Monday, April 30, 2012

Headline of the Day

Well done to The Citizen from Gloucester:

Tributes paid to "voice of cheese rolling" Richard Jefferies

Tom Brake warns against smuggling through Internet surveillance plans

The Daily Telegraph website suggests the government may be planning to smuggle through  measures to increase Internet surveillance by incorporating them into a bill to set up the new National Crime the Queen’s Speech.

Tom Brake is quoted by the paper as opposing this move:
There are only a certain number of slots for new laws but we need this to be something that is debatable and improvable on its own terms, not part of something that has broad support like the National Crime Agency. 
The laws in this area are already too weak to protect individual privacy, and they need to be strengthened.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Malcolm Saville and Lydd Airport

Yesterday I posted a video from the group protesting against plans for the massive expansion of Lydd Airport in Kent - or London Ashford Airport, as the developers want it to become.

Lydd Airport has an interesting history. British Aviation Services was set up in 1945 and used former RAF aircraft to transport passengers and freight. The company soon changed its name to Silver City Airways and was involved in the Berlin Airlift in 1948-9 to break the Soviet land blockade of the Western-controlled sectors of the city.

The Silver City Association website tells the next part of the story:
Towards the end of 1953, it was clear that the all-grass airfield at Lympne was unsuitable for future expansion - particularly with the arrival of the larger Superfreighters. A new home was needed but none of the existing airfields was deemed suitable, so the obvious answer was to build a new one. For this venture, additional capital would be needed and Silver City Chairman Eoin Mekie persuaded the shipping company P&O to make a substantial investment. 
After reviewing a number of possible locations, a site near the town of Lydd at the northern end of Dungeness point on the Kent coast was selected. A contract for £400,000 (about £8.4 million today) was awarded to Richard Costain with completion planned for the summer of 1954. Silver City's purpose-built new home was to be called 'Ferryfield'.
One popular service Silver City ran from Ferryfield took passengers and their cars across the Channel to Le Touquet. So popular was it, says Wikipedia, that in 1958 it recorded more plane movements than any other UK airport. The photograph above by Anne Burgess shows a Bristol Superfreighter at Ferryfield in 1960.

Silver City was merged into British United Air Ferries in 1962 and by the 1980s Lydd was being used for holiday charter flights rather than short hops across the channel. But those short journeys must have survived for a while after 1962.

I have a guide book to Rye, the relic of a family holiday in a caravan on Winchelsea Beach in 1967 - yes, readers, I remember the Summer of Love. In it there is a British United Air Ferries advertisement featuring return trips to Ostend and Le Touquet for 71/-.

One person who must have used Silver City was my favourite writer as a child, Malcolm Saville. He set many of children's books in the country around Rye and Romney Marsh. And you can find the following passage in The Purple Valley, the second of his Marston Baines secret service thrillers "for that difficult teenage market":
Marston Baines's approach to a holiday in the south was more leisurely than most and had much to commend it. No start could have been quieter as Mini purred through the lanes of east Sussex, skirted the ancient town of Rye and then showed a few of her paces on the level roads across Romney Marsh to Lydd Airport ... 
The air journey from Lydd to Le Touquet with a few cars and their passengers takes about twenty minutes, so that by the time the traveller has had his last glimpse of the square tower of the church of New Romney and the green of the Marsh, he can turn and see the coast of France.
Almost before he has had time to get out his passport and papers for the car he is on the fair land of France again, and the blue-bloused porters are lowering the ramps in the nose of the plane and running out the cars.

David McWilliams: The Days of Pearly Spencer

The pop-star career of David McWilliams ... was all but over by 1968
said his Guardian obituary:
Yet, by then, he had released one record, The Days Of Pearly Spencer, that was a domestic flop, a continental hit - and has been a cult record ever since.
The Independent (in an obituary now to be found on a McWilliams fan site) explains why such a striking single was a flop in Brtiain:
"The single that will blow your mind, the album that will change the course of music" trumpeted full-page adverts in the New Musical Express alongside enthusiastic quotes from journalists and other pop impresarios comparing the 22-year-old McWilliams to Donovan and Bob Dylan. 
Unfortunately, back in 1967, Radio 1, the BBC's new pop network, didn't add "The Days of Pearly Spencer" to its playlist, maybe because Solomon was also a director of Radio Caroline, the pirate station just outlawed by the Marine Broadcasting Offences Acts passed by Harold Wilson's government. 
Nevertheless, the single was played incessantly and defiantly on Caroline while stations in continental Europe picked up on its strange "phoned-in" chorus and pastoral arrangement.
Young admirers of that tribune of the people Tony Benn may be surprised that it was he, in an earlier incarnation as Anthony Wedgwood Benn, the Minister for Technology, who got the pirate radio stations banned.

The Days of Pearly Spencer may have flopped in 1968, but I was aware of it on British radio only a few years later. Wikipedia says it is about "a homeless man McWilliams had encountered in Ballymena," but I have always seen Pearly Spencer as a criminal figure, like Pinkie in Brighton Rock, whose time and luck is running out. It's odd the things you read into songs.

And the song was a hit in Marc Almond in 1992. He released a note-for-note cover, but bizarrely gave it an upbeat final verse that made nonsense of the mood of the song.

Jeremy Hunt "on the brink"

Another story from this morning's Independent:
Jeremy Hunt today stands accused of misleading Parliament over his dealings with the Murdoch empire, an offence which would trigger the Culture Secretary's immediate resignation. 
As the Prime Minister battled to save his minister, an Independent on Sunday investigation has established that Mr Hunt appears to have misled the Commons on three occasions in his handling of News Corp's takeover bid of BSkyB. 
In what could turn out to be the final blow to the under-fire Culture Secretary, a letter written by his permanent secretary, Jonathan Stephens, seen by this newspaper, challenges Mr Hunt's version of events.

Independent: Dick Newby to be new Lib Dem chief whip in the Lords

The Independent on Sunday reports that Dick Newby is to become the new Lib Dem chief whip in the House of Lords. This appointment follows the retirement of David Shutt.

Following