Saturday, December 31, 2011

So farewell then Leicester's New Walk Centre

Earlier this week Sir Peter Soulsby told BBC Radio Leicester that the New Walk Centre, which houses the City Council's offices, is to be demolished.

Today's Leicester Mercury quotes a demolition expert as saying that the roads surrounding the New Walk Centre could be partially shut for up to five months while the two towers are demolished.

The New Walk Centre was a speculative office development of the early 1970s - I have seen footage of the National Front marching through the city in those days, and in the background you can see the hoardings around what was then a construction site.

Is it unfair to suggest that the developers must have seen the council coming? Or at least, should we be shocked that such a building becomes unsafe in less than 40 years?

The good news is that Leicester's Town Hall, built a whole century before the New Walk Centre, is still doing fine.

Congratulations to David Bill MBE

From the Leicester Mercury:
County and borough councillor David Bill, 67, is to receive an MBE for services to local government. 
The founding member of Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council has been a councillor since the authority was established in 1973. He has also held a seat on Leicestershire County Council and Leicestershire Police Authority for more than 25 years. 
"It is all I know really," Coun Bill said. 
"And while I can't remember why I got into it, I stick with it because I enjoy inspiring and encouraging people to be involved in the community where they live."
Thanks in large part to David's work, Hinckley and Bosworth is a Lib Dem council and the party is also in a healthy second place in the parliamentary constituency.

If you travel to Sheringham and visit the cafe at the North Norfolk Railway's station in the town, you will find a plaque recording that it was David who opened it. When I saw this I assumed he was asked as some sort of recognition that the line was used by many holidaymakers from the East Midlands, but it turns out that he originally comes from Sheringham.

Headline of the Day

Well done to the The Press from York:

X-Factor CD among items flushed down toilet

Roger Helmer may not resign after all

This blog has taken an interest in Rupert Matthews ever since Roger Helmer announced that he would be resigning from the European Parliament today, 31 December 2011. That is because Matthews was the highest ranked Tory candidate for the East Midlands not to be elected in the last Euro elections.

However, it has emerged that Conservative high command has concerns about Matthews and might prefer to see someone else as the new MEP for the East Midlands. Already the Derby Telegraph has reported that Helmer will be delaying his resignation until around 15 January because of the uncertainty over his successor.

Now Guido Fawkes (with the help of italics and red ink that I do not reproduce here) is suggesting that he will not resign at all:
Helmer’s resignation was supposed to be effective of today, but as party chairman Sayeeda Warsi is apparently insisting on someone other than Matthews, apparently “a less-geeky woman”, takes over, Helmer has decided to dig his boots in. 
A European c0-conspiritor (sic.) told Guido last night “Roger won’t be going anywhere unless Rupert is guaranteed.” CCHQ sources insist that they won’t be budging on this one, so it looks like Helmer will be staying. Once again, the Tory high-command’s gender-agenda has created an almighty mess…
The Conservatives' regional chairman yesterday told the Derby Telegraph that no investigation has taken place, but I am not convinced that he would have been told about it.

All of which does raise a serious point... Is it automatic that the first unelected candidate on a regional list fills a vacancy created by someone from his or her party resigning? Or does a party have the power to nominate someone else?

Later. The BBC quotes Roger Helmer as confirming that he is postponing his resignation:
"There do seem to have been one or two administrative queries arising with central office over the succession to the seat. 
"Naturally, I want to get those sorted out before I formalise my resignation."

End of Year Lolcat

funny pictures - What? Iz busy  becomin' an antique
see more Lolcats and funny pictures, and check out our Socially Awkward Penguin lolz!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Walkers bookshop, Market Harborough, closing down

Man flu has kept me largely indoors since Christmas, but on one of my rare excursions I was sorry to see that the Walkers bookshop in the town has a closing down sale.

It is a small shop that sells new books and also has a Thornton's chocolate franchise. In short, it has been a godsend for the present-buyer in a hurry.

The Harborough Mail explains that rent negotiations with the new owners of St Mary's Place have fallen through. There are still other Walkers bookshops in the East Midlands.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Rupert Matthews: The East Midlands holds its breath

BBC News confirms that the Conservative Party has Doubts about Rupert Matthews and that those doubts are centred on the book that he published for the UKIP member Bill Etheridge - complete with golliwog on the cover.

Elsewhere, I rather like the way New Europe puts it:
Matthews was discovered to be a sceptic over the EU, but on precious little else.
That blog also quotes a source as saying that Helmer is threatening not to retire as planned and "foaming at the mouth" with anger.

How can they...? You can see where this is going.

Later. The Derby Telegraph says that Helmer will be delaying his resignation until around 15 January because of the uncertainty over his successor.

Six of the Best 213

SomeBeans refuses to be outraged at the proposal to allow NHS hospitals to obtain up to 49 per cent of their income from private patients.

David Cameron's proposal for a minimum price for alcohol is defended by Labour blogger Representing the Mambo.

"Miliband cannot see that he is taking a profoundly ideological position here - the idea that centralised leadership can find solutions even though it hasn‘t done so in the past." The assumptions behind Ed Miliband's new year message are unpacked by Stumbling and Mumbling.

Somewhere I have an old London Underground map showing an extension of the Bakerloo to Camberwell under construction. It was never built, but now it may be. More details from James Barber.

"I've stumbled on a wonderful documentary film made in the 1960s that in an odd way does help give some kind of perspective on today. It's about two brothers called Billy and George Walker. Billy was a boxer and George was a gangster who became Billy's manager. The film is a beautiful record of the way two brilliant chancers were manipulating British society and the media at a moment in 1964." A fascinating post from Adam Curtis.

Katyboo1's Weblog gives us the 10 best books she has read this year.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Jonathan Meades and Henry Porter

I was watching old Jonathan Meades programmes on YouTube, like you do, when I came across Brick and Mortars, his discussion of military architecture, from 1990.

And who should turn up at 5:16 but a young Henry Porter?

Much more from Jonathan Meades at the MeadesShrine. And Henry Porter has his own website.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Fracking hell

The end of another week with Rutland's most celebrated fictional peer.


There has been a lot of nonsense written in recent weeks about ‘fracking’ – that is, drilling into hard shale rocks and then setting off small explosions to crack them and release the gas inside – which I have been practising here in Rutland. One local newspaper (not my own High Leicestershire Radical, I hasten to add) printed its report under the headline “IT’S FRACKING HELL SAY VILLAGERS”; I thought that was in particularly poor taste. Let me make it clear: Rutland has always been subject to earthquakes, as anyone who has studied its history will know. To connect them with my fracking is simply...

I am sorry, Meadowcroft came in just then, complaining that he had narrowly missed being hit on the head by a stone that had fallen from the battlements as he was digging in the kitchen garden. I pointed out that there is bound to be some settlement in old houses like mine and suggested that he got on with his work. He left mumbling something about Trotsky.

There has been, as I was pointing out, a lot of nonsense talked in recent weeks. In particular, the Revd Hughes’s refusal to mount the pulpit of St Asquith’s until he had been given a hard hat seemed to be particularly unfortunate. And did he have to take as his text Zechariah, xi, 2 “Howl, fir tree, for the mighty cedar is fallen”? It set a bad example to the choirboys...

