Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Strange Death of Liberal Canada

Jordan Michael Smith has written an article for the US-based Dissent magazine looking at the remarkable collapse of the Liberals at the recent Canadian general election. He suggests that it is not enough to blame it all on the leadership of Michael Ignatieff - former arts broadcaster on British TV ("the thinking woman's crumpet") and distant kinsman of our own Nick Clegg.

Instead, Smith sees the party as a victim of its own success: "the success of programs initiated and implemented by the Liberals has been the very factor responsible for their downfall".

He points to Pierre Trudeau's 1982 Constitution Act, which was designed to placate the separatists in Quebec. The result was that the province no longer returns Liberals but now votes Bloc Quebecois. As Smith puts it:
In pursuing his greatest achievement—the uniting of a fractious, diverse land—Trudeau lost a majority of Quebecers for his party.
Similarly, in 2003 Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien introduced campaign finance laws that capped corporate contributions $1000 and individual donations at $5000. Highly commendable, but as Smith points out:
As the leading party in the twentieth century, however, the Liberals had amassed an unbeatable combination of corporate and wealthy-individual donors; corporate contributions made up 60 percent of the funds gathered by the party in the 2000 federal election campaign. Chretien’s law clearly destroyed that advantage, handing the fundraising edge to the Conservatives, who maintained a stronger grassroots pool. 
Not for nothing did the then-Liberal Party President Stephen LeDrew memorably call Chretien’s bill “dumber than a bag of hammers” when it was proposed. In 2008, the Conservatives brought in more than $21 million (CAN) from over 112,000 contributors. The Liberals, meanwhile, took in less than $6 million from only about 30,000 contributors.
Fascinating stuff, though the parallel with the Liberals and Quebec is surely Labour's introduction of devolution and the rise of the SNP.

Sir Peter Soulsby and Keith Vaz

It can be difficult for the outsider to work out what is going on inside Leicester Labour Party. But a Leicester Mercury article looking at the declaration of expenses for the city recent Mayoral contest gives a valuable clue:
The documents also revealed the donors to each candidate's campaign.

Sir Peter's was funded by the three city constituency Labour parties. Leicester South and West branches gave £3,100 and £2,100 respectively. Leicester East's branch gave just £80.
I think we can safely conclude that Sir Peter and Keith Vaz (Labour MP for Leicester East) are not exactly bosom buddies.

The return of expenses also reveals that the UKIP candidate spent nothing on her campaign beyond the £500 deposit.

If you do want to try to make sense of Leicester politics, I recommend the blog written by the Mercury's political correspondent David MacLean.

We are in the middle of Co-operatives Fortnight

From the Co-operative UK website:
Co-operatives Fortnight is the annual campaign from the UK co-operative sector. It aims to raise awareness of how co-operatives offer a way of doing business in which everyday employees, customers and residents have an equal say in decisions and share the profits. This year, the theme ‘Yours To Share’ represents the shared ownership and the share in profits that makes co-operatives different ...

Watch the film below from last year about what makes co-operatives different.

Traditional End of the Month Lolcat

You realize

Alan Melton speaks to the nation

Alan Melton, Conservative leader of Fenland District Council, was chosen as my Idiot of the Day earlier this week. If you think I was being unfair, just listen to him defending his views on national radio...

Tunnels under Northampton's streets

The idea that Northampton once had an underground railway system is a harmless jest. But it turns out that there really is much of interest beneath the town's streets.

In 2008 a feature in the Chronicle & Echo collected a series of rumours and reminiscences about the tunnels under the town of varying degrees of credibility.

And last year the paper reported:
Archaeologists have discovered what they believe to be the remains of a medieval Jewish synagogue underneath a town centre take-away.

A survey of land underneath Kebabish and The Bear public House, both in Sheep Street, Northampton, has found what experts estimate could be the remains of an ancient synagogue, dating back hundreds of years.

The finds, which include brick walls and what appears to be a staircase, were confirmed using a state-of-the-art ground-penetrating radar.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Idiot of the Day goes to Phil Jacques from the ATL

Thanks to Mark Pack on Lib Dem Voice for introducing us to the Association of Teachers and Lecturers secretary for Bournemouth, Poole and Dorset.

Mr Jacques told the Bournemouth Echo that Michael Gove’s call to parents to help out in schools during tomorrow's strike is a “licence for paedophiles”.

The same Echo report quotes the Dorset secretary of the National Union of Teachers accusing the government of "trying to scaremonger". I think we can see who is doing the scaremongering here, and it is not the government.

Nick Cage sings The Zombies

She’s Not There - Neko Case and Nick Cave by WaterTowerMusic

Staff paid for by taxpayers campaigned for Labour in the Leicester South by-election

Or so Andrew Gilligan claimed in the Daily Telegraph earlier this week:
A London council leader used staff paid by the taxpayer to campaign for the Labour Party in a recent parliamentary by–election.

Lutfur Rahman, the controversial directly elected mayor of Tower Hamlets, took a coachload of people, including a number working for the council, to canvass for Labour at the Leicester South by–election. The visit took place during working hours on a weekday. Asked by The Daily Telegraph, the council refused repeatedly to deny that the staff were on duty at the time.
Gilligan goes on to explain that Rahman was elected as an independent after being expelled from the Labour Party for his alleged links to an extremist Muslim group. His visit to Leicester to support Labour’s candidate, Jon Ashworth, was part of aso far unsuccessful attempt to win readmission to the party.

In other news, the shop (pictured above) used as the Lib Dem HQ in the by-election looks set to become a florist.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Northampton Underground Railways

The website Northampton Underground Railways begins:
The Northampton Underground was a railway system which ran in tunnels under the streets of Northampton from 1904 until 1934.
Sadly, that is not true. There never were any underground railways in Northampton even if this photograph, borrowed from the site, appears to show one being built.

But you have to admire the industry and imagination of whoever has produced the site. I found it while researching the old Northampton Corporation transport offices.

And whoever it is, he is no stranger than whoever it is who is pretending to revive the Snailbeach District Railways. He left many comments - using different names - here and here.

Johann Hari wins Quote of the Day

“The number of my friends who assume that we just make up stories – even at reputable paper such as The Independent is startling.”
So wrote a youthful Johann Hari in 2003.

The quotation is taken from an old Private Eye article, but that article does not include the arresting fact that Hari began his career as a researcher for Jeffrey Archer.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Alan Melton, Tory leader of Fenland District Council, wins Idiot of the Day

From the Eastern Daily Press website:
Archaeologists today hit back at a council leader who said he’d cut controls on developments, warning “the bunny huggers” won’t like it”.

Alan Melton, leader of Fenland District Council, used the term in a keynote policy speech, at the council’s design awards in Wisbech on Monday night.

