Saturday, April 30, 2011

Six of the Best 155

"Social networks like Facebook and Twitter have already claimed a few victims during this election campaign, mostly from inexperienced candidates who have not thought through the consequences of their actions." Peter Black has the details.

Elizabeth Sidney is remembered by Julie Horten on Liberal Democrat Voice.

Tim Oliver on Politics Student believes the Liberal Democrats should embrace classical liberalism: "The party’s divisions have precluded the development of a strong ideological base – of a base that generates a clear ideological framework from which they can build a vision of how they want the country to be if they are in government. This has not prevented them from creating policies that many agree with; and indeed which may well prove to be extremely beneficial to the country at large as they work through. But it has prevented them from building a base of voters who identify with a vision that the party represents, rather than policies it espouses."

Byrne Tofferings argues that libertarians should support the European Union.

"As I watched the wedding unfold on television and looked at the Internet before and after the ceremony, I was struck by a realisation: cynicism is no more sophisticated than credulous acceptance. They are both default responses which have little merit." Tom Greeves considers yesterday's events.

Spaghetti Gazetti looks forward to the Shropshire Olympian Festival on 17-19 June at The Quarry, Shrewsbury.

Guardian Review: Eric Ravilious and Uncle's Homeward

As this blog is largely concerned with moaning about the views of Guardian columnists, I thought I would give the newspaper some praise for a change.

The Review section that came with today's paper had two things I found immensely pleasing. The first was an article on one of my favourite artists, Eric Ravilious:
Much of his subject-matter is pastoral and unassuming, and he was a virtuoso at capturing everyday scenes and little details from English provincial life. Among the sequences of his paintings were those featuring, in his words, "lighthouses, rowing-boats, beds, beaches, greenhouses". Even when he became an official war artist, he tended to domesticate any novelty or threat – fighter planes line up harmlessly beyond a garden hedge, and barrage balloons bob cheerfully in the sky.
The occasion for the article is an exhibition, Ravilious in Essex, which is on at the Fry Art Gallery, Saffron Walden, until 14 August.

For an introduction to the artist see the site Eric Ravilious, which is maintained by his grandson Ben - a good Liberal who lives in Leicester. You may also be interested in the book Ravilious in Pictures: A Country Life by James Russell.

Also in the Guardian Review today is a list of the 10 best castles in literature, as chosen by John Mullan. May of those you would expect to see are there: Gomenghast, Blandings, Wemmick's castle in Great Expectations.

But I was delighted to see this included too:
With its multicoloured towers and numberless skyscrapers, Homeward is the most wondrous castle in fiction. It is the home of an immensely wealthy, dressing-gown-clad elephant called Uncle in JP Martin's children's books. It contains fountains, water chutes, walls of sweets and ponds of treacle.
I wrote about Homeward myself after visiting the London Docklands recently. There is more about the Revd Martin and the Uncle books in an old post of mine.

Punctual End of Month Lolcat

I iz updatesing my status!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Some unsolicited advice for the Royal Family

I enjoyed watching the spectacle of the Royal Wedding today and wish the couple well. What I found increasingly hard to stomach as the day wore on were the fawning and flanneling broadcasters and some of the people they found to interview among the crowds.

It seems I am in favour of monarchy: it's the monarchists I can't stand.

After today's events the prospects for a Republic in Britain do not seem immediately encouraging, but that is no reason for royalists to ignore problems that arise in the future. So let me offer the Royal Family a little unsolicited advice.

The first piece of advice is to urge them to recognise that apparently partisan moves like failing to invite Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are bound to be profoundly damaging in the long run. If the monarchy is to succeed in its aim to represent the whole nation, then it must embrace all parts of our national life. In particular, it must make efforts to connect with those, like Labour members, who may well not wish it well.

By acting as it did, Buckingham Palace has made itself look petty and left Labour itching to have its revenge when it gets back into power.

Who was behind this blunder? I don't know, but I am a great lover of the phrase "badly advised". It's a formulation I have often used in Liberal Democrat News if I want to oppose something the leadership has said or done. And in the 17th century Parliament never attacked Charles I: they merely blamed his advisers - right until the point when they cut his head off.

So let me just say that the Royal Family was badly advised when it decided to exclude Blair and Brown from the list of guests for today's wedding.

You could say that it was particularly ungracious of them not to invite Tony Blair after he rescued them when they made such an appalling mess of reacting to the death of the Princess of Wales. Except that I suspect that was precisely why he was excluded. Buckingham Palace have not forgiven him for being right when they were wrong.

My second piece of advice is to urge them to change the law of succession so that males and females are treated equally and to do it quickly.

The current position is logically indefensible (though, come to that, so is the institution of monarchy as a whole). And the demand for equal treatment for women is not going to go away.

So the change should be made now when all the immediate heirs are male. That way it will not become a debate about individuals.

Just imagine if William and Catherine have a daughter and then a son. The debate about changing the law of succession would then become intensely personalised. It would not deal with questions of gender equality or constitutional precedent, but with the personal qualities of two children. A public tantrum would lead to solemn articles about whether the thrower was fit to be king or should be passed over in favour of his sister.

We are told that making such a change would be difficult as it would require assent from every Commonwealth country. But that is an argument for urgency, not one for doing nothing.

Lastly, this seems a good place to point out that my great great grandmother's brother refused to shave his beard off for Queen Victoria.

Labour's candidate in Leicester South opposes AV

Mark Pack on Liberal Democrat Voice has picked up a Leicester Mercury report of a by-election hustings held in Evington earlier this week.

Mark highlights a comment made about AV made by the Labour candidate Jon Ashworth:
Frankly, I don’t really care – I’ve got more important things to think about.
As Mark comments:
There are some good and genuine electoral reform campaigners in the Labour Party, but this dismissive comment from someone who – if there had been no by-election – would after all have been Head of Party Relations for a man who penned a manifesto calling for a referendum (and for it to be passed) and who is now trying to win over his party to electoral reform shows just how precarious their position is in the Labour Party.
In fact it appears that Ashworth went further than that and told the meeting that he would vote against AV. The Mercury's rather odd English here does not help, but this is what its report says:
A member of the audience asked whether the candidates were for or against the alternative voting system.

Mr Haq said he was in favour of the system, which both Ms Hunt and Mr Ashworth said they would vote against it.
Chalk one up to the dinosaurs.

Why might a cat be confused about the AV referendum?

A video entitled "Is your Cat confused about the referendum on the voting system on the 5th May?" has appeared on several Liberal Democrat blogs today. Mary Reid is one example.

But I fear this video's allusion to an earlier comedy sketch may be lost on my younger readers. But do not despair: help is at hand in the shape of an earlier post on this blog.

UKIP's candidate in Leicester South keeps on digging

Read the latest blog post from Abhijit Pandya, UKIP's Head of Research and candidate in the Leicester South by-election.

Is Scott Borthwick the new Adil Rashid?

A very short post on The Corridor.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Shropshire Council still wants to close Stiperstones School

Yesterday Shropshire Council announced the results of its consultation over its proposals to close village schools in the county. It still intends to close Stiperstones School.

