Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Robert Humm & Co., Stamford

Robert Humm is one of Britain's more individual secondhand bookshops, occupying the old station master's house at Stamford (the station is still very much open) and specialising in transport and industrial history.

They once obtained a copy of Eric Tonks's Snailbeach District Railways for me (some years before the recent reprint) when other shops were telling me it was unobtainable. Today I bought Martin Smith's fascinating Stamford Myths and Legends there.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The truth about [redacted]

The new issue of Liberator is on its way to subscribers, so it must be time for this blog to visit Bonkers Hall again.

I don’t know about you, but I find these modern-day scandals awfully dull. Who cares if [redacted] has been playing fast and loose with [redacted], if you have no idea who [redacted] is? In fact, I am not sure I would recognise [redacted] if he walked into the Bonkers Arms either. How different things were in the past! Harold Macmillan’s daughter Sarah turned out not to be his daughter at all but to have been fathered by Bob Boothby (a kinsman of our own Ludicrous Kennedy), who was also supplied with boys by the Kray Twins. Now that is what I call a scandal!

Fortunately, we Liberal Democrats are not implicated in these matters. I give no credence to the story about [redacted] and the glass-topped table, I have little time for the notion that [redacted] enjoys being spanked and, despite what you may have read on the electric internet, I have never [redacted] with [redacted] or [redacted redacted] either!

Should we let paedophiles decide what our children wear?

Has Chris Morris been writing today's news?

The Daily Mail heads a story this morning:

School orders pupils to wear baggy clothes 'to deter paedophiles who like boys in tight trousers'

What appears to have happened is that King's Park Secondary School in Glasgow has introduced strict new uniform regulations and, in an attempt to ensure parental support for them, has decided to whip an entirely unjustified paedophile scare.

According to the report police say there have been no incidents of schoolchildren in the area being targeted.

I suppose that if the school is determined to choose its uniform on the basis of making its pupils as unattractive as popular to paedophiles, then they should do it properly. Call together a panel of leading Glaswegian sex offenders and let them vote on it.

Perhaps this ridiculous episode is a sign that the school despairs of winning support for its uniform on a more rational basis. And I am certain that, more and more, our modern obsession with paedophiles is leading good people to make a doomed attempt to see the world through their eyes.

End of the month Lolcats prove captions can be superfluous

Funny Pictures - Cute Kittens
see more Lolcats and funny pictures, and check out our Socially Awkward Penguin lolz!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Deltic locomotive returns to haul commerical freight trains

[Later. You may also enjoy this recent video of a Deltic hauling freight in the Scottish Highlands.]

It' s rather like finding a Derby winner pulling a milk float, but Dan Falchikov reports the welcome news that a preserved Deltic locomotive has been hired to haul commercial freight trains because of a shortage of locomotives.

Deltics hauled the express trains on the King's Cross to Edinburgh line in the 1960s and 1970s, though by the time I was a student at York they had been relegated to heading the stopping trains from there to London.

There was something very attractive about Deltics: that hunched, powerful shape and the throaty roar of their engines. People used to say that people would never mourn diesels they way they had the old steam locomotives, but I suspect the last days of the Deltics and the crowds they attracted formed the high-water mark of rail enthusiasm in Britain. Certainly, I spent their last evening in service (2 January 1982) beside the track near Little Bytham.

Dan has the video of a news report about the return of the Deltic and you can also see them in the opening titles of Get Carter...

Trivial Fact of the Day with Ben Goldacre

I may be late to the party on this one, but I was pleased to discover yesterday that the science journalist Ben Goldacre is the son of seventies pop star Noosha Fox...

Perhaps his mum could have a word with Ben and tell him that his permanent student act is starting to pall? Oh, and it is rude to pull faces when the other person in a television debate is talking.

Trivia fans will also appreciate Liberal Burblings' investigations of the links between the part of Velvet Brown in the film National Velvet and two prominent Liberal Democrats.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Six of the Best 162

Why do we have such a low opinion of politicians these days? Ballots and Bullets writes about a conference held by Nottingham’s Centre for British Politics in December 2009: "One of the most novel aspects of the conference was the participation of some writers of  recent political dramas and comedies – and we transcribed their contributions."

"I am quite contented to be a Victorian belonging to an age which still believed in progress, material and social." Martin Tod presents a fascinating piece of family history.

Jennie Rigg, who appears to be calling her blog Reversing the jelly baby of the neutron flow these days, wonders why she loves Prince Philip.

Gus Baker, writing on LabourList, discusses The Stevenage Test.

History Today, through an article by Ian Bradley, celebrates the career of W.S. Gilbert, who died 100 years ago today: "The fact is that throughout his life, as indisputably the leading English dramatist and satirist of the Victorian age, W.S. Gilbert had a strong social conscience and a deep concern with injustice as well as an overriding sense of the arbitrariness and fickleness of life. In many respects he was closer to the social reformers and anguished doubters of the later 19th century than to the jingoists and complacent establishment figures among whom he tends to be counted."

Remember Jack Hargreaves? No? Well I do. And so does Island of Terror: "forget the cardigans and the flares, these people's faces would have been equally at home at a witch burning, or a joust, or a battle with the Vikings."

Happy Oak Apple Day

Today, 29 May, is Oak Apple Day. In 1660 Parliament declared it a public holiday "as a day of thanksgiving for our redemption from tyranny and the King's return to his Government, he entering London that day". That king, of course, was Charles II.

People used to be mark the day by wearing oak leaves, to commemorate the way that the young Charles escaped after the Battle of Worcester by hiding in an oak tree near Boscobel House in Shropshire.

The day is still marked in an organised way in some places around the country, notably at Northampton and Aston on Clun in Shropshire. But, according to the Today progamme yesterday, popular celebration of Oak Apple Day died out a century ago.

Not so. I was discussing the day with the Dowager Lady Bonkers this afternoon and she recalled being sent from London to stay with relatives in Tollesbury in Essex during World War II.

On Oak Apple Day in 1941 or 1942 a boy, the son of a shepherd from out on the marshes, arrived at the village primary school wearing a spray of oak leaves and the headmaster remarked that he was pleased to see that someone still remembered the old custom.

Zdob shi Zdub: Bunǎ Dimineaţa

Judging by my Twitter feed, which I admit may not be representative of the country as a whole, it was the Moldovan entry that should have won this year's Eurovision. Certainly, Graham Norton's incredulity when the British jury and British viewers turned out to have given them a large vote proves he knows nothing.

The band with the pointy hats and the unicycle was called Zdob shi Zdub. It turns out that they also beat off strong competition to be Moldova's entry in 2005, when they finished sixth.

And, according to the Guardian, they have their fans in the British music business:
Someone who was glued to the box last Saturday was Paul Epworth, producer of Adele and Plan B. He was one of several pop figures to tweet their delight at the Moldovans' deranged genius.