Announcing he planned to scrap the need for archaeological surveys when new developments get under way, he added: “The bunny huggers won’t like this but if they wish to inspect a site, they can do it when the footings are being dug out.”
The site has the full text of Melton's speech and reports the reaction of some archaeologists:
One archaeologist said he had contacted Mr Melton about his remarks.

“I did email Mr Melton yesterday evening pointing out that what he was attempting to do was illegal under EU law, and that it would make the planning process slower and more expensive,” he said.

“I received a reply from him this morning which simply read: ‘Long live Eric Pickles’. I assume this is what passes for reasoned debate in his part of the world, or may be an attempt at humour.”

Why allowing the recall of MPs is a bad idea

Steve Shaw from Unlock Democracy has an article on Lib Dem Voice in support of the idea of allowing voters to force a by-election "if they have lost confidence or trust in them for any reason".

I cannot support his idea. It would mean, as people are already pointing out in the comments on that post, that in many seats defeated parties would spend their time collecting signatures in an attempt to have the result of the previous general election set aside. Zac Goldsmith's Recall of Elected Representatives Bill envisages that it would take 10 per cent of the electorate signing a petition to force a by-election.

If our politics were to move in this direction it would be bound to make relations between the parties even more rancorous. It would also make it harder for a government to bring in necessary but unpopular measures and take its chance at the next election.

For those reasons, I do not find the idea of allowing the recall of MPs an attractive one,

'Allo 'Allo Shropshire

Virtual Shropshire tells us:
Stars from the cast of the hugely popular BBC sitcom ‘Allo, ‘Allo!’ will be centre-stage when the Severn Valley Railway turns back the clock once more and rolls out its big wartime nostalgia ‘1940s Weekends’, on June 25th & 26th and July 2nd & 3rd.

Vowel-mangling gendarme Officer Crabtree (Arthur Bostrom) – universally recognised for his ‘Good Moaning’ signature phrase and others such as ‘My lips are soiled’ – together with peasant-repressing Gestapo officer Herr Otto Flick (Richard Gibson), the effeminate Lieutenant Gruber (Guy Siner), sexy waitress and Rene’s lover Yvette Carte-Blanche (Vicki Michelle), Resistance agent (and also Rene’s lover!) Mimi Lebonq (Sue Hodge), and Colonel Von Strohm’s secretary Helga Geerhart (Kim Hartman) will all make guest appearances at an event expected to attract up to 10,000 visitors over the two weekends.
It all sounds very jolly, but remember. Hitler had earmarked Bridgnorth to be his headquarters in occupied Britain.

St Luke's Hospital scandal makes the BBC Politics Show

The scandal over the Leicestershire County and Rutland Primary Care Trust's mishandling of the redevelopment of St Luke's Hospital in Market Harborough made the East Midlands edition of the BBC Politics Show yesterday lunchtime - as you can see from the video abouve.

Edward Garnier MP and the Liberal Democrat councillor Phil Knowles took part in the report, which confirmed everything that has appeared in the press and my posts on St Luke's. In particular, it confirmed that the Trust paid £1.5m to the appropriately named Modcon UK, which has since been wound up by HM Revenue and Customs.

It further confirmed that the Trust paid that money without making basic checks on the company and without obtaining a bank guarantee (a recurrent theme in Harborough politics).

The very kindest view one can take of all this is that the Trust is guilty of extraordinary incompetence. But the Trust's continued refusal to give any account to the public - it refused to put up anyone to appear on The Politics Show - does not encourage one to be kind.

And, once again, the need for democratic accountability in the NHS is made clear.

Later. I have edited this post now that the video clip has appeared on Youtube.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Matthew Taylor on the courts and privacy

No, not that Matthew Taylor. Or that one either, come to think of it.

I am talking about the Liverpool Conservative (I once unkindly suggested we should have him stuffed) blogger who writes MTPT, stoopid. In a recent blog post he says:
Judge-made law – like the current law of privacy in the UK – is able to advance by small incremental steps, without properly engaging with the broader impacts of its emergent principles. Unlike judge-made law, any statutory privacy law has to begin by decide what principles it proposes to follow, and then engaging with the effects of those principles when applied to other areas – such as the reporting of evidence in criminal trials.

In developing the law of privacy in the UK, the civil judiciary have in practice (given the reality of the costs of civil litigation) created a privileged position for wealthy claimants, and for participants in family court proceedings. Participants in criminal cases, or those who cannot afford to spend several thousand pounds on legal advice and representation, do not have proper access to the law of privacy that has been developed.

Put it more simply: A footballer covering up his infidelity is afforded greater protection by the English Courts than the father of a murdered child.
Matthew shares my concern that, in his words, "the law of privacy has been without debate or public engagement".

A statement by the presenters of Top Gear

"We're not middle aged. Look, we've got really shaggy hair!"

The Watersons: Hal-an-Tow

The folk singer Mike Waterson died last week. He was a member of the family group the Watersons, described in a tribute by the Guardian Music blog as:
the Yorkshire singing family whose dynamic voices and instinctive harmonies galvanised the nascent folk scene back in the day and whose early career was guided by the great folklorist Bert Lloyd.

"He asked us to sing a song once, which we did, and then he asked us to sing it again," Mike told me, recalling early days with his sisters Lal and Norma. "When he asked us to do it yet again we said are we doing it wrong? He said: 'No, it's pure indulgence because it's giving me so much enjoyment.'

He told us we had wonderful mixolydian harmonies. We all looked at each other and when we got home we went to Hull Library to find out what it meant."
This song is taken from a 1966 documentary about The Watersons, filmed by the new BBC2 in 1966. Rob Young writes in his Electric Eden:
It's a rare visual record of the folk scene at that moment. Fly-on-the-wall cameras inveigle themselves into The Watersons' terraced house in Hull, where mountains of books jostle for space with LPs by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

What's most interesting is the musicians' awareness of their own position as pretenders to an established tradition. The films shows the group visiting Cecil Sharp House and studying various old cylinder recordings, reinforcing their entitlement to be seen as "authentic" singers because they see this connection with the older revivalists.
Hal-an-Tow forms part of the Helston Furry Dance celebrations each year:
This feature of the day is distinct from the Furry dance and, owing to its association with drunken revels in the 19th century, fell in disrepute and decay. In 1930 it was happily and decorously revived by the Helston Old Cornwall Society, and is now one of the interesting events connected with Flora day. Some antiquarians declare that Hal-an-Tow may be the oldest part of the days proceedings. Whether this is correct or not, there can be no doubt that it is a further expression of the reason for the day's rejoicings. "For Summer is a come O, and the Winter is a Gone O."

Very early in the morning youths go out into the neighbouring woods to gather branches of sycamore. they return at 8.30 a.m., and waving the branches above their heads perambulate the town, stopping at places of vantage to sing the Hal-an-Tow song. Some youths dress in costume to represent the characters in the song.