I say, could anyone dig a chap out of all this rubble?

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

Danny Alexander is more influential than Simon Cowell

That is the moral that the John O'Groat Journal and Caithness Courier draws from GQ magazine's list of the 100 most influential men in Britain:
The 39-year-old chief secretary to the Treasury is universally underestimated according to the upmarket men’s magazine, which sells more than 76,000 copies a month. 
GQ writes he is derided in Westminster circles by his political detractors for coming to power despite only being a former press officer for the Cairngorm National Park, but is in a strong position supporting the chancellor. 
"As chief secretary, he is in direct control of the Government’s deficit-reduction, and as George Osborne’s de facto deputy, his voice carries serious weight in cabinet," the magazine writes. 
GQ also highlights Mr Alexander’s role as the Lib Dems’ chief strategist and says he is charged with finding a way to ward off an "electoral massacre" at the local government elections next year and the general election in 2015 because of the party’s widely criticised role in the coalition administration.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Monday, December 26, 2011

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The Thriller in Vanilla


As an enthusiast for the Noble Art, I was naturally distraught at the death of Smokin’ Joe Frazier. How well I remember his trilogy of battles with the great Muhammad Ali! The greatest of these, of course, was the ‘Thriller in Manila’, and it was about then that I turned my mind to the revival of heavyweight boxing here in Rutland.

With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps my ideas smacked too much of the circus, but audiences had dwindled to an alarming extent. So it was that I first staged the Heavyweight Championship of Rutland in a large brown envelope, promoting it as the ‘Thriller in Manila’. This was followed by a return bout in an enormous ice cream bowl – the ‘Thriller in Vanilla’.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

Six of the Best 212

Though he greatly admires her, Peter Oborne, writing in the Daily Telegraph, is against the idea of giving Margaret Thatcher a state funeral: "The problem is that talk of a state funeral for Lady Thatcher reflects a troubling failure to understand what such events are about. They are so very rarely awarded because they have been designed for a category of great men and women who have come to represent the nation as a whole, rather than a particular sect or faction."

Voters in the unrecognised state of Transdniestria (a sliver of eastern Moldova) have kicked out not only the strongman who has run the place since the end of the 1992 conflict with Moldova, but also the Kremlin's chosen candidate to replace him, reports From the Heart of Europe.

The American Wright Thompson defends five-day test cricket on ESPN: "The Indians are staring at an English score of 474. The grind is slow. In Test cricket, only bad things happen quickly. Anything good takes time."

"Until 1980 the only way to show a chess game was for a master to stand in front of a demo board and move the magnetic pieces by hand. Then the BBC TV station pioneered a radical new technology: using a glass chess table and chess pieces with symbols stuck to their bases they brought us animated games, commented semi-live by the players." ChessBase News looks back 30 years to the BBC's highly successful Master Game series and provides links to some of the games on Youtube.

IanVisits has some photographs of an empty London on Christmas Day.

The Cat's Meat Shop visits the St Pancras Renaissance - the old Midland Grand Hotel. His photographs look like stills from an alternative London version of Scorsese's Hugo.

Lembit Opik as the Fairy Godmother

In July I blogged about Lembit Opik's appearance in the reality show cariad@iaith, where celebrities (I use the term in its widest sense) spent a week learning Welsh in an eco-friendly chic campsite in Pembrokeshire.

The, er, good news is that cariad@iaith returned on Christmas Eve for a "one-off festive special" in which the challenges turkey plucking, cooking mince pies and a Christmas pantomime performance.

And who played the Fairy Godmother in that pantomime? Lembit, of course!

To see the whole performance, go to the cariad@iath website and then click on the cast photograph. Those who wish to read the page in English should click on the button at the top right of the screen.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Bob Willis on Portland Bill

Christmas Day wouldn't be Christmas Day without a word from me, what? - Bonkers


I was sad see to those Pakistani fellows jailed for bowling no balls. If such strictures had been applied in the 1970s, then our own Bob Willis would be breaking rocks on Portland Bill to this day. I was myself attached to the Special Investigations Branch of the MCC for a number of years, and it was heartbreaking work. More than one county scorer cut his throat on a dark winter’s afternoon, as the pilot flame in his Ascot water heater guttered, over discrepancies in the leg byes account.

Later, you may recall, I chaired the committee of inquiry into allegations over irregularities in the betting on local authority by-elections in the 1950 and 1960s. Few think of it today, but it was the most tremendous scandal in its day and many of the aspects of local elections we now take for granted - the ban on having the polling station in the home of one of the candidates, the discouragement of firearms at the verification of papers, the oath of celibacy for agents - have their roots in The Bonkers Report.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

A Christmas Day treat: A full edition of Top of the Pops from 1970

I looked for a Blodwyn Pig track to share with you and found a whole edition of Top of the Pops. It comes from 29 January 1970 (when your humble blogger was nine years old) and was orginally broadcast in colour even thought all the videos below are in black in white.

And a very good edition it is too - complete with Jimmy Savile, as it happens. The sixties were over, but there were some really interesting bands in the singles chart and Glamrock had not yet been conceived.

Incidentally, as Digital Spy explains, few editons of TOTP this old survive.

Anyway, here goes.

Blodwyn Pig, formed by Jethro Tull founder Mick Abrahams, are first up...

Next it's Arrival with Friends...

Next is Sympathy by Rare Bird, a track so good that is has already featured here as a Sunday video...

Next up were Pan's People dancing to I'm a Man by Chicago - regular readers will not need to be told that this was written and first recorded by the Spencer Davis Group. The version of this on Youtube showing Pan's People has a very different soundtrack to it, but here are Chicago doing the song at around the same time:

After that it was Mick Abraham's old sparring partner Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull, with a bit of a classic:

Next it is Mary Hopkin's long-forgotten track Temma Harbour:

After that sources differ, but this video suggests that next come the Dutch Band Shocking Blue with Venus, followed by Bad Finger with Come and Get it from the film The Magic Christian:

Now Jonathan King with Let It All Hang Out. Awkward.

And now we have Brotherhood of Man, long before Eurovision, with United We Stand. I have written before about the way that the counterculture leached into mainstream pop in this era:

In penultimate track spot we have Canned Heat with Let's Work Together. Groovy:

And we end with Britain's number one. After such a good edition it is a little disappointing to find it is Edison Lighthouse with Love Grows as my Rosemary Goes:

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Merry Christmas to all our readers

Santa's little helpers revolt over unpaid wages

From The Press - York's daily newspaper:
It's the last thing Santa needs two days before Christmas – police being called to investigate a row with unhappy elves. 
Officers were called to York’s Winter Wonderland in Exhibition Square, as tempers flared between managers and staff. 
Two workers say they have only been paid a fraction of their wages after working there for weeks, and police were called to the grotto this week as angry staff demanded payment.
The paper goes on to quote one of the unhappy elves:
“I had always been promised I would be paid at the end of the week, but we never got paid at all. They owe me about £1,000 in wages. They are still using my photograph for advertising too.”
Perhaps Alexei Sayle was right after all?