"It was fantastic," he says. "It was like seeing a bizarre version of Devo in folk costumes. I just thought it was brilliant and absurd and so far removed from the slick operations of the western European entries, with all their money behind them. I loved the beautiful eccentricity of a small country like Moldova competing against the power of Russian money." He's referring to the fact that Russia's entry, Get You by Alexey Vorobyov, was written by RedOne, producer and writer for Lady Gaga.
So here is another Zdob shi Zdub song, this one from 2001. I like to think the accompanying footage from the Soviet era is bitingly satirical, but my Moldovan is a little rusty.

Still, you may be able to find out for yourself: Zdob shi Zdub have a blog and are on Twitter.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Gil Scott-Heron wins Trivial Fact of the Day posthumously

The radio has been talking about the poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron, who has died at the age of 62.

I hope the obituaries will record the fact that his father played football for Glasgow Celtic.

The Tottenham Outrage and Fortean Times

"The Tottenham Outrage," I said at work yesterday, looking through my notebook.

"What's that?" asked the writer of Arse Online, no doubt suspecting it referred to a disputed penalty award in a North London derby.

Not so.

Earlier this year I went to see the exhibition Churchill and the Anarchists at the Museum of London Docklands. While there I made a few notes on things to look up when I got home, and the Tottenham Outrage was one of them.

The Outrage was an armed robbery and double murder carried out by two Latvian anarchists that took place in Tottenham in January 1909 - a couple of years before the Siege of Sidney Street. Indeed, the furore it caused was a large part of the reason for the authorities extreme reaction to events in Sidney Street.

Anyway, I left work and went into the W.H. Smith's on Leicester station. There was a new issue of Fortean Times on sale. I bought it, opened it and found an item headed "The Tottenham Outrage". It turned out to involve sightings of the ghost of one of the victims of the Outrage - 10-year-old Ralph Joscelyne.

Spooky, you might say. Even Fortean.

Friday, May 27, 2011

A brick wall in Clipston

Lord Bonkers sues the Harwich and Manningtree Standard

From the newspaper's website:
And finally, what is clear from the crimes of all these parliamentarians including Lord Bonkers is that they need a rigorous system to govern their expenses, and it needs to be run by people who take the job seriously.
Lord Bonkers replies exculsively for Liberal England:
I am not sure whether this comment, which has been drawn to my attention, is by the rag or one of its readers. Be that as it may, I have placed the matter in the hands of my solicitors.

Name of the Day

Give it up for Dido Blench, marketing manager for Ludlow Assembly Rooms.

Guido Fawkes leads another journalist astray

Yesterday I wrote a post poking gentle fun at Guido Fawkes for claiming that an "emergency meeting" of Eastleigh Liberal Democrats had taken place the previous evening. His claim resulted in the ITV reporter Chris Ship banging on the doors of an empty constituency office.

Guido left a reply in the comments saying:
FYI BBC's Peter Henley was waiting for Huhne at the Eastleigh Civic Centre LD meeting.
But that was not how Peter Henley saw it...

If you want to know what was really going on in Eastleigh on Wednesday night, read Liberal Democrat Voice:
Was it a Liberal Democrat meeting? No, it was a meeting of the Eastleigh and the Bishopstoke, Fair Oak and Horton Heath Local Area Committees to which council officers and non-Liberal Democrat councillors were invited.
And the most important item on the agenda was not Chris Huhne's expenses but a cycle path.

I suspect journalists may be a little more wary of Guido's scoops in future.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


I am currently reading Edgelands by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts:
Growing up on the edge of two cities - Liverpool and Manchester - in the early Seventies, it was easy enough to walk for a short while and soon find yourself lost in back lanes or waste ground, to follow the wooded perimeters of a golf course, an old path leading through scratchy shrubland, or the course of a drainage ditch. It was easy enough to find yourself on the edges of arable land, to follow the the track bed of a dismantled railway or descend into an abandoned quarry.
Every town has its edgelands. Eighteen months ago the promised "Airfield Business Park" was very much part of Market Harborough's: the signs had gone up but the credit crunch meant that no work took place.

Things have moved on since then and the new Harborough Innovation and Business Centre is about to open on the site. It may be the edge of the town, but these are no longer edgelands.

But then edgelands have always come and gone. An old Ordnance Survey map tells me that the town's original industrial state - Riverside, near the railway station - was built partly on the site of a 19th century isolation hospital.

The Liberal Democrat MP who named Ryan Giggs

No, not John Hemming, at least according to the Shropshire Star.

It was the former MP - indeed former Liberal Democrat - Paul Marsden.

Don't let Guido Fawkes waste your evening

Mark Pack had a good post on Lib Dem Voice yesterday evening exposing a silly one by Guido Fawkes.
In his anxiety to kick Chris Huhne while he is down, Fawkes made some allegations about his return of expenses for the last general election. Mark took the trouble to show that these allegations are nonsense, but my overall impression is that the Fawkes post is dull.

Why is a blog that used to run important stories now banging on about Manilla envelopes? Shouldn't Guido Fawkes be leading the way rather than wheezing at the back of the pack?

Besides, someone learnt yesterday that you must sometimes take what you read on that blog (whoever writes it these days) with a pinch of salt.

Yesterday, under the heading + + + Eastleigh LibDems Holding Emergency Meeting + + + Guido Fawkes confidently announced:
Guido has just heard they are holding an unscheduled meeting right now as we go to pixel. There is so much for Huhne’s local party to talk about this evening.
At least one person had a wasted journey as a result, as this tweet from ITV journalist Chris Ship proves...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Reviving village shops

As I have mentioned before, in my current excursions to Leicestershire and Northamptonshire villages I am often retracing journeys I made on my bike 30 or more years ago.

In those days I was too young and stupid to appreciate half of what I was seeing, but I do recall that I never took a drink with me because I took it for granted that when I reached a village of any size I would be able to buy one in the shop.

Times have changed. The picture above shows what used to be the shop and post office in Clipston. Like many other village shops it has long since closed, though most have been converted to houses a little more elegantly.

All economics is against them - a fact that even Ambridge has caught up with - but some shops do manage to cling on. Wistanstow in Shropshire is one example I have come across.

Like a lot of surviving village shops it is run on a voluntary basis and supported by the Plunkett Community Shop Network. See there website for more about this trend.

Chris Huhne has achieved more in a year than most top politicians manage in a lifetime

Not my judgement, but that of Geoffrey Lean, the environmental correspondent of the Daily Telegraph:
For a man with a sword of Damocles hanging over his head, Chris Huhne ... has been playing a blinder. Over the last two weeks, as the crisis he faces steadily deepened, he has been the driving force behind two of the most momentous decisions any administration has taken, ones that could shape Britain’s economic development for the rest of the century, and beyond.