Morton Nance, the late Grand bard of Cornwall, suggests that the delightful old song seems likely to be Elizabethan rather than much older. the words in the chorus, "Hal-an Tow, Jolly Rumble O" appear to have come from a mediaeval seaman's shanty, while the verses are all in the English tradition and have no special Cornish flavour about them.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Lowdham Book Festival

I have been to the Lowdham Book Festival (where I spoke last year) today. The final Saturday is a good day to choose as all the events are free.

The festival takes over the village, with events in the village hall and two marquees behind, the Women's Insitute and the Indpendent Primitive Methodist Chapel.

I listened to three talks and came away with two books.

The first talk was by John Lucas, who was discussing his memoir of the 1950s Next Year Will be Better. He argued (rightly, I think) that it was a far more colourful decade than we have been taught to believe.

Then I listened to Jasper Fforde discussing his novels. And finally I heard the cartoonist Brick discussing, his loosely autobiographical graphic novel Depresso. It tells the story of a breakdown and was recently reviewed on Forbidden Planet.

The two books I bought were The Keys of Heaven, David Sutcliffe's biography of the 19th century Christian Socialist the Revd Charles Marson, and The Newgate Jig, a terrific crime novel set in the world of Victorian popular theatre by Ann Featherstone.

Six of the Best 170

David Boyle on The Real Blog celebrates the "genius" of Nick Clegg's bank share giveaway: "The Thatcherite privatisations involved a minority who did not exercise their ownership rights. This plan will involve a majority and the possibility of popular control."

Birkdale Focus has been reading Matt Cole's new biography of Richard Wainwright.

Edmund Burke is generally claimed as the intellectual father of British Conservatism, yet for most of his career he was a Whig and he was the most important ally of Charles James Fox. Liberal Vision has been reading his prophetic Reflections on the Revolution in France.

Next week, the London School of Economics hosts an Index on Censorship debate under the title "Injunctions are a necessary evil: Privacy, free speech and a feral press." MEDIAPAL@LSE looks at the issues.

Sptialfields Life meets the 97-year-old writer Emanuel Litvinoff.

Those who believe the world is going mad will find plenty of supportive evidence on Wartime Housewife: "Boy the Elder came home from school today with the following information. There are nine hundred children at his school between the age of 11 and 14 and they have a large playing field with lovely country views … which they have not been allowed to use for recreation at lunch or break time. They have now been told that they may use the field in groups of no more than twenty two children at a time and, if they do manage to get a go, they have to wear hi visibility tabards."

Friday, June 24, 2011

Nick Clegg's bank shares plan and North Sea oil

Nick Clegg has endorsed the idea, promoted by his fellow Lib Dem MP Stephen Williams, of giving the public shares in the banks that their taxes helped to rescue.

Earlier this week Andrew Hill, writing on the FT Business blog, pointed out that a similar plan for shares in North Sea oil had been promoted in 1978 by Samuel Brittan and Barry Riley.

Brittan was the liberal older brother of the Conservative home secretary Leon Brittan. Indeed a whole generation of commentators could not take Leon wholly seriously because they remembered him as Samuel's ink-stained little brother.

Andrew Hill reminds us that direct distribution of shares was not the route that Mrs Thatcher took. He goes on to say:
But Sir Samuel has not abandoned hope. When I asked him on Thursday what he thought of the Clegg plan, he told me: “If I were an independent MP, I’d vote for it.”

Who do home teams have such an advantage?

The current issue of the London Review of Books carries a review by David Runciman of Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won by Tobias Moskowitz and Jon Wertheim.

The book, or at least the review, is concerned with the mystery of home advantage. Why do home teams do so much better in sports fixtures than away teams? Runciman says:
Take any European football league in which all the teams play each other twice in a season, once at home and once away. Add up the total number of home victories and compare it to the total number of away victories. The ratio will be at least 60:40 in favour of the home sides (often it’s more: in the English Premier League home advantage currently runs at around 63 per cent, in Spain’s La Liga it’s 65 and Italy’s Serie A it’s 67).
According to the review, Moskowitz and Wertheim see the explanation as lying in the influence of the crowd - not on the players, but on officials. Close decisions go they way of the home team.

Runciman doubts this. Home teams do so much better that if it were down to the refereeing or umpiring then it would be blatantly obvious that they were being favoured. And it isn't. There is some evidence from baseball, where Hawkeye-style technology has been introduced, that home teams are favoured when a marginal decision has to be made, but the effect is marginal and nothing like enough to explain the full discrepancy.

And it's not the travel or knowledge of the ground either, argues Runciman. Instead:
Home advantage is much more complicated and much more mysterious. It depends on a range of factors that are effectively impossible to quantify.
A cop out? Maybe, but it is a fascinating review and one of those unquantifiable factors turns out to be Jose Mourinho's overcoat.

GUEST POST The community shops movement

Mike Perry is Head of Information and Communication for the Plunkett Foundation.

As Jonathan has mentioned in a previous blog village shops closing or having been converted into housing is an increasingly common site across rural Britain. It is estimated that around 400 village shops have closed each year for the past three years. Most of these will be the last shop in a community.

Increasingly rural communities are fighting back by setting up community-owned village shops. This is real and has not only happened on The Archers. There are now 259 community-owned shops across the UK and the number is increasing by between 20 and 40 each year. They are set up in all sorts of building – the previous shop, a new build, a church, a pub, a Portakabin, a village hall and there has even been a shop set up in a former public toilet.

The Plunkett Foundation is best known for its support for communities looking to take over their local shop. Support has been developed with a range of partners and funders to ensure that communities have the best support possible when taking on the challenge of saving their local shop.

Volunteers are critical for the success of most community-owned shops being involved in governance and day to day management and staffing. An average of 25 people volunteer in each shop from a membership of 125. One million volunteer hours per year goes into running the network of community-owned shops across the UK.

More recently Plunkett has launched a membership scheme for community-owned shops to benefit from bulk purchasing of energy, insurance, credit and debit facilities and much more. Launched in March, 20 community-owned shops have so far joined benefiting from significantly lower costs that helps boost their profitability.

Community-owned shops are not only opening at a rapid rate, they are also staying open. Some 97 per cent of community-owned shops that have ever opened are still open. The model works and communities are increasingly using it to try saving or introducing other vital services whether this is saving the local pub, buying land for communal growing or establishing a community-owned broadband enterprise.

It is clear that taking on something of this nature is a challenge currently with many barriers facing communities. It is the role of government, support organisations and rural communities to help each other to make this process easier.

Find out more on the Plunkett Foundation website.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

I am being followed by Green Men

Earlier this year I wrote about the Green Men of Belgrave. Now those Green Men have taken to following me.