According to the Shropshire Star:
Faye Moore, lead member of the Stiperstones School steering committee, said the community had been left “absolutely gutted” with today’s council report.

She said: “We have all worked so hard to save the school. The council is not looking at the bigger picture and the effect this will have on the community.

“The standard of eduction here is very high and proven by the Ofsted report. I just can’t understand the decision.”
So it is over to the Hereford diocese of the Church of England. It may yet bear out a recent observation by Simon Jenkins:
As neighbourhood facilities such as the post office, the shop, the pub, the surgery, the police house, the branch library and the village school disappear, it is ironic that the one ubiquitous beacon of local community in a secular society is one that has stood since the middle ages, the church steeple.

Nigel Farage picks up the pieces in Leicester

The UKIP leader was in Leicester yesterday, reports the Leicester Mercury, to survey the smoking ruins of his party's contribution to the city's politics.

This, you may recall, features a Mayoral candidate who has disappeared and a candidate in the Leicester South by-election whose disappearance would be widely welcolmed.

The latest news from the by-election candidate, Abhijit Pandya, is that he has:
issued a statement yesterday apologising for including the phrase "forced repatriation" in his blog.

He said: "This does not accurately convey the point I was trying to make and is not in any way part of UKIP policy.

"The point I was trying to make is that under current immigration controls, it is extremely difficult to deport illegal arrivals who have never contributed to the economy."
But in a statement UKIP's Mayoral candidate, Regine Anderson, did display some insight:
"There may be people asking why I put myself forward for such a position if I couldn't make the time to canvass."

More "youths" who are no such thing

Yesterday's Leicester Mercury featured a crime story involving youths who turned out to be children.

Today's paper has the headline:

Grandfather beaten to the ground by youths as he walked home in Leicester

But if you read the story it turns out that these youths are 20-year-old men.

The term "youth", at least as employed by the Mercury, seems to mean "someone vaguely young of whom you should be afraid". We would be better off without it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Barney Gibson becomes youngest ever county cricketer

I have just marked a little piece of cricket history on The Corridor.

They're not youths, they're very naughty boys

The front page of today Leicester Mercury reports that the city's Eco House in Western Park has been forced to close for the Easter holidays after one of its staff was "attacked and threatened by young louts".

The report continues:
Sophie Inskip, 19, was followed home and spat on after finishing work at the Eco- house, in Leicester's Western Park, on Sunday.
Five youths confronted her at about 5pm, harassing and threatening her.

As she walked home through the park, they followed her, jostling her and spitting in her face.
Shocking stuff. Teenagers today, eh?

Except that if you read on you find that this incident did not involve teenagers at all:
Sergeant Simon Barnes, of Hinckley Road police station, said officers were looking to speak to two suspects, aged 11 and 12.
Boys of 11 and 12 are not youths - they are children. There have always been double standards here - a 14-year-old offender is a "youth"; a 14-year-old victim is a "schoolboy" - but calling such young children "youths" seems perverse.

I recall the news coverage of Liverpool gang culture at the time of the shooting of Rhys Jones in Croxteth. The overwhelming impression given was that parents and the authorities had allowed whole housing estates to be taken over by children. Those involved were, at most, young teenagers.

Perhaps part of the answer is to stop being afraid of calling children "children". The linguistic inflation in the education world, where we now hear talk of  "primary school students" is silly, but importing that mind-set into the judicial system, where it will help neither delinquent children nor those who suffer through their actions, looks positively dangerous.

UKIP candidate in Leicester South by-election calls Islam "morally flawed and degenerate"

Regine Anderson, UKIP's candidate for Leicester's first elected Mayor, is busy concentrating on her A levels. So it has fallen to Abhijit Pandya, the party's candidate in the Leicester South by-election, to make a splash in the media.

And he has not let UKIP down.

As the Leicester Mercury reports:
The UKIP candidate for the Leicester South by-election has caused outrage by condemning Islam on his blog.

In the article, Abhijit Pandya called Islam "morally flawed and degenerate" and said he backed a controversial Dutch politician, who called Islam a retarded ideology.
You can find the full article on Pandaya's blog, but here are a few choice excerpts:
"Campaigning in Leicester recently, I have been shocked to discover the quanta of those from Islamic backgrounds on one form of a benefit or another."

"Islamic culture inherently rejects the Western way of life, more specifically the Protestant work ethic, that has successfully built the economies of the West. The increase of Islam in the UK is going to be a problem for the welfare state."

"A removal of multi-culturalism and assimilation of these people needs to done to save them from the abyss of exclusion and welfare. Above all, one should not shy away of contemplating forced repatriation, or threatening it to further assimilation, as a result of their lack of economic contribution to the UK."
Pandaya, incidentally, is UKIP's "Head of Research". You get the impression that is not too onerous a position.

Six of the Best 154

"Employee ownership has always been a cornerstone of Liberal policy and in every manifesto from Asquith to Ashdown. Our leaders seldom talk of it now other than to advocate a meagre bit mutualism on the margins. This is a far cry from the policy which the party championed for most of the last century." Birkdale Focus, whom I last saw moored above the top lock at Foxton, calls for employee ownership to be restored as a central concern of Liberal Democrat policy.

Neil Stockley sorts the good arguments for AV from the bad.

The Cambridgeshire Guided Busway has arrived two years late and £65m over budget, reports Focus on Bar Hill. That's what happens when you monkey about with a perfectly good railway branch line (Cambridge to St Ives), remarks Liberal England.

Tony's Musings looks at the role of Jersey as a refuge for French radicals in the years after 1848 - the Year of Revolution.

The rise and fall of "ladies only" railway compartments in the 19th century is examined by Turnip Rail.

"Perhaps one of the key performers in the punk period her powerful songs still affect and influence women and many men performers three decades later. Her band X-Ray Spex left behind an amazing legacy of songs that were utterly original in their brilliance. The songs were brilliant enough but it was her lyrics that were some of the best of era that really stood out. Great perceptive poems about plastic society and consumerism that cut through all the bullshit." Louder Than War pays tribute to Poly Styrene.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A ghost at Wilbarston

When I reached Wilbarston on a sunny Saturday afternoon a couple of weeks ago, all was peaceful.

But life was much racier there in 1957, as a British Pathe clip will show if you click on this picture...

More privately educated Guardian journalists

Three years ago I directed you to a Private Eye item listing the many prominent Guardian journalists who had been privately educated. And the list keeps growing.

It wasn't such a surprise to learn that Marina Hyde attended the same school as Kate Middleton, but who would have thought that Bidisha attended Haberdashers' Aske's? I had assumed that she only had one name because her parents were so poor. It turns out it was pretension all along.

Then this morning Richard Williams, discussing the overuse of the whip by jump jockeys, wrote:
Future generations will look back in astonishment that the use of the implement was ever permitted, just as the application of the cane to schoolboys' bare bottoms now seems like the relic of Dickensian history, even though it persisted so recently that some of us can still feel the sting.
You had to shell out for a pretty exclusive prep school to be confident your young son would be treated like that.

