Monday, October 31, 2011

Six of the Best 197

Lynne Featherstone remembers Sir Simon Milton.

Paul Tyler has argued that pressure groups should be subject to scrutiny too. Eaten by Missionaries agrees with him.

"I just received this email about a school in Devon undergoing building works: 'Our two boys attend a grammar school in Devon ... where they were told in assembly that with the construction of a new block they were not to speak to any builder, and that no builder must speak to them or he will face dismissal. How can we possibly hope to build any kind of better (or 'big') society with such an frightening lack of trust, not to mention courtesy? The school's instructions sound like something out of a 1950s sci-fi nightmare.'" A depressing tale from Josie Appleton's blog for the Manifesto Club. reports the latest appearance of Alan Rusbridger, Ian Hislop and other editors before Westminster's joint committee on privacy and injunctions.

Did you know that a Spanish Republican merchant ship was was fired on and sunk by a Francoist gunboat off the Norfolk coast near Cromer? Hayes Peoples History has the story: "After landing at Cromer, the crew made their way to Lowestoft and then on the East Anglia express to Liverpool Street, London. On reaching their destination huge cheering crowds gathered to welcome them and show support for the Republican cause."

Did you know that Alan Garner's Elidor was first written as a radio play? Roger Howe on the Diversity Website has the story.

Out into the sunlight and the pure wind

The "What is nature for?" debate at the Battle of Ideas put me in mind of an article I wrote for Open Mind some  years ago. Perhaps it was no more than an excuse to chain together some of my favourite quotations - and if I were writing it today no doubt I would be quoting Richard Louv - but I remain fond of it.

Out into the sunlight and the pure wind

In 1883, the writer and naturalist Richard Jefferies published The Story of My Heart, his spiritual autobiography. It begins with a rapturous account of an ascent of Liddington Hill in the Wiltshire Downs:
Moving up the sweet short turf, at every step my heart seemed to obtain a wider horizon of feeling; with every inhalation of rich pure air, a deeper desire. The very light of the sun was whiter and more brilliant here. By the time I had reached the summit I had entirely forgotten the petty circumstances and the annoyances of existence. I felt myself, myself.[1]
For Jefferies, experiencing the beauty of the natural world was not just a source of great pleasure. He saw it as intimately connected with human health and happiness, as he showed in his essay "The pageant of summer":
I seem as if I could feel all the glowing life the sunshine gives and the south wind calls to being. The endless grass, the endless leaves, the immense strength of the oak expanding, the unalloyed joy of finch and blackbird; from all of them I receive a little. Each gives me something of the pure joy they gather for themselves.[2]
It took another century for medical and psychological opinion to come around to this view. No less an authority than Florence Nightingale wrote as long ago as 1859 that "variety of form and brilliancy of colour in the objects presented to patients are an actual means of recovery".[3]

But the modern, scientific interest in the connection between the natural world and human well-being is usually dated to 1984 and the publication of an academic paper by Roger Ulrich, who was then a young researcher at Texas A&M University.

That paper looked at the fortunes of 46 patients who underwent gall bladder surgery at a Pennsylvania hospital between 1972 and 1981. They had recovered from their operations in one of two rooms, the first having a view of trees and the second looking out on a brick wall. Ulrich found that the patients who had recovered in the room with the view of the trees spent less time in hospital after surgery, had fewer minor complications like nausea or headaches, asked for fewer painkillers and, judging by the nurses' notes, were more cheerful and optimistic.[4]

Today, Ulrich is a distinguished professor of environmental psychology whose ideas influence the design of hospitals around the world. And all sorts of people are showing an interest in the idea that contact with the natural world is good for us.

Some make great claims for gardening. For instance, in his new book Saving the Planet Without Costing the Earth, Donnachadh McCarthy speaks of it as re-establishing "a psychological link with the cycles of nature".[5] Certainly, increasing numbers of health providers are planting therapeutic gardens for people to work in or simply enjoy. And the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers promotes Green Gyms, which are local gardening projects aimed at people who need to become more active or to regain their confidence. The Trust says that people referred with anxiety or depression can show significant improvements, and some have even gone back to work after spending time in the "gym".

Meanwhile, in harsher landscapes around the world, "wilderness therapy" is thriving. This involves taking delinquent or disaffected teenagers on hikes lasting for days or weeks. Again, some people swear by this odd mixture of touchy-feely and "a spell in the Army would do them good" thinking (although it is worth pointing out that there are critics who claim that since 1990 five teens have died on these expeditions in Utah alone).

The difficulty with gardening, wilderness therapy or any other activity is to know how far it is the contact with nature that is doing people good. Gardening projects may benefit people because they make friends or get more exercise. Wilderness therapy may work by removing a troubled teen from a difficult background or showing spoilt youngsters that the world does not revolve around them.

There are two contemporary thinkers whose ideas may help us understand what is going on: Edward O. Wilson and Theodore Roszak. In 1984, Wilson coined the term "biophilia". He defined it as "the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life," and argued that human beings have an innate need to associate with other living things because they have lived alongside the natural world for so many millennia.[6]

This may sound fanciful, but it is in line with approaches based upon evolutionary psychology, and these are the flavour of the month in hard science. They see the traditional English love of parkland, for instance, as having evolved long ago when we all lived on the savanna. Humans prefer a view with scattered trees to one of bare grassland, because those trees give us somewhere to hide from predators and keep a look out.

Graham Harvey makes the same point more poetically: 
Grass is a reminder that we have a history older than our lives. We come from some faraway place, and that soft, green vegetation beneath our bodies has made the journey with us. When we touch it, when we walk on it and play on it, lie on it and make love on it, that is when we feel intensely alive.[7]
Theodore Roszak’s contribution is the concept of "ecopsychology".[8] Roszak came to prominence in the counterculture of the 1960s and has kept himself at the fashionable edge of radical thinking ever since. Ecopsychology is less of a clearly defined concept than a bundle of ideas for further investigation. It takes Wilson's insight and seeks to extend it by associating it with some of the more interesting ideas from the environmental movement.

Roszak is interested in the "traditional healing techniques of primary people, nature mysticism as expressed in religion and art, the experience of wilderness, the insights of Deep Ecology". It can sound terribly vague, but it is hard to resist a writer who reminds us that "salt remnants of ancient oceans flow through our veins, ashes of expired stars rekindle in our genetic chemistry".

With environmental stories featured in every news bulletin, you might think that the ideas of people like Wilson and Roszak are carrying the day. But there is a paradoxical danger that environmental campaigning will estrange us even further from the natural world. For so much of that campaigning emphasises the threat the environment poses to us, whether it is global warming or chemicals in our food. The environment is sometimes made to sound like the Communists were supposed to be in 1950s America. It is all around us (you can't argue with that) and it is out to get us.

