days so that they can build a better church in its place.

Later on I came back to try some more shots in case the light was better. This time I was invited inside to see some photos that were taken when the Hall was put up in the late 1960s.

It is hardly a thing of beauty, but it has been there for as long as I have known the town. And it did outlive the railway to Rugby that once ran behind it and the cattle market that used to face it across the road.

Too few people know about Richard Jefferies

So said a feature in the Swindon Advertiser a couple of weeks ago. Its writer had approached "about 30 random strangers" in the town's Regent Street and found that only four had heard of him.


The Richard Jefferies Museum, based at his old house, has been open since the early 1960s, having been acquired from a private owner in the 1920s by the old Swindon Corporation under the visionary eye of councillor and mayor Reuben George.

... the visitor to the Jefferies Museum can know for certain that they are standing where the author stood, gazing from the windows he gazed from and looking into the gardens that inspired some of the most beautiful prose in the language.

This photograph shows the top floor of the house at Coate, which is where Jefferies wrote as a young man. I took it when I visited the museum last summer.

The lifesize figure on the bed, reading intently with his heels kicked up, was rather sweet. But one thing puzzled me.

"Did Victorian boys wear short trousers?" I asked the guide from the Richard Jefferies Society.

"Well, you see," he said, "there was an exhibition in town last year about Swindon in the Second World War...."

Cartoon: Afghanistan and Downing Street

Howard's cartoon from last week's Liberal Democrat News.

Six of the Best 15

  1. Prof. Paul Reynolds excoriates (hem, hem) Tory plans to introduce street cameras with number plate recognition software to North West Leicestershire.

  2. Invaluable work from the Environmental Justice Foundation and Anti-Slavery International in exposing child labour in Uzbekistan is highlighted by Craig Murray.

  3. Skipper argues that Alistair Darling has proved himself the real star of Brown's original cabinet.

  4. On the Guardian Books Blog Alison Flood celebrates the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen - and Alan Garner's work in general. But why no mention of Elidor?

  5. Unmitigated England explains why the Wheel & Compass in Weston by Welland has an ungainly third storey. It's a 19th century dormitory for railway navvies.

  6. The lucky people of Seattle can look forward to a season of British film noir. Scarecrow Video has the programme and some Youtube clips.

Nick Clegg interviewed by The Cambridge Tab

Friday, February 26, 2010

House Points: Rebuilding the Commons

Today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News.

Tricky business

Forget Gordon Brown and bullying. Forget even Ashley and Cheryl Cole. The big debate of the week took place in the Commons on Monday. It concerned, as Hansard puts it, the “Report from the House of Commons Reform Committee on Rebuilding the House”.

That committee has come up with a number of proposals for reform. Some, like sitting in September, look merely cosmetic. Others, like giving the public the power to initiate Westminster Hall debates, look to be worthwhile experiments.

And one, the establishment of a business committee to take away some of the government’s power to decide how much time is allocated to different bills and debates, is absolutely vital if MPs are to be able to oversee the executive properly.

Speaking in favour of these reforms were some of the most thoughtful figures in the Commons: Sir George Young, David Heath, Tony Wright, Frank Field. And Harriet Harman supported them too.

Not everyone was so enthusiastic. Hilary Armstrong, the former Labour chief whip, looked like one of Macbeth’s three friends after she had been told they were out of eye of newt. Hers was the voice of conservatism, but do not judge her too harshly for she was born to it. She inherited her North West Durham seat from her father Ernest, who was also a Labour whip.

There is no such excuse for her apprentice Natascha Engel, whose performance was simply embarrassing. She intervened on just about every other speaker in the debate, yet still ran out of time for her own contribution. And still you had no idea what she was on about.

It was clear Engel wanted to oppose the report. It was less clear that she had been able to think of any rational reason for doing so. So she protested that the Reform Committee had “never asked what was the point of Parliament, and what was the point of Members of Parliament”. And complained of being faced with “tiny, tinkering reforms” – without telling the House about the larger reforms which she favours.

The sad thing is that there were few MPs in the House on Monday, and they were largely the enthusiasts for reform. We shall see next week whether Engel’s confused rambling spoke for the majority.

A general election on 25 March?

Writing on First Post, The Mole offers three reasons why this rumour may be true:
  1. a new MORI poll published today puts the Tory lead over Labour at only five points;
  2. March 25 would mean no Darling Budget, avoiding further pre-election tension between the PM and chancellor;
  3. the bullying allegations against Brown have had little effect on the voters.
And 25 March is my birthday, though that may not be a major consideration for Labour strategists.

Six of the Best 14

  1. I rarely watch it myself, but I gather that last night the BBC's Question Time again had no Liberal Democrat on the panel. Andrew Reeves tells you how to complain.

  2. "Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay!/Alas! I am very sorry to say/That ninety lives have been taken away." Cllr Fraser Macpherson has the latest on moves for a memorial to the Tay Bridge Disaster of 1879.

  3. 1930 to 1960 brings news of the death of the children's writer David Severn at the age of 91.

  4. There is a joke somewhere in the fact that NHS Blog Doctor has a problem with moles.

  5. Rockingham Forest Cider has a helpful guide to pubs serving good cider in Leicester. Thanks for the picture of The Pub on New Walk.

  6. And Crying All the Way to the Chip Shop defends Phil Collins - well, his first solo album.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Lucy Mangan and the working class

Guess which newspaper talked about the British working class in these terms today:

Half turned up late or not at all ... Those that did eventually arrive were a woeful sight.

You looked in vain for a glimmer of shame or embarrassment in any of them, but came up emptyhanded.

The infuriating dozen, stunned by the prospect of physical labour, resentful of any advice, childish.

The Daily Telegraph perhaps?


The Daily Mail then?


It was Lucy Mangan in the Guardian.

I did not see the programme she was reviewing, and I suspect I might have agreed with her views if I had.