In Uppingham the other day I walked into The Rutland Bookshop to be faced with a copy of Green Man: The Archetype of our Oneness with the Earth by William Anderson. Clearly, I was expected to buy it.

Then last Saturday, wandering around Northampton, I came across St Peter's in Marefair. This is a fine Norman church, now in the hands of the Churches Conservation Trust. (At least this stops anyone ripping out the pews and singing "Shine, Jesus, Shine", as Lord Bonkers suspects Tim Farron of wanting to do at St Asquith's.)

One of the most interesting things there is a grave slab, a detail of which is shown in the photograph. It is believed to be from a shrine to St Ragener that Edward the Confessor had set up in the earlier Saxon church on the site.

This is interesting, because my other book on Green Men - Shire's The Green Man by Richard Hayman - is based upon the thesis that Green Men did not appear until the Norman era and wrongly dates the slab in St Peter's to the 12th century.

Whether Green Men were originally depictions of the devil or of lost pagan gods is hard to know. But in the 20th century they were adopted as a symbol of the spirit of the greenwood and modern man's alienation from it.

The social liberalism and social democracy debate

On Saturday morning, before I caught the bus to Northampton, I wrote a brief post about that day's first Social Liberal Forum (SLF) conference. As well as wishing it well, I asked how social liberalism differed from a social democracy.

That post elicited a remarkable response, both in the comments and in posts on other blogs.

Some attempted to answer the question, but those answers varied widely. In the comments on the post Simon Titley assured me that social liberalism and social democracy are two very different things, as I need only read David Howarth’s chapter in Reinventing the State (a book I briefly reviewed when it came out) to discover.

Meanwhile on Twitter (I am never comfortable linking to tweets on this blog - it feels like telling tales out of school - but I suppose it is best to give a link if you are quoting someone directly), Evan Harris told me:
Well SLF = Social Democrats plus social justice minded liberals. no?
A question that can receive such different answers was probably worth asking.

The person who got the gently teasing tone of my post, and realised that it was my friends on the radical wing of the party who were being teased, was Decline of the Logos. But other replies took it far more seriously.

Evan Harris, again on Twitter, thought I was finding argument where none exists, when I wasn't aware that I was arguing at all.

Meanwhile James Graham devoted a whole, rather bad-tempered post, to replying to me:
the implication of Jonathan’s post is of course that social liberals are merely atavistic social democrats.
No, I was merely asking how they are different. And the implication is that the SLF would do well to devote a little time to making this clear.

There are good things in James post. His characterisation of people who:
tend to think that labelling something as “fundamentally illiberal” in thunderous tones tends to make a good substitute for actual argument
will be familiar to anyone who has spent much time in Liberal or Liberal Democrat circles.

However, though James declares himself dissatisfied by political labels, the SLF must have had its reason for adopting the "social liberal" label and it must be legitimate for others to ask what they were.

And I cannot decide whether James’s suggestion that we should call ourselves “socialist liberals” is a philosophical own goal or a very subtle joke.

So let me try to make my own position clear.

For as long as I can remember, radical Liberals and Liberal Democrats have, when asked, said that distinguishes their views (and often what distinguishes them from socialists in particular) is that they believe in something like freedom, localism, co-operation and individuality.

At the same time, they get very nervous when this philosophy threatens to lead them to positions that do not fall within what one may term the Guardian orthodoxy. This holds that political progress lies, not only in more and more spending on public services, but in more and more areas of our life falling under the stewardship of government.

To me there is a clear contradiction here, and it is not one that can be solved by making reference to long-unread theorists like T.H. Green or L.T. Hobhouse.

The work of developing this nebulous modern Liberal philosophy of freedom, localism, co-operation and individuality, and of showing that it will be of benefit to the poorer half of society, is daunting. But it seems to me that it is the task to which the philosophical labours of the Liberal Democrats should be directed.

Maybe the SLF will set itself to do this. I hope it will.

But when people are writing articles with titles like This is the Social Liberal moment, others are bound to want to know more about what this social liberalism is. And one good way of understanding a concept is to ask how it differs from other, similar concepts.

Which leading gossip email is losing its touch?

From the latest Popbitch email:

Not the most exciting gossip. Unless, of course, you are not aware that Floella Benjamin is a member of the House of Lords.

Paddy Ashdown sticks to his guns on reform of the House of Lords

There is a grassroots Facebook group called Liberal Democrats for Lords Reform. And it is certainly needed, given the number of Lib Dem peers who have suddenly come to see virtue in the Ancien Régime.

They vary from the former Liberal leader Lord Steel to the newly ennobled Baron Strasburger (I have to confess I had never heard of him until he got his peerage), who has already been half seduced by the more Ruritanian aspects of Westminster life:
Most of us here have outgrown the raw ambition that afflicts us in our youth, and that allows us to take a more balanced view of the world than elected politicians jostling for their place in the hierarchy. It is therefore vital, in my view, that any reforms do not jettison the benefits of the wisdom that come only from experience and that the skills of some of those who have chosen a career outside the world of politics are included in the new arrangements. 
So I would now favour a mostly elected Chamber with a significant minority of appointed Members. That way we can have the best of both worlds: democratic credibility and wisdom based on genuine achievement and experience.
So all power to a more distinguished party leader, Paddy Ashdown for his uncompromising demand for a democratically elected second chamber.

Max Atkinson has the full text of his wonderful speech:
I spent an engaging hour and a half yesterday in the House of Lords Library, looking through opposition speeches made in December 1831 to the Great Reform Act 1832 and to the Reform Act 1867. Five arguments were put forward. The first was: there is no public call for such reform beyond those mad radicals of Manchester. The second was: we should not be wasting our time and money on these matters; there are more important things to discuss such as the Schleswig-Holstein problem, the repeal of the corn laws or the crisis in the City that caused Anthony Trollope to write his wonderful novel.

Six of the Best 169

Strange Thoughts enjoyed the first Social Liberal Forum conference but "won't be signing up any time soon".

Nick Clegg's support for the idea of making over government-owned bank shares to the British people delights Paul McGarry.

"Back in the 2010 election, the Conservatives launched their manifesto as ‘an invitation to join the Government of Britain.’ This was a slightly clunky phrase, and wasn’t easy to explain on the doorstep – but the theme running through it was the ambition to ‘give people much more say over the things that affect their daily lives… We will make government, politics and public services much more open and transparent." The liberal Tory blog Platform 10 thinks it would be a tragedy if that ambition ever started to falter.

Heckler Spray finds Leicester seemingly untroubled by the frequency of zombie attacks.

"The adoption in 1811 of the Commissioners’ Plan for New York laid out in a single bold stroke the Manhattan street plan up to 155th Street (leaving the area north of there for future planners to address). Though it would take the rest of the 19th century to build, this gridiron of twelve north-south avenues and 155 east-west streets would fundamentally shape the future of New York and become an emblem of the city itself." The Architectural League NY on the past and future of Manhattan's distinctive street plan.