 In this urgent concern to "save the planet" it is easy to overlook the need to protect the beauty of the countryside and to ensure that more people are given the chance to enjoy it. Graham Harvey reminds us that, not so long ago, the downland landscape that Richard Jefferies loved was available to all. "For the child growing up in Southern Britain as recently as the last war," he writes, "the life and sounds of the chalk grasslands would have been as familiar as the shopping mall to the modern child."

And wonderfully attractive Harvey makes that life appear:
As the spring deepens into summer the sounds of this ancient landscape grow louder – grasshoppers, crickets, bees buzzing between the bright chalkland flowers. Butterflies like the skipper and the common blue, drift over the short-cropped grasses as sklylarks climb on the summer thermals. Chaffinches and willow warblers haunt the gorses and brambles, stone curlews call shrilly in the evening air. And badgers, foxes and hares play out their flawless roles in a drama as old as the earth.[9]
When Roszak writes that "Ecopsychology seeks to heal the more fundamental alienation between the recently created urban psyche and the age-old natural environment", it is the recovery of this sort of richness that he has in mind.

Or as Richard Jefferies put it:
Let us get out of these indoor narrow modern days, whose twelve hours have somehow become shortened, into the sunlight and the pure wind. A something that the ancients called divine can be found and felt there still.[10]
Published in Open Mind 128, July/August 2004


1 R. Jefferies (1883/1979) The Story of My Heart, London: Quartet Books.

2 R. Jefferies (1884/1983) The pageant of summer, in The Life of the Fields, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

3 F. Nightingale (1859/1957) Notes on Nursing, Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott.

4 R. S. Ulrich (1984) View through a window may influence recovery from surgery, Science 224: 420–21.

6 E. O. Wilson (1984) Biophilia, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

7 G. Harvey (2002) The Forgiveness of Nature: The Story of Grass, London: Jonathan Cape.

8 T. Roszack (1992) The Voice of the Earth: An Exploration of Ecopsychology, New York: Simon & Schuster.

9 G. Harvey (1997) The Killing of the Countryside, London: Jonathan Cape.

10 R. Jefferies (1879/1973) The Amateur Poacher, Rhyl: Tideline Books.

Michael Meadowcroft provides more reasons why the Lib Dems should stop calling for referendums on Europe

The former Liberal MP Michael Meadowcroft emails in response to my Liberal Democrat News article saying the party should stop calling for referendums on Europe.

He provides two more arguments in support of my case:
The public votes in a referendum far more on its current perception of the popularity of the government or leader proposing it. That was true in the UK referendum on AV last May where it was more of a vote on whether or not one liked Nick Clegg than on the benefits or otherwise of AV. Equally the French voted "No" on the European constitution on 29 May 2005 when Chirac's unpopularity was at 66% in the polls.
Also, the turnout at referenda in the UK is invariably lower than at the comparable general election. The public may well demand a referendum - and who wouldn't - but they don't bother to vote in them! The vote at the 2010 General Election was 65.1% but at the AV referendum it was only 42.2%.
You can read more from Michael on this subject in an old Yorkshire Post article of his that he reproduces on his own website.

Sadly, it also reveals that Michael and I find ourselves on opposite sides of a far more rancorous debate - that over the correct plural of "referendum".

GUEST POST Why you should visit The Bog

Paul Davis on a good year for a unique visitor facility in the Shropshire hills

The Bog is a small village at the foothills of the Stiperstones National Nature Reserve, 1300 feet up in  the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There’s not a lot here other than fantastic views, peace and tranquillity, great walks, rich natural flora and fauna, and The Bog Visitor Centre.

The Bog Visitor Centre is based in an old school that opened in 1839 for the local mining community, at one stage the village had over 200 buildings and was a prosperous centre for lead and barytes mining.  The mine closed in the 1920s, and as buildings gradually disappeared the school eventually closed in 1968.

After a period as a field study centre for schoolchildren, in 1996 the old school was taken on by a group of local volunteers as a Visitor Centre. Electricity arrived about 5 years ago, along with inside toilets, and as part of the atmosphere the gas lights have been retained – probably the only visitor centre in the country not lit by electricity.

The centre is staffed entirely by volunteers from the beginning of April through to the end of October – 7 days a week during any school and public holidays and from Wednesday to Sunday the remaining time.  People travel from far and wide for the delicious cakes made by a group of locals – and the portions are very generous.

The volunteers are very knowledgeable about the area, and there are many resources like previous census returns and school records for those trying to trace ancestry. Malcolm Saville and Mary Webb set some of their novels around here and display boards show explanations and conversions of place names from fiction to reality. Other boards explain the geology, history and myths of the area.  In addition the centre sells locally made handcrafts, cards, pictures and other gifts, all made within 10 miles.

Last year the centre welcomed over 17,500 visitors and this year looks set to break this in the normal opening, with an influx of visitors on Saturday 5 and Sunday 6 November for the Christmas craft fair (10 a.m. - 3 p.m)

There is a large car park and numerous waymarked walks start from The Bog, some of which can be found through the Shropshire Walking website. These include the Flenny Bank walk and the Mucklewick walk, which head off on the relative flat. Other walks start going up or along the Stiperstones, including the Stiperstones Stomp.

Dogs are welcome at the centre, and even can bring your own packed lunch. Though the Centre will not not be open regularly again until the spring, there is a chance to visit it for the Christmas craft fair this weekend.

I suggest you take it - I recently spoke to a couple who had come 55 miles just for the cake!

Beauty the kitten found alive!

Great news from the Birmingham Post:
Beauty the cat has been found alive and well, and appears to have been living happily in Sparkhill for the past year.
Not only that: she appears to have become a mother.

When a kitten herself, Beauty was at the centre of a catnapping row involving John Hemming MP, his wife and mistress. It ended in a recent court case and a suspended sentence.

Anyway, John, the Lib Dem MP for Birmingham Yardley, told the Post:
"I went to see the cat last night and indeed it was Beauty. We, however, think that she is feeding kittens at the moment so she has been returned to the lady who had kindly looked after her for a year so that we can try to track down the kittens."
And in a true feline touch:
"It seems that Beauty has been looked after by two households at the same time."

End of the Month Lolcat

funny pictures - WHAT YEAR IS IT?
see more Lolcats and funny pictures, and check out our Socially Awkward Penguin lolz!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Il Rondo: Leicester's top music venue in the 1960s

Il Rondo was housed in the brick building on the left-hand side of the picture. Today it is home to a chain restaurant.