But it is a fact that she would not have described the British working class in these terms if she had been comparing it with the middle class.

But the Guardian has a hierarchy of desert every bit as much as the Daily Mail does. And in it the working class comes firmly below immigrants.

Character for Liberals

It's not often you can say this, but there is an interesting passage in Derborah Orr's column for the Guardian today:

In 2008, before the recession bit, there was much talk on the left about how to revive the concept of "good character", except that it had a new name: "pro-social behaviour". Avner Offer, professor of economic history at Oxford, suggested that consumer capitalism itself, by providing a constant source of novelty, undermined "self-control, both cognitive and social".

Matthew Taylor, Blair's former head of strategy, now head of the RSA, made the excellent point that "the reason we find the concept of character difficult is because of class conflict in British society. There was a sense that good character was handed down from a ­patrician class to the great unwashed."

I am sure Matthew Taylor is right. I am reminded of the comment by the former Tory minister George Walden, in his iconoclastic book on education We Should Know Better, that character is:
a quality, it appears, confined to the not very clever products of private schools, and inimitable elsewhere.
Yet I do not want to give up on character altogether. For it has connections with the sort of self-actualisation and individuality hymned in Mill's On Liberty. As I wrote in an article on that book a couple of years ago:

Writing in Prospect magazine last year, Richard Reeves put it well:

for Mill, liberty consists of much more than being left alone. It requires choice-making by the individual. "He who lets the world… choose his plan of life for him, has no need of any other faculty than the ape-like one of imitation," he writes. "He who chooses his plan for himself employs all his faculties." For Mill, a good life must be a chosen life.

Or as The Levellers said more recently: "There's only one way of life, and that's your own, your own, your own."

And, though Offner may well be right to see consumer capitalism as undermining self-control, we should not ignore the role of the state in the process too.

Because the modern Labour Party's periods in government have resulted in the dwindling in the rich tapestry of organisations through which the working class used to organise and educate themselves. These functions have been taken over by the state and Labour theorists have seen this process as an unproblematic sign of progress.

It may well be that this process has operated just as much under Conservative governments - Mrs Thatcher was a great centraliser - but it will not do to blame it all on consumer capitalism.

Ritz Cinema, Market Harborough

There is a posting about the disagreement between Odeon and Disney over the new Alice in Wonderland film on the blog that its arts editor Will Gompertz writes for the BBC. For reasons best known to the BBC, one of the illustrations with it shows the old Ritz Cinema in Market Harborough.

The Ritz closed in 1978, so the only films I saw there were Jaws and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. When I moved here in 1973, you could see the remains of what had been two other cinemas in the town.

Later the Ritz became a Kwiksave and that in turn closed some years ago. Since then the building has been derelict. There were rumours that Waitrose wanted to redevelop the site, but nothing came of it.

There is also a campaign to bring a cinema back to the town, which has its eyes on the site.

Meanwhile, this Ritz today looks something like this...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Colin Ward on the state

Writing on Crooked Timber, Maria cites a favorite quotation of Colin Ward. It comes from the German anarchist Gustav Landauer:
The State is not something which can be destroyed by a revolution, but is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of human behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently.

Derailment at East Langton

East Midlands Trains were back to normal this evening, right down to the unexplained last minute platform change.

From Saturday afternoon until this morning there were no trains through Market Harborough. Trains were diverted through Corby (giving that town an unexpected through service to Derby and Sheffield) and we had to use a replacement bus service to get to Leicester or Kettering.

And what caused all this trouble? The Leicester Mercury explains:

More than 1,200 railway sleepers were damaged when two wheels on an East Midlands Train travelling near East Langton buckled, puncturing the fuel tank.

Drivers on the nearby B6047 reported stones and rocks being thrown from the track on to the road as the damaged train passed on Saturday afternoon.

It is thought the axle underneath a central passenger carriage broke.

Six of the Best 13

  • Do you live in Minehead? Do you fancy snooping on your neighbours? You could be in luck, because the council and police are looking for volunteers to monitor the town's CCTV cameras. Big Brother Watch has the full story.

  • Nick Cohen asks if Gordon Brown will now dump Charlie Whelan (though I think you will find Whelan went to a council boarding school not a public school).

  • One of the more interesting constituency battles at the general election will be at Bethnal Green and Bow. Diamond Geezer lives there.

  • Earthpal is outraged at the detention of the children of asylum seekers.

  • Well done to Matthew Harris for taking up Cuba's appalling human rights record.

  • And Martin Brookes is clearly shaking up local politics in Oakham.
A very political selection this time. Please feel free to suggest posts on any subject for this feature.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Tudor Gate Hotel, Finedon

I was wandering around Finedon on Saturday taking photographs. I had reached what used to be the Tudor Gate Hotel.

A group of youths approached. "Do you know what is going to happen to it?" they asked. "No offence, but you look the sort of person who might be a historian."

I took that as a compliment. I think it is my flat cap.

Policing the public gaze: Police harrassment of photographers

The police campaign against amateur photographers is still in full swing. Yesterday's Guardian reported that:
Police questioned an amateur photographer under anti-terrorist legislation and later arrested him, claiming pictures he was taking in a Lancashire town were "suspicious" and constituted "antisocial behaviour".
This is despite promises last year from senior officers last year that the police would scale down their use of anti-terrorist legislation, such as Section 44 of the act, after a series of high-profile cases in which photographers said they had been harassed by police for taking innocuous images in the street.

As Random Blowe says of this case:
it seems apparent that the photographer was targeted for knowing his rights and choosing to exercise them. Having failed to get what they wanted under one piece of legislation, they simply picked another - as if the law is a armory of weapons against the public that can be dipped into whenever police officers want to get their own way.
If you are concerned about this issue you should watch the video of an interview with Pauline Hadaway on the WORLDbytes site. Hadaway is director of the photography gallery Belfast Exposed and author of Policing the Public Gaze, which was published by the Manifesto Club.