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Remembering John Maynard Keynes


You do hear a great deal about my old friend John Maynard Keynes these days, don’t you? This warms my heart, because he was the soundest of men: an Apostle, President of Cambridge University Liberal Club, adviser to Lloyd George in the Great War and founder of the Arts Council.

I never could quite get my mind around his economic ideas, but when you hear people say that we should borrow lots of money and, if we have trouble paying it back, borrow even more, while citing the great man in support of their views, I cannot help feeling there was More To It than that.

Keynes, incidentally, was author of the pamphlet “Can Lloyd George Do It?” The consensus amongst reviewers was that he could – and did so frequently.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

Friday, December 23, 2011

Six of the Best 211

Rolling Stone examines the influence of the Plastic People of the Universe on Vaclav Havel: "Until meeting the band, Havel was not exactly a cultural avant-gardist. "There's a letter from prison where he's asking his wife to buy the latest Bee Gees album," says Wilson, who has translated many of Havel's writings. Once acquainted with the Plastic People and their circle, however, Havel became their unofficial patron. The band played many shows in the barn at the country house where he died on Sunday."

You can read all about the January 2012 issue of Liberator on Liberal Democrat Voice.

A View from Ham Common finds Louise Mensch at the bottom of a deep hole, digging furiously.

Edward Lucas writes on Diplomaatia about the prospects for Estonia: "Every one of the EU-10 – the new(ish) members of the union – has falling unemployment, growing economy and a manageable deficit. That is not the case in the supposedly more solid 15 countries of the old EU. But Estonia is in a class of its own."

The sign of the Three Swans, Market Harborough, is one of the favourites of English Buildings.

Go Litel Blog, Go... experiences the inexplicable splendour of City of London Churches at Christmas.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Meet Eva Vestoff


Who should I meet in Westminster but my old friend Mike Hancock? I ask him to pass on my congratulations to the delightful Katia Zatuliveter for her victory at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission. I have never had much time for our Intelligence people: every one of them I knew in the 1930s turned out to be working for the Russians, and I don’t suppose things have changed very much since.

Besides, as I remarked to my personal secretary and masseuse Eva Vestoff only this morning, if every attractive young woman with an interest in British politics were sent home, then the business of government would soon grind to a halt. They are known, I believe, as ‘interns’.

Eva, incidentally, used to live in Italy, joined its (at least until recently) governing Bunga Bunga Party and served briefly in the Cabinet there.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Box of Delights: An interview with Patrick Troughton

"And now, Master Harker, now that the Wolves are Running, perhaps you could do something to stop their Bite
As the years go past the 1984 television adaptation of John Masefield's The Box of Delights becomes more and more central to our idea of Christmas.

Here is Blue Peter publicising the show as it was about to be screened. Patrick Troughton comes on at 6:58...

Malcolm Saville provides a good reason for writing

From chapter 6 of Rye Royal (1969):
But when they reached the castle they saw that it was now surrounded by a high wire fence bearing a notice "Entrance to the Public prohibited" and Dickie said he would like to write a protest article about this sort of thing happening. 
"Anyway," he added. "Things and places are hardly ever what they were. I suppose that's another important thing about being a writer. You can help people to remember.
There is more about my favourite writer as a child on the Malcolm Saville Society website. The castle mentioned here is Camber Castle.

Will Rupert Matthews ever be an MEP?

Suddenly a stream of blog posts that would write themselves is under threat.

Because it seems the Conservatives are threatening to take the fish from my barrel by declining to nominate Rupert Matthews as the new MEP for the East Midlands when Roger Helmer stands down on the last day of 2011.

Or so Mr Matthews reckons. He told the Leicester Mercury:
"I sent off the relevant paperwork to the party about three weeks ago. 
"I should have received confirmation 10 days later but I've had no response. 
"Phone calls are not being returned, and my e-mails have not been responded to. 
"I don't know what's going on at the party end."
The Mercury quotes Tory high command as making a strangely non-committal response:
Party spokesman said there was no vacancy as Mr Helmer remained in his post. He declined to comment.
While Roger Helmer says:
"It's supposed to be a formality – the party must do the usual background checks and then issue a certificate ... 
"Unless he turns out to be an axe murderer or a child molester or has defected from the Conservatives to the Communist Party in the meantime, then he should get the seat. 
"But now central office is saying it's not as straightforward as that and that they could bring someone else in. 
"Rupert was selected as a Tory candidate at the last election by 3,500 party members, and 370,000 people voted Conservative in the East Midlands. 
"He has a democratic mandate. If the party proposes to give the seat to someone else, I would have to think very carefully about whether to resign."
I have reason to believe that it is not Mr Matthews' view that "The evidence for UFOs and for the humanoid creatures linked to them is pretty compelling" that worries his party. Nor will they be concerned at his belief that European Union Panzers may invade Britain, as that now seems within the mainstream of Conservative thinking.

No, if the Tories are worried about Mr Matthews it will be because of his association with UKIP's Bill Etheridge.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Sending a Jeremy Browne to China


To Avonmouth Docks to wave off the Jeremy Browne. What with the current economic problems on the mainland of Europe, it has become clear that our relations with China will become increasingly important. To that end, I have arranged for a Jeremy Browne to be presented to Peking Zoo so that the Chinese may enjoy viewing this delightful denizen of our English countryside.

Later I call in at a village hostelry and fall into conversation with a fellow whose family has been farming Jeremy Brownes on the Mendips for generations. He is not sanguine about my plans, informing me that Jeremy Brownes are very choosy about their diet and usually unwilling to mate in public.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

Headline of the Day

The Shropshire Star wins for its:

Telford tyre-burst driver in pothole cash wait

This headline makes good use of the Unit Headline Language identified by Michael Frayn in his novel The Tin Men. (it is worth reading the late Christopher Hitchens on this too.)

The judges also liked the same newspaper's

Call to turn Wem signal box into tearoom

for its evocation of Shropshire life.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The tile museum at Jackfield in Shropshire

Back in August I got all enthusiastic about the tile museum at Jackfield near Ironbridge in Shropshire. Now, thanks to this video, you can share the experience.

Note the frieze taken from the Singer Building, High Street, Leicester, at 2:50. The museum card explains that no one knows who sculpted the frieze, but the building was designed by Arthur Wakerley and completed in 1904.

I had dinner with Wakerley's great granddaughter earlier this evening. She said that the Singer Building is still standing (minus its decoration) but no one knows what to do with it.

The knockers of Stamford

During the summer, in the comments to my post about the legend that Stamford was a university town, I mentioned that students from Brasenose College, Oxford, had stolen an ancient door knocker (or knockers) from Stamford's Brazenose Street in 1890. They obviously believed the legend, though sadly it is not true.

Anyway, a reader tells me of an incident from the early 1970s.

In those days Stamford High School for Girls, I am reliably informed, was a horribly repressive environment, run by narrow-minded spinsters.

Some masters at the parallel boys' grammar school - chief among them Graham Johnstone, the school's director of music - invited these mistresses to an elaborate ceremony at which they were formally presented with a pair of knockers, replicas of the ones taken by Brasenose.