Rupert Matthews speaks to the nation

The last we heard of Rupert Matthews, soon to become on of the MEPs for the East Midlands, he was following advice not to speak to the media. But he has clearly changed his mind, because he was quoted by Christopher Cook in yesterday's Financial Times (registration needed):
Mr Matthews told the Financial Times, however, that he does not have a “belief in the paranormal”. He said that IMU “commissioned me to put together an introductory course along lines they specified and, as a freelance writer, I was happy to do so”.
Mr Matthews, who has written more than 180 books, added: “Not all politicians are accountants, lawyers and PR consultants. We are constantly hearing calls for MPs and other politicians to come from a wider range of backgrounds. I expect my background as a freelance writer to be of some use to me.”
The report also reveals that Matthews has had only one student take his course on Our Paranormal Universe.

It also quotes him as saying he does not have a belief in the paranormal, yet notes that as recently as Wednesday he posted on his Ghosthunter blog:
In books and on films you see ghosts floating above the ground or going all see-through. He was not like that at all. He was was solid and real. He was really there. Well, until he vanished that is.” 
As I well know this is typical of ghosts. Forget what you see and hear about fictional ghosts, the real thing is very real indeed.
Very mysterious. Cook also quotes a Labour shadow minister as saying:
British MEPs should be focused on arguing for measures that will promote jobs and growth, not on finding the Yeti.”
Well, it's a point of view. But what ever would she have made of David James MP?

The West End Front by Matthew Sweet

Matthew Sweet is an official hero of this blog for his books Inventing the Victorians and Shepperton Babylon. The former argues that the Victorians were a great deal less Victorian than we now imagine and the latter shows that the idea that British films are cosy and twee is nonsense.*

Today's Observer Magazine has a feature by him, drawn from his new book The West End Front: The Wartime Secrets of London's Grand Hotels:
On 17 July 1945, in a room at Claridge's hotel, the rules of cartography went into abeyance. England receded to the four walls of suite 212 and Yugoslavia – a country that has since disappeared from the map – rushed to fill the space. On a bed borrowed from the London Clinic, a 24 year-old woman lay in the agonies of labour – and as far as she, her husband and Winston Churchill were concerned, the baby who was born that day, Crown Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia, took his first breath on Yugoslav territory. Just to make sure, there was a box of earth under the bed.
Wikipedia brings the story up to date:
Alexander first came to Yugoslavia in 1991. He actively worked with the democratic opposition against the regime of Slobodan Milošević and moved to Yugoslavia after Slobodan Milošević was deposed in 2000. In March 2001 Yugoslavian citizenship was finally restored to him by the government.
Today he lives in a former royal palace in Belgrade and campaigns for the establishment of a constitutional monarchy in Serbia.

Anyway, I enjoyed Sweet's earlier books so much that I shall have to buy a copy of the West End Front.

* I am indebted to another of this blog's heroes, the children's writer Malcolm Saville, for teaching me the former/latter construction. Perhaps he was overfond of it, but I thought it very grown up.

The Rockingbirds: Restless

This is another song from the days when I still bought vinyl LPs. The Rockingbirds were a shortlived (though they have reformed in recent years) country rock group from London - Muswell Hillbillies, or something like that.

AllMusic says their eponymous first LP from 1992 "earned a warm critical response but met with commercial failure".

This is my favourite track from it, though I also have a soft spot for Jonathan, Jonathan too - even though it turned out to be a tribute, not to me, but to Jonathan Richman.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Battle of Ideas

I spent today at the Battle of Ideas, which is being held today and tomorrow at the Royal College of Art, next to the Royal Albert Hall in Kensington. It is organised by the Institute of Ideas, which is descended from the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) via Living Marxism magazine and the website Spiked (for which I have written in the past). And the Institute kindly offered me a press pass for the weekend.

Despite this parentage, the event is notably diverse in the subjects it tackles and the speakers it invites. I was impressed with the number of people who were there - over a thousand had registered for the weekend, one of the organisers told me - and the range of sessions on offer. It felt like a political conference with lots of fringe meetings and no set-piece speeches in the main hall.

I went to three sessions. The first was "What is Nature for?" with a panel of speakers including the poet Ruth Padel, who is Charles Darwin's great great granddaughter. The tenor of the discussion was that nature is not really "for" anything, that it certainly cannot teach us how to live but that we have to come to terms with it and, many contributors insisted, find our greatest satisfaction in contact with it.

Josie Appleton is one of the leading lights of the Institute of Ideas (there seemed to be one of them on panel or in the chair in each session), but her emphasis on mankind using nature to improve his life seemed out of kilter with much of the rest of the debate. She called this the view of "modernity", but in many ways it is a dated view.

But it did at least give a clue to how the RCP evolved into the turbo-libertarians of Spiked, because this is a view that is shared by many Marxists and capitalists. And doesn't Marx say somewhere that capitalism will not disappear until it has reached the fullest state of development? Perhaps the way to hasten its demise is therefore to give it free rein.

The second session I attended was "Remaking Citizens for the 'Big Society'", where I was interested to hear Steve Reed, the Labour leader of the London Borough of Lambeth. I found much of what he has to say about community involvement in the running of public services was close to my sort of Liberalism.

I made a brief intervention from the floor, saying that initiatives are "local schemes for local people". Where they are successful it is generally because of individual, local circumstances and often because of a few remarkable individuals. They cannot be reduced to a set of PowerPoint slides that can be rolled out across the country.

And the final session I attended asked whether the sexual liberation of earlier decades has given rise to unintended and unwanted consequences in the shape of "Coarse Sex and Cheap Lives". I will admit that one reason for choosing this one - there were seven different strands running all day - was to hear Anne Atkins, the dragon of "Thought for the Day".

It turned out that what impressed me most about this session was the politeness with which Atkins was received. I suspect that if she had spoken at a political conference - at least a Labour or a Lib Dem one - she would have been heckled or shouted down.

Besides, as the American journalist William Saletan remarked, some things are true even though the Church of England says them.

The chairing of the sessions was good, with neither panellists not speakers from the floor allowed to waffle. So if you want a stimulating day's discussion, I suggest you go along to the Battle of Idea tomorrow or next year.

Using an escalator is more dangerous than I realised

How to get away with a serious crime

I'm really not sure I should be telling you this, but I was struck by a passage in today's Guardian:
Avon and Somerset police reject the suggestion they should have got to Tabak sooner, pointing out that he left the Bristol area for Cambridge and Holland before Yeates' body was found.
So if you have committed a serious crime you should flee the country at once. The police won't suspect a thing.