In the interview Joe Earle asks Pauline Hadaway to explain more. We learn how in the past subjects were not allowed to gaze upon the king and with the advent of cheap cameras many feared women and the lower orders snapping away. The muddled authoritarianism today she tells us, which restricts our right to look, is born of a more pernicious distrust and impedes our rights as citizens.

Monday, February 22, 2010

South Luffenham latest

Last week we revealed the exciting news that Hermann Göring may have received some of his education in the Rutland village of South Luffenham.

So how are your researches coming along?

Nothing more on Göring so far, but I can reveal that...


...Matt Monro was evacuated to South Luffenham during the war as a boy.

Frankly, I hoped for more than that.

Why it matters that David Cameron went to Eton

Does it matter that David Cameron went to Eton?

It does, but not for the reasons people often think. The fact that Labour's "anti-toff" campaign in the Crewe and Nantwich by-election a couple of year fell so very flat suggests that most voters are not terribly worried about their politician's social background.

This is despite that fact that being "posh" was, until a year or two ago, just about the worst sin imaginable in British society. In as far as "posh" was used as a synonym for "educated" this was a pernicious development.

It represented a foolish attempt to keep Labour's working-class roots, despite that fact that many of the people using this style of arguing were pretty posh themselves.

Besides, I am a Liberal. I am not prejudiced. Despite the fact that I went to a comprehensive and received free school dinners, some of my best friends went to public schools. And you may have noticed that I am alert to the comic possibilities of their historic absurdities.

But it does matter that David Cameron went to Eton. And it matters for two reasons.

The first is that it gives us a clue to what he is really like. When I wrote of Cameron in House Points a couple of weeks ago that
there remains something of Flashman about him. For all his studied reasonableness, you sense there is a fag quaking outside a study door somewhere, awaiting an altercation over a burnt piece of toast.
I meant it.

Yes, there was the sketchwriter's exaggeration, but as I pointed out back in 2006, this touchy, feely David Cameron is wholly unrecognisable to those who knew him when he was working as a PR man before he entered parliament. Then he was seen by a journalist who had to deal with him as "a smarmy bully". Saturday's Guardian examined Cameron's PR years too.

So his Eton background may give us a more accurate idea of what David Cameron is like the way he has presented himself in recent years.

The second reason why this background matters is that it serves as a powerful symbol of what has happened in Britain in recent years. As a Sutton Trust report from last year said:
  • The majority of those at the top of the leading professions were educated in independent feepaying schools which remain largely closed to the majority of the population.

  • This includes seven in ten of the leading judges (70%) and barristers (68%), as well as a majority of the partners at top law firms (55%) and leading journalists and medics (both 54%).

  • While the representation of those from independent schools has generally declined over the last twenty or so years, there are some signs from the legal profession that more recent recruitment has resulted in an increased proportion of students from fee-paying schools.
Or as I wrote in July 2005:

At the Liberal Democrat Conference in Bournemouth last year I went to a fringe meeting where one of the speakers was Steve Sinnott, the new general secretary of the National Union of Teachers. Introducing him, the chair said that he was the first product of a comprehensive school to hold this post. From around the room there came little gasps of surprise and joy.

Comprehensives have been the major form of secondary education in Britain for 30 years or more. It should by now be utterly unremarkable for someone who attended one to gain an important, but not earth-shattering, job like Sinnott's. But it still seems a striking achievement, and that should tell us that something is going wrong.

So it does not matter that David Cameron went to Eton because that makes him posh or a toff. It matters because it gives us a clue to his true character and it reminds us of how little social mobility there now is in Britain.

The Sun Inn, Leintwardine

The website for Hobsons, the brewers from Cleobury Mortimer, has an article on the Sun Inn in Leintwardine.

This historic "parlour pub" was kept by the country's longest-serving landlady, Flossie Lane, until she died last June at the age of 94. It now has new owners who are committed to running it as "a kind of living museum where good beers can be enjoyed in a historic environment."

The Hobsons page has a BBC video about the Sun Inn which starts playing as soon as you land there. You can find it if you scroll down to the bottom.

Leintwardine? Malcolm Saville writes in his foreword to The Secret of the Gorge:

On the borders of the counties of Shropshire and Hereford, where the river Teme is joined by its tributary the Clun, you may find the village of Leintwardine. It is not very easy to discover although it lies on a road along which the Roman legions once marched, but it is worth it when you get there.

A few miles from the village the lovely river runs unexpectedly into a limestone gorge overshadowed by trees and strong-smelling elders, thick with creamy blossom in the summer, and heavy with purple fruit a few months later.

Through this gorge the river runs smooth, fast and deep for half a mile until it swirls under an old bow bridge. If you can find the gorge, be careful how you cross this bridge, for it was in very bad condition when I was last there and saw the sparklilng water through holes in the rotting timber.

I have been to Leintwardine, though not the gorge. Reading that, and reading about the Sun Inn, I want to go back there.

The picture above comes from the new website of the Sun Inn.

David Cameron and the Tory grassroots

Howard's cartoon from last week's Liberal Democrat News.

Six of the Best 12

  1. Jock's Place enlightens us on co-operatives, mutualism and the state.

  2. The protests at Yarl's Wood immigration prison in Bedfordshire are covered by Indymedia UK.

  3. Unmitigated England takes us to a level crossing keeper's house in a snowy Welland valley.

  4. This week's Britblog Roundup is in safe hands with Philobiblon.

  5. The Blue Idea reminds us of the existence of the Glum Councillors website.

  6. And Andrew Reeves' Running Blog visits St Andrews.

Cricket at Bonkers Hall

Preparations for next season are well in hand.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Hank Williams: Move it on Over

Where did rock and roll come from? This Hank Williams song from 1947, which threatens to turn into Rock Around the Clock at any moment, gives us one of the answers.