Will Nick Clegg now get a proper Office of the Deputy Prime Minister?

Writing on the Spectator Coffee House blog, Daniel Korski looks at the tensions between the Coalition partners and its future after the AV referendum.

He plays down reports that Liberal Democrat ministers are being excluded from important decisions:
Having seen it up close, I know how much effort both Tory and Lib Dem ministers actually put in to keep each other informed of their work and policies. Tory-led Departments often consult Lib Dems. And the PM and the DPM seem to have a better relationship than most of their predecessors had. They are certainly more ideologically aligned than Tony Blair was with John Prescott.
many Cabinet ministers will be weary of sharing material with their junior ministers, even if they are from the same party. Perhaps especially if they know them well. Think how Clare Short undermined Chris Mullen at DfiD, as described in the latter's excellent lament A View from the Foothills. Civil servants also love working for Secretaries of State, and often indirectly help to undermine Junior Ministers.
As to Nick Clegg's future:
When the Lib Dem leader decided not to head a department, as many expected he would, he signalled his intention to be part of every government decision not tied down by a departmental remit.

But Clegg did not build up the kind of policy machinery in the DPM's office that is required not only to stay abreast of policy developments, but also to drive change in the direction he wants. A number of civil servants, a few SpAds, some junior speechwriters and access to Lib Dem SpAds strategically placed in No 10 was meant to be enough. But it hasn't been so. And while the DPM has been able to put a stamp on government policy by force of intellect, his link to the PM, good relations with the PM's outer office and strategic use of his Cabinet committee chairmanships, it will not be enough to make Lib Dems feel, post-AV, that they are getting a say.

So there are three choices. A reshuffle that puts Nick Clegg in charge of a key department where the Lib Dems have concerns, such as Health. Or a set of policy changes designed to placate the Lib Dems — though the Tories seem in no mood for this. Or, more likely, the creation of a proper DPM's office, not to rival No 10, but to act as a behind-the-scenes policy entrepreneur, driving Lib Dem preferences and ensuring Lib Dem access to decision-making.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Alan Gibson: Of Didcot and the Demon

I bought this book after being told of its existence by Backwatersman, who writes Go Litel Blog, Go....

Alan Gibson was one of my early journalistic heroes. His reports of county cricket for the times were wonderfully quirky, being as likely to deal with his difficulties in getting to the game or the charms of the barmaid across the road from the county ground as with the game itself.

Later on I was to discover that he had fought Falmouth and Camborne for the Liberal Party at the 1959 general election and come second.

Anthony Gibson, who compiled this anthology of his father's work, is honest about his shortcomings as a man and a journalist. But this book is a joy for me because it recreates the era when I could have named you every county's first XI - and most of their second XI too.

But it is amazing what you do and don't remember.

Alan Gibson was a regular on Test Match Special until his problem with drink became too obvious - his last test was the Headingley test of 1975 when the George Davis is Innocent protesters dug up the pitch and forced the abandonment of the last day's play. Yet I have no memory of his voice, even though I can recall Fred Trueman chuckling in the same test as Phil Edmonds came almost skipping up to short leg as he had taken five Australian wickets in his first test innings.

Yet I remember a piece of Gibson's about his cat having kittens that turns out to have been published in 1976 while I was taking my O levels:
Well, at last Crumbs produced her kittens. They had taken so long to get out that we had already decided to call the first one Trevor and the second one Bailey. I invite suggestions for them name of the third, and any further kittens that may have arrived during my absence ...

Slocombe, less on his play than merely as a pun, has been nominated as the candidate for my nameless kitten.

What does the Social Liberal Forum mean by "radical" and "progressive"?

The new Liberator arrives and I find my fellow members of the editorial collective have filled every spare space with advertisements for The Social Liberal Forum.

I am a Liberal and am instinctively suspicious of qualifying adjectives, whether "economic" or "social", but let's have a look at what the advertisement has to say.

It tells us that the Forum does five things, and with three of them I am entirely comfortable. They are:
  • Rejects any electoral pacts with any party and any pre-election preference for future working with any other party.
This has to be right. I can see there is a temptation, for those of us who are comfortable with the Coalition, government, to entertain the idea of some form of pact with the Conservatives at the next election. But at the election after that the case would be even stronger, and we would soon be looking at the elimination of the Liberal Democrats as an independent party. So no pacts and preferences has to be the line.
  • Seeks to help create and communicate a distinctive Liberal Democrat position on government policies and their implementation.
I suppose there are those who would counsel against "rocking the boat" while we are in coalition, but this strikes me as being what all Liberal Democrats should be doing.
  • Campaigns to maintain the internal democracy, transparency and vitality of the Liberal Democrats as an independent political party.
Sign me up today.

But there are two further points that make me hesitate. They read:
  • Works to develop - as a priority - a distinctive, radical and progressive set of politics and manifesto for the next election.
  • Opposes the adoption of any non-progressive or illiberal policies by the coalition.
We are all against being illiberal, but what these points mean depends entirely upon what meaning you give to "radical" and "progressive".

I don't believe the Social Liberal Forum is "radical", if being radical means going to the root of things and proposing the reconstruction of society on new principles. It seems more concerned with defending what remains of the post-war social democratic settlement.

And that doesn't worry me. Because these days I find the doctrine that society can or should be reconstructed from first principles inherently dangerous. All democratic and humane politics is a matter of gently moving society in one direction or another. What matters, what democratic debate is about, is the direction in which you wish to moves things.

Which brings us to "progressive".

Am I wrong to think that this is a word that has entered Liberal Democrat discourse in the last few years and that it has come their from the Labour Party? Certainly, I associate the word as it is used in Labour circles with the idea progress consists in more and more areas of social life coming under the control of the state and the professionals that it certifies.

For instance, to me progress does not involve children spending increasing amounts of time in SureStart centres: it involves parents increasingly having the time and the confidence to care for their children themselves. (See Passport to Liberty 5 from Liberator if you want to read more of my views.)

Perhaps I am being unfair, but if this is what is meant by "progress" I am not a progressive. And that is why I shall not be joining the Social Liberal Forum.

God's Wonderful Railway: Fire on the Line

A whole episode of the children's series that was filmed on the Severn Valley Railway and first broadcast in 1980 - when I was a leading light of the University of York Railway Society.

Yes, that is Dot Cotton.

David Cameron has let his admirers down

The current dust up between the two partners in the Coalition was inevitable, even if it is not wholly synthetic. The AV referendum campaign was bound to strain relations between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, and the two party leaders do have to display some regard for the enthusiasms of their members and core supporters from time to time.

Nevertheless, in recent days David Cameron have given those who hoped he might be a new sort of Tory two separate causes for disappointment in recent days.

The first was his declaration that he was "very relaxed" about people offering unpaid internships to relations and the children of friends and neighbours. You can say that this was just Cameron reassuring the middle classes: I have argued before that the Liberal Democrats have not thought through the difficulties of their being committed to policies that will disadvantage their predominantly middle-class electorate.