Friday, October 28, 2011

In Our Time discussion on John Stuart Mill

This is just a taster - you can hear the whole programme on the BBC iPlayer.

You may also enjoy the one about Karl Popper.

Liberal Democrat News: The party should stop calling for referendums on Europe

This article is published in today's Lib Dem News. It was a pleasant change to be writing for the paper because I had something to say, not because I had a deadline to meet.

The "Europe" issue

The Liberal Democrats voted for a referendum on Maastricht. We called for one on the Lisbon treaty until we had the chance to vote for it  in the Commons in February 2008. Then we walked out, demanding an in-or-out referendum instead. That has been our policy ever since, until we had a chance to vote for an in-or-out referendum on Monday, whereupon we voted against it.

It may be possible to find a slender thread of principle running  through this history – at the last general election we called for an in-or-out referendum only when "a British government signs up for fundamental change in the relationship between the UK and the EU" – but I have a simpler idea. Let’s stop calling for referendums on Europe altogether.

The arguments used in favour of referendums are weak. We are told that winning an in-or-out vote would settle the question for a generation. Nonsense. In 1975 Britain voted by more than two-to-one to remain in the Common Market: five years later the Labour Party committed itself to withdrawal.

On Monday the Tory MP David Nuttall complained that 84 per cent of people alive today have never voted in favour of EU membership. But an even larger percentage has not voted in for joining the United Nations, abolishing slavery or the Act of Union. Must we have referendums on all those too?

For years the main parties have engaged in something close to a conspiracy. The issue of Europe has been taken out of general elections, with the promise that it will be decided through a referendum. Those referendums never take place. The result has been an infantilisation of debate on Europe, as politicians are allowed to take up self-indulgent, extreme positions they know they will never have to defend to the electorate.

This process has been bad for us Liberal Democrats, encouraging the idea that all we need do to prosper is not offend anybody and deliver lots and lots of leaflets. And it has been bad for democracy as a whole. Why should voters feel enthusiastic about Westminster when their representatives avoid talking about one of the most important issues facing the country?

There is another, less disinterested, reason why we should drop our calls for referendums. I am an enthusiast for the Coalition and not one of the party’s most instinctively pro-European members. But even I cannot be anything but enthusiastic at the prospect of breaking the Conservative Party in two.

Because, as Monday’s Commons debate showed, the anti-European wing of the Conservatives is simply ungovernable. The more we can do to keep the issue of Europe at the centre of British general election campaigns, the harder life will be for David Cameron.

Let me give two local examples. The other day the ‘politcal chairman’ of Harborough Conservatives tweeted the suggestion that Tory MPs who favour a referendum should consider forming a new party to “get the PM’s attention”.

And then there is Rupert Matthews who believes that, were there to be riots in London, the European Commission could go to the German government ask it to send a Panzer division “and there is nothing the British government could do about it”.

You could  say Mr Matthews is an eccentric who teaches a course on ‘Understanding our Paranormal Universe’ for something called  the International Metaphysical University. And you would be right. But at the end of the year, because of the resignation of Roger Helmer, he will become the East Midlands’ newest MEP.

The way to thwart people like Matthews is not to shunt Europe off to referendum campaigns that never happen. It is to return the issue to the centre of our general election campaigns.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
Jonathan Calder blogs at Liberal England and wrote a weekly column for this newspaper for many years.

The fragile magic of A Canterbury Tale

Xan Brooks had a good piece in the Guardian recently discussing the Powell and Pressburger film A Canterbury Tale. He brings out perfectly the fragile magic of the film and the way that those of us who love it feel faintly embarrassed by that love.

Brooks was introduced to the film by his father:
He warned me that while he liked it, most people did not. It was too flawed, too rum, it didn't hang together.
And he goes on to say:
A Canterbury Tale may be the most loving and tender film about England ever made. It's a picture that's steeped in nature, in thrall to myth and history; a re-affirmation of the English character, customs and countryside from a time when many viewers may have wondered whether this underpinning had been kicked clean away. 
But the film's genius lies in the way it connects these big, sweeping themes to the intimate, the eccentric and the everyday. It's the human details that give it life, and the film is always beautifully played – particularly by Eric Portman as the rigid local magistrate and Dennis Price as a hard-bitten soldier who refuses to name the thing he loves.
Well, you can't get more English than refusing to name the thing you love. But while Portman's performance, as so often, is wonderful, his character is a gentleman Puck as well as a rigid magistrate.

I once discussed A Canterbury Tale with David Boyle during a Lib Dem conference in Brighton as we walked across town to a party at Harriet Smith's flat in Hove. I said that I supposed that its concern with Englishness and tradition made it a Tory film.

David replied - surely rightly - that this is to concede far too much to Conservatism. Liberals can embrace these themes too.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Bookshop, Kibworth Beauchamp

I have written before about The Bookshop in Kibworth, which I visited again last Saturday.

There was a nice write up about it in the Daily Telegraph earlier this year.

The Liberal Democrats should fight police commissioner elections

Worrying news comes this evening via Mark Pack on Liberal Democrat Voice:
The Liberal Democrat Federal Executive (FE) decided this week that the federal party will not be providing any financial backing to Liberal Democrats wishing to stand for election as Police Commissioners. The expectation is that instead the party will end up backing independent candidates, although it has been made clear that local areas can decide to field candidates if they wish to – albeit without any financial backing from the central party.
This seems a nonsense to me. The federal does not usually provide financial backing for council elections, but that has never stopped local parties fighting them. What is different here?

Are we really saying that the Liberal Democrats have nothing much to say about policing? Because there is a clear danger that this is the message that the press and public will take from this decision.

I am not a supporter of elected police commissioners, but they have now been brought in (ultimately with Liberal Democrat support at Westminster). Political parties cannot always choose the battles they fight and third parties can almost never choose them. So we should not walk away from these contests.

One of my fears about these elections is that the field will be dominated by populist right-wingers - indeed I suspect that is what many of those who have supported this new system want. Refusing to field Liberal Democrat candidates will do nothing to offer the public an alternative.

For who will offer a Liberal voice if we do not? Certainly not Labour or the Conservatives.

As to the "expectation" that Liberal Democrats will support independent candidates, as Mark points out, this raise the possibility that party members will find themselves supporting different candidates in the same contest.

I think the party is owed an explanation for this odd decision. I suspect a shortage of funds lies at the back of it, but did local parties ever expect these contests to be centrally funded in the first place?