One of the Youtube comments for this video (well, audio) says:

He def. was an inf. on rock, along with some other country stars, but it is has always been convenient by whites to leave out blues musicians who really had the major infl. of the time.

From Son House's Delta blues in the 20's to Muddy's Urban blues of Chicago, to Big Mama Thorton's Hound Dog, to Little Richard in the 50's, blacks were widely ignored as the inf. of Rock until white Brits arrived in the states, such as the Stones, to re-introduce black Amer. music to white Amer. audiences.

It is interesting that in America you have to remind people of this history. In Britain we are well aware of the musical importance of Black rhythm and blues, but we often have difficulties taking country music seriously.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

An unxpected trip over the Welland Viaduct

I arrived at Kettering station on the way back from Finedon. After a cup of tea in the buffet I went out to catch my train.

A platform change was announced. Sure enough, the Nottingham service was being diverted and would not call at Market Harborough.

It was still light, I had all the necessary tickets, so I decided to catch it even so. Who could resist a trip over the Welland Viaduct?

The view as far as Corby is not exciting (as Go Litel Blog, Go... once pointed out), though there was a snowy field full of black sheep to enjoy.

Then we reached the viaduct itself. The hills were white, what Lord Bonkers always calls "the broad valley of the Welland" was green and the river itself, in spate from the melting snow, was silver in the low winter sun. The view was well worth the longer journey.

We reached Leicester. The trains were in chaos, but the crowds were mostly of Leicester Tigers fans happy after the victory over Gloucester and I met Colin Davies on the station.

Eventually I gave up waiting for East Midlands Trains and caught a bus home

Six of the Best 11

  1. David Hare's radio play Murder in Samarkand was broadcast earlier today. Its hero, Craig Murray, reminds us that it will be available on the BBC iPlayer for the next seven days.

  2. The Red Rag reports that "Greater Manchester Police ... set up checkpoints throughout the city forcing people through airport style metal detectors". The BBC story, taken directly from the police press release, referred to them as "safety arches".

  3. The government has refused to assess the suitability of Dungeness for new renewable energy projects. Nick Perry is annoyed.

  4. Stumbling and Mumbling notes that James Purnell is "leaving Parliament at an age when in the (perhaps mythical) past, people were just arriving in it" and asks if politics is now a young person's game.

  5. On a visit to Banbury, English Buildings considers the role of mechanics’ institutes in the 19th century.

  6. The Daily Mash celebrates the life of Barbara Windsor: "Despite friends and family warning her he was a wrongun, Barbara weds childhood sweetheard Jack the Ripper in August 1888."

Harrowden Books, Finedon

I have been to Finedon in Northamptonshire today. It is a village between Kettering and Wellingborough whose history was dominated by the Dolben family. More about it and them in due course.

Harrowden Books in the village is well worth a visit. The exciting news is that I was able to buy two books by Evelyn Cheesman. So more on her soon too.

Rudyard Kipling on Tony Blair

Mentioning Kipling yesterday reminded me of two of his Epitaphs of the War.

Common Form

If any question why we died,
Tell them, because our fathers lied.

A Dead Statesman

I could not dig: I dared not rob:
Therefore I lied to please the mob.
Now all my lies are proved untrue
And I must face the men I slew.
What tale shall serve me here among
Mine angry and defrauded young?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Six of the Best 10

  1. On the New Statesman site (I'm not bitter) Rowenna Davis writes about the way that MPs’ dependence on unpaid interns gives young people from richer backgrounds a head start on breaking into politics.

  2. John Bridges discusses the results of this week's local authority by-elections for Liberal Democrat Voice.

  3. has the story of the grounding of the Merseyside police sky drone.

  4. The pinpointing of the exact location of the Battle of Bosworth makes the Medieval News. I am glad to say it is still in Leicestershire.

  5. Old Holborn worries about the built-in webcams on all our shiny new laptops. With good reason, judging by an American case he cites.

  6. And Devizes Melting Pot indulges in some Friday cat blogging. Say hello to George, whose picture appears above.

Lionel Jeffries: The Roses of Success

The death of Lionel Jeffries was announced today. I would say that two of his films - Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (which he starred in) and The Railway Children (which he directed) - were central to the childhoods of my generation, except that I cannot remember watching either all the way through until I was an adult.

Anyway, this clip comes from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It is a measure of the glorious cast of that film that one of the inventors here is played by Max Wall.

Jeffries, famously, was younger than Dick Van Dyke, whose father he played in the film. I have seen it suggested that the film makes far more sense if you see Jeffries as his father-in-law instead.

The lyrics of this song, incidentally, offer an insight into Karl Popper's philosophy:

Popper started with the old idea that knowledge grows by trial and error, or in more learned terms, by conjecture and refutation. He generalised this theory to encompass all forms of learning and problem-solving, including the evolution of life on earth. On his account every organism, from the amoeba to Einstein, is constantly engaged in problem solving.

In the plant and animal world this involves the production of new reactions, new organs, new forms of life. For humans it involves the production of new ideas.

House Points: What is Kim Howells?

Today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News.

Perhaps the truth is that, like John Reid, Howells has just been a consistent authoritarian all his life. Hornsey College of Art at the sit-in point at something more libertarian, or am I just being seduced by the glamour of the sixties?

Incidentally, do people still read Kim. They certainly should do. When someone told Evan Davis on the Today programme this morning that India was Kipling's home, he scoffed at the idea. He would not have done that if he had read his best book.

Kim what?

“I am Kim. I am Kim. And what is Kim?” Kipling’s young hero asks himself repeatedly. These days there is an even harder question: What is Kim Howells?