Back home, Love London Council Housing celebrates the Boundary Estate, which dates from 1900.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Good and bad news from Shropshire

There is new hope for Stiperstones School as its governors have agreed initial plans to form a federation with fellow primaries at Hope and Chirbury.

Someone is planing to reopen the Tally-Ho Inn at Bouldon in Corvedale.

But then there's this...

David Laws is hard at work on the mansion tax

An article in tomorrow's Guardian by Allegra Stratton reports that David Laws and Danny Alexander have been working on a Lib Dem document called Tax 2020:
Their mission is to detail where they want the party to be on tax in 2020 and then work back from there to see where they should be at each stage – now, in next year's budget, then the penultimate budget before the 2015 election and, of course, in the next parliament – be it in coalition with the Tories or maybe even Labour.
Stratton has seen part of the document and says that the two authors are close to arriving at a workable form of the mansion tax in the form of a mansion sales tax - a higher rate of capital gains tax on any profit made when selling a million-pound-plus house.

Other proposals include a cut to 5 per cent of the VAT rate on home improvements. Stratton also says that the Lib Dems will not oppose the abolition of the 50 per cent income tax rate when the Conservatives move to do it - according to one Lib Dem close to Clegg: "It's a sideshow."

Lib Dem Conference motion against police accreditation of representatives

At the start of the month I wrote a post critical of the plans to to allow West Midlands Police to impose new security conditions upon representatives attending the party's Annual Conference in September.

As Complicity said at the time, "We can hardly defend our position on being against ID Cards if we give in to this. We’re basically admitting that the database state is required to ensure our security."

Now David Grace (aka Disgruntled Radical) is attempting to get a motion critical of the plans debated at the conference. He says:
You may be aware that arrangements for this autumn’s federal conference include requirements to disclose personal date to the police which they will then hold for several years and which will they use to advise the party whether any representatives should be excluded. This is not a theoretical danger. Conservative and Labour Parties have accepted these procedures and people have been excluded. The procedure goes against what the party stands for, what we have fought for and even the provisions of our own constitution. If you agree, please support the attached motion for debate this autumn.
If you are a conference representative and want to support the motion - the full text of which appears below - you need to email David Grace your name, membership number and local party name before Tuesday 28 June so that he can assemble his list of proposers in time for the deadline on Wednesday. Whether you are a representative or not, you may like to ask your local party to support the motion.

Anyway, that motion in full...

Motion on accreditation for Federal Conference

Conference accepts the need for physical security measures to protect those attending  but does not accept that such measures can  interfere with the democratic decision-making processes of a political party.

Conference affirms that Liberal Democrats have always defended and promoted the fundamental rights of freedom of association and assembly, protected by Article 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights, by Article 12 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and by Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Conference recalls that
  1. the preamble to the party constitution states that “ We will at all times defend the right to speak, write, worship, associate and vote freely...”;
  2. the party specifically claims in the “What we stand for” section of its website: “Successive governments obsessed with power have chipped away at our liberty in the name of security. Liberal Democrats are the only party committed to defending our most important rights. The threat of terrorist attacks must be taken seriously but it does not mean that we should sacrifice our liberty in the name of security.”
Conference therefore condemns the system of police accreditation adopted for this conference which requires party members to disclose personal data to the police and which is designed to enable the police to advise that certain party members should not be allowed to attend.

Conference therefore calls upon
  1. The parliamentary party and Liberal Democrat ministers to question the current police guidance on accreditation and to seek to persuade the Home Office to change guidance on current practice to reflect the rights of association and assembly and the internal democracy of all political parties;
  2. The Federal Conference Committee to negotiate security arrangements for future conferences which protect the privacy of members’ personal data and which respect the party’s constitution and internal democracy.
  3. The Party President to ensure that conference arrangements respect Article 6 of the federal constitution which provides that Local Parties elect representatives and that no other body within or without the party has the power to exclude in advance their attendance at conference.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Railway history reasserts itself in Market Harborough

This fence came down a few days ago. You might put it down to a spot of overenthusiastic reversing by a lorry making deliveries to Lidl. But I wonder.

Because this fence is exactly on the line of the old LNWR lines from Market Harborough. Soon, I am convinced, the embankment will heave itself from the earth. I fully expect to see trains running again to Rugby and Northampton before the year is out.

Headline of the Day

 From my favourite newspaper:

Champion Shropshire pumpkin grower confesses to cheating

Monday, June 20, 2011

Jonathan Wallace to live off spam for a fortnight

Lib Dem councillor (and erstwhile blogger) Jonathan Wallace is to spend two weeks living off the diet allowed to British civilians during the Second World War.

He told the Newcastle-based Evening Chronicle:
“I want to hear from as many people as possible about how they coped during the ration period.

“I also want to hear how they made their meagre rations more interesting, and I would like them to send me recipes as I’m planning to go on a ration book diet to see what it was like for myself.

“I would love to try some of the recipes people send me,” he added.

“I’ve also bought a wartime recipe book for Spam. It has over 100 recipes.”
The serious point, as Jonathan says, is that if food is going to become more expensive then we are going to have to learn to be far less wasteful.

Books Written By, Northampton

Much as I loved the Northampton Corporation transport offices, I was really in St James Road to visit Books Written By, an independent bookshop stocking both new and secondhand titles.

Other Northampton secondhand bookshops are available.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Urban Voodoo Machine: Goodbye to Another Year

My mother came round a couple of days before her 80th birthday, demanding to hear the Urban Voodoo Machine.

This was a gap in my musical knowledge. It turned out that they had been on Loose Ends playing their song Go East. I cannot find a good recording of it online, but Goodbye to Another Year is in a similar style.

I like their "bourbon-soaked gypsy blues". They even remind me a little of Moldova's finest.

Raccoon sighted on Wenlock Edge

Three years ago a mysterious black “panther-type” animal was seen on Wenlock Edge in Shropshire. Now, says the Bridgnorth Journal, a "raccoon-like" creature has been sighted there.

The truth, however, may be less exciting. The paper quotes John Hughes from the Shropshire Wildlife Trust as saying:
“I would imagine that what was seen would have been a polecat as they have similar facial markings to a raccoon. They were in decline after being hunted by gamekeepers but their numbers are starting to creep back up.

“They are making a comeback across the Midlands and I would expect that in time more sightings will be reported on a place like Wenlock Edge.”

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Northampton Corporation Transport Offices

Northampton Borough used to run its own buses and their jewel box like offices survive next to the First bus garage
writes Jones the Planner in the course of a post on the town.

I was in Northampton - a place I think I have been guilty of underestimating - and was very taken with those offices too. You can find them in St James Road beside the First Northampton bus depot, which was originally the town's tram depot.