Rupert Matthews in the rain

He may be about to become the East Midlands' newest MEP, but Rupert Matthews has gone uncharacteristically quiet.

"Mr Matthews declined to be interviewed, saying he had been advised not to speak until after taking up the post," the Leicester Mercury reported last week. But it doesn't say who gave him this advice or why he decided to accept it.

So we will have to make do with old videos for the time being. This one does not show him interviewing someone who saw a UFO or telling us that EU Panzers are poised to invade Britain. It's just a bit of local politics from Linolnshire.

Still, you have to enjoy the contrast between the ambitious opening titles and the downbeat content that follows them.

News Story of the Day visits Bishop's Castle

A good samaritan who stopped to help an elderly woman start her car in Bishop's Castle, was injured when the car was eventually driven off.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Christ Church, Smeeton Westerby

It may look older, but Smeeton Westerby church was not built until the middle of the 19th century. The site it occupies is situated between the original settlements of Smeeton and Westerby, which makes the village feel more like one place today.

The Victoria County History says: "A large arch which is incorporated in the west wall of the nave suggests that the addition of a west tower was contemplated at some future period."

That may well be so, but some Victorian church architects were fond of effects like this arch, which can be appreciated only from a distance. At nearby Tur Langton, the windows on the side of the church that is seen across the fields are much larger than those that face the main street of the village.

Six of the Best 196

Lewes Lib Dem councillor Ian Eiloart writes about his experience of having a stroke.

Peter Black pronounced irony dead after the Daily Telegraph complains that Herman Van Rompuy wants to set up a United States of Europe "with Britain left on the sidelines".

"Do you feel the need to identify with or be loyal to some geographical entity?" asks Jock Coats. "I choose Oxford though as it's of a size where when you wander into town you are almost bound to see someone you know and can talk to.  Not too big, not too small.  Not in the sense that I feel any loyalty toward it as a unit of government (I don't believe in that, of course!).  But if there were some good or service that needed providing through some voluntary collaborative effort, it is the size of agglomeration that I would feel able to trust someone else with running: I'd think they shared, roughly my own experiences of the place, and the relevant need being met; and I'd feel close enough to be able to hold them to account when necessary."

Love and Garbage was disgusted by British media coverage of the death of Colonel Gaddafi: "I did not expect to have to switch off the television when the BBC early evening news showed an image of the bloodied corpse. I did not expect that when I took the children in to buy comics the following morning that every newspaper would have an image of the bloodied corpse on the front page. I thought our newspapers were better than that. I thought we were better than that."

"An inside source in Chelsea’s 5th floor has let slip what a number of canny CPO watchers have felt for some time.  Namely, the Club intends to move to a ready-built stadium in 2020.  That stadium is Twickenham." CFCnet on the club's plans to leave Stamford Bridge.

Viv Turner, says the Dudley News, has written a book about her friendship with the children's writer (and Liberal England hero) Malcolm Saville.

Nick Clegg has always been a bit of a Euro-realist

"Could the pro-European Lib Dems swallow some reduction in Brussels power after all?"  asks a Daily Mail website headline this evening. And the article beneath goes on to say:
But are there signs that the Lib Dems may be shifting somewhat? In fact, Clegg and his former leader Lord Ashdown are now speaking of ‘rebalancing’ our relationship with Europe and seeking reform of certain ‘intrusive’ directives. It’s all semantics but, in the end, couldn’t ‘rebalancing’ mean much the same as ‘repatriation’?
But that has always been Nick Clegg's view (and mine, come to that). Reviewing his pamphlet The Liberal Moment at the start of last year, I recalled his speech to a Liberator fringe meeting at out Brighton Autumn Conference in 2006:
He did speak at a Liberator fringe meeting while still an MEP, advocating what he termed “crunchy” liberalism and attacking over-regulation, but he was careful to confine himself to matters that were the concern of the European parliament and not to trespass on the concerns of his Westminster colleagues.
What the Mail fails to grasp is that Nick's statement that there will be no "smash and grab raid" to claw back powers handed to Brussels while he is Deputy Prime Minister is simply common sense.

We need to move beyond debates about whether we should be "in Europe" or not, because in the economic world we now inhabit we are part of Europe whether we will it or not. What we need to do is to start talking about the sort of Europe we want and finding allies there who will help us bring that about.

But David Cameron's decision to placate his members and backbenchers by pulling the Conservatives out of the European People's Party grouping and set up his own European Fruitcake Alliance means that this will be next to impossible for him to bring about.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The mystery of who owns the offices of Welsh AMs

From BBC News:
The Welsh assembly will pay £2.3m in rent to a mystery landlord for the building housing the offices of its 60 members, BBC Wales can reveal. 
The assembly's rent for the Ty Hywel building in Cardiff Bay will rise nearly 30% next year from £1.7m. 
It is paid to Crick Properties Ltd, registered in Douglas, Isle of Man, but assembly authorities cannot say who the ultimate owner of the building is.
Later. As the Slugger O'Toole post mentioned in the comments shows, there is not much of a mystery at all.

Liberal Democrat ministers: Spoilt for choice

At work today I was writing a news story based on a Department of Health press release about the £32m being made available to fund psychological therapy for children and young people.

Three ministers were quoted, but I needed just one for my story.

Which to choose? There was the deputy prime minister, a health minister and the children's minister.

In other words, Nick Clegg, Paul Burstow and Sarah Teather.

There never were such times for any Liberal or Liberal Democrat alive today. Let's make sure we appreciate being in government - though you can see why some Tories complain that the Liberal Democrats are being allowed to associate themselves with all the warm and fluffy things the Coalition is doing.

Since you ask, I chose Paul Burstow.

Northants Evening Telegraph wins Illiterate Headline of the Day

Navy groups march to mark Trafalger Day

Oh dear.

EXCLUSIVE: Pinter pause found in Rutland library

A pause written by Harold Pinter in 1960 has been found behind a radiator at the Rutland National Library in Oakham.

As a Liberal England exclusive, we are reproducing it here in full:

Benedict Nightingale comments: Seminal.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Debdale Wharf near Market Harborough

Leicestershire and Northamptonshire Union Canal was originally planned to go from Leicester via Market Harborough to Northampton, there joining the Grand Union main line. But when construction began, says the Old Union Canals Society website:
it became obvious that the budget was not going to allow for completion of the canal, so a decision was taken to stop at Debdale in 1797. The tiny hamlet became a busy canal terminus, with a purpose-built wharf, warehouse and pub (The Debdale Wharf Inn), and goods were stockpiled for onward transportation by horse and cart to the turnpike (A6) and thence to Harborough and beyond.
In due course the line reached Market Harborough, but later the connection with the main canal system was made by a cut from Foxton to Long Buckby, leaving Market Harborough at the end of a branch.