Because today this former student radical and former Communist union official finds himself defending Britain’s intelligence services unreservedly when even many Conservatives fear they have been complicit in the torture of suspects overseas. It’s worse than that: the head of MI5 sounded more reasonable than Howells when when he raised his head the other day.

Last week Howells, who chairs the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), said any such suggestion was “a calumny and a slur and it should not be made”. For good measure he added “I don’t know what the Master of the Rolls is ... playing at.” (In my experience senior judges don’t play much. They tend to be rather serious about things.)

When it was set up, the ISC was loaded with senior parliamentarians so that it would have the clout to hold the security services to account, yet its chairman prefers to act as their cheerleader. (Perhaps they won him over by letting him play with their invisible ink?)

It has been a long journey to reach this lonely position. Howells first came to public notice in 1968 as the student organiser of a sit-in at Hornsey College of Art in North London. He reappeared in the eighties as a Communist research officer with the National Union of Mineworkers in South Wales during the strike of 1984-5 .

He became a Labour MP in 1989 and soon found himself a member of Neil Kinnock’s inner circle. One theory is that he received this rapid promotion because he was the only person who made Kinnock’s sound laconic and crisp in comparison. When Labour came back into government he filled a succession of ministerial positions, and now finds himself, in effect, the spokesman for the intelligence services.

You could say this is a common story: a young firebrand turns into a reactionary. But what story do people like Howells tell themselves. Do they detect a golden thread of principle that has run through their careers or do they prefer not to think about the past?

So the question remains: “What is Kim?”

What happens if there is a hung parliament?

Martin Kettle has an interesting piece in today's Guardian looking at what might happen after a hung parliament:

The idea canvassed by Armstrong and Lord Crowther-Hunt in 1974 that the Queen might consult some national elders – Harold Macmillan and Manny Shinwell were suggested – and might even invite Willie Whitelaw or Roy Jenkins to form a government was fanciful even then.

Today such a "Miliband option", as it is optimistically dubbed, would be even more for the birds. If Brown was persuaded to step down in order to enable Labour to govern, there is no way the palace could invite any Labour politician except Harriet Harman to form a government.

In earlier times, private soundings might have produced consensus prime ministers like Churchill or Douglas-Home. Today parties are encumbered with more rules. If Brown goes, Harman automatically becomes Labour leader until a party leadership election is held. The Miliband option is a non-starter.

In short, the idea of a Miliband option is bananas.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Wellingborough Nobody Knows

With good reason, you may say, but I was feeling inspired.

Now Harborough Tories won't let you go the the loo

The big news hereabouts today is that:

Harborough District Council wants to close the toilets attached to the Market Hall, in Northampton Road, as well as four others across the district in a bid to save £50,000 a year in maintenance costs.

The plans were approved by the council's all-Tory executive committee at a meeting on Monday and will go to a meeting of full council for ratification next Thursday, February 25.

So now Harborough Tories won't even let you go to the loo. They are even worse than they were in my days on the district council.

Well done to the Lib Dem councillor Cllr Barbara Johnson for opposing the plans:

"It will hit market traders and customers to the cafe there because the nearest public toilets will be the Commons car park on the other side of Northampton Road.

"Quite a lot of elderly people visit the cafe so it will cause them quite an inconvenience.

"It's a £50,000 saving for the council but it doesn't seem the right way to go if we want to attract more visitors to the town."

And well done to the Harborough Mail in picking up her comments in its headline:

Loo closure would be an inconvenience

If things are really so bad that the council cannot afford to spend a penny they should investigate the Community Toilet Scheme developed by the Liberal Democrats in Richmond. This:
enables local businesses like pubs, restaurants and shops, to work together with the Council to make more clean, safe and accessible toilets available to the public. The Council has recently extended membership of the Community Toilet Scheme with more business members and Council owned sites providing access to the public during opening hours.There are now nearly 100 premises taking part in the scheme.
If you are interested (or desperate) go to the Richmond upon Thames Lib Dems site or a list of all the businesses taking part.

But devising a scheme like that would take initiative and imagination: two qualities that have traditionally been in short supply amongst the local Conservatives.

Later. It has been suggested to me that this scheme, or a similar one, was originally introduced while the Tories were running Richmond. Whatever the truth of that, I think that such schemes are the way forward if councils are finding it hard to provide their own facilities.

One thing is clear: they cannot just wash their hands of the problem. (Do you see what I did there?)

Six of the Best 9

  1. MTPT (a Liverpool Conservative - they should have him stuffed) has a fascinating post on the background to Luciana Berger's travails as the new Labour PPC for Liverpool Wavertree.

  2. Talking of travails, Liberal Bureaucracy keeps us up to date with the latest goings on in Liberal Youth.

  3. Still, things are far worse in the Socialist Workers Party, where everyone is resigning. Solomon's Mindfield has the details. Let us pause a moment to remember the wise words of Nick Cohen: ""Like a minor public school, the SWP is a home for dim, middle-class children."

  4. Miserable Old Fart asks if all those doctored versions of Tory posters on the net are doing more harm than good - assuming you want to do Cameron down, that is. The picture above, borrowed from this post, makes the point.

  5. Will there be a BNP candidate in your constituency at the next general election? Vote No to the BNP has the list so far.

  6. On a happier note, Arts & Entertainment Journalism reviews this week's BBC4 documentary on Skippy: Australia's First Superstar.

Michael Howard and the UFO

I see this story has made the morning papers. See the Guardian for an example.

May I respectfully point out that I discussed it in October 2008 and indeed mentioned it in Liberal Democrat News many years before that?

Liberal England: First for news about politicians encountering aliens.

And then there was Calder's Comfort Farm:

Just now I returned from the village to find an alien seated at my kitchen table. It held the morning’s newspapers in its tentacles and was studying them intently.

“Shall I take you to my leader?” I asked.

It shook its heads. “I don’t think I’ll bother.”