But if the middle classes think about it they will realise that most of them do not know any prime ministers. Most of them will not know any Old Etonians. So what sounds like Cameron reassuring the middle classes who want their children to get on, is in reality Cameron telling them they he will do his best to make sure those children are being kept down by the wealthier and the better connected.

And then their was Cameron's decision to appear alongside John Reid at an anti-AV event. I am all for people from different parties talking to one another and the charge that Labour politicians would have been happier in the old Soviet Union is usually a libel.

It's just that, as I argued back in 2006, Reid's career gives the impression that this is pretty much the truth.

By sharing a platform with an old tankie like Reid, Cameron lost my respect. Whatever you thought about the Tories under Thatcher, their opposition to Soviet tyranny was adamant. Cameron, by contrast, has shown he is happy to accommodate that mind-set to maintain party advantage.

All of this leads me to wander where all the moderates Conservatives have gone. But that question, and the opportunity their disappearance offers the Liberal Democrats, must wait for another day.

Six of the Best 153

"Either we withdraw to a traditional 'no fly zone' operation or NATO declares war on Gaddafi; these are the only two options left to NATO – it has promised not to abandon the Libyan people." Daniel Furr discusses our narrowing choices in Libya.

The Sandals Are Off believes that the longer the AV debate goes on, the more people will come over to the Yes side. He also criticises the limp leadership of Ed Miliband on this issue.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown should have been invited to the Royal Wedding, argues David Skelton on Platform 10.

Welcome to Spiderplant Land has visited the miniature railway at Knaphill in Woking.

"From the opposite end of the century, we are still reassessing the myths. But the fascination of that frozen hut, heaped with the debris of Edwardian gentlemen explorers, remains irresistible and unarguably poignant." Shaking Out the Colours considers the lure of Captain Scott's hut in Antarctica.

Rockingham Forest Cider celebrates the blossom season - thanks for the loan of the picture.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Advice to Asteroid Boy

Another week with Lord Bonkers draws to a close as he answers a final problem from a reader.

Last May, rather unexpectedly, I lost my job of 13 years. It came as a bit of a shock but I soon got over it and within 24 hours found myself back in the limelight on a popular current affairs panel show. Following the unexpected success of this performance, I have endeavoured to forge a career in stand-up comedy with mixed results. However, a job is coming up in my previous line of work and I am keen to get the post. However, for some reason my former colleagues are reluctant to support my application. How should I proceed?Asteroid Boy

The comedy business is hard one – you might say it is no laughing matter. Look at how poor Mike Hancock has ended up, despite that fact that it is only a few years since his ‘Half-Hour’ was the most popular programme on the moving television. So I cannot in all conscience encourage you to follow that path.

You would do better to try to re-enter your old line of work, but it is probably best not to be too ambitious at first. Let us suppose, purely by way of example, that you were a politician: then it would not be a good idea to try to be Mayor of London at once. You would do better to try a lesser post first and work your way up. It happens that I know of a village in Patagonia that is looking for a new mayor; your passage on the next cattle boat is booked and I shall be at Tilbury to wave you off – as, no doubt, will many of your Liberal Democrats.

As to your other question (for which we were unable to find space here), Asteroid Boy... I usually recommend a cold bath in such cases.

Earlier this week

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Heron: Lord and Master

Back to Rob Young's Electric Eden for another minor curiosity of British folk rock.

A few years after Traffic, and a few miles away from their cottage at Aston Tirrold, another band attempted to get it together in the country. That band, writes Young, was Heron - "a Berkshire semi-acoustic quartet whose two surviving albums from the dawn of the 1970s were both recorded by a mobile unit en plein air."

He goes on:
Frustrated with their experience of taping a single in Pye Studios in summer 1970, the group made their way to a farmhouse in Appleford, Berkshire ... and settled down in a circle of chairs in a meadow at the back of the house to play the thirteen songs of their first album, Heron (1970), as Pye engineers set up microphones booms around them.

A separate mic was positioned some distance way, specifically to capture the ambience of the great outdoors. As a result, twittering, trilling blackbirds and larks and swishing foliage fill the spaces between the tracks, and the gaps are longer than average, as if urging the listener to slow down and tune in with the spirit and rhythm of the place.
This song - a reverie by a nature god whose being is entwined with the cycle of the seasons - comes from that album, even if we can't hear any blackbirds. Young describes it as achieving "an exceptional harmony with the countryside", which is perhaps a little kind. The effect is certainly less striking than that achieved by Comus: Heron's England is far gentler place.

Heron are still with us. The story of the band's revival is told on the Relaxx site. Today you can lots of recent performances by them on Youtube, including one of Lord and Master recorded at Bridport in 2005.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: AV reaches Rutland

Lord Bonkers answers another problem sent in by a Liberator reader.

Forgive my ignorance. Me Father, un, Granfather, and ’is Father stood alongsides yer Lordships campaigning fer tha vote, an we gottit an bin voting Bonkers ever since. Even me ol’ Gran, who does the laundry fer yer Lordships followed ’er Ladyship as one of those Insufferajets and she voted Bonkers an’ all. Now that Master Clegg o’yours is askin’ us for an alternative vote, but roun’ ere we’re always votin’ fer a Bonkers. Wass all this about ‘Alternatives’?Johnboat Goudhearte, Rutland

Yes, her Ladyship was a brave campaigner for Votes for Women (though I did feel sorry for that poor horse).

Rest assured, Goudhearte, the Alternative Vote will make no difference to the way we conduct our politics here in the Bonkers Hall ward.

Earlier this week

For Easter Sunday

Nick Clegg: The musical

Euan Ferguson writes in today's Observer:
Least likely contender for Spring Hit in Theatre-World, I think it's safe to say, is going to be Nicked. It's basically a musical about Nick Clegg, written by a performance poet: that's when it's not being a play about the alternative vote.

Not, on paper, I think you'll agree, the most urgently prepossessing of dramatic ideas. And although political theatre does have a proud tradition, and the TV/film adaptations of aspects of the Blair years were enthralling, there's also a particular recent history of turkeys, especially when "satire" is advertised within. Also… well, Cleggy. Isn't he a bit obvious? Isn't this what we call a laughably soft target?

Fears totally unfounded. Preconceptions proved damnably and delightfully wrong. Watching early rehearsals for Nicked, one of the productions showcased in this year's HighTide festival in Suffolk, it's clear this could be a thing of brilliance. And, actually, something Mr Clegg might want to travel to Halesworth to see ... because it manages the seemingly impossible at the moment: it humanises the Lib-Dem leader, and makes you think again.
You can read more about Nicked on the Hightide Festival website.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Lost Pubs Project

Welcome to The Lost Pubs Project:
Although there are 60,000 pubs still in existence in the UK today, they are closing at the rate of 25 per month. Once closed they rarely reopen as most are either demolished or converted to housing.