I was at Debdale Wharf on Saturday, which today is home to a new marina filled with boats. I talked to a woman who lives in one of the few houses there. She told me that the farmhouse next door had been the inn and that the remains of the old stables for the horses that pulled the narrow boats could be found at the bottom of her own garden.

And we both admired this ruin across the road with its oak doors (and though you cannot see it in this shot) Swithland slate roof.

Julian Glover leaves the Guardian

Julian Glover wrote his last column for the Guardian today before starting work as a speechwriter for David Cameron.

I am sorry to see him go. This is not just because he was the first person to commission me to write for the paper's website. It is also because in the last year he has been one of the few Liberal voices on the newspaper, which is rapidly degenerating into a sort of horror comic for people who work in the public sector.

As he put it today:
I believe that basic values of individuality, opportunity and freedom - which to me matter more than mathematical equality - are liberal in the fullest sense of that word.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Another Spencer Davis Group fan

One of our receptionists at work was a mod who knew all about Spencer Davis Group B sides. When she left to pursue a Masters in Archaeology I thought I was alone.

Then I found Bekah's Mind. That link will take you to three pages of photos (one of which I have borrowed) and recordings of the band the band. Do try the live version of Stevie's Blues you will find at the top right of the first page. It's very different from the one I posted here in March.

A Thorn in Their Side: The death of Hilda Murrell

Earlier this month I reported that the death of Hilda Murrell, which was so controversial when it took place in 1984, is the subject of a new book - A Thorn in Their Side - by her nephew Commander Robert Green.

There is a website devoted to the case. Through it, you can buy the book and read news reports and reviews of it.

XTC meets Richard Jefferies

From The Old House at Coate website:
An idea has been put forward by Barry Andrews, of Swindon-grown band XTC, to create an installation which, through sound, music and large computer-generated moving images, evokes the atmosphere of Jefferies' post-apocalyptic book, After London. Fragments of Jefferies' text will be sampled and played as part of the soundtrack, with the installation joining a long tradition of meditations upon devestated landscapes. 
Barry, with co-band member, Andy Partridge, believe that this unique attempt to highlight Jefferies' work and the use of digital modern technology will make the stranger aspects of this visionary writer more accesible to a modern audience.

Edmundo Ros: I didn't know he was still alive until he died

Yesterday Stephen Williams, the Lib Dem MP for Bristol West, marked the death of Edmundo Ros. It is always good to see that an MP has a hinterland, as Denis Healey once termed it.

And, as I have often discussed with Disgruntled Radical, it is sad when you do not realise that someone is still been alive until you hear of their death - if you see what I mean.

To counter this, The Oldie has a feature called "Still With Us", which carries profiles of people you might think are dead but are not. Until the other day, Edmundo Ros would have been a good subject.

As ever, the Daily Telegraph has the best obituary.

The Jam: Thick as Thieves

I have been listening to The Jam all week after hearing this track used at the end of the last part of the television adaptation of Jake Arnott's The Long Firm. Enjoy.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

In Our Time discussion on Karl Popper

This is an old edition of Melvyn Bragg's discussion programme In Our Time. It deals with the ideas of Karl Popper, for my money the most important Liberal philosopher of the 20th century.

A few years ago I wrote the entry on Popper in Duncan Brack and Ed Randall's Dictionary of Liberal Thought.

The framework knitters of Smeeton Westerby

The Leicestershire village of Smeeton Westerby was originally two hamlets: Smeeton and Westerby. Today it (just) retains separate from Kibworth Beauchamp and the smaller Kibworth Harcourt...

But you know all this.

Because you will have seen Michael Wood's television series The Story of England (which was really the Story of Kibworth), read the book and watched the DVD.

Today I was in Smeeton Westerby to look at this building in Pit Hill, which is very much at the Westerby end of the village. It was originally the poorhouse, established under the Gilbert Act of 1782. Later it was split into individual dwellings and occupied by framework knitters.

By 1844 the men who followed that trade were facing hard times. Wood quotes the evidence to a Royal Commission by a John Lover of Smeeton Westerby:
There is no race of people under the sun so depressed as we are, who work the hours we do, for the money we get. It would be my delight to bring my family up to a school; I cannot bear the thought of bringing a family up in ignorance, so as to not read a little.
The allotments in front of the old poor house, I learn from Stephen Butt's Kibworth Through Time (which I bought at The Bookshop in Kibworth afterwards), were established after sand had been extracted from the site around 1886. Before that the land had been occupied by cottages, so perhaps Westerby was larger then than it is today.

Later. I have been watching my own Story of England DVD. Originally, Smeeton was a Saxon settlement and Westerby was Viking. Elements of this rivalry can still be found today...

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Wem town hall ghost catches Rupert Matthews out

It is time to draw Rupert Matthews week to a close here on Liberal England. We have, among other things, seen him teaching for the International Metaphysical University and expressing his fears that EU Panzers will invade Britain.

But how much does he know about the paranormal?

Go to Matthews' blog The GhostHunter and you will find a post from February of this year about Wem in Shropshire:
And then on 19 November 1995 the new town hall, by then over three centuries old, went up in flames. Those who gathered to watch the fire were certain that they saw the figure of Jane Churm standing on the stairs as they vanished in the smoke. One local man took a photo which clearly showed the girl standing apparently indifferent to the destruction wrought around her.
It is an intriguing photograph - so much so that I had already written about it myself in June 2005.

But in May 2010 I wrote a second post about the photograph because it had been clearly shown that the photo was a fake.

It is clear that Matthews simply cut and pasted the blog article from his book Haunted Places of Shropshire. But shouldn't a lecturer with the International Metaphysical University be aware of the latest developments in his field?

Six of the Best 195

A Scottish Liberal brings the worrying news that Willie Rennie, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, is employing an intern provided by an evangelical Christian group.

"Mental health is an issue that affects us all. One in four of us will experience some form of mental health problem and many more of us are indirectly, yet often profoundly, affected as friends or family members. But what we don’t often realise is how the daily lives of many people with mental health problems are blighted by the prejudice, ignorance and fear that surround them." Health minister Paul Burstow writes for Liberal Democrat Voice.

Lavengro in Spain explains why Greece will not leave the Euro.

"If the resignation of British Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox MP leads to anything, it should be this: a statutory register of professional political lobbyists in the UK that is backed up by a compulsory code of professional conduct, a move which should be mirrored by the introduction of compulsory registration and a legally binding code of practice for lobbyists in Europe," argues Chris Whitehouse on Public Service Europe.