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

J.W. Logan and The Railway Children

This photograph, borrowed from The Transport Archive, shows the filming of the 1968 BBC television production of The Railway Children. Like the more celebrated Lionel Jeffries film made two years later, it starred Jenny Agutter as Bobby and was shot at Oakworth Station on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway.

Of particular interest, to this blog at least, is the locomotive in the photograph. The Transport Archive explains that it is the former Logan & Hemingway contractors' locomotive Sir Berkeley.

And the Logan in Logan & Hemingway, as we recently saw, was none other than J.W. "Paddy" Logan, for many years the Liberal MP for Harborough.

Better than that, if you go to the Vintage Carriages Trust website you will find a page devoted to Sir Berkeley. And there you will learn that:

In 1935 Logan & Hemingway went into liquidation and MW 1210 was sold to the Cranford Ironstone Company of Kettering (Northamptonshire) where it received the nameplates Sir Berkeley from a scrapped Manning Wardle engine owned by the Midland Ironstone Company at Crosby (near Scunthorpe).

To the Cranford workforce however, it was always known as "Paddy Logan".

Logan died in 1922, so it is clear that his reputation lived on - locally or in the railway industry - for quite a while.

Letters from a Tory writes "Dear David" letter

One of the leading Conservative blogs, Letters from a Tory, has written a post complaining of the:
  • naivety;
  • incompetence;
  • stupidity; and
  • inappropriateness

of the party's current campaigning. It concludes:

I’m not going to lie to you – I will be voting Conservative at the next election, not least because I despise Labour and everything they stand for but also because you deserve a chance to put into practice what you have preached over the last five years. Even so, when my party membership next comes up for renewal, I suspect that my direct debit may well slip by the wayside. Never forget that, while swing voters always need a reason to vote Conservative, party members need a reason to vote Conservative too.
More evidence that there is a surprising degree of hostility towards Cameron and his circle among Conservative rank and file. I wonder if these complaints about strategy mask what is really disagreement with the leadership's strategy of wooing liberal Britain?

North West Leicestershire Lib Dems suspended

From today's Leicester Mercury:
The Liberal Democrats have suspended a local party branch in a key election battleground – just weeks before the General Election.
The party's London headquarters stepped in and shut down the North West Leicestershire branch – which has 60 members – after allegations of in-fighting and rule-breaking.
It followed a bid to revoke the membership of county and district councillor Michael Wyatt.
More gossip when I get it. For the time being, let's just note that this move strongly suggests Cowley Street is not expecting a by-election in this constituency before the general election.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Was Hermann Goering educated in Rutland?

The Wikipedia entry for South Luffenham says:
In 1908, The Rev. John Francis Richards succeeded the Rev. Shaw, and being a Greek scholar, pupils came from abroad to be taught at the rectory. Among these reputedly was the son of the German Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Hermann Göring. Indeed, on one of the panes of a lower floor window Göring scratched his initials in a corner.
This point is annotated with "citation needed". You can say that again.

The Information Underground repeats this story and adds:
During his visits to England he went to Burghley House in which he decided he would live following a successful invasion of England.
This is definitely one to investigate.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Nick Clegg answers questions from the readers of Pink News

The website of "Europe's largest gay news service" reports:

Last month, we invited readers to submit their questions to Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg. The overwhelming subject mentioned was gay marriage, showing how important an issue this is for our readers.

Other popular questions were on homophobic violence, faith schools and LGBT asylum seekers. We also gave readers the chance to ask questions on wider policy issues, such as identity cards and student tuition fees.

Now read Nick's answers.

Six of the Best 8

  1. Birkdale Focus has a video of Michael Meadowcroft giving his memories of Southport politics, which reach back to 1958 and signing up Ronnie Fearn to the Liberal Party.

  2. At What You Can Get Away With Nick Barlow is going on a sponsored walk to save Colchester's Roman Circus.

  3. Allen Green, who writes the Jack of London blog, has stared a new Bad Law column for The Lawyer. Think of him as Ben Goldacre in a wig.

  4. Max Atkinson analyses Gordon Brown's interview with Piers Morgan.

  5. Writing on Comment is Free, Graham Harvey alerts us to the dangers of the battery farming of dairy cattle.

  6. And Or Maybe Eisenstein Should Just Relax has been to see the restored print of Powell and Pressburger's The Red Shoes.

Pancake Day: You can't be too careful

A reader draws my attention to a story in the Harborough Mail:

The potential perils of pancake-making in the kitchen have been highlighted by Leicestershire Fire Service.

Its safety advice was issued yesterday (Monday) in a press release ahead of Shrove Tuesday today.

The release stated that the service "would like everyone to enjoy the day safely" before pointing out that in the last year, fire-fighters have attended 284 kitchen-related incidents across the county.

Does rural south Leicestershire have a particular problem with kitchen fires on Shrove Tuesday?

No. As the same reader explains, this story is probably the result of what is known in the PR trade as a "Swiss cheese" press release. It will have been issued by the home office to all fire brigades so they can fill in the holes with local names and send it to the local media.

Yet, you will be relieved to learn, there is no evidence of a spate of accidents on Shrove Tuesday (as opposed to, say, Bonfire Night) - in Market Harborough or anywhere else.

My own view is that if you manage to set fire to the pan while making pancakes then the rest of the family should bar you from the kitchen. Or as Tony Hancock put it:
"I thought my mother was a bad cook, but at least her gravy moved around the plate."

Colin Ward 1924-2010

I was sad to hear of the death of the anarchist thinker Colin Ward. As I said last year, he managed to "make anarchism sound a) common sense and b) thoroughly British".