Last week the government adopted the world-beating goal of cutting carbon emissions to half 1990 levels by 2025. No other country, as Nick Clegg put it, “has set legally-binding targets in this much detail, so far ahead”. And then yesterday it announced that it was setting up an effective, independent, statutorily-based, Green Investment Bank, the first of its kind anywhere in the world. Taken together, they seem set to make David Cameron’s pledge to run “the greenest government ever” – which was in danger of becoming a national joke – a sober reality.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The death and rebirth of the Waverley Route

This film shows that last days of the Waverley Route - the direct line from Carlisle to Edinburgh that closed in 1969. Note the reference to the "young local Liberal MP David Steel".

The good news is that the Waverley Route, or at least part of it, is to be reopened. In 2006 the Scottish Parliament voted to reopen the line between Edinburgh and Tweedbank near Galashiels.

When that vote was passed it was said that trains would be running again by this year. A more recent report in Railway Gazette suggests that the scheduled date for reopening is now 2014.

The Conservatives should withdraw the whip from Roger Helmer MEP

One of the great mysteries of our time is how Roger Helmer ever became a member of the European Parliament. Surely the Conservative Party is not that short of talent?

He is the sort of saloon bar bore who is convinced that his opinions, at once hackneyed and extreme, are mere "common sense" and are also held by all right-thinking Englishmen. It is typical of such a man that his blog should be called Roger Helmer MEP: Straight Talking.

In January Helmer tweeted:
Why is it OK for a surgeon to perform a sex-change operation, but not OK for a psychiatrist to try to 'turn' a consenting homosexual?
When the inevitable row blew up Helmer replied: ""I am always surprised by the instant indignation of a strident minority."

You see, people who disagree with Helmer are inevitably part of a minority. Mind you, that minority turned out to include the Conservative Party, for whom a spokesman said: "We do not condone this sort of language."

Now he is at it again, making crass and offensive comments about rape on his blog. They were the talk of Twitter yesterday and are on the front page of today's Leicester Mercury.

Helmer was defending Kenneth Clarke's contention that there can be different degrees of seriousness in rape. So far, so reasonable - I defended that view to an extent myself.

But let's see what Helmer said.

He drew a contrast between two different rape scenarios of his own invention:
The first is the classic “stranger-rape”, where a masked individual emerges from the bushes, hits his victim over the head with a blunt instrument, drags her into the undergrowth and rapes her, and the leaves her unconscious, careless whether she lives or dies.

The second is “date rape”. Imagine that a woman voluntarily goes to her boyfriend’s apartment, voluntarily goes into the bedroom, voluntarily undresses and gets into bed, perhaps anticipating sex, or naïvely expecting merely a cuddle. But at the last minute she gets cold feet and says “Stop!”. The young man, in the heat of the moment, is unable to restrain himself and carries on.

Anyway, Helmer would (inevitably) "be quite happy to hang the guy" in the first case but (inevitably) believes that "most right-thinking people" would expect a much lighter sentence in the second.

I expect they would, but Helmer the heat of the moment, is unable to restrain himself and carries on:
Let me make another point which will certainly get me vilified, but which I think is important to make: while in the first case, the blame is squarely on the perpetrator and does not attach to the victim, in the second case the victim surely shares a part of the responsibility, if only for establishing reasonable expectations in her boyfriend’s mind.
So women are sometimes partly to blame for being raped? This is an outrage.

The Mercury quotes a party spokesman as saying "This is not the view of the Conservative Party." And it quotes someone called Joseph Bono who claims to be "Mr Helmer's political adviser" (perhaps not the best post to have on a CV) as saying:
"Mr Helmer's intention was to make clear that all instances of rape are a violent crime which should be punishable to the fullest extent of the law. In no way did he want to blame the victim."
How could we ever have thought that Helmer wanted to blame the victim?

Perhaps it was where he wrote "in the second case the victim surely shares a part of the responsibility".

Helmer is entitled to hold whatever outrageous or ridiculous views he pleases, but there is no reason why the Conservative Party should continue to give him credibility. They should withdraw the whip and find someone halfway sensible to stand in his place in the East Midlands next time.

Of course, what really hurts is that he has an office in Market Harborough.

Six of the Best 161

Can secret justice be justice? asks Manchester councillor Jackie Pearcey: "Occasionally, there is a very good reason for short period of secrecy ... but indefinite injunctions can only do harm."

Meanwhile Nick Thornsby revisits an earlier controversy to report that one of Phil Woolas's leading supporters in Littleborough and Saddleworth is being investigated by the organisation for which he works for apparently homophobic comments made about the Lib Dem candidate

Cicero's Songs argues that today's borrowing figures show that Britain is still the spendthrift of Europe.

David Boyle, writing for the New Economics Foundation, says the banks won't be able to lend to small businesses unless we force them to shake up their infrastructure.

On the RSA Projects blog, Thomas Neumark asks if government attempts to regenerate impoverished neighbourhoods are bound to end in gentrification and be self-defeating.

Crack Two writes about a series of monuments commissioned by Tito to mark the sites of WWII battles in Yugoslavia - the picture above shows the one at Kadinjača. "In the 1980s, these monuments attracted millions of visitors per year, especially young pioneers for their 'patriotic education'. After the Republic dissolved in early 1990s, they were completely abandoned, and their symbolic meanings were forever lost."

Monday, May 23, 2011

Clipston Baptist Church

There is a plaque in the entrance of the church with the date 1803. Pevsner has it right:
The brick side with the three arched windows belongs to that date.The gross and townish front of 1864 is by E.F. Law.
"Gross and townish" is just right, and it is an extraordinary building to find in what is still a small village. Finding it is even more of a surprise than discovering that Clipston still has two pubs.

The 1803 church seems to owe its existence to what sounds like an outbreak of religious mania led by a young man called John Gulliver. A leaflet tells the story of this revival, concluding:
Meeting for Prayer was the cause of this revival more than preaching, Preaching however has led many to inquire about the way of salvation. The youth Invited others to church meetings and many who came were deeply touched. In tears and weeping they have sought the way to Zion.

This work has effected a change among the youth in Clipston. Their behaviour is now mild and gentle. The streets during summer evenings were thronged with misbehaving idle youth, now they are silent and still. They walk together in groups praying and talking about religion.

The effect is mainly among the youth.

The Clipston congregation experienced considerable growth averaging 700 - 800 people in a service.

In 1803 a new church building was commissioned.
And that new church must have been substantial, even before the intrusion of the gross and townish front later in the century.

Guardian welcomes Lib Dem green investment bank triumph

I think you had better sit down before you read this.

The Guardian website carries an article that praises a Liberal Democrat achievement in government.

I am sorry. I did warn you. Would a glass of water help?

You will find that article on Desmond Carrington's Environment Blog. It begins:
Putting your money where your mouth is a good way to persuade others you are serious. And today, by setting up a serious green investment bank (GIB), the UK government has gone some way to persuading investors that they believe their own rhetoric on the urgent need to develop a green economy.