These were "received with gracious thanks and complete credulity".

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Rogered by a past winner of the 2,000 Guineas

The new issue of Liberator is with subscribers, so it is time to pass another week at Bonkers Hall.


What a splendid fellow Prince William is! Tall, upstanding and brave, he has a delightful wife and his wife’s sister has a bottom like a Cox’s Orange Pippin. He even rescued some Russian sailors in his helicopter the other day. The only drawback is that it has to be admitted that he does look remarkably like a horse – I am told that, when the winch failed in that rescue, he let down his silky tail and lifted the last man to safety himself.

So much does he resemble a horse that I have no alternative but to conclude that the story – widely circulated in my young day – that Queen Mary was rogered by a past winner of the 2,000 Guineas after a particularly jolly party at Newmarket is true after all.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10

Underestimating Danny Alexander

From Michael Deacon's sketch in this morning's Daily Telegraph:
Mr Alexander may have surprised some people with his statement. The surprise lay not so much in its content as in its delivery. Because of his looks (startled guinea pig) and voice (small boy playing third shepherd in the school Nativity), it’s easy to run away with the idea that Mr Alexander is a gentle, sweet-natured sort of creature. Not a bit of it. He is, in his own quiet way, as mischievously snide as the Chancellor. 
He began by praising “Lord Hutton’s magisterial report” on pension reform, and added that the Government had followed the recommendations of “the former Labour Work and Pensions Secretary”. Those are, in both cases, Mr Alexander’s italics, slathered in irony as thick as treacle.

The last week of Sheffield trams 1960: Part 2

We have already posted Part 1.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Six of the Best 210

North Korea is a nation of racist dwarfs, the late Christopher Hitchens explains in an article published by Slate last year.

"If Europe lets the Euro fail it won’t stop there and just because we are outside the Euro, (it) doesn’t mean we won’t suffer the full impact of (the) unintended consequences." The Rambles of Neil Monnery shares the wisdom of a passing banker.

UK Polling Report explains why the Lib Dems always do best in ICM polls and worst in YouGov ones.

"I wonder if he now needs to move outside his sitcom comfort zone of deliberately un-PC fake fly-on-the-wall documentaries as he essentially now just repeating himself for rapidly diminishing returns." Mark Thompson's Blog is not impressed by Ricky Gervais's latest series Life's Too Short.

"John Piper's topographical paintings and prints offer an unparallelled record of mid twentieth-century Britain," says Adventures in the Print Trade.

Creative Review looks forward to the Painting by Numbers exhibition that opens at the London Transport Museum next month: "Painting by Numbers - Making Sense of Statistics will feature 20 London Underground posters, many dating back to the 1930s or earlier. The posters were designed not only to promote the benefits of travelling by London Transport but also in order to wow the travelling public with details of the remarkable service they were (hopefully) enjoying every day."

Sir Oliver Franks: What I would most like for Christmas

I have retailed this anecdote from Read My Lips by Matthew Parris and Phil Mason before but, hey, it's Christmas:
In 1948, a Washington radio station contacted ambassadors in the capital, asking what each would most like for Christmas. Britain's representative, Sir Oliver Franks, mistook the request. 
French Ambassador: Peace throughout the world. 
Soviet Ambassador: Freedom for all people enslaved by imperialism. 
Sir Oliver: Well, it's very kind of you to ask. I'd quite like a box of crystallised fruit.
Thirty-four years later, as Lord Franks, he was to chair the inquiry into the events leading to the Falklands War.

Now it's "Professor" Rupert Matthews

Under the headlines

IMU Professor Rupert Matthews joins the European Parliament!


UFO expert to take place in the European parliament!

The International Metaphysical University celebrates the imminent elevation of Mr Matthews (as we have hitherto known him):
Finally one of our own to take a high seat in the European parliament. He is an expert in UFOs and paranormal activity and is set to become Leicestershire’s voice in the European parliament. The decision by outspoken East Midlands Tory MEP Roger Helmer to quit at the end of the year means that Rupert Matthews, 50, is due to replace him. The father of two has written more than 180 books on history, military and paranormal subjects and has published books by several writers, including Mr Helmer. 
His books include UFOs: A History of Alien Activity from Sightings to Abductions to Global Threat, Unexplained Ghosts and Spirits and The Sasquatch.Mr Matthews also runs an online course about the paranormal on behalf of the International Metaphysical University. He is set to take over the £73,000-a-year Brussels role on December 31.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The last week of Sheffield trams 1960: Part 1

Or at least the the last week of Sheffield trams until 1994. Part 2 soon.

Nick Clegg turns to Karl Popper

David Boyle welcomes Nick Clegg's speech on the open society today because of its implicit recognition that Karl Popper is the critical Liberal philosopher of the 20th century:
I kept saying so during the process that produced the Liberal Democrat philosophy document It's about freedom, but still failed even to get him a name check. 
But also because he is the central figure of Nick Clegg's important speech today on the open society to Demos (though again Popper only gets one name check). The speech is vague about Popper, vague about precisely why Popper said open societies work and closed ones grind to a halt, but it chooses exactly the correct philosopher - exactly the right underpinning to make Liberalism distinct now. 
It is also, as it happens, the philosophical justification for Liberal-style localism - it is about "setting free the critical powers of man".
Karl Popper has been one of my philosophical heroes ever since I came across him as an undergraduate. The fact that he was not quite approved of by my lecturers only made him more attractive.

I am proud to have contributed the entry on him to Duncan Brack and Ed Randall's Dictionary of Liberal Thought.

For an introduction to Popper's thought I can recommend the excellent short book in the Fontana Modern Masters series by Bryan Magee. And not just because Magee turns out to be a fellow member of the Market Harborough school of philosophy.

Finally, to return to Nick's speech, I was particularly pleased by this passage:
Opponents of localism brandish the phrase "post code lottery" to dramatise differences in provision between areas. But it is not a lottery when decisions about provision are made by people who can be held to democratic account. That is not a postcode lottery -- it is a postcode democracy.
In part 2 of the Cohesive Communties pamphlet that David Boyle and I wrote in late 2003 we promised:
The Liberal Democrats will ... eliminate the phrase ‘postcode lottery’ from political discourse.
A bold promise, but we should at least eliminate it from our own discourse. And I am glad that Nick wants to do so.

Jane Cunningham Croly: A Market Harborough feminist heroine

Jane Cunningham Croly (1829-1901), says the Encyclopaedia of World Biography, was probably the first female American journalist. For over forty years she held various editorial positions on newspapers and magazines.

New York World 1863 tells us more about her career:
in 1869, she and other female journalists were denied tickets to hear Charles Dickens speak in New York City. This spurred her to form the famous women’s club, Sorosis – a “centre of unity” that had neither a charitable nor socio-economic purpose, but sought “collective elevation and advancement.” As women’s clubs began forming across the country, they became a center of educational advocacy and a sort of college for older women who wanted to learn.
She went on to form the General Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1890 and wrote a History of the Woman’s Club Movement.