Next Left has a good appreciation of him by Stuart White:
Colin really stood at the confluence of two traditions (as did the post-war Freedom group more generally). On the one hand, he was of course shaped profoundly by the theoretical tradition of anarchism. He knew his anarchist classics - especially Kropotkin's Fields, Factories and Workshops - and he drew on them. 
On the other, Colin was also animated by the diffuse traditions of working-class and popular self-help - resolutely practical traditions concerned to get things done, to make the world better in some simple but important and measurable way, and which have little time for theoretical niceties. He sought to bring the traditions into dialogue, for their mutual benefit.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Six of the Best 7

  1. Yesterday Nick Clegg allowed the "shopping list" he will take into negotiations in the event of a hung parliament to be known. Split Horizons complains that an important item is missing from it: the restoration of civil liberties.

  2. Liberal Youth Scotland catches the chair of their Conservative counterparts apparently justifying attempts at deception as "PR". He'll be in the cabinet within in a few years.

  3. Cicero's Songs offers a charming little picture of Tallinn in the snow.

  4. "Yet another example of how existing copyright laws appear to do more for protecting corporate interests than in protecting the rights of artists" is presented by Quaequam Blog!

  5. A Transport of Delight looks back 50 years to on events on Britain's railways in 1960. (NB: the closure of the Market Harborough - Northampton line was not "relatively insignificant". Still, thanks for the photo.)

  6. And Life Must be Filled Up proves I am not the only blogger who likes old British films by watching Night Train to Munich.

How Market Harborough got a new swimming pool

If you visit Market Harborough's leisure centre, whether to use the gym, hear Spencer Davis or have a swim, you may be disconcerted by an inscribed block that stands outside it. Although the centre is clearly a recent building (in fact it dates from 1991), that inscription reads:


The explanation is that the block came from the town's original swimming baths, which stood in the Northampton Road. The site is now occupied by a block of retirement flats called Marshall Court.

Mr Logan is, of course, one of the heroes of this blog. The history page on the Market Harborough Swimming Club site records that he donated £1000 towards the cost of those original baths.

It adds, a little churlishly: "no doubt set against his Parliamentary expenses". But that is nonsense, because MPs were not paid a salary until 1911 and Logan was one of many MPs who used their personal wealth to provide facilities in their constituencies. In his case this was, of course, an expression of his Liberal philanthropy and by no means an attempt to buy votes.

I learned to swim in these original baths at evening classes in the 1970s. On the way home I had a spring roll and chips from Frank Taylor's chippy (a shop now occupied by Duncan Murray Wines) and the air was prickly with the smell of soup powder from Symington's factory - probably from the modern block, also in Northampton Road, which has since been demolished.

By the time I was elected to the council in 1986, the baths were even more shabby. But the swimming club were not fools. Because they invited me, as a new councillor, to present the prizes at their junior swimming gala. If I remember rightly, this event took place the day after the close of the Liberal Assembly in Eastbourne, so I had been up selling Liberator songbooks until the small hours of that morning.

It turned out that, though there were a lot of races, the club did not have many members. The result was that the same damp and increasingly tired children came up each time to collect their prizes.

As guest of honour, I was given a seat by the side of the pool. The trouble was that the surround was not that wide, so I was sitting very near the edge. This did not matter when a backstroke or breaststroke race went past, but when it was the butterfly of the crawl I was soaked by the spray. And I had put a suit and tie on for the event.

By the end of the gala I was very open to the club's argument that the club and the town needed a new pool. In fact I later seconded the motion that got it built.

But seriously folks, the town's Liberals had long backed a new leisure centre, and doing the deals (special expenses for the town, a fund for leisure provision in the other parts of the district) that made this possible is one of the things I am most proud of from my time as a councillor.

I also remember that I rang up the officers to suggest we should save the dedication stone from the old baths and set it up outside the new leisure centre, but I think they had already had that idea themselves.

States of Independence, Leicester, 20 March

This sounds fun.

On 20 March Five Leaves Publications from Nottingham and the Creative Writing Team at De Montfort Universty are holding an independent press day. The event takes place at the Clephan Building, De Montfort University, Oxford Road, Leicester.

According to the States of Independence website:

Forty writers, mostly from the East Midlands, will be reading from their work at an events programme to accompany an equal number of independent publishers and writers' organisations staffing bookstalls and displaying their work.

Authors include nationally known figures including children's writers Berlie Doherty (twice winner of the Carnegie Award) and Chris D'Lacey, novelists Anthony Cartwright (Heartland, recently read on Book at Bedtime) and Rod Madocks (shortlisted for the ITV Crime and Thriller Awards) and poets Gregory Woods and Deborah Tyler-Bennett. We'll also be providing a Leicester launch for Maria Allen's first novel, launching the international poetry magazine Cleave and featuring talks on independent football magazines, the 1984 Miners' Strike and well known phrases and sayings.

Independent press editors taking part include Iron Press's Peter Mortimer on his “40 years before the mast” as a publisher, and Lynne Patrick from Crème de la Crime, probably the only female crime fiction publisher in the UK. Publishers, groups and magazines from the East and West Midlands and the North East in particular will be represented.

Red faces as Tories put decimal point in the wrong place

From James Forsyth on the Spectator's Coffee House blog:
The Tories are facing embarrassment tonight after a document they released claim that 54 percent of young women under 18 in poor areas get pregnant when the actual number is 5.4 percent.
The fact that the Conservatives can make such a gross error and not notice it confirms the impression that their Broken Britain narrative is more a lurid fantasy than a reaction to reality.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Nick Clegg to rule out coalition government

Patrick Wintour and Nicholas Watt have a story on the Guardian website this evening saying that the Liberal Democrats are planning to rule out forming a formal coalition with either of the other parties if they hold the balance of power after the general election.