The coalition has sunk £3bn of taxpayers money into a bank that will run independently of government and will, eventually, be able to borrow as well as lend.
And it goes on:
On all the significant details of the GIB bar one or two, the government backed the green option, dispelling much of the GIB gloom that followed chancellor George Osborne's budget speech.
You still look a funny colour. Green, rather ironically. 
It will be independent and established in law. My Guardian colleague Fiona Harvey asked will it be able to borrow from the capital markets? Yes, said deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, who made the GIB announcement. Furthermore, the £3bn seed money no longer depends on asset sales: the Treasury has underwritten the sum. The reaction from business, campaigners and engineers has been among the most positive I can recall for a green announcement: campaigners always ask for more than they think they will get, but there was little they didn't get here.
And Carrington makes observations on the politics of the announcement that will cheer Liberal Democrat readers:
Clegg's speech was full of rousing words and ambition, but he also made some political comments that are not in the official transcript.

Clegg said: "The LibDems have long been the greenest of the main three parties - the difference now is that it is not just a green party but a green party of government." That is clearly part of the stronger LibDem voice promised after their recent electoral drubbings and a reminder to LibDem voters that they are getting some return on their vote.
I have in the past suggested that it is possible to overestimate the extent to which we are seeing Liberal Democrat policies implemented by the Coalition government, but this strikes me as an unalloyed triumph.

And it is good to see the Guardian treating us justly for once.

Nurse, the screens!

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

When Leicester can afford a new art gallery... St Saviour's Church

Tonight's Leicester Mercury quotes the city's new Mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, as ruling out the building of a new gallery for modern art - at least for the foreseeable future.

It also quotes his Labour opponent comrade Ross Wilmott as saying:
"The art gallery was my idea, along with a few others.

"It would create jobs – building the gallery, running it, running the shop – which would help local people.

"There is nowhere in the city to see modern art, which is just disappointing. I know that it would be unrealistic to start building it tomorrow, but I had hoped it was still on the cards for some time soon."
I have a lot of sympathy for the view that the city's cultural policy has concentrated too much on buildings and not enough on individual artists. But the current pressures on council budgets render this debate rather redundant.

But when money does allow large new projects again, I hope the city fathers and mothers will look beyond the city centre or official cultural quarter. There is a remarkable historic building in an area that badly needs to be rediscovered and revitalised.

Step forward St Saviour's Church.

Privacy law is too important to be left to the judges

Some years ago I attended a day course on media law. It was taught by a former journalist who had later taken a law degree, and what a remember most from the day is his stories of the various scams he used to get up to as a young reporter. In the days when you had to phone your copy in, the ability to extract free calls from a public phone was a useful way of making those expenses go further.
But he did cover the basics of libel, parliamentary privilege and qualified privilege, and something else he said has stayed with me. It was that the judges were clearly determined to create a new tort of privacy and that we should keep an eye on how this developed through case law.

How right he was.

At the heart of the current farce over the law on privacy lies this  judicial activism. Privacy law has been developed through judgments in the courts and not through debate in Parliament or wider society.

For many on the left, who reason that the public is irredeemably conservative in its social views, this has been rather attractive. Battles they dare not fight or could not win at Westminster could be fought instead in more patrician European institutions.

Certainly, a despair of ever winning in Britain again was one of the reason for Labour's embrace of the European ideal under Neil Kinnock.

Add to this despair amongst politicians the instinctive arrogance of the legal profession and you have a powerful and toxic brew.

I am a Liberal and am instinctively in favour of free debate, whether in the press or on Twitter. I find the demand to prove a "public interest" before something can be published absurd. It is those who favour censorship who should be forced to show it is in the public interest.

Finally, we are told that blackmail is an important element in the case that has caused all the trouble. But blackmail is a serious criminal offence. If there is convincing evidence that someone has committed blackmail then he or she should be arrested and charge.

It should not be possible to raise the spectre of blackmail, gain an injunction and then leave the matter hanging in the air for ever after. You would not allow it with murder: why allow it with blackmail.

All of which is a way of saying that I fully support John Hemming's actions in the Commons today.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

An interview with Rod Argent

To close Zombies weekend on Liberal England, I am sending you to the High and Low Podcast and its interview with Rod Argent. He gives the best explanation of how the Zombies were formed and what was unique about their sound that I have heard.

Later. And don't overlook his interview with Harborough FM.

The Liberal Democrats should stop claiming to be squeaky clean

"Huhne mess proves why the Lib Dems must be squeaky clean" was the headline on a post on Virtually Naked earlier today. And its conclusion was:
In this new age of heightened media speculation, the Liberal Democrats must be whiter than white. While Labour and the Tories can survive petty scandals and find safety in numbers, we must be even more squeaky clean to pass the test.
I think this is wrong for two reasons.

The first is that it assumes that if Liberal Democrats live unimpeachable lives then the right-wing press will leave them alone. As Mark Pack has been arguing on the news today, the reality is that if Chris Huhne resigns then the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph will not go away: they will pick on the next Lib Dem target. However moral we are, those newspapers will not leave us alone.

The second reason is that we are paying the price for presenting ourselves as being cleaner than the other parties in the past. This must be intensely irritating to our opponents and offers an infinite number of hostages to fortune. In the absence of other evidence I find it natural to assume that you will find the same percentages of good and bad people in every party.

It also suggests a weakness elsewhere. We should not be asking people to vote for us because we are better people or because we work harder than the other parties. We should be asking them to vote for us because we have good judgement and a convincing set of solutions to the problems the country faces.

Charles Dickens on privacy and superinjunctions

From chapter 39 of Bleak House:
The one great principle of the English law is to make business for itself. There is no other principle distinctly, certainly, and consistently maintained through all its narrow turnings. Viewed by this light it becomes a coherent scheme and not the monstrous maze the laity are apt to think it. Let them but once clearly perceive that its grand principle is to make business for itself at their expense, and surely they will cease to grumble.

The Zombies: Breath Out, Breathe In

As promised last night, a track from the new Zombies album. As I also wrote last night, there are definite notes of Steely Dan here and it is none the worse for that.

It's not bad for a band celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Senior Leicester councillor calls for taxpayers to fund Labour propaganda

Labour councillor Robert Wann - the man who wanted to build on the city's major nature reserve - wants to use a publicly funded magazine for Labour propaganda.

The Leicester Mercury reports:
In an e-mail to other councillors seen by the Mercury, Councillor Rob Wann said the magazine could be used to help publicise the party. ...

In the e-mail, Coun Wann said: "We have the Link magazine, which I think we can push a more Labour message through and ensure it gets to every household.

"Who cares if we are challenged for using it for political purposes? We have 52 councillors so why not?"

Link is published 10 times a year and delivered to residents across the city. It costs £346,000 to produce.
To his credit the newly elected Labour Mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, has stamped on the idea. But this affair does emphasise the problem I wrote about the other day: Leicester has a Labour Mayor being watched over by an almost wholly Labour council.

In this case, the more sensible Mayor is reining in the council, but that isn't how the new system is meant to work. It's no way to run a city.