Reader's voice: But why is all this, admirable as it is, or interest to Liberal England.

Because New York World 1863 begins its article:
Janu Cunninhgam Croly was born in Market Harborough, Leicestershire, England, the fourth child of Jane Scott and Joseph Howes Cunningham, a Unitarian preacher. Her father’s unpopular beliefs reportedly led to the stoning of their house and the impetus for the family’s move to the United States in 1841.
I can't find any reference to Joseph on the web and I don't know of a Unitarian congregation in Market Harborough, so the stoning may have take place elsewhere.

But the Unitarians were immensely strong in Leicester and, as we saw in Kibworth the other day, there is a strong tradition of more general Dissent in the area.

Lord Bonkers vs Lord Oakeshott on winter fuel payments

Lord Bonkers writes exclusively for Liberal England:
I fear our own Lord Oakeshott has made something of a fool of himself on the Daily Mail's electric website
He is quoted there as saying: 
'Would I be right in guessing that you, at the age of 61, are like me one of the 500,000 top rate taxpayers who benefit from this farcical tax-free bung,' he asked Lord Freud at question time.
"'Why can't winter fuel payments at least be taxed like the old age pension. That would raise £220 million a year to help people in real need in our country?'

Lord Oakeshott added: 'It is farcical to be spraying out winter fuel payment cheques all around the Mediterranean. 
"'The toast as they sip their sangrias in the sun at the Malaga golf club must be David Cameron and George Osborne.' 
This is clearly nonsense and I hope we shall hear no more of it from Lord Oakeshott - or any other Liberal Democrat.
Hotel Splendide, Antibes

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Remembering Vaclav Havel

From the tribute on Huffington Post:
"A great fighter for the freedom of nations and for democracy has died," said Lech Walesa, his fellow anti-communist activist who founded neighboring Poland's Solidarity movement. "His outstanding voice of wisdom will be missed." 
Among his many honors were Sweden's prestigious Olof Palme Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest U.S. civilian award, bestowed on him by President George W. Bush for being "one of liberty's great heroes." 
An avowed peacenik whose heroes included rockers such as Frank Zappa, he never quite shed his flower-child past and often signed his name with a small heart as a flourish. 
"Truth and love must prevail over lies and hatred," Havel famously said. It became his revolutionary motto which he said he always strove to live by.

Jeff Buckley: Lover You Should've Come Over

Three years ago I chose a video by Jeff Buckley's father Tim Buckley. In fact I liked his Dolphins so much that I remembered it when asked to choose a video as part of my "Meet the Liberal Democrat Bloggers" feature on Lib Dem Voice.

Jeff Buckley's life and reputation were dominated by his similarity to his father. They looked alike, sounded alike and both died ridiculously young (Jeff at 30, Tim at 28).

Yet they met only once. As a New York Times article reproduced on the Jeff Buckley website records:
Jeffrey Scott Buckley was born in 1966, the same year his father released his first album and also parted ways with his first wife, Mary Guibert. "I never knew him," Jeff Buckley said flatly. "I met him once, when I was 8. We went to visit him, and he was working in his room, so I didn't even get to talk to him. And that was it." 
Mr. Buckley grew up with his mother and stepfather, mostly in Southern California, and learned about his father from old friends. "His life was hell." his son said. 
Curiously, it was his father's music that made people notice Jeff Buckley. In 1991, he flew to New York to appear at a Tim Buckley tribute concert. "Everyone was there to celebrate the music of Tim Buckley, and here was someone who looked like him, sounded like him and had the same vocal range," said Nicholas Hill, who was at the concert and has since presented Mr. Buckley on his live music show on WFMU-FM. "It was very spooky, but impressive. The buzz was pretty immediate after that.
Lover You Should've Come Over is taken from Grace, his only studio album.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Smokey: The Very Loud Purring Cat

This is Smokey, who claims to be the world's loudest purring domestic cat. She was signing her book in Waterstone's earlier today.

We get all the celebrities here in Market Harborough.

Christopher Hitchens: Simon Hoggart gets it wrong

Simon Hoggart devotes the greater part of his column in today's Guardian to an assassination of Christopher Hitchens' character.

Well, it's a free country and in a way his choice is appropriate. As Hoggart points out, no one was keener on attacking other people's idols than Hitchens.

And, with a characteristic prissy expletive, Hoggart does allow Hitchens one virtue:
But he could write. Heavens, he could write.
And that is where the problems start. Because Hoggart goes on to observe:
I can claim some tiny credit; in one of his later Vanity Fair columns, written under the death sentence, he generously said that I had told him to write as he spoke, and that had liberated his style. 
I don't recall the incident, but it's what I said to anyone who asked, so I'm sure it's true.
In other words, we owe the volume and brilliance of Hitchens' writing to Hoggart's wisdom. However, Hoggart is much too important to remember having shared it with him.

Friday, December 16, 2011

A drive around Birmingham in the early 1950s

An intimate view of a lost city. The Lene Lovich soundtrack makes it positively spooky.

Non Sequitur of the Day

The winner is an unnamed "Labour source" quoted in the Leicester Mercury:
"We've got more councillors than ever before so there's a large pool of talent to choose Ted and Manjula's successors from."

Will David Cameron's plan to help "troubled families" work?

There is a thoughtful post on Liberal Conspiracy (now, now) by Don Paskini.

Discussing David Cameron plans to spend hundreds of millions of pounds to turn around the lives of 120,000 "troubled families", he points out that colossal sums our already spent on just these families:
The £9 billion which is spent on these ‘problem/troubled’ families is an average of £75,000 per family. 
Very little of this money actually goes to the families. Instead it goes on things like court appearances, eviction notices, arrears notices, police intervention, child protection orders and parenting orders, and the salaries of a whole range of professionals who work in the public, voluntary and private sectors.
And he goes on to provide one answer to the question of why this money has so little effect when he points out that these professionals spend 80% of their time on servicing bureaucratic systems, and only 20% building relations with families.

But the malaise has deeper roots than that, and Paskini points us to a telling anecdote from David Robinson:
I was recently called by the mother of a child I know well. She was asking me to come to a family case conference. She read me the letter. No fewer than nine professionals were expected to attend so I asked why she needed me there as well. 
“Because,” she said, “I want someone who is on my side.”

Shropshire Hills Shuttle comes to Much Wenlock

Good news from the Shropshire Hills website:
We are able to confirm that in 2012 we have the funding in place to operate a new linear Shuttle bus service between Much Wenlock, Acton Scott Historic Working Farm and Church Stretton. 
The new Shuttle route will be called the ‘Wenlock Wanderer’ and will travel along the famed limestone escarpment of Wenlock Edge, through ancient woodland and into the majestic folds of the Stretton hills and the Long Mynd. There are some great walking opportunities from this Shuttle bus, as well as fantastic views, welcoming country pubs and the chance to experience life on a Victorian Farm at Acton Scott Historic Working Farm. 
The ‘Long Mynd & Stiperstones’ Shuttle, which has run each season for over ten years, remains the same. As the name suggests, this Shuttle bus takes you over these two distinctive ‘hill tops’ with key stops at Church Stretton, Cardingmill Valley, Pontesbury and Minsterley.
I still mourn the loss of the Shuttle service to Bishop's Castle and Clun, though you can reach the former on the Minsterley Motors service.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Kibworth Academy

Back in June I wrote about the legend that Stamford once had a university to rival Oxford and Cambridge. Sadly, it turned out not to be true.