Help us in our quest to index these lost pubs before they are forgotten for ever. If you know of a pub which has closed at any time in the past, please submit it, together with any anecdotes, historical information or photographs that you might have. Pubs do re-open from time to time, so if you see one on the site that is open please let us know.
The photograph, taken from the site, shows the former Black Lion on Welsh Street in Bishop's Castle. The building is certainly still there, but I started visiting the town some 10 years too late to have known it as a pub.

Later. It seems I only just missed the Black Lion. I first visited Bishop's Castle in 1989 and it closed only a couple of years before that.

For St George's Day

From The Book of Merlyn by T.H. White:
It was England that came out slowly, as the late moon rose: his royal realm of Gramarye. Stretched at this feet, she spread herself away into the remotest north, leaning towards the imagined Hebrides. She was his homely land. The moon made her trees more important for their shadows than for themselves, picked out the silent rivers in quick-silver, smoothed the toy pasture fields, laid a soft haze of everything. But he felt that he would have known the country, even without the light. He knew that there must be the Severn, there the Downs and there the Peak: all invisible to him, but inherent in his home ...

He suddenly felt the intense sad loveliness of being as being, apart from right or wrong: that, indeed, the mere fact of being was the ultimate right. He began to love the land under him with a fierce longing, not because it was good or bad, but because it was.

Calder on Air: Yes2AV, No2AV and Trevor Eve

My column from yesterday's Liberal Democrat News.

Strictly Debatable

Vote Yes to AV and you are against politics. Vote No to AV and you are against Western civilisation. That was the message given to people who watched the two referendum broadcasts last week.

We bloggers often get a bad press, but there is no doubt that a post by one of my fellow Liberal Democrat bloggers was part of the inspiration for the Yes broadcast. Back in May of 2009 Mark Thompson suggested there was a correlation between how safe an MP’s seat is and how likely he or she was to have been involved in the expenses scandal of the past few years. The safer the seat, he argued, the more likely the MP was to have been caught up in the scandal. Mark’s analysis received a lot of publicity at the time and his argument regularly turned up (usually without acknowledgment) in speeches by senior politicians.

It was also at the heart of the Yes to AV broadcast. We should support AV, we were told, because it will mean fewer safe seats and that, in turn, will make MPs work harder and stop them spending our money on duck houses. That is fine as far as it goes, because the safe seat is the curse of our politics. Though I wonder if moats and duck houses are the real problem these days. Wasn’t this a case of la mallard imaginaire?

Besides, the best argument for AV is more subtle. By making candidates win the support of half the voters in a constituency before they can be elected, the system will force them to reach out beyond the confines of their own party. In a Labour-Tory marginal the way to win will be to convince Liberal Democrat voters that you care about civil liberties and Green voters that you care about the environment. Just getting your vote out would no longer cut it.

So the Yes broadcast tried to tap into the anti-politics zeitgeist, but if you watched the No broadcast it looked like an episode of The Ascent of Man. Because the No broadcast was peopled by slack-jawed creatures with baseball caps and silly hair who expressed their incredulity at the idea that the candidate who finished first might not be the eventual winner. Never mind that we all understand Olympic heats, Strictly Come Dancing and The X-Factor: this is how the No campaign sees the voters. In their eyes we are all stupid, and it is by appealing to that stupidity that they hope to win the referendum.

Whatever the faults with AV, there is no doubt that the Yes side has won the campaign. To the Noes the whole thing has been nothing more than a meeting of Stupid Pride.


I have been mourning the end of Waking the Dead (BBC1) by collecting DVDs of the early series from the BBC Radio Leicester shop and hunting for episodes of Shoestring on Youtube. Shoestring is the series that made Trevor Eve’s name as a television star back in 1979 and 1980.

Some people laugh at Eve’s portrayal of Peter Boyd in Waking the Dead because of the way he tended to alternate between morose silence and GETTING VERY ANGRY AND SHOUTING. But for me he is an authentic star and one who has made his reputation almost entirely through British televison.

And because I wrote about Shoestring on my blog Liberal England, I learnt something about my friend from Harborough Liberal Democrats Ian Ridley. He left a comment saying that he had once taught Eve how to write equations describing black holes for a pilot episode of Doomwatch.

This was an unsuccessful attempt by Channel 5 to revive a pioneering BBC environmental drama series of the early 1970s. It never took off, but it is amazing what you learn through blogging.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Is it worth attending the Liberal Democrat Conference?

Lord Bonkers solves another of his readers' problems.

Now my beloved party is the whipping fag for the Bloody Tories and we have lost all credibility after breaking our gentlemen’s (and, indeed, ladies’) honour, nay pledges, is there any point in wasting my pennies, and even shillings, on attending our annual bun fight and Conference?Auld Leftie of Desborough

Desborough is a splendid town, renowned for its corsetry. The First Lady Bonkers used to obtain her requisites there and was once presented with an Illuminated Address after keeping a whole factory in work through a particularly harsh winter.

As to your question, Auld Leftie, I believe that money spent attending Conference is never wasted. If you don’t approve of the party’s strategy, what better chance will you have of changing it? Put down an amendment or have a quiet word with a junior minister in the bar. I recall throwing a bread roll at Lloyd George at a dinner after he went in with the Conservatives, and I flatter myself that it had some effect.

Earlier this week

Friday, April 22, 2011

Liverpool Overhead Railway

There is more about the Liverpool Overhead Railway, which was dismantled in 1957, on Photo by D.J. Norton. It can also be seen in some films.

Six of the Best 152

Writing for Liberal Democrat Voice, Merlene Emerson gives her impressions of Leicester South after being one of the busload of activists who came up from London last Saturday. (Thanks for the lift back to Zuffar Haq's HQ, by the way.)

Stephen Tall, also on Liberal Democrat Voice, defends a Liberal Democrat candidate who has been outed by her local paper as appearing in photos on a fetish site. My reaction was that this is just what you would expect in Northamptonshire, but you may find Stephen's take more enlightening.

I may just have chosen two of their articles, but Keith Nevols believes we need another Lib Dem Voice: "We need somewhere where we can have frank discussions about what we should be doing better, what went wrong at the last election, why our poll ratings are in single figures, how should we approach the next election, how can we make the coalition work and our own role within it, and, above all, where we can criticise our party’s leadership and have a proper debate and exchange of ideas?"

Richard Kemp has welcomed the move by Liberal Democrat peers to have government plans for Police Commissioners to be piloted in certain areas before they are brought in nationwide.

Think carefully before you call someone "a dinosaur" as an insult, counsels Insidious.

Not all is well in the Shropshire village of Snailbeach, reports Snailbeach Sheep: "the school is under threat, the toilets got a reprieve at the 11th hour, the church and chapels have dwindling congregations and spiralling costs, the road is slipping sideways down the hillside and the council haven't got the funds to pull it back up and on top of all that - pylons are thought to be a good idea for the valley."

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Disposing of unwanted soil

Lord Bonkers continues to answer his readers' problems.