The Zombies, Market Harborough

We discover popular music backwards as well as forwards. I loved Argent's Hold Your Head Up when I was 12 and Colin Blunstone's early solo work reminds me of listening to Radio Luxembourg under the covers at the same age. But I doubt that I had then heard of the Zombies - I can remember my surprise at learning that Carlos Santana was not the writer of She's Not There. (I don't feel so bad after hearing Rod Argent telling the younger members of tonight's audience that his band recorded the original version of God Gave Rock and Roll to You.)

I have completed my education since then, of course, and joined the throng who think Odessey and Oracle may be the greatest album of the sixties. And I have just bought their new CD Breathe Out, Breathe In, which finds them sounding rather like Steely Dan - no bad thing for grown up rockers.

And all these stages were represented in this evenings concert at the Harborough Leisure Centre. There were half a dozen songs each from Odessey and Oracle and the new CD (wisely slipped in early, though they sounded good), songs from Blunstone's solo career, the classic Zombies singles and two Argent anthems.

The dynamic of the band is still the same as it was in their 1960s appearances: Blunstone looking sweet and taking it all rather seriously; Argent mugging to the audience and wearing his virtuosity lightly. These days the band is completed by Jim Rodford on bass (he was present when the Zombies were formed in 1961, declined to join but was later a founder member of Argent), his son Steve on drums and recent recruit Tom Toomey on guitars.

I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, but how could you not like it when one of your favourite bands plays around the corner from where you live? In particular, Colin Blunstone's voice is still in marvellous condition - powerful and piercing - even if you did not always get that unique breathy tone.

A word too for the local support act Jacksboro Highway. In the space of five songs they managed to play both Dimples and Can't Find My Way Home. They are clearly a band for the Market Harborough based Steve Winwood enthusiast to investigate more closely.

I shall choose one of the Zombies' new songs for tomorrow's music video, but you can also enjoy songs that have previously featured on this blog and were all played at tonight's concert:

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Clipston: The most beautiful primary school in England?

Who needs the Cotswolds? This is the grammar school and hospital designed and built by Matthew Cole of Clipston between 1667 and 1673. It is still in use as the village primary school.

Pevsner records of the three bays:
Originally the centre had the headmaster's lodging on the ground floor, the school-room on the first, and the hospital, which was for twelve men, occupied the two wings.
He also says that the frontage is in its original state, but the interior and back were completely remodelled in 1926.

The school fete, indicated by some delightfully homemade bunting, was taking place when I arrived, so I was able to have a nose around the back of the building and enjoy a cup of tea.

Judge Judge is a poor judge of the internet

"The Lord Chief Justice made an outspoken attack on "modern technology" yesterday," starts a report by Ian Burrell in the Independent this morning, recalling the glories days of the bench. Those were the days when judges had not heard of television and had to be woken regularly after lunch to be reminded what it was.

More seriously, the report goes on to say:
Lord Judge called on society to bring "under control" those "who in effect peddle lies about others" online.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the current dispute, it is a fact that people are using the net to tell the truth about others. What the Lord Chief Justice (Judge Judge, as he used - gloriously - to be called) is demanding is that the law should prevent them from doing so.

He is not alone among lawyers in making impossible demands. The report also quotes Nick Armstrong of Charles Russell LLP as complaining that social media "has (sic) of late been used as a vehicle for gossip..."

If he wants to see legislation against gossip then he really is demanding the impossible.

Mr Justice Cocklecarrot is 124.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Labour MPs: Pray you outlive Gerald Kaufman

Robert Litherland, who was Labour MP for Manchester Central from 1979 to 1997, died last week. The Guardian carried an obituary by Julia Langdon, to which Gerald Kaufman was invited to contribute a few paragraphs.

Here are a couple of them:
In parliament, Bob did not mince his words. He denounced Michael Howard, Conservative employment secretary from 1990 to 1992: "The right honourable and learned gentleman is Dr Goebbels incarnate. This is a squalid statement by a squalid minister."

He supported Michael Foot as Labour leader in the period up to the 1983 election. At the traditional rally at Trafford Park, he asked me: "Do you believe the opinion polls?" Those polls were terrible, and my one-word answer, "Yes", left him crestfallen.
So two anecdotes, both of which make Litherland look silly and one of which is intended to make us marvel at Kaufman's sagacity.

Clearly, he is not the sort of man you want allowed anywhere near your obituary.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Hitch-22: A memoir by Christopher Hitchens

My review from today's Liberal Democrat News.

Hitch-22: A memoir
Christopher Hitchens
Atlantic Books, 2011, £9.99

This is the story of a journey. Christopher Hitchens began his working life on the fringes of London left-wing journalism and became a New York intellectual who toured American television studios to support the Iraq war.

You can make a case that this was not a simple shift to the right: traditionally, it has been British Conservatives who have been sceptical of foreign entaglements when no direct national interests are involved and the left that has been more likely to urge internvetion. And Hitchens’ willingness to criticise sacred cows from Mother Teresa to Bill Clinton is thoroughly healthy and was a necessary part of making his way as a contrarian. But his support for George W. Bush and Paul Wolfowitz does feels like conformity to the opinions of his new hosts.

Indeed, the book as whole has a very American feel. It’s not just the spelling, which is an irritant to the British reader which could surely have been corrected: the readers he has in mind are American too, judging by the references he does and does not explain.

New York is an intoxicating city, but in some ways it is surprising that Hitchens has landed there. While his friend Martin Amis’s literary heroes were always American to begin with, Hitchens is a far more consciously English, even if his great hero P.G. Wodehouse did end his days on Long Island.

Hitch-22 came out last year, but a reading of the paperback edition takes place in the shadow of a discovery that he made after writing it. In the words of Hitchens’ new preface: “I suffer from Stage Four esophageal cancer. There is no Stage Five.”

In many ways the early chapters of this book are the most interesting; certainly they are the best written. As well as being one of the last men of letters able to describe the experience of being subjected to the miseries of a traditional prep school education, Hitchens paints sympathetic portraits of his parents. His father was a disappointed former Naval officer who embraced a rather cheerless variety of Conservatism. His mother, the beautiful and brilliant Yvonne, committed suicide in a pact with her new lover in an Athens hotel room when Hitchens was in his early twenties. By contrast, his brother, the journalist Peter Hitchens, barely features at all.

Hitchens’ days at university were torn between a desire to be a social and sexual success and a burgeoning career as a Trotskyite agitator. Ironically for someone who was later to become a very public atheist, his induction into the International Socialists resembles nothing so much as a religious conversion.

Then it is on to Hitchens’ New Statesman days. These chapters are dominated by his accounts of the wit and wisdom of his Martin Amis and James Fenton and, from an older generation, Kingsley Amis and Robert Conquest. Some of the stories are good, but there is no surer way of killing an anecdote than introducing it with “I heard a really funny story the other day...” and that is the cumulative effect of Hitchens’ lavish praise for his friends here.