But there was once an institution even nearer to Market Harborough that had some right to make this claim. As any one who watched Michael Wood's The Story of England will know, in the 18th century Kibworth was home to a Dissenting Academy.

As the Kibworth History Society explains:
Dissenting Academies had become established because nonconformists were barred from attending Oxford and Cambridge universities. The Academy rivalled the great universities of Oxford and Cambridge, teaching Hebrew, Greek, philosophy, logic, algebra, trigonometry and theology.
In 1729 the Academy moved to Northampton when its leading light Philip Doddridge was appointed pastor at Castle Hill Congregational Chapel in the town.

The photograph above shows the White House, the building that housed the Academy. It is on the Kibworth Harcourt side of the A6. After the Academy moved it became the Crown Inn, but is now a private house.

On not being outraged at a head altering children's SAT papers

The road I live in was on the East Midlands regional television news yesterday because the headteacher of the primary school around the corner has left his job after admitting altering Standard Attainment Test (SAT) papers after the children had completed them.

I don't know Mr Grubisic and what he did was wrong, but somehow I find it hard to be too outraged.

Today at work I was talking to someone about a primary school in Leicester that always gets outstanding SATs results. The reason, she says, is that it does little else but drill the children to take the tests. Yes, they all pass, but do they get much in the way of an education in the process?

And the front page of today's Daily Telegraph continued the paper's exposé of the examination system for older children:
Secondary school teachers have alleged that they are under so much pressure to deliver high exam grades that they have been forced to adopt questionable tactics. 
The information given to pupils is so detailed that earlier this year a teenager disclosed a forthcoming question for an A-level law exam on an internet bulletin board after his teacher had a meeting with an examiner.
The whole examination system now seems questionable. As I wrote the other day when the Telegraph started publishing its revelations:
None of this should come as much of a surprise. Examination league tables are now pretty much the only way that schools are judged (by officialdom, though perhaps not by parents). And the setting and marking of those exams have become a multi-million pound business.
And primary school league tables have struck me as an expensive exercise in telling parents what they know already - that some school are better than others.

So, no, I find it hard to be outraged at Mr Grubisec's actions.

You may also enjoy a post on education that Richard Kemp made a couple of days ago. He takes much the same view as me. And this seems a good place to recommend David Boyle's book The Tyranny of Numbers: Why Counting Can't Make Us Happy.

John Arlott in Conversation with Mike Brearley

Last night BBC4 broadcast John Arlott in Conversation with Mike Brearley, an hour-long programme edited down from the three programmes originally shown in 1985.

You have six more days to watch it on BBC iPlayer and I suggest that you do because it presents a terrific portrait of Arlott the man, just not Arlott the incomparable cricket commentator.

If you want to know more about Arlott then I recommend the book John Arlott: A Memoir by his son Timothy.

Write a speech for Putin and win a prize

Max Atkinson has a Christmas competition inviting you are inviting you to write a short speech outlining Mr Vladimir Putin's message to his supporters, opponents or both for 2012.

There are books as prizes and the full details are on Max Atkinson's Blog.

David Cameron features in Headline of the Day

A big Liberal England "well done" goes to the Northampton Chronicle & Echo for its:
BREAKING NEWS: David Cameron evicted after neighbours complain of drunken anti-social behaviour, foul language and urinating in the street
And many thanks to the reader who nominated it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Leeds trams in the late 1950s

Jack the Ripper: The Leicester connection

Last week Love and Liberty had a post pouring gentle scorn on the 1979 film Murder by Decree, in which Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson investigate the Jack the Ripper murders.

It happens that I saw this film on television shortly after it was released and was immensely impressed by it. I can still recall the sinister closed coach thundering over the cobbles. It also happens that I have had a DVD of the film for some time but never got round to watching it.

Piqued by Love and Liberty I sat down to watch it... and I have to report that Alex is right. It is not a very good film.

But there was another reason I watched Murder by Decree on Saturday. Earlier that day, at The Bookshop in Kibworth, I bought a copy of Paranormal Leicester by Stephen Butt, which contains a chapter on the Leicester medium Robert James Lees. And Lees appears as a character in Murder by Decree, played by Donald Sutherland.

The film is based on the theories put forward in Stephen Knight's 1978 book Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution, which fingered "Eddy" - Prince Albert Victor, the eldest son of the future Edward VII - as the perpetrator of the murders.

It also made much of the role of Lees, who really did go to the police offering his assistance in the investigation. This much appears to be fact - Lees reported his unsuccessful attempt to get the police to take him seriously in his diary - but there is no evidence for the idea that he had a vision telling him who the murderer was.

Lees seems to have become caught up in the more fanciful theories around the Ripper murders because one of the murderer's letters was thought to read:
"You have not caught me yet you see, with all your cunning, with all your 'Lees', with all your 'Blue Bottles'."
But it seems that the letter really reads, not 'Lees', but 'Tecs' - short for detectives. Robert James Lees was not involved with the police investigation at all.

Still, the chapter in Paranormal Leicester is fascinating, and back in the 1980s Butt interviewed an old man who had been cured by Lees as a little boy:
There was no doubt that he was an holy man, but I was always in terror of him. As far as I remember he had grey eyes that penetrated through you."
Butt also recalls a vanished Leicester shop called Curiotique where many of Lees's papers could be bought as recently as the 1980s.

For those who wish to know more, there is a website devoted to the life and work of Robert James Lees.

Why allowing the recall of MPs is still a bad idea

"The public were promised that they would be given the power to kick out bad MPs but now we find out that isn't really happening,"
complains Matthew Sinclair from the TaxPayers' Alliance, discussing a draft bill to allow the recall of MPs found guilty of serious wrong-doing.

Back in June I said that such a bill:
would mean ... 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.
And for those reasons, I am relieved the current bill does not go further than it does.

Headline of the Day

While I have a soft spot for the BBC News entry:

Fake sheep put behind bars to stop driver confusion

the judges were unable to look beyond the Shropshire Star and:

Curfew for farmer who stole 860 pairs of knickers

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A mud-walled cottage in Kibworth

We have seen mud walls in Great Bowden, Little Bowden and Tur Langton.

This, from Kibworth Beauchamp, is one better: it is the front wall of an old mud-walled cottage. It is situated close to the centre of the village and now serves as an outbuilding to a modern house that has been built behind it.

It reminds me of the Outer Hebrides, where you will often see an old house standing next to a modern bungalow and either being used for storage or falling into decay.

Cohesive Communities 2: David Boyle & Jonathan Calder

Part 1 of this 2004 pamphlet was posted here yesterday.


The Liberal Democrat approach to community cohesion means not just developing attitudes and policies that might be capable of rebuilding it, but also tackling those forces that are undermining it in the first place.