Six of the Best 168

Today saw the first conference of the Social Liberal Forum. Gareth Epps was there and made a valiant attempt to live blog Vince Cable's speech.

Caron's Musings went to a Liberal Vision event instead. No, not that Liberal Vision: it is a new group "aimed at developing a Liberal Vision for the future of Scotland by applying fundamental principles of Liberal philosophy and social democracy to foreseeable changes in our country over the next decade". Hmm.

"We were very clear when we made out submission to Reg Bailey that the sexualisation agenda is in danger of becoming dominated by the obvious padded bra and pole dancing kits, and ignores at its peril the broader and more insidious objectification and commercialisation which is taking place across our high streets and online." Having chosen the wrong fortnight to go on holiday, PinkStinks is back with an excellent post.

Gore Vidal's New York Review of Books article is almost 50 years old, but it is interesting to read his view of E. Nesbit.

Flannelled Fools overs a trenchant reaction to the news that England are to play two extra T20 internationals in late September to keep Sky happy: "The English county game has become a cheap sideshow as a result of all the marketing effort being addressed towards the pyjama-clad antics of an overpaid cohort of international prima donnas."

News of Tory misbehaviour in St Albans comes from Sandy Walkington. It dates from 1904, but that is no excuse.

What is the difference between a social liberal and a social democrat?

Long ago,when I was a young activist, I fell in with the radical wing of the old Liberal Party. This was the time of the Alliance, and we were most like to use "social democrat" (or "soggy") as a term of abuse.

Time moves on and many of the same types (even some of the same people) now call themselves "social liberals". Fair enough, until you read in the Guardian today that Evan Harris (a former soggy, as it happens):
is speaking about the health reforms to 250 Liberal Democrat activists at the Social Liberal Forum (SLF) conference "Liberalism, Equality and the State" – a group that represents social democrats within the Lib Dems that have increasingly been concerned at the direction the coalition is taking.
I wish the SLF conference well today, but if the group is to have a worthwhile future they will have to provide an answer to the question I pose in the headline here.

Later. Thanks for the comments. The Independent has a (rather snide) report on yesterday's conference. It also sees the SLF as "social democratic". If nothing else, it has some work to do on its image.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Baptised in the Jordan at Braybrooke

In Braybrooke the other day I came across the appealing theory that the River Jordan, which flows through both that village and my own of Little Bowden, got its name because the Baptists in the former village used it to baptise people.

A couple of people left informative comments on that post and I have since come across a bit more supportive evidence.

In an old Northampton Chronicle and Echo article the nameless author recalls:
I once spoke to Norman Foster who, since 1965, had been lay Pastor of Braybrooke Baptist Church. He was eager to give me all the details.

He had been told by older members of his flock that their parents remembered being baptised in the Braybrooke River Jordan.
Incidentally, the stones around the base of the village sign are said to have been salvaged from the site of Braybrooke castle.

Health: Opposing Andrew Lansley is not enough

Like David Boyle I am left a little underwhelmed by the Liberal Democrats' success in bringing about changes to the Health and Social Care Bill:
So in one bound, the coalition has leapt triumphantly into embracing a wholly different series of NHS reforms. Instead of GPs driving forward the commissioning process, there will be appointees representing hospital doctors, nurses and others.

The brave new compromise looks a great deal more like the old PCTs, which are still twitching away prior to being dead and buried.
It is not so much that I was an enthusiast for Andrew Lansley's plans. It's more that I believe a party that has been out of powers for 90 years ought to arrive in government some ambition beyond maintaining the status quo.

David has one intriguing idea for what a Liberal Democrat health policy should look like. My own is that it should receive an infusion of localism and democracy along the lines advocated by the 2002 Liberal Democrat document Quality, Innovation, Choice - otherwise knows as the Huhne Report.

This was one of the best things the party has ever produced, but it seems to have disappeared altogether. There used to be a copy on Chris Huhne's website, but that has gone now. I discussed it briefly in a post from 2005.

It is interesting that two local health issues I have written about frequently both have their roots in a lack of local scrutiny. They are the St Lukes Hospital debacle in Market Harborough and the row over Ayelestone Meadows in Leicester. In the latter case NHS Leicester decided to put £2 million into a scheme that would probably have decreased exercise levels in the city.

That is why we need more democracy and local accountability in the health service. It is the natural Liberal solution and it is the one we should be campaigning for.

Firemen rescue cat from tree in Little Bowden

Heretofore Little Bowden Rec (seen above in autumnal mood) has been best known as the scene of the young Bryan Magee's philosophical epiphany and the home of the stump watch conducted by Backwatersman.

But yesterday it served as the venue of one of the great news stories. The Harborough Mail reports:
The classic image of the fireman rescuing a cat from up a tree may be a cliché - but that’s exactly what Harborough firefighters found themselves doing yesterday morning (Thursday). 
A crew from the town were called to the park off Scotland Road in Little Bowden at 11am.

Firefighters used a ladder to rescue the stricken moggy.
I do think they could have tried harder with the headline though.

Cornrows and human rights

Today's ruling by Mr Justice Collins that a school's ban on the cornrows hairstyle resulted in "unlawful, indirect racial discrimination" puts me in mind of a post I wrote in March 2005 when dinosaurs roamed the lanes of Leicestershire and this blog had few readers:
What interests and worries me is the idea that an appeal to human rights can be used to settle a case like this.

There are good arguments for school uniform in terms of corporate spirit and the avoidance of bullying over fashionable labels. There are good arguments against in terms of individualism. When I was a primary school governor in the 1980s the school did not have a uniform and I was happy to defend this because I had been to such a primary school myself. Today I might well take the opposite view.

For this is just the sort of question which does not have a single right answer as it involves reconciling two desirable but conflicting ideals. Different people of good will, different families and different communities will strike the balance in a different place. It seems odd to believe that any position can be shown to be irrational or morally wrong.
You can read the whole post - School uniform and human rights. I stand by it today.

The Wenlock Olympian Games

The 125th Wenlock Olympian Games will take place in Much Wenlock and at other sites across Shropshire on 3, 8, 9, 10 and 11 July 2011.

To learn more about the Games and their history see the video above or read an article I once wrote for the New Statesman.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Five candidates for the Inverclyde by-election

There will be five names on the ballot paper for the Inverclyde by-election on 30 June, reports BBC News:
  • Sophie Bridger (Liberal Democrats)
  • Iain McKenzie (Labour)
  • Anne McLaughlin (SNP)
  • Mitch Sorbie (UKIP)
  • David Wilson (Conservatives)
This follows the Leicester South by-election in May, where there were also just five candidates. That could in part by explained by the simultaneous city-wide Mayoral election, which attracted the fringe candidates. But perhaps we are seeing the start of a new trend?