How did the prisoners of war in The Great Escape dispose of the earth from their tunnels?Well-Behaved Orphan, Rutland

What they did was Terribly Clever. Each chap carried two bags under his tunic. They were tied off with string which was looped over the neck in a sort of yoke arrangement. Pulling a drawstring released a pin so that the soil trickled down to the ground and was trodden in as the fellow strolled around the camp. Why do you ask?

Earlier this week

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Union Inn, Market Harborough

This is the Union Inn, Market Harborough. You can find it on the Leicester Road - the town's canal basin is just behind it. It is also the pub where I used to do my underage drinking.

It has been closed for some time and now Brooke House College wants to take it over as boarding accommodation for its students. Brook House takes foreign students who want British school qualifications and appears to be taking over the world. It recently bought the ground of Rothwell Town a few miles away as a home for its football academy. At this rate it will be the University of Market Harborough before the year is out.

The Union Inn is the pub's original name - it was named after the Leicestershire and Northamptonshire Union Canal - but for most of its life it was known as The Six Packs (as in packs of foxhounds). This is because the Market Harborough Union Workshouse was just up the road and the association was not good for business.

I took this photograph yesterday morning before meeting two prominent Liberal Democrat bloggers on their narrowboat.

Conservatives torpedo themselves in Leicester Mayoral constest

Today's Leicester Mercury has the news that the Conservative candidate for Mayor of Leicester, Ross Grant, has failed to provide his artwork for the Your Vote Matters booklet, which has been sent to all 229,777 voters in the city. Both Grant and his agent declined to give the Mercury any explanation of this omission.

You can download the booklet yourself from the Leicester City Council website. My sources tell me that the Conservatives' attempt to demand that Grant be included in this online version was rebuffed.

If you do read the booklet you will see that Regine Anderson, the UKIP candidate, has also failed to submit any artwork.

This is not so surpising, in view of the recent revelation that Ms Anderson is "busy studying for her A levels".

Plan to save threatened Shropshire village schools

The campaign to save the Shropshire village schools threatened with closure is the subject of an article in today's Independent by Jeremy Sutcliffe. It concentrates on the schools at Stiperstones and Lydbury North.

Sutcliffe quotes the information officer of the National Association of Small Schools:
Small schools bring significant benefits, not just in sustaining rural communities. Ministers should see small schools as assets not liabilities. They offer a family-friendly, community-based model for education which is too precious to lose."
The article also reveals that the Hereford diocese of the Church of England is looking at alternatives which could mean the five church schools under threat - including Lydbury North and Stiperstones - being turned into a primary academy. All five would stay open on their present sites, under the direction of a single governing body.

Canada imposes $25,000 fine for tweeting election results

BoingBoing has news that Canada is to enforce a law that bans the broadcasting of any election results before all polls in the country have closed. Canada spans several time zones and elections administrators worry that results from "earlier" zones might influence voters further west.

The law, which  carries penalties up to a $25,000 fine or five years in prison, was introduced to stop the broadcasting of early results on the radio. Now it is being applied to private citizens' Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Kerry McCarthy is 46.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Has the ALDC Gone Too Far?

Lord Bonkers tackles his readers' problems.

I am currently caught on the horns of a particularly thorny dilemma. ALDC tells me leaflets have to look just so. However, our local riso wrangler tells me there is “too much black”. Which of these party institutions is correct?Anxious of Notts.

The Association of Liberal Councillors, as I still like to think of it, is in many ways a victim of its own success. Once a bastion of sturdy provincials with a healthy disrespect for the party’s nobs and bigwigs (its very name was enough to make little Steel gibber), it has lately become rather a part of the establishment itself; and it has to be admitted that it has not always managed this transition gracefully.

Fair-minded critics will agree that the burning in Hebden Bridge marketplace of those activists who insisted on pasting up their Focuses with a Pritt Stick rather than Cow Gum was right and necessary, but I have been less happy with some of the ALC’s decisions since then. In retrospect, the rot set in when it issued those stick-on beards for every deliverer and canvasser to wear.

Therefore, Anxious, I should counsel you to Do Your Own Thing and listen to your local risosmith. If anyone from Hebden Bridge complains, refer him to me. I shall Have It Out next time I am in the vicinity to bathe in the Spring of Eternal Life that bubbles from the hillside above the Birchcliffe Centre.

Earlier this week
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Adrian Sanders: We have lost a whole generation of supporters

The Daily Mail has picked up Adrian Sanders' article in the new Liberator:
In an article for the Liberator Magazine, he said the way the party had taken to the coalition had shattered trust. ‘We now face the brutal realisation that we have fractured our core vote, lost a generation of young voters, and alienated thousands of tactical voters in seats where it makes the difference between electoral success or failure.’

The MP went on: ‘We managed to split almost four ways on tuition fees and, to come, we have the challenge of unity over an NHS policy that should never have seen the light of day.’
Mr Sanders also accused Mr Clegg of failing to consult his own ministers, let alone ‘us humble backbenchers’ before intervening in Libya.
‘We seem to have let our party be taken over by a culture that has diluted our basic principles. In the eyes of the public, we have misplaced our integrity and lost our way,’ he said.
Read the whole article on the Liberator website.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Save Stiperstones School latest

It is time to catch up with the campaign to save Stiperstones Primary School in Shropshire. In recent days campaigners have staged a demonstration at County Hall in Shrewsbury and threatened the council with legal action over the way it has conducted its consultation process.

Why is the council so determined to close village schools in remote parts of the county? In an earlier post I suggested it was the ruling Conservative group's macho determination not to raise the Council Tax. But it turns out that every council in the land seems equally determined to do this. Why Labour councils are not putting up their local tax to enable them to spend more is a question for another day.

And you cannot blame Coalition cuts either. Because, at every consultation meeting, the council has insisted that any revenue or capital savings will be reinvested in education the county.

So what we appear to have is a Conservative group pursuing an essentially socialist policy of centralisation and standardisation. I smell ineffective politicians and over-mighty officers here.

My latest theory is that the whole process is an act of revenge by the Conservative councillor in charge of the process. She wants to get back at the world to make up for being obliged to go through life called Aggie Caesar-Homden.

I hope that winning our Name of the Day award will be some small recompense to her.

Life expectancy: A history lesson for Madeleine Bunting

Commenting on Barbara Strauch's new book The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain in the Guardian the other day, Madeleine Bunting wrote:
Middle age is a modern phenomenon – a hundred years ago, life expectancy was 47.
As a letter to the paper pointed out, this is nonsense. Dr Robert Pearce wrote:
Madeleine Bunting (Magic of the midlife mind, 11 April) is incorrect to say middle age is a modern phenomenon because life expectancy was much lower in the past. Life expectancy figures from the past are skewed downwards due to high infant mortality. If 10 children die at age five while 10 people die at 70, the average life expectancy is 37.5. But for those who survive childhood it is 70.
So, taking Bunting's example of 100 years ago, adult life expectancy then was probably not dissimilar to today's figures. For example, Gladstone was 88 when he died, and Disraeli 76.
This is obviously right. Has Madeleine Bunting never read the Bible or Shakespeare or one of the great Victorian novelists? Has she never looked at the stones in cemetery or churchyard?