Tackling the forces undermining communities
Neighbourhoods traditionally worked together, pooling time and resources, when they were threatened in some way, and often when they were extremely poor. Folk memories of these places and periods are warm and nostalgic, despite the poverty, although they are also remembered sometimes as intolerant and intrusive. But the ability of neighbourhoods to work together to improve their lives – and stand up to government or officials if necessary – has been severely compromised in recent generations, and that leaves them increasingly prey to rising crime, isolation, loneliness and ill-health, all of which research has shown to be linked to a lack of community cohesion.

It would be impossible to turn the clock back to the communities of the past, even if it were desirable. But achieving Liberal Democrat aims in government rely partly on reviving people’s ability to work together locally – building a new kind of inclusive and caring communities – and that means confronting the forces that make this difficult.

Whether it is embedded in institutions or just confined to individual attitudes, racism is one of the most important blocks to community cohesion. Tackling this scourge, which undermines communities and individuals and prevents them from achieving their potential in any sphere of life, is an urgent priority for Liberal Democrats at every level.

But it is important also to tackle some of its causes – local authorities that seriously underfund public housing, and provide little or no resources to move as family circumstances change, for example, can easily inflame feelings against refugee families among those who wrongly regard themselves as bypassed. Providing the resources for proper health, education, housing and police services is absolutely critical. Liberal Democrats will also:

  • Encourage exchanges between public and private schools and between church schools of different denominations.
  • Make sure all local racial groups are represented among local authority staff, especially in roles that involve direct contact with the public.
  • Set up a Single Equality Commission to investigate and tackle racism, backed up by a Single Equality Act.

Crime and the fear of crime are probably more destructive of cohesive communities than anything else. Even the sense of dislocation caused by the constant experience of quite mild disorder and vandalism can confine older people increasingly at home and add to the sense of hopelessness among people who live locally – and this can be a problem in predominantly owner-occupied neighbourhoods as much as public housing.

But research, notably by the Harvard School of Public Health in Chicago, demonstrates that a sense of local trust – and a preparedness to intervene when young people are misbehaving – is more important than income or class to whether a neighbourhood has a high crime rate. The most important factor in driving down local crime is an active community that can work alongside the police, and set joint goals with them to tackle jointly the issues they believe are important.

That is the cornerstone of the Liberal Democrat approach. We will also:

  • Make sure there is no community without a local community police officer who is committed to it.
  • Use Community Support Officers and Neighbourhood Wardens to reduce anti-social behaviour, co-ordinate the removal of graffiti and litter, and provide more visible uniformed community safety staff on buses and trains.
  • Use tough and intensive community sentences, with offenders doing work that is genuinely useful to pay their debt to the community, rather than entrenching criminality with automatic prison sentences.

Poor and unresponsive public services force local people into increasingly dependent lives – unable to find employment because of a lack of public transport, or unable to get the treatment they need. But the government’s culture of centralisation and target-setting has often made the situation worse, making services even less responsive than before as they chase numerical targets that may be irrelevant to local people and the service they receive.

Centralisation and under-funding are both driven by an attitude, prevailing under Labour and Conservative alike, that neither staff nor ordinary people can be trusted to decide on priorities and make them work.
Liberal Democrats will:

  • Make assisting people to become independent a central aim of all public service professionals – from adequate public transport to appropriate schooling. People who cannot drive for medical reasons and those who have not yet passed their driving test are particularly dependent on a public transport system that does not address their needs.
  • Emphasise the prevention of ill-health rather than simply detecting and curing it. This means tackling poverty and poor housing conditions as well as smoking, alcohol misuse and obesity.
  • Implement a national programme of Home Zones for residential areas to make communities safer from traffic, and provide more independence for children.
  • Increase the basic state pension, with more for the over-75s, to make sure older people stay independent for as long as possible.
  • Create the new designation of Protected Site for green areas of particular value to the community. Nor should we forget the importance of informal open spaces in urban areas.
  • Make sure that affordable housing is available so that people can stay living near their families if they want to, using innovative new methods of financing like community land trusts.

There is no doubt that the ability of communities to work together, and the sense that individuals have that they are capable of making a difference locally, has been consistently undermined in recent decades by the drift of public services and other institutions into increasingly large, increasingly distant units – gigantic schools where individuals feel no sense of ownership, enormous hospitals where patients never see the same doctor twice.

The problem of distant and impersonal institutions is a direct cause of the ineffectiveness of public service reform, as well as the failure of increasing funding to make a significant difference to services.
Liberal Democrats recognise the critical importance of building relationships with individual professionals, with face-to-face contact, and will:

  • Promote schemes that shift NHS treatment to smaller local units, such as GP surgeries and clinics, and as far as possible keep open small local schools.
  • Promote community policing and direct involvement by local communities in setting police priorities.
  • Provide local government with genuine powers of general competence to carry out what local people believe is necessary.
  • Encourage alternative ownership models for public housing, like community mutuals and community land trusts, which can inject more democracy and self-management into the big housing associations.

Numerical targets, Whitehall formulae and centralised decision-making are all ways in which Conservative and Labour governments alike have created increasingly distant institutions, increasingly cut off from people, and increasingly inflexible when it comes to local variations in what people want and need. They are also increasingly immune to pressure from neighbourhoods that want sometimes tiny changes in the way the systems affect their lives. Liberal Democrats will:

  • End the target culture that encourages distant control by Whitehall of what are essentially local services – preferring direct accountability to local people rather than to distant bureaucrats with little or no local knowledge.
  •  Launch a one-stop grant system that would streamline the complexity of existing regeneration grants.
  • End artificial boundaries between government departments and administrative areas that make neighbourhood involvement such a bureaucratic nightmare.
  • Devolve decision-making power to the lowest practical level.
  • Eliminate the phrase ‘postcode lottery’ from political discourse.

Giving power back to people
Liberal Democrats believe that community cohesion emerges primarily through joint local endeavour, through pulling together disparate people of different ages, races and social groups. Often, the enormous benefits of community activity and cohesion – including lower crime and better health – can dissipate as soon as their specific objectives have been achieved. The challenge is to return responsibility to neighbourhoods and to local people in such a way that regeneration in all areas can continue to drive forward.

That means formulating policies that are genuinely participative. But this must be meaningful participation – not what passes for it in most government departments now, which is often a deadening and passive form of ‘consultation’. Liberal Democrats believe that no community can exercise responsibility simply by being consulted, or even by democratic involvement, but by active involvement and sharing in the work of tackling local crime, ill-health, loneliness and regeneration –and unless they have some measure of control over their economic lives as well.

Participating in decisions
Centralisation has made institutions and services distant, unresponsive, unequal and inflexible. It has meant more mistakes and more expensive ‘externalities’ that are sucking up extra funding in NHS institutions, for example, because neither staff nor patients feel any sense of ownership. It has meant more crime because local people do not feel engaged or responsible for tackling it.