Stumbling and Mumbling, rightly I think, suggests that we underestimate the extent to which the generations are foreign to each other.

Gerald Yorke, acolyte of Alesteir Crowley and later a sort of Buddhist missionary to Britain, played one first-class game for Gloucestershire, reveals County Cricket News.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

How many schoolboys can you fit in one bed?

Ah, those far off, innocent days of 1961...

Thanks to a tweet from British Pathe.

Rupert Matthews and the International Metaphysical University

We have seen that Rupert Matthews, the new Conservative MEP for the East Midlands, teaches a course for the International Metaphysical University. But what do we know about this institution?

A look at the Tuition and Fees page on its website tells you a lot:
Although we are on a track towards accreditation, we are unable to offer government-sponsored loans and tuition assistance until that track is completed. As a result, we have deliberately set our pricing lower than mainstream schools, making it possible for many to finance their education independently. In so doing, we hope to reach every student interested in studying with us. The good news is that when you graduate, you won’t be saddled with debt! 
All 3-credit courses at the International Metaphysical University are priced at $425 per course. 
Assuming a student is to complete 12 courses to achieve a Master’s degree, total cost of tuition is $5,100. This does not include the cost of books and supplies as required for individual courses.
So it's cheaper than an, er, conventional university, though it is not clear what a fair price for an unaccredited degree would be. As Anita Brown observed in the Dayton Paranormal Examiner a couple of years ago: "all credits received at IMU stay at IMU, and are non-transferable."

More enlightenment may be gleaned from this audio interview with Rupert Matthews on the university's website.

An "in or out" referendum on the European Union was always a bad idea

Back in December 2009 I wrote a post saying the the party should drop its commitment to holding an "in or out" referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union.

I gave four reasons and as far as I can see they still hold good today:
  • Europe should be one of the great issues in British politics. By quarantining it through promising referendums and then not holding them, the parties have done much to being politics into disrepute. Let's debate Europe at general elections.
  • By advocating an "in or out" referendum the Liberal Democrats are retreating to their comfort zone. The question now is what kind of Europe we want to see, and that requires some thought. Reminding people that we were the first people to advocate British membership of the EEC will no longer do.
  • The idea that an incoming Liberal Democrat government would hold a referendum and then, if the outs won, devote five years to negotiating British withdrawal from the EU is ludicrous.
  • Advocating this referendum exacerbates the idea that we are trying to be all things to all people. We are the most pro-European party, but if you hate the EU then - hey! - you can still vote for us because we will give you a referendum so you can vote to leave it.
It appears that Liberal Democrat MPs will be whipped to vote against such a referendum on Monday, which may instead exacerbate the idea that we say one thing in opposition and do the opposite in power.

Jonah Oliver points out that this would not be just. The Lib Dem manifesto at the last election promised an "in or out" referendum "the next time a British government signs up for fundamental change in the relationship between the UK and the EU".

No such fundamental change is under discussion at present, and - of course - we did not win the election.

Still, it would have been a lot better if we had never taken up the idea of such a referendum in the first place.

Unique willow tree found on Aylestone Meadows

The Leicester Mercury - quite possibly correctly - claims a "World Exclusive" for its story about a unique willow tree being found on Aylestone Meadows in Leicester:
The plant is a cross between goat willow, grey willow, purple willow and osier, and goes by the official name of Salix caprea x cinerea subspecies oleifolia x purpurea x viminalis.
Readers will recall that a long and ultimately successful campaign was fought by residents and environmentalists to prevent Leicester City Council developing Aylestone Meadows to provide football pitches and associated floodlights, clubhouse and car parking.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Rupert Matthews teaches his course

You will recall that Rupert Matthews, the new Conservative MEP for the East Midlands, teaches the course Understanding Our Paranormal Universe for something called the International Metaphysical University.

This video appears to be the assignment for week 1 of that course. Enjoy.

Mike Hancock resigns from the Cabinet

It is not in the class of their reconviction of Amanda Knox (complete with descriptions of the scene in court and quotes from those involved) but the Daily Mail dropped another clanger on Twitter today.

Mike Hancock did not step down from the Cabinet but from the Commons defence select committee. He has never been anywhere near the Cabinet.

Although I am a loyal Liberal Democrat, I can't help thinking that is rather a good thing.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Scottish councillors use Freedom of Information Act to find out what's happening on their own authority

The Daily Record reports that members of Scottish Borders council have been reduced to making request under the Freedom of Information Act to find out what is happening on their own authority.

The three councillors mentioned in the Record are David Paterson (Independent) John Mitchell (SNP) and Catriona Bhatia (Lib Dem). The paper quote Bhatia as saying:
I take issue with the inference that information I sought was available from other sources and that I've been wasting public money. 
"It's one thing being able to request information from departments but quite another to receive it. 
"With respect to officers of the council, you often have to email them many times and are unlikely to get the answer you want within the 20 days set down by the FoI legislation. 
"With an FoI request, it is properly logged and you know the timescale in which you get a response. I'm surprised more councillors don't use the legislation to get the answers that the people who voted for them deserve. 
"There should be a better system in place - where elected members can get the information they want without recourse to FoI."
Trivia fans will know that Catriona Bhatia is the daughter of the former Liberal leader Sir David Steel. In his day Liberal councillors had to take some Labour authorities to court to be allowed to attend meetings.

Rupert Matthews and the UKIP golliwog

We have seen Rupert Matthews as a lecture in the paranormal and warning of EU plans to invade Britain. It is time to look at his activities as a political publisher.

Earlier this month Political Scrapbook (from whom I have borrowed the photo) reported that a "golliwog book" was on sale at the Conservative Party Conference. That book turns out to have been Britain - A Post Political Correctness Society by Bill Etheridge, published by one Rupert Matthews.

It turns out that Etheridge and his wife were recently forced to leave the Conservative Party after posing with golliwogs on Facebook. They have since joined UKIP. And though it is not a "golliwog book", it certainly has one on the cover.

I am on record as being relaxed about golliwogs, but I doubt that Tory high command will be amused. If anything threatens Matthews' fledgling career in the European Parliament it will not be his paranormal interests or his vision of EU tanks rolling into London. It will be his sticking up of two fingers at David Cameron. 

There are signs that someone close to Matthews has recognised this. Etheridge's book does not appear among the political books on the website of his firm Bretwalda Books. And a video about it has recently been taken down.