The British reader may find Hitchens’ account of his time in America, which dominates the second half of the book less interesting. While his concern from human rights in Iraq goes back a long way – much longer than it does with most his later allies on the American right – some of the writing is mawkish. And his claim that he knows that weapons of mass destruction were discovered there is not credible.

In all honesty, much of Hitch-22 does not show him at his best. For that you have to turn to his journalism – witty, angry and wonderfully well read. But I did like the story here about the mother who bought Hitchens’ book Letters to a Young Contrarian for her son in the hope that he would become a contrarian himself. He refused to do so.http://www.amazon.co.uk/Hitch-22-Memoir-Christopher-Hitchens/dp/1843549212

From Bonkers Hall to the sea

Ed Stafford and Charlotte Thompson from Hallaton in Leicestershire are taking part in a 24-hour non-stop 103-mile run today, reports the Harborough Mail:
They are taking part in the insane challenge from Nevill Holt to Brancaster Staithe on the Norfolk coast ... along with four other runners in a bid to raise cash for four charities.
Nevill Holt, as you may recall, is widely believed to be the model for Bonkers Hall.

You can sponsor the runners online at Rampant Run Two.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Kenneth Clarke, rape and the paucity of political debate in Britain

The row over Kenneth Clarke's comments on rape exemplifies what is wrong with our politics: the obsession with identifying gaffes and comparative lack of interest in the substantial interests involved.
Of course, Clarke's comments were crass: there is no such thing as a rape that is not serious. And the argument that it is somehow better to be raped by someone you know is a very questionable one.

But no one believes that Clarke really believes that rape is not serious. He spoke in a clumsy and thoughtless way, which is regrettable but is hardly a reason for resignation. It is no surprise that the right-wing press is after his moderate blood, but the way Ed Miliband has joined the clamour must be a great disappointment to those who believed he was a Labour moderniser.

And his point that looking at the average sentence for rape does not tell us very much is a valid one. Indeed, the variation in sentences for rape suggests that we do regard some rapes as more deserving of punishment than others.

The more important point at stake has hardly been discussed. Clarke was talking about rape in the first place because of his intention to halve the sentences of offenders who plead guilty. It is this we should be talking about.

I am not a supporter of plea bargaining at the best of times. It risks raising the interests of administrative convenience above those of individual justice. And if the differential in punishment is great enough, it can put pressure on the innocent to plead guilty.

Plea bargaining seems particularly inappropriate in the case of rape. Firstly because it is such a serious crime. And secondly because of the low conviction rate. Will it even work, if offenders do not believe they will be convicted?

Six of the Best 160

Some words of wisdom of Kenneth Clarke's travails from Welcome to Spiderplant Land.

Liberal Landslide writes on the consolations of losing elections: "Since the polls closed on the 5th of May, I’ve carried with me a sense of overwhelming liberation."

Writing on the Daily Telegraph site, Ed West pays tribute to the former taoiseach Dr Garret FitzGerald,: "Generally regarded as the nicest man in Irish politics, FitzGerald was often outfoxed by his more cunning rival Charlie Haughey, but was all the more loved for it. FitzGerald had a vision of a more liberal, wealthy and outward-looking Ireland that came to pass, and part of this vision was a non-sectarian society at ease with its neighbour. This he helped achieve, and it is strangely fitting that he passes away during its symbolic reconciliation."

The Philosophy Shop is and educational charity set up to introduce primary and secondary school-age children to philosophy. Read all about it on journalism.co.uk.

"The Middle East's restive countries are experiencing everything from measured success to incipient civil war." Foreign Policy has a country-by-country guide to the progress of the Arab Spring.

Enjoy a wonderful 360° panorama of Wilton's Music Hall in Tower Hamlets, thanks to Spherical Images.

NHS to sue contractors over delays on St Luke's Hospital site, Market Harborough

Work has ceased on the new day case unit at the St Luke's Hospital site in Market Harborough and NHS Leicestershire County and Rutland is suing the contactors over the delays with the project.

This adds to the sense of mystery that has surrounded the construction of the new unit. Why, in particular, did it have to be shipped all the way from the United Arab Emirates?

Liberal Democrat councillor Phil Knowles was live on the BBC East Midlands new programme this evening talking about this latest development.

He has also been speaking to the Harborough Mail:
"This is deeply concerning. This whole project has lumbered and lurched from one problem to another. This will lead to a considerable delays."

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Edward Hardwicke in Colditz

Edward Hardwicke, who died on Monday, will be best remembered for playing Dr Watson to Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes. But I remember him better from the BBC series Colditz which was made in the early 1970s.

Here is a glimpse of him from that series. Remarkably, the other actor turns out to be a young, pre-Taggart  Mark McManus.

The Queen in Dublin

Before the Ireland vs England rugby union international at Croke Park, Dublin, in 2007 there was widespread trepidation. How would God Save the Queen be received in a ground that was very much part of the Irish struggle for Independence?

In the event it was received with perfect courtesy - so much so that all that worry seemed rather foolish after the event. Ireland is a modern European nation: why should we have expected there to be any trouble?

The Queen's visit to Ireland is passing off in much the same spirit. Though historic, it is essentially ordinary and a little dull, as such visits tend to be.

It leaves the Republican dissidents looking foolish and stuck in a 19th-century variety of nationalism. France and Germany are allies, Poland has cordial relations with both Russia and Germany. Are we really meant to believe that Ireland has been so uniquely wronged that it cannot enjoy a sensible relationship with the United Kingdom?

Meanwhile, the way that God Save the Queen and English kickers are booed in Cardiff and at Murrayfield is surely a sign of an inferiority complex rather than of a confident, modern nationalism.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Fox blasts British overseas aid plan

Lord Bonkers replies exclusively for Liberal England:
It was clearly set out in the Coalition agreement. Now clear off down the garden and leave our dustbins alone.

David Lloyd George giving a speech in 1932

GUEST POST Towards a Liberal Democrat ideology

Simon Beard is a philosophy student at the LSE and blogs regularly for ResPublica.

Liberal ideology appears a mass of contradictions. To outsiders we are centrist, however we view ourselves as radicals, we believe in freedom but often propose new laws and regulations rather than opposing them. We are home to some of the strongest supporters of privatisation and nationalisation.

Given these differences it is perhaps natural that we hide behind the notion of being a moderate voice in a conservative government. However this is not good enough. Both because nobody votes for moderation, people vote for what they agree with, and because it isn't actually true, there are many areas where the government is being decidedly middle of the road and we are pushing for it to be radical.

As a party we need to remember both where we occupy the centre ground between frankly insane ideological extremes, and where we remain the true voice of radicalism in this country.

Three areas where we are radical
Constitutionalism – Unlike the other parties Liberals believe in constitutional reform (the disestablishment of the Church, the separation of powers, strengthening local government and electoral reform). This is because we care about the way things are done, not just what is achieved, and because we realise that when the ends justify the means the only winners are those with the power to select the ends.