Market Harborough hospital scandal deepens

Regular readers will know all about the problems with the new unit at St Luke's Hospital, Market Harborough.

Yesterday there was a meeting between local councillors and senior officers from Leicestershire County and Rutland Primary Care Trust to discuss what has gone wrong.

According to the Leicester Mercury report:
Trust chief executive Catherine Griffiths admitted the contract had been signed without a bank guarantee in place and without financial diligence checks being carried out.

Finance director Sue Bishop admitted the bank bond put in place after the mistake had been noticed ran out on March 31 and that the trust would have to foot the bill to complete the building. She would not say how much it would cost.
The councillors were not impressed. Liberal Democrat Phil Knowles said: "I am astonished at the catalogue of mistakes." And Conservative Kevin Feltham said: "It is worse than we thought. There is serial failure here."

From what I hear, there are also serious questions to be answered about why the contract was ever placed with these contractors in the first place.

The Spencer Davis Group advertises Great Shakes

So what happened to the Spencer Davis Group after Steve Winwood left to get it together in the country with his new band Traffic and his brother Muff left to become a record industry executive?

They did not have much success, but some of their later singles - Time Seller for instance - sound pretty good today.

And they got involved in some more commercial ventures. They recorded the theme song for Magpie and here they are advertising Great Shakes, which seems to have been a funky version of Nesquik.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Leicester Tory infighting

Leicester Labour blogger Vijay Singh Riyait reports that all is not sweetness and light amongst the city's Conservatives:
at a meeting of the Leicester Tory Party executive this week they tried to pass a motion to expel former tory Aylestone Council candidate, Peter Bedford who dared to challenge the current leadership in its failed electoral campaign. I have learnt from someone present at the meeting that a motion to expel Peter was narrowly defeated by 10-9.

Could you write a guest post for Liberal England?

Don't forget that Liberal England is now accepting guest posts. So far 15 (count 'em) 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...

Braybrooke Castle

Another reason for visiting Braybrooke was to examine the remains of its castle. Extensive googling suggests that it was no more than a fortified manor house and that many of the earthworks you can see today are the remains of the fishponds that surrounded it. Pastscape gives a concise summary of the evidence.

Still, I would like to thank the members of the Braybrooke Field Walking Group (Bovine Section) for their help in demonstrating the lie of the land. Shades of Little Oxendon.

The manor house was demolished in the early 17th century and replaced by a farmhouse that lasted until about 1960, though it had long been empty. I believe the picture below shows that farmhouse's brewhouse, which still survives on the site.

Six of the Best 167

"If elected officials resort to using superinjunctions - how can the public, who elect them, actually know whether it is a legitimate move to protect family privacy or something more sinister to hide the sort of activities that would make the the MP or candidate unsuitable for public office?" Living on Words Alone considers the issues raised by the news that Zac Goldsmith was granted a super injunction to prevent his private life being discussed before the last election.

Yellow Tinted Spectacles visits Cowley Street.

When your beliefs are challenged with facts, you alter your opinions and incorporate the new information into your thinking. Nonsense! says You Are Not So Smart.

Philosophy in pubs: what's that all about then? Leicester's Equality & Diversity Officer explains.

The Complete Spring Heeled Jack Page examines a 19th century urban myth.

"St Pancras may well deserve to be lauded as a Victorian cathedral of steam, but Somers Town was its essential counterpart: a temple to consumerism on a massive scale. The goods yard, however, could not muster a line up of poets and architectural historians to shield it from the wrecker’s ball. So while St Pancras was spared, its unsung adjunct was levelled." Current Archaeology excavates the secrets of Somers Town Goods Yard

Monday, June 13, 2011

How the River Jordan got its name

This is the Baptist Church in Braybrooke. It is still open - indeed services are held there and at the Church of England's infinitely grander All Saints on alternate Sundays. And it may just explain the name of a local river.

The River Jordan rises near Desborough, flows through Braybrooke and Little Bowden (where I live) to join the Welland near Market Harborough railway station. "Jordan" is an unlikely and rather modern name for such a short stream - river names tend to be among the most ancient words in the language.

In Braybrooke I came across the story because they had no pool at their church, the Baptists of Braybrooke used the river that ran through the village and it therefore came to be known as the Jordan.

There are problems with this theory. The strongest might appear to be that the Baptist church is not by the Jordan, but it looks as though it might well have been once. The lane outside is supposed to have been the site of Bowden Bridge and downstream in Little Bowden the course of the Jordan has been radically altered over the years.

What I would like to know is how a Braybrooke nickname came to be used for the river in Little Bowden and Market Harborough too. But it is an appealing theory and I would very much like it to be true.

A defence of romanticism in politics

Steve Richards had an important column in the Independent last week in which he observed:
To his credit, and in spite of his instinctive pragmatism, Cameron is surrounded by a surprisingly large number of Tory romantics. They include his senior advisers, Steve Hilton and Rohan Silva, and influential ministers such as Oliver Letwin.
And at one time those romantics promised to have a strong influence on the new government:
I have notes from an address from Letwin in which he said explicitly: "If a service fails, an interview at ten past eight on the Today programme should be with the direct local provider of the service and not the Cabinet minister in Whitehall." He acknowledged, as did other aspiring ministers, how tough this would be in a centralised media culture. Cameron was in the audience modestly taking notes but ended the meetings by insisting that this was part of the Conservatives' big idea.
But as Richards argues, this approach has been hard to sustain in politics given the relentless political and media pressure demanding the centralisation and standardisation of services.

I think that is a shame, because as Richards said:
I do not describe them as romantic to be disparaging. On the contrary politics desperately need more like them on the left and the right, original thinkers driven by ideas, vision and with the courageous guile to follow through with policy implementation. Several senior Labour figures tell me they lack the equivalent now.
And I fear that British politics and British society as a whole lacks romanticism. The idea that anything other than the provision standardised services run by the state represents a return to the law of a jungle is deeply ingrained. It lies behind everything from the Children's Laureate's distrust of parents who teach their children to read to Archbishop Williams' bizarre intervention last week.

And we Liberal Democrats have to decide whether we are romantics or not. Are we offering the same centralised services as Labour (but somehow offering more of them or to run them better) or are we offering something different and a little more exciting.

Refer to The Theory and Practice of Community Politics in your answer.

A Labour councillor responds to "Poor Kids"

Last week's BBC documentary Poor Kids received a lot of favourable comment, but one Labour councillor was not impressed.

One of the families featured consisted of Steve Arnold and his children Kayleigh, 16, and Sam, 12. But according to BBC News:
Councillor Anne Glover, who represents Braunstone at Leicester City Council, said she was "staggered" by the documentary, arguing the depiction of the estate undermined the work of volunteers to improve the estate's reputation.