Instead they will allow either party to pass a Queen's speech if it makes concessions on the following points:
  • Investing extra funds in education through a pupil premium for disadvantaged children.
  • Tax reform, taking 4 million out of tax and raising taxes on the rich by requiring capital gains and income to be taxed at the same rate.
  • Rebalancing of the economy to put less emphasis on centralised banking and more on a new greener economy.
  • Political reforms, including changes to the voting system and a democratically elected Lords, that go further than proposed by Labour.
In any case, whether or not a formal coalition with either party is possible depends upon an electoral outcome that is outside our control. (The Lib Dems could poll well and not hold the balance or poll badly and hold it.)

This approach has some hope of making us look as though we are not too personally ambitious. And it should also give more prominence to our central policy proposals.

Suzanne Vega: Luka

Back in the 1980s all the cool kids had LPs by Suzanne Vega. And Luka from her second LP, Solitude Standing, is one of her best songs.

I had always assumed that it was about a woman, but a piece Vega wrote for the New York Times explains:

It was my manager at the time, Ron Fierstein, who plucked ”Luka” out. “Is that song about what I think it’s about?” he asked one day in the back of Folk City. My memory of that conversation goes something like this:

“I don’t know,” I said. “What do you think it’s about?”

“Unless I am mistaken it seems to be from the point of view of a child who is abused.”

"That’s right. A 9-year-old boy named Luka.”

“Where did you get the name from?”

“A 9-year-old boy who lives in my building. Who is not abused, by the way. I like the name Luka, it’s universal. It could be a girl or boy and it could be any nationality.”

The simplicity of the tune is typical of Vega's song from the period, but the slight flavour of country music in the guitar playing here make it interesting and there is no hint of preaching.

The Park Gallery and Bookshop, Wellingborough

This is the Park Gallery and Bookshop in Wellingborough. It is small, friendly and a little chaotic.

Rumour has it that there are many more books upstairs, but you are not allowed up to see them.

A valentine from David Cameron

Howard's cartoon from this week's Liberal Democrat News.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Why wasn't Eurostar prosecuted under health and safety legislation?

We are told that we live in a society dominated by concern for health and safety. Well, just consider these extracts from the coverage in today's Guardian of the report by Christopher Garnett and Claude Gressier on the break down of five trains in the Channel tunnel just before Christmas:

On the Disneyland train, the air conditioning, ventilation and lights failed, leaving passengers in hot, dark conditions.

"We are concerned that in those conditions nobody walked through the train to see how people were and explain what was happening," Garnett said.


The report described the dreadful conditions on the Shuttle, with overflowing toilets, and pregnant women and small children forced to sit on "greasy floors or to lean against the sides of the carriage".

At one point passengers had to designate one carriage as "an open toilet area".

Emma Powney, who was travelling from Paris to Ashford with young children, wrote of crying and vomiting children being stripped to their nappies, passengers breaking open the door to escape the heat, and children being forced to bed down on blankets bought from Disneyland in filthy, wet conditions.
Eurostar has promised to put things right, but if the facts are as presented in the Guardian it is hard to see how the company or its directors have escaped prosecution.

Is it that health and safety is not the force we are told, or is there one law for large companies and another for the rest of us?

Manchester United fans to make club ownership key issue in general election

That could swing several seats in Surrey.

The Sunday Telegraph has more.

Six of the Best 6

This is getting to be a habit.
  1. Lib Dem blogger Spiderplant Land takes aim at Kerry McCarthy for her blocking of the Contaminated Blood Bill: "My twitter comments calling Ms McCarthy’s act, pathetic and cruel was met with a couple of tweets from her informing me that i didn't know what i was talking about and subsequently blocking me from her twitter feed."
  2. Next Left asks if Conservative Home's Tim Montgomerie is the most dangerous man in the blogosphere. Well, he is certainly a danger to the Tories' attempts to appeal to the liberal-minded voters who have not supported the party since the 1992 general election.
  3. Writing on Labour Matters, Westminster Labour rakes over the Joanne Cash affair and poses 10 questions for her and David Cameron.
  4. Fraser Macpherson has a video of Jo Swinson MP telling us why we should get involved in politics.
  5. Exiled Jersey senator Stuart Syvret has started blogging again. Here he discusses the suspension of the Chief Constable of the States of Jersey Police force, Graham Power.
  6. And Bad British Architecture takes aim at the new Tesco in Ipswich.
Please feel free to suggest links to me for this feature.

Old British films and political radicalism

At a charity sale this morning I found a copy of Granny Made Me an Anarchist by Stuart Christie.

Christie is an anarchist who was convicted in Spain of being involved in an attempt to assassinate General Franco and later acquitted in London of being involved with the Angry Brigade, a sort of Blue Square Premier British version of the Baader-Meinhof gang.

What interested me is the affect that old British films had on the development of Christie's political views. Early on in the book he writes:

I'll never forget the "Play for Today" production of Terence Rattigan's The Winslow Boy, which traced the consequences of Arthur Winslow's attempts to prove his son's innocence, after the fourteen-year old is expelled from naval college, falsely accused of stealing a five shillings postal order.

Rattigan himself called it "a drama of injustice, and of the little man's dedication to setting things right." It was gripping drama, but with all the tension of a struggle between right and wrong, law and injustice, the underdog against the high and mighty and the rights of the citizen against soulless authority.

The television production Christie saw must have been the one broadcast in 1958, but The Winslow Boy had previously been made into a film 10 years previously by Anthony Asquith (son of the Liberal prime minister).

Christie goes on to recall:

Leslie Howard's film Pimpernel Smith also made a huge impact. I didn't know it at the time, but one of the bit part actors playing the role of an anarchist prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp, was later to become a lifelong friend - Albert Meltzer. Howard, a convinced anti-fascist, had insisted on using real anarchists as prisoners in one particular scene.

Apart from being a cracking good yarn about resisting Nazism, the final dark and dramatic scene at the frontier railway station on the night before the invasion of Poland literally made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

Christie's politics are not mine, but it is reassuring to know that it is possible to get far more from these old British films than some critics tell you.