Internationalism – Liberals have always taken a global view and have stood up for globalisation. In the 19th century it was free trade and anti-colonialism that concerned us, in the 20th century peace and
nuclear disarmament and now it is migration and international environmental problems such as climate change. We have consistently opposed short term protectionism and stand up for our longer-term interest, which is global.

Individualism – Whilst Liberals have, rightly, acted to reduce personal freedom, such as the freedom to participate in cruel blood sports, we continue to stand out in supporting the individual as the fundamental unit of society. Both Labour and the Tories are coming increasingly under the control of their communitarian 'blue' and 'red' wings respectively, however for Lib Dems there is no community, be it church, trades union, business or neighbourhood, that is more important than its members.

Three areas where we are centrists
Markets – Liberals support markets, but only those very small number of markets that are actually competitive, work with good information and are open to new entrants. Most government created markets are not up to this standard and fail as a result. Nevertheless Lib Dems are divided over the extent to which the risks of market failure can outweigh the potential market efficiency.

The role of the state – Liberals have long realised that individuals sometimes require state support if they are to achieve their full potential. However, we also realise that the state can trap people into dependency and believe that people's lives are not lived to the full if they cannot find a productive place in society. We therefore favour social spending that builds peoples assets, and oppose that which either limits their choices or turns them into clients of the state.

Regulation and planning – Liberals love regulation, but only because it is a necessary corrective. Nobody is more opposed to the free market then large corporations who wish to stifle competition and socialise as many public costs and risks as possible. Protecting our market economy from corporations that seek protection, monopoly and unfair advantage requires careful planning and regulation. However, this should never be a solution in search of a problem.

It is right that in these three areas, where we fall between the two main parties and that our policy reflects the views of experts. It is also right that in these areas we act as a moderating influence in government.

However, it is entirely wrong to lose sight of just how radical we are, and how when we get beyond these areas we remain radically opposed to the mainstream political opinion of our country.

And it is precisely because our position on the constitution, our place in the world and the importance of the individual are unpopular that we should not lose the opportunity we have in government to put some of them into practice. These are the things we most care about, and this is the way to enjoy our time in government.

Now read Simon Beard's first guest post for Liberal England: In praise of slow government.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Write a guest post for Liberal England

Don't forget that Liberal England is now accepting guest posts. So far 14 have appeared:
If you would like to write one yourself, please send me an email so we can discuss your idea. I am chiefly interested in political posts, but if you are a regular reader you will know that this blog is noted for its eclectic range of interests...

The Barwell meteorite of Christmas 1965

It is Christmas Eve 1965. You are in the large Leicestershire village of Barwell. You see a bright light in the sky. Is it a star showing the birthplace of our Lord?

No, it is the largest meteorite ever to fall to earth in Britain.

As the BBC Inside Out pages tell it:
The village of Barwell near Leicester, was showered in thousands of pieces of what became known as the Christmas meteorite.

From fragments to large chunks Barwell became the target, yet amazingly no-one was injured.

Had the meteorite landed elsewhere, it could easily have been a different story as another Barwell local, Roger Platts explains.

"If it had hit a few seconds later and gone into Leicester at 4.15pm Christmas eve, it would have been a disaster."
At least the meteorite turned out to be something of a goldmine for the village:
As soon as the news broke, Barwell was inundated with meteorite hunters from around the world.

With museums offering money for every piece, the search was on - although not everyone was cashing in.

"Huge sums of money were being paid for fragments of this meteorite," remembers Annie Platts.

"Had we realised we could have been very rich people because we were stumbling around it all on our carol singing trip."

Annie wasn't the only one refraining exchanging meteorite for money.

Astronomer Patrick Moore arrived in Barwell as soon as he heard the news and on finding a lump of the meteorite took it promptly to the local museum.
You can see part of the meteorite that fell on Barwell in the video above. Lembit Opik is 46.

Jacob's Ladder by Sheena Porter

You may recall that I rather fell in love with Bridgnorth last summer, spending more than four hours doing the town trail. I even went back late that evening to see the town's two churches. Yes, I had dined well, but they are remarkable. As I wrote at the time:
St Leonard's (medieval but practically rebuilt in the 19th century) is placed in something close to a cathedral close. Thomas Telford's St Mary Magdalene closes off a fine Georgian street - and was aligned North-South to achieve this.
I found the other day that I have had an old children's book set in the town sitting unread on my shelves all this time. Jacob's Ladder by Sheena Porter is set in "Castlebridge" but the town it is based upon is unmistakable:
They came to the bottom of the Cartway and turned towards the long flight of steps which led up again to High Town, but Nicola pulled out her purse with a flourish and turned back towards the cliff railway, where a thick cable on a wheel hauled one car up the track as the other car went down.

"I'll give you a special Sunday treat," she said grandly, and bought two tickets at the tiny booking office.

The empty car bounced and swayed a little as they stepped into it, and the attendant reluctantly closed the door after waiting hopefully for a little while for more passengers. they slid into movement and the second car detached itself from the station at the top of the cable and came to meet them. When they passed, the saw that it was empty. Business was bad on wintry Sundays.
Jacob's Ladder was published in 1963 and one point of interest is that it was illustrated by Victor Ambrus, who today makes the drawings for Channel 4's Time Team.

Sheena Porter, who lives in Ludlow, worked as a librarian who in Leicestershire and Shropshire. In the 1960s she published several notable books for children. Featuring children working out family problems whilst solving historical mysteries, they rather recall the work of William Mayne.

Let us pause a moment too to mourn our loss of innocence: a couple of years after Jacob's Ladder she was able to publish another book called The Knockers. Its setting in the Shrophire hills was very Malcolm Saville, but the scratchy relationships between the children certainly were not. The knockers, incidentally, were the spirits that the lead miners could hear in their workings under the Stiperstones.

Finally, I hope the quotation above will not put anyone off bidding for the Bridgnorth cliff railway.

Stephen Williams' plan to give away bank shares may go ahead

In March Stephen Williams wrote a pamphlet for CentreForum endorsing a plan drawn up Portman Capital partners, under which each UK citizen would receive about 1450 shares in RBS and 440 in Lloyds. These would be worth more than £900 at current market prices.

A story on the CNBC site today suggests that the government is also attracted to the plan:
Government ministers and civil servants have been concerned by the possible effect a mass sell-off of the state's shares would have on the overall market and in particular on the banks in question.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Two concepts of children's rights and the boy in a skirt

Later. The video I originally posted here has disappeared from Youtube, but you can still find it on the BBC News site.

In my contribution to the 2006 booklet Liberalism - Something to Shout About I examined this paradox: the more rights we give children the less freedom they have. On those rights I observed:
The last time there was a significant children's rights movement in Britain was during the late 1960s and 1970s, when polical radicalism was in the air more generally. That movement was largely run by children and teenagers themselves and has as its targets abuses like corporal punishment, petty uniform regulations and the keeping of secret records by schools. The youngsters taking part were clear that their rights were to be asserted against the state and the schools that it ran.