But you can still read about it on the Bretwalda Books Facebook page:*
In this fearless and controversial booklet, Bill Etheridge argues that the political and social elite have cravenly surrendered to the diktat of the Politically Correct dogma that has crushed free speech, smashed enterprise and reduced Britain to a mere shadow of its former self. Using personal insights and real life examples he shows how our political leaders can no longer be trusted and issues a powerful rallying cry for all lovers of freedom to stand up against the totalitarian bigots who have forced Political Correctness upon us.
"Our political leaders can no longer be trusted." It's an odd view for a Conservative MEP to be promoting.

* This page has now disappeared too.

Could you write a guest post for Liberal England?

Don't forget that Liberal England is now accepting guest posts. So far 22 (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...

Monday, October 17, 2011

Six of the Best 194

"The Welsh government has decided to send part of its higher education money to England in order to subsidise the tuition fees of Welsh students who decide to study elsewhere in the UK. This sounded great in December 2010, at a time when students were staging protests all around the country. Let’s be frank - in 2011, Welsh Labour decided to use Welsh university funding in order to buy votes in the Assembly election." Maria Pretzler, on her Working Memories blog, tells it like it is.

There are still American and British time bombs under Liam Fox and Adam Werritty, argues David Hencke.

Charlotte Henry defends the Coalition on The Commentator.

"Austerity is a political ideology masquerading as an economic policy. It rests on a myth, impervious to facts, that portrays all government spending as wasteful and harmful, and unnecessary to the recovery. The real world is a lot more complicated." The New York Times is not impressed by Osbornomics.

The unused East Midlands regional fire control centre cost £13m to build and is still costing us £5000 a day to run. The Leicester Mercury pays it a visit.

The Stroud News & Journal introduces us to Jon Pontefract who is trying to locate all 52 original milestones from the Thames and Severn Canal.

Rupert Matthews believes the EU may invade Britain with tanks

On Friday Bagehot in The Economist turned his attention to the East Midlands new MEP Rupert Matthews:
Mr Matthews is also a man of robust views, it emerges. In particular, he is exercised by the Lisbon Treaty, which he asserts grants the European Commission powers to invade Britain, should the British ever try to leave the union. 
I spent many weary hours reading the treaty, and cannot for the life of me think of the articles he is referring to.There are treaty articles which talk of deploying military forces on peacekeeping missions outside the Union, but they all make clear that national governments are in charge of such missions. There is a bit about member states being entitled to ask for help in the event of a natural disaster or attack, but only at their own initiative. 
There is an article which talks about uses for Europol, a body bringing together policemen from forces across the EU, but it expressly states: "Any operational action by Europol must be carried out in liaison and in agreement with the authorities of the Member State or States whose territory is concerned."
Anyway, as Bagehot suggests, I shall let Mr Matthews speak for himself...

David Cameron on corporate lobbying: "We can't go on like this"

From a speech David Cameron gave at the University of East London on 8 February 2010:
Now we all know that expenses has dominated politics for the last year. But if anyone thinks that cleaning up politics means dealing with this alone and then forgetting about it, they are wrong. Because there is another big issue that we can no longer ignore. 
It is the next big scandal waiting to happen. It’s an issue that crosses party lines and has tainted our politics for too long, an issue that exposes the far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money. 
I’m talking about lobbying – and we all know how it works. The lunches, the hospitality, the quiet word in your ear, the ex-ministers and ex-advisors for hire, helping big business find the right way to get its way. In this party, we believe in competition, not cronyism. We believe in market economics, not crony capitalism. So we must be the party that sorts all this out. 
Now, I want to be clear: it’s not just big business that gets involved in lobbying. Charities and other organisations, including trade unions, do it too. What’s more, when it's open and transparent, when people know who is meeting who, for what reason and with what outcome, lobbying is perfectly reasonable. 
It’s important that businesses, charities and other organisations feel they can make sure their voice is heard. And indeed, lobbying often makes for better, more workable, legislation. But I believe that it is increasingly clear that lobbying in this country is getting out of control. 
Today it is a £2 billion industry that has a huge presence in Parliament. The Hansard Society has estimated that some MPs are approached over one hundred times a week by lobbyists. Much of the time this happens covertly. 
We don’t know who is meeting whom. We don’t know whether any favours are being exchanged. We don’t know which outside interests are wielding unhealthy influence. This isn’t a minor issue with minor consequences. Commercial interests - not to mention government contracts - worth hundreds of billions of pounds are potentially at stake. 
I believe that secret corporate lobbying, like the expenses scandal, goes to the heart of why people are so fed up with politics. It arouses people’s worst fears and suspicions about how our political system works, with money buying power, power fishing for money and a cosy club at the top making decisions in their own interest. 
We can’t go on like this. I believe it’s time we shone the light of transparency on lobbying in our country and forced our politics to come clean about who is buying power and influence. 
Politics should belong to people, not big business or big unions, and we need to sort this out. So if we win the election, we will take a lead on this issue by making sure that ex-ministers are not allowed to use their contacts and knowledge - gained while being paid by the public to serve the public - for their own private gain. 
Today, the guidelines state that former ministers shouldn't lobby government for at least twelve months after leaving office. We will start by doubling that to two years. 
But there's another problem. Those guidelines are simply that: guidance issued to ex-ministers by the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, explaining what kind of jobs they can take up. Today, ex-Ministers can ignore this advice without sanction. 
So we will rewrite the Ministerial Code to make clear that anyone who ignores the advice of the Committee will be forced to give up some or all of their Ministerial pension. Dealing with the lobbying issue may be painful, but it needs to happen and because we are from a new generation at ease with openness and accountability, because we believe in social responsibility not state control, we will clean things up. 
So that is the choice the country faces. Five more years of Gordon Brown blocking reform, whether it's money from big business or money from big unions. Or reform to clean up lobbying from a new Conservative government committed to transparency and accountability.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

David MacLean pays tribute to former Leicester Mercury editor Keith Perch

The Mercury's political correspondent David MacLean writes:
When I moved to the Mercury it was clear that Keith was very keen for reporters to do some traditional digging and contact-building and come up with stories that press officers would have kept hidden. 
When I started there were two political reporters, and Keith wanted to make sure we both knew the Freedom of Information Act inside out to help expose the workings of local authorities, and courses in London were offered to us. Two years down the line and I’ve pulled in some cracking tales from FOI. 
As a former political journalist himself Keith’s door was always open for advice on how to cover the complexities of local government. And while he wasn’t one of those editors who turns up to the opening of a civic envelope, he was plugged in to Leicester life and politics and I’d often leave his office with a tip off about a developing political issue.
I made my own comment on Perch's departure a few days ago.