"[Mr Arnold] must walk around with his eyes shut or isn't prepared to accept or ask for any help," she said.
Fortunately, the programme's viewers reacted differently:
One viewer travelled from Lancashire to give money and a holiday, while Mr Arnold has had a potential job offer.

"It's been absolutely outstanding. The kids are going to be absolutely amazed," Mr Arnold said.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Mick Jagger: Memo from Turner

The first pop video? This is a scene from the 1970 film Performance, starring Mick Jagger and James Fox. My Adventure Through Film explains their two characters:
Chas, played by James Fox, is a violent gangster living in a rough part of East London. Though he takes great pleasure from his work, he is often not given the respect that he deserves from his boss. After carrying out a hit that was not supposed to happen, Chas leaves town to lay low for a while. This is where he meets the eccentric retired rock star, Turner ...

Played by Mick Jagger, Turner is a drug and sex addicted former rock star who has disappeared into retirement in order to write a memoir. Jagger is nothing short of brilliant in this role. He oozes with dirty and bi-gender sexuality that is actually a little confusing.
But Fox is brilliant too. Originally a child star who had his own Ealing Comedy (The Magnet), Fox was best known before this for playing effete aristocrats (The Servant) or preppy song-and-dance men (Thoroughly Modern Millie), he is utterly convincing as an East End gangster.

His subsequent religious conversion and disappearance from films for a decade did nothing to harm the cult reputation of Performance.

Fox reappeared in the 1980s but now seems inextricably confused in the public mind with his brother Edward. (Clue: James is the one who can act.) He is now the father-in-law of both Billie Piper and Richard Ayoade.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Six of the Best 166

Mark Cole attended Andrew Reeves's funeral in Edinburgh on Wednesday: "It was a desperately sad occasion but one which was made easier by the wonderful support that Andrew and in his absence his partner Roger, received from their extended Liberal Democrat family from across the country."

"There are three key features to healthcare in this country at the moment. The first is that it is very expensive; the second is that the amount we are prepared to spend on it is limited; the third is that we are prepared to do very little about it." A Comfortable Place on the NHS.

Max Atkinson mourns and tries to account for the decline of oratory in British politics.

You may have heard that, shamefully, a blogger was arrested the other day for filming a meeting of Camarthenshire Council on her phone. Carmathernshire Planning Problems and more has the full story.

Slightly Right of Centre writes on the abject failure of South West Trains when faced with major signalling problems on Thursday evening: "I get the distinct feeling that leaving passengers - most of whom were expecting total journey times of under an hour - stranded on stationary trains was a "least worst" option. Never mind the insulin user or the heavily pregnant ladies; the operation to get passengers off the trains would cause other headaches for South West Trains, such as providing alternative onward journey options and reimbursing taxi fares."

This blog has been concerned with the Zombies of late, so I am linking here to a superb post from a couple of years ago by Andrew Hickey: A Beginner's Guide to the Zombies.

Conrad Russell remembered in the London Review of Books

The latest issue of the London Review of Books carries a review of a book by Conrad Russell, who died in 2004.

King James VI and I and His English Parliaments is an expanded version of the Trevelyan Lectures Conrad gave at Cambridge in 1995, edited and brought to the press by Richard Cust and Andrew Thrush.

Unfortunately, Colin Kidd's review is not one of those freely available on the LRB website. But I am a subscriber so I can give you a few extracts:
"A chain-smoker in an ill-fitting suit, who carried his voluminous notes around in supermarket carrier bags, the 5th Earl Russell defied most conventional stereotypes of the aristocrat."

"He was never one to stand his ground in the face of persuasive evidence, even when presented by the most junior colleagues or postgraduates, and was constantly redefining his position in the light of the work of other historians."

"Russell’s arrival in the House of Lords after the death of his half-brother in 1987 changed the focus of his commitments. Henceforth, he combined teaching at King’s College London, to which he moved in 1990, with his duties in the Lords, and students were happy to make the detour to the Palace of Westminster for tutorials when parliamentary business was pressing. As the Liberal Democrat spokesman on social security, he brought historical depth to his portfolio, tracing the English commitment to welfare back beyond Beveridge to the Elizabethan Poor Law."

"The book confirms that Russell, who had more regard to historical accuracy than to his own reputation, remained to the end open-minded, daring and imaginative. He was never restricted to revisionism as doctrine, and throughout the latter half of his career he changed his mind in significant ways while still conserving the broad message of his earlier anti-Whig interpretation of history."

"Seventeenth-century Englishmen, indebted to a unitary conception of the state, could not find a way to accommodate the ‘inconvenient fact of Scottish sovereignty’. The second Anglo-Scottish Union in 1707 provided a workable compromise. Nevertheless, the English remained oblivious – some of them wilfully so – of the fact that post-1707 Britain was a new state born of an international treaty between sovereign kingdoms. The blinkers were still on when Russell was writing in the late 1990s, and, devolution notwithstanding, it still seems fair to conclude, as he did then, that ‘Britain has not yet risen to the intellectual challenge of 1603'."
It is hard to believe that it is seven years since Conrad died, yet already a world in which a student could wander into the Palace of Westminster for a tutorial seems like a lost Eden.

Jonathan Meades: Gallery Without Walls, Musuem Without a Roof

From the Unbound website:
It’s an astonishment, maybe even an outrage, that Jonathan Meades’ writing and thinking about the hundreds of places he’s visited have never been edited into a book before.

Over the coming months you will watch it come together as he sifts through the scripts to sixty films, and the hundreds of pieces and he has written and delivered over the past twenty years. The plan is to produce a handsome volume (heavy on the handfeel) containing five full scripts of his most important TV films (illustrated with stills) and about forty pieces, including ten longer essays. Very little of this material will have been read by a general audience; the scripts, in particular, have never appeared in print before and offer an extraordinary insight into Meades meticulous working methods and his subversive visual style.

An excerpt from one of the longer pieces – called appropriately 'Place' – is available below. Pledging to support the book now will get you access to other pieces and a longer exclusive interview about the planned book. More Meadesian goodness will follow at regular intervals, including in June, your first sight of that rare wonder, a complete Meades’ film script.

The finished book will be released to Unbound patrons in early December.
Unbound is the brainchild of three writers (QI’s John Mitchinson and Justin Pollard and Crap Towns author and former Deputy Editor of The Idler, Dan Kieran), Unbound allows authors to write the books that they want and readers to choose what gets published.

Using the publishing platform, authors can now pitch their book ideas directly to their readers. Readers choose the ideas that they like on the website and pledge their support. When an idea has enough supporters, the book is written and supporters receive a clothbound limited Unbound First Edition with their name in it. Supporters are kept up to date throughout the creative process via the author’s private area or ‘shed’, where they can read the author’s blog, watch interviews and meet other supporters and the author themselves.