In today's children's rights movement, there is no place for children themselves and no challenging schools - indeed the keeping of confidential records is central to the movement. Instead it is parents who are seen as the threat to children's rights and the state as the body that upholds them.

This odd view explains how a commitment to those rights can coexist comfortably with the remarkably restrictive policies with which we now surround children - curfews, ASBOs and the like. If the 1960s movement was an attempt at Kids' Liberation (as it would undoubtedly have been called in those days), the our present-day version has more in common with the child-saving efforts of the nineteenth century.
All of which explains why I was pleased to see Chris Whitehead's protest. His understanding of children's rights is clearly of the 1960s' variety, even if in those days 12-year-olds would probably have been demanding the right not to wear shorts.

The humiliation of Stacy Solomon

If you don't live in the region then you probably will not have seen East Midlands Trains' television commercials designed to encourage us to book our tickets through their website. Those commercials feature Stacy Solomon and her image has starting appearing at the company's railway stations too.

Given that the idea behind them must be "If Stacy Solomon can use our website then anyone can," I feel rather sorry for her

When Lord Bonkers drove Chris Huhne's car

Last January Lord Bonkers remarked upon his fondness for Eastleigh:
So when the town’s MP, our own Chris Huhne, invited me to tour his constituency I was happy to accept.

As we drive through the Hampshire countryside this morning he is full of the virtues of his Toyata Prius (apparently no polar bears are harmed in its manufacture), but as we near a crossroads he begins to panic: “It’s the brakes, your lordship, they just aren’t...”

At this point I am obliged to lean across and take command of the steering. As I explain after I have brought us to a halt by using a ploughed field with an appreciable slope, it is a peculiarity of the Rutland Highway Code that the landowner has right of way at any junction. Thus I am well used to driving without brakes.
Now I think we know who was on the other end of the phone call.

Stevie Wonder: Never Had a Dream Come True

The trouble with choosing tracks that you happen to hear in cafes is that you do not always know what you have been listening to. As I found after hearing this in the station buffet at Leicester, googling "Stevie Wonder doo doo doo doo doo doo doo" gets you nowhere.

Luckily I work with someone who recognised the song from my humming. Never Had a Dream Come True, written towards the end of Stevie Wonder's first period with Motown, reached no. 6 in the UK singles charts in 1970.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Old Newspaper Story of the Day

From the Daily Telegraph, 27 March 2008:
A New Zealand man who claimed he was raped by a wombat and that the experience left him speaking with an Australian accent has been found guilty of wasting police time.

Six of the Best 159

"Vince Cable, it seems, has notched his Tory-baiting down from 11 to about 8." |Pete Hoskin describes the Busincess Secretary's appearance at a Fabian meeting today on the Spectator's Coffee House blog.

Andy Strange - on Strange Thoughts - complains that he has become the poster boy for Liberal Democrat misery. Look, there he is again!

Living on Words Alone has a novel explanation for the Liberal Democrats' unpopularity: "If parents have two children - one usually well behaved and one usually naughty - they will always come down harder on the well behaved one if they misbehave than they will with the naughty one, because of the shock. That seems to me a perfect analogy for the respective coalition partners."

The Lib Dems are not the only ones in trouble. An Independence Minded Liberal says: "Ed Miliband is facing growing criticism from party members in Scotland over the type of inquiry he has ordered into the reasons for last week’s disastrous Holyrood election defeat."

You know how I am always going on about the Stiperstones? The Shropshire Wildlife Trust is organising a walk on 11 June that will show you these hills too.

Unmitigated England looks at the Pavilion at Aylestone Road - Leicestershire's former county cricket ground.

Leicester's one-party state

Last Thursday Sir Peter Soulsby, the Labour Party candidate, was elected as Leicester's first executive mayor. At the the same time Labour won 52 of the 54 seats on the city council, which is the body charged with scrutinising his running of the city.

This was a remarkable achievement for Labour, but it does present the city and the executive mayor model of government with some problems.

I have never been a great fan of elected mayors. Their introduction was born out of a Blairite impatience with the compromises and coalition building of traditional local government. The idea of a strong figure who will bang heads together and get things done has a faintly totalitarian air to it.

Nor has the system done much to increase public involvement or interest in local government. As find I (a little fancifully) observed in my old New Statesman column:
leading GLC councillors were public figures whose reputations reached far beyond London. So much so that councillor-spotting became a popular hobby with schoolboys. They thronged the approaches to County Hall with their notebooks, squealing with excitement when a Tony Banks or a Dave Wetzel came into view.

You won’t find them at the new City Hall. London politics has not produced a figure of substance for years. Some people mention Nicky Gavron, but I never worked out who he or she was.
And having a Labour Mayor and a near one-party council accentuates these difficulties.

There is certainly a strong case for using a proportional system for electing councils in city's with mayors. The Leicester Mercury's political correspondent has pointed out that under a proportional system Labour would have won 35 seats, the Tories 11 and the Lib Dems 8 - still a thumping majority, but a far healthier balance for politics in the city.

Or if that is beyond the pale after another recent result, then at least for electing the mayor and the councillors in different years.

Labour certainly saw the advantages of bringing in the new executive mayor regime and electing the council in a year when the government was unpopular. Uniquely, that regime was brought in without a referendum and pressure was put on Labour councillors to support the move.

I have already heard Labour people crowing that the two opposition councillors (one Tory, one Lib Dem who used to be a Tory) hate each other and will not second each other's motions, so there will be no opposition at all. But Labour's brand of local politics is anti-pluralist enough as it is I doubt this set up will do them much good in the long run. As the Mercury correspondent has also pointed out, in 1968 the Conservatives held every seat on the city council but they soon lost their position of hegemony.

After the result I tweeted that it was a good thing Labour was so faction ridden in Leicester, otherwise there would be no opposition at all. The editor of the Leicester Mercury tweeted back that he did not see it that way.

And, of course, the Mercury does now has an even more important role in scrutinising the government of the city. That is a role, incidentally, that I am more confident it will fulfil than I would have been a few years ago.

Meanwhile, maybe we bloggers have a role to play too?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Trivial Fact of the Day with Olivia Newton-John

We all know that Albert Einstein said: "God does not play dice with the universe." What is not so widely known is that he said it in a letter to his fellow physicist Max Born and that Born was Olivia Newton-John's grandfather.

There is another piece of Olivia Newton-John trivia all over the net: this is the claim that her father Brinley took Rudolf Hess into custody after his landing in Scotland.

I cannot find an authoritative source to confirm this, but it may well be true. Brinley Newton-John was an MI5 officer and a Royal Society paper about Max Born's family records:
Brin’s German was so perfect that the Royal Air Force put him as a fake-German among the Germans in prisoner-of-war camps to gather intelligence: this was clearly a dangerous job, but fortunately he was never found out.