When you find out that a commentator has gone through life holding such a strange view, it tends to undermine you faith in their work as a whole. I am thinking of the Independent arts correspondent who believed the Victorians used to cover piano legs for the sake of decency and of Polly Toynbee's support for the continuing SDP.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Introduction to my problem page

Liberator 345 is on its way to subscribers. As well as an article by Adrian Sanders asking why the Liberal Democrats were so unprepared for government, it contains the diary of my employer Lord Bonkers. This time he has devoted it to answering his readers' problems. Here he introduces his new idea.

Every morning, the postman brings a heavy mailbag (perchance one sewn by a former Labour MP?) through the lodge gates, along the drive and up to the Hall – I have to say that he has pedalled more slowly since my safari park closed, but I suppose that is social reform for you. A typical day’s haul will see an appeal for advice from a council candidate faced with a tricky by-election, an invitation to speak at a conference on Land Reform, a request to write the foreword for the benefit brochure of a first-class wicketkeeper, a letter inquiring about places at the Bonkers Home for Well-Behaved Orphans from one of today’s modern two-career couples and much else besides.

It occurred to me that I might do worse than share some of these letters and my replies with the amusing young people who read Liberator magazine. Who knows? If it goes down well, I may even repeat the exercise. Though space here is limited, let me emphasise that every letter sent to Bonkers Hall is read and replied to on the same day (particularly if it contains a cheque or a postal order).

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

GUEST POST AV, politicians and the wasted vote

Chris Slowe is an activist with Fairer Votes Leicester and Leicestershire.

I got involved in the campaign for the Alternative Vote a few months ago because there were two main things that didn’t seem to make sense about our democracy:

  1. The government has to represent the will of the people not that of the politicians. No matter the size of the protest they seemed to ultimately do what they wanted, dismissing us with “They can express it at the ballot box.”
  2. People should be able to vote for who they want, not tactically. I grew up in a safe seat and voted for who I wanted. But as I did so there were mutterings of “it’ll just be a wasted vote.”
Down on our shonky city centre stall every Saturday you meet some people who talk to you about the issues. And you get others who are surprisingly rude. But you get many in between and most of what they say is almost word for word identical:
  1. Politicians are all the same - they’re only interested in themselves;
  2. Voting is pointless as it doesn’t make a difference anyway - unless you’re voting for the main two your votes are wasted.
Hmm. So it’s not just me then.

1. They’re only interested in themselves

OK, so I know that there are some politicians out there who are doing there best in difficult circumstances. But the days of even pretending to be principled have long gone. The canny ones, I suppose, argue that by selling us mediocrity they can at best deliver, and at least not set themselves up for a fall. “Principles are all well and good in theory, sonny”. But surely in a democracy the core principle, the freedom to vote for the candidate you want, is immutable?

Under First Past the Post it seems not. Technically you can of course vote for whoever you want but for many people this right is suppressed through the requirement to vote tactically to ‘keep the other lot out’.

The Tories have always liked FPTP. As long as the left are fractured into multiple parties the vote is split and the system tends to work in their favour.

Labour toyed with the idea of electoral reform with a referendum on PR in their 1997 manifesto. But after a landslide they’d be shooting themselves in the Michael to allow true proportionality. In fact I spoke to a Labour councilor in the street and he said outright that the party is split in support of AV because many see a No vote as minimalising the effect of smaller parties. With the Lib Dems likely to lose dramatic amounts of voters, all the gains go to Labour.

The Lib Dems have finally got their dream of electoral reform, all be it watered down. But they only want it to help themselves too, right? It’s true that in the past AV would have meant a gain of a few seats, but who would say that is possible now?

At the next election people are as equally unlikely to want to vote for the party that (at least) failed to stop us getting in to this mess, the party who killed our beloved institutions, or their ‘accomplices’.

If we don’t change the system:

Some of us will vote for who we really want knowing it’ll make no difference. Some of us will grudgingly vote against the worst, or for the least worse. Many of us will just give up.

2. Unless you vote for the main parties you’re wasting your vote

AV doesn’t mean, of course, that all of a sudden the Greens will be thrown in to government. Nor is it a proportional system- your vote won’t directly affect the balance of power at a national level - the extra influence is over your constituency. But it does mean that for the first time we will be able to see accurately what sort of politics people really want. This will have a profound affect as, even if not elected, the smaller parties will be buoyed by their gains and allow them to influence political discourse with votes behind them rather than unreliable polls.


Implied in many people’s attitude towards politicians is a lack of trust. They are seen as unprincipled. To the public politicians seem to be too eager to dismantle our liberties or sell off our rights. They tell us that they’re just being realistic- if we don’t want terrorists we have to give up some liberty; if we want to keep the NHS we must be able to afford it. Though of course politics should be enacted pragmatically, it should be directed by ideals- the foremost of which must be the representation of the interests of the public. Democracy is our tool to ensure that they are striking that balance correctly.

Thousands of people are protesting against the cuts and yet precisely at a time when they need their democratic power they’re being told by the establishment, and their media friends, to give it up.

When you put aside your party preferences and accept that democracy is a good idea, you are also accepting that people should be able to vote for who they want to, not against who they don’t want. For those thinking voting no will punish Nick Clegg you’re playing right into the hands of a two-party system and against the plural democracy we are increasingly voting for at the ballot box.

After this parliament when again will we have a chance to improve our voting system? We must take this opportunity and vote Yes in May or the mother of all parliaments will slip further and further away from democracy.

Six of the Best 151

"Football like boxing or rowing is a game where the team that is leading at the first stage isn't always the winner at the end. As Kris Akabushi said when he appeared at a Yes2AV event even in the 100m at the Olympics there are the first and second round and semi-finals. It is rare that the eventual champion will have won every round of that race. What is important is that they win on the final round." Stephen's Liberal Journal has little time for the sporting analogies being deployed by the No2AV campaign.

Eric Avebury visits Rolls Royce in Derby, where he worked 60 years ago after leaving the Army.

The Blairite group Progress is publishing its Purple Book in the autumn. (I wonder where they got that idea from?) Writing on Liberal Conspiracy, Don Paskini cannot decide whether to be intrigued or outraged.

Under a Watling Street Tree believes public libraries have lost their way: "Our local libraries appear to be stacked with CDs, cheap paperbacks, celebrity cookbooks and other publications, that are, in many cases, of dubious educational value. Many such items could be bought in local charity shops at give-away prices."

The prospects for the campaign to restore Leicester's Braunstone Hall are examined by Mr Black's Blog.

Silent UK has some marvellous photographs of the disused Post Office railway under London. (I am sure I used to have a Blue Peter book with an article about it.) You will see that I have appropriated one of those photographs.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Tunes of Glory (1960)

Discussing the minor Ealing comedy Barnacle Bill I wrote of Alec Guinness:
His genius as an actor means that you believe from his first appearance that he has been a naval officer.
Can we say the same here? Not for a while. You are very aware that you are watching Alec Guinness with a Scots accent, a ginger moustache and a ginger wig. But after a while you do accept him as a hard-drinking, working-class acting Colonel who won his promotion as a hero during World War II.