Although Labour and Conservative alike pay lip service to having local and user representatives on governing bodies of public institutions, and for ‘consultation’ with communities, all too often this is simply a tick-box version of consultation that has become a dull, suspicious affair, involving a handful of ‘professional’ representatives, who provide no sense of ownership to the wider community.
Liberal Democrats have led the way in local government experimenting with ways that decisions can be taken by local communities, and developing dynamic new methods of participation. We will:

  • Make the local administration of institutions like the police and the NHS more democratic and locally controlled.
  • Reform local government finance so that local authorities raise more of the money they need to spend locally.
  • Develop the concept of public benefit organisations (PBOs) that genuinely – unlike foundation hospitals – involve staff and users in their management and administration.
  • Allow parish and community councils to form wherever communities want them, and allow locally managed community trusts to take over parks and other local amenities where appropriate.
  • Encourage the use of citizens juries, Democs (techniques that allow local people to reach agreement on difficult local issues), and other methods of reaching local agreement as a way of devolving decisions to local communities.

Participation in local life
Participation is meaningless and ineffective if it does not also involve local activity and mutual support, which might include visiting people, keeping watch for crime, doing small repairs, telephone support, and other vital local tasks that professionals are not funded – and not effective – at providing. Research shows this is a vital basis for cohesion across race and age barriers.

One of the key elements missing from the government’s programme is any systematic attempt to revive this kind of informal volunteering – the kind of unmeasured, mutual efforts that neighbours put in to help neighbours, which are so critical to rebuilding local trust and social capital. Neighbourhoods need informal mutual activity if they are going to prevent crime, keep older people healthy and living at home, and maintain housing estates as places where people want to live. Even informal childcare is vital if people are going to be able to get training and find jobs. The evidence is that even small grants are wasted and people’s efforts unsustainable, unless there is a supportive network of local people around them.

Liberal Democrats are committed to innovative approaches to rebuilding social capital in ways that trust ordinary people, that recreate local responsibility without being authoritarian, and that are not under the direct control of ministers. We will:

  • Encourage a network of local time banks, and other mutual volunteering exchanges, in local institutions – which recognise that welfare and services work best as part of a reciprocal framework that rewards people’s efforts, allowing them to spend the ‘credits’ they earn on help for themselves, on public transport, in sports centres or on education and training.
  • End the disincentives to volunteering, mentoring and time banking, for example through unnecessary age barriers.
  • Set up institutions that are able to involve young people from every background in youth courts, mentoring, sports coaching and peer tutoring, to encourage the co-production of local justice and education and other regeneration initiatives.
  • End benefits anomalies that prevent participants from using credits to buy training or educational equipment like computers as a reward for their efforts in the community.
  • Investigate a new form of ‘voluntary sector bond’ that would enable local agencies to bundle up future savings in government spending – as a result of a neighbourhood project – and use those resources to launch it.
  • Remove bureaucratic barriers to using schools as community resources, as well as bringing other empty property back into use for the local neighbourhood.

Participation in public services
Local ownership of public services requires local engagement in their delivery as well as their administration, and Liberal Democrats are committed to developing new ways to make this possible – either through time banks or other local institutions – so that public services can be more responsive, human, local and holistic in what they can achieve.

This means an asset-based NHS, for example, that understands that its best assets – the knowledge of its frontline staff and the time of its patients – are currently being wasted by target setting and bureaucracy, and the patronising sense that Whitehall knows best. Liberal Democrats believe that no public service can succeed, whether it is education, police, health or regeneration, unless it is co-produced by an equal partnership between professionals, front-line staff and pupils, parents, residents, patients. We believe that working together in this way is the key to genuine efficiency that can both make services more effective, and make public money go further. We will:

  • Make it a requirement for all public institutions, from regeneration agencies to primary care trusts, to demonstrate that they are involving clients as partners in the delivery of services.
  • Prioritise the support of staff that deal directly with the public – both in public services and the voluntary sector – as the best way to make the efforts of local institutions effective.
  • Defend and where appropriate reopen local libraries and magistrates courts.

Participation in the economy
The sad fact is that all too many communities are close to the tipping point when their economic viability collapses. Successive governments have done little to tackle the closure of the local bank branches, bank machines, post offices, pubs and shops that make neighbourhoods viable: as many as 20,000 of these have disappeared in the last five years and a similar number are expected to close in the next five years – and this is putting tens of thousands of communities in serious danger of becoming ghost towns.

Liberal Democrats recognise the critical importance to community cohesion of finding ways to buttress the survival of both urban and rural neighbourhoods threatened with this kind of collapse, and new ways to help communities share a vision of their own futures that can give them more levers on local economic change – and secure a variety of work within reach locally to meet local needs. We will:

  • Help small shops and independent traders by tough controls on monopolies and cartels, with a presumption against high concentration of ownership in local areas as well as nationally.
  • Cut business rates on small businesses with a Business Rates Allowance similar to personal tax allowances.
  • Protect the services offered by local post offices.
  • Support local markets and farmers markets to preserve a diversity of small local shops – if necessary reopening these facilities in village halls.
  • Encourage wider use of discretionary powers by local councils to give relief to small businesses and shops.
  • Use public procurement as far as possible at local level to support local business and local food.

Participation in business
Disadvantaged communities may be increasingly dependent on poor services, unequally managed by centralised bureaucracies, and with dwindling financial support. Yet, by their very nature, they possess potential customers, potential markets and needs that can be fulfilled. Often the solution is in setting up social enterprises which are revenue-generating, but created primarily to fulfil local needs, and employ local people, rather than primarily to make a profit. This requires both the finance – and conventional banks have a poor record of lending to them – and the know-how of local people.

It also requires skills, confidence and training to be available at local level to encourage people who live there to understand what can be achieved and how. Liberal Democrats will:

  • Tackle financial exclusion by promoting community banking, local currency schemes like LETS, and credit unions.
  • Require commercial banks to reveal the geographical areas they are lending money, and launch a Bank Awards scheme to encourage them to provide services to excluded groups.
  • Boost investment in regional banks that reinvest in their regions, and community development financial institutions – designed to lend to social enterprises and other non-commercial ventures – by expanding the scope of the Phoenix Fund and developing new investment vehicles to draw money into the social investment sector.
  • Promote mentoring schemes for new businesses and social enterprises in places that need revitalisation.

There are few areas of policy so central as community cohesion to the real concerns of people, and yet so intractable to governments that refuse to trust local authorities or local people with freedom and funds. The Labour government is increasingly distrustful, even to the extent of finding ways to stop people looking after the children of next-door neighbours.

Liberal Democrats recognise that creating this cohesion is a shared responsibility between local government, local people and the voluntary sector, but their efforts can be enabled or disabled by central government and public service professionals and managers.

Equally, they recognise that community cohesion is one of the central issues of our age. Cohesive, active neighbourhoods, that work alongside professionals – co-producing local services with them – can make breakthroughs possible in fighting crime, in tackling ill-health and in a range of previously intractable social problems where society has grown used to expensive failure. When cohesive communities are active in this way, public money can go further. When they are fractured, fearful or disempowered, they are likely to suffer worse crime, worse health and worse education.

Liberal Democrats believe that the local staff and clients of public services are critical forgotten assets, sidelined by successive governments – a direct cause of the failure of current public service reform. Community cohesion, on the other hand, makes it possible to bring these assets to work effectively.