The film deals with the clash between Guinness's character and the upright, uptight replacement, played by John Mills. it goes out of its way to be fair to Mills's character with the result that, early on, we see  perhaps too much of Guinness behaving like this and not enough of him as a commanding officer.

Tunes of Glory is a gripping film. And that is Dennis Price and Gordon Jackson on either side of Guinness, so you know you are in safe hands.

UKIP's Leicester Mayoral candidate goes missing

Today's Leicester Mercury reports that Regine Anderson, the UKIP candidate in the current Leicester Mayoral election
has not appeared at any of the hustings events so far, and party organisers have said she does not plan to attend any of them.
Certainly she does not appear to be at De Montfort University's Big Debate, which is currently streaming live on the web.

Where can she be? The Mercury suggests a solution to the mystery:
During Mr Farage's visit on Saturday, the party's Leicester South by-election candidate, Abhijit Pandya, told the Mercury Ms Anderson was busy studying for her A-levels but would be releasing a statement this week.
I wish her the best of luck with her exams. But the greater mystery must be why she was ever chosen in the first place.

And an even greater mystery is what policies a UKIP mayor would pursue.

Headline of the Day

From the Shropshire Star:

Ludlow churchyard sealed off after bones found

Zuffar Haq: The ideal candidate for Leicester South

“It’s Lord Bonkers!” cried a voice as I entered the Lib Dem campaign office for the Leicester South by-election on Saturday. The voice had a Dudley accent, so I assume it belonged to my former Harborough District Council colleague Phil Knowles. He will be Spoken To.

A busload of activists had arrived from London earlier in the day and been sent off to the leafy suburb of Knighton. So I set off with our candidate Zuffar Haq to make sure they were not lost or dehydrated and lend them a hand.

It was a lovely sunny afternoon and most sensible people had gone out for the day, so I did not learn a great deal about the way the campaign is going. But I heard enough to know that in Zuffar we have the ideal candidate for Leicester South.

I first became aware of him when he started appearing on regional television news as a campaigner on Leicester health issues. This was before I knew Zuffar was a Liberal Democrat, but I was impressed even then by how calm and personable he was. Later I was to get to know him well when he became our parliamentary candidate in Harborough.

But in Leicester South he seems even more in his element. He grew up and went to school in the constituency – even in the short time I was with him we came across the father of someone with whom he had been at Lancaster Boys (the school that featured in Gareth Malone’s series “Boys Don’t Sing”). I also heard him slip into Punjabi to speak to an elderly Asian voter.

Zuffar is also a businessman and he is known across Leicester for his charitable work – for more on that see a blog post by Mark Pack.

While I was with Zuffar one Conservative supporter, quite unprompted, said he would be voting tactically for us. But then the Tory vote is soft in this constituency. Considering that the Conservatives held Leicester South between 1983 and 1987, their distant third place in the 2004 by-election was a poor result.

Leicester South is a very mixed constituency, but it does contain some of the most attractive suburbs in the East Midlands. These, at least, ought to be natural Tory territory. More generally, the Conservatives’ failure to make progress in attracting votes from the city’s Asian communities – with their beliefs in family and business – is a condemnation, above all, of that party’s lack of vision.

Labour voters, meanwhile, are surely being taken for granted. To the outside observer, most of the party’s energy in Leicester is devoted to its internal faction-fighting. And their candidate Jon Ashworth, Ed Miliband’s PR man, has been parachuted in from outside the constituency - worse than that, from Nottinghamshire.

This is a stark contrast with Zuffar whose grandfather came to Leicester in 1919 and whose father helped establish the city's first mosque. (And if you think having a local candidate is not an issue, you should ask the views of some of the Leicester Labour bigwigs who were kept off the shortlist to ease Ashworth's path to the nomination.)

Zuffar told me he believes that the Asian community’s previous automatic support for Labour is breaking down. I heard him tell younger Asian votes to google “Zuffar Haq health” or “Zuffar Haq charity” to see what he is about.

This is an odd by-election in that it is taking place in parallel with Leicester’s first Mayoral election, and that contest is getting more media attention. And there are only five candidates standing in Leicester South against eleven in the citywide Mayoral contest.

This suggests to me that, with a strong candidate like Zuffar Haq, there is a chance for the Liberal Democrats to slip under the political radar and achieve a better result in Leicester South than most commentators expect.

So do come to Leicester South to help Zuffar Haq. Your time will be well used. And it you want to know how to find the campaign HQ or where to eat and drink, an earlier post of mine can help.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Sunday, April 17, 2011

RAF Desborough

When writing about my walk from Desborough to Pipewell and Wilbarston, I mentioned that I cut across the corner of the disused World War II airfield RAF Desborough. That airfield is worth a post of its own.

The map suggested there should be a path from the airfield down to the village of Wilbarston. Standing on the runway, it was not obvious where the path was. The best candidate was a hedge, with the blackthorn blossom showing prominently.

When I reached it, there turned out to be two hedges either side of what was obviously an ancient lane - almost a hollow way. It had obviously once been metalled and there were what looked like the remains of wartime buildings or security precautions.

Sure enough, it took me down to Wilbarston, passing beneath the village's bypass with a bridge that was almost a tunnel.

When it reached Wilbartson my lane turned out to have the name Rushton Road. This suggests it is an ancient route - Rushton is miles away, beyond the high ground and down in the Ise valley. In the Middle Ages it was one of the most important towns in Northamptonshire: today it is only a village.

This ancient road and its hedges must have been severed when the airfield was built. A reminded of the forces that were unleashed to defeat Nazi Germany.

But I also wanted to write about RAF Desborough to pass on this anecdote from the BBC site WW2 People's War, which also brings home the realities of the era:
I was at RAF Desborough driving a crash ambulance. I was on duty one night when I heard an explosion which I knew from experience was a plane crashing. I told the medical flight sergeant who contacted the control tower and they knew nothing about it. I went outside and saw a glow in the sky from the crashed plane. The M.O. then told me to go and find the plane. We drove into Desborough and nearby was an American bomb dump. The gates were all open ready for us and right at the far end of the bomb dump we found the crashed plane. It was a Wellington bomber.

Everyone on board was killed. Searching the wreckage I found an officers cap which I knew belonged to the Chief Flying Officer of the camp. Apparently he wasn’t on a mission or anything but had gone up on a “jolly”. His body wasn’t discovered for some time, until after the debris was cleared in fact.

Hi wife stayed with his coffin all night in the church, not knowing that his body wasn’t actually in the coffin. The coffin only contained sandbags to give it weight. Indeed, the sandbags were still there when the coffin was buried at his funeral later. I don’t know if the family know to this day.

Some nights later I came across the medical officer and the flight sergeant digging a hole to bury his remains on the road junction. The site of this unmarked grave still exists today. I assume that his marked grave still contains the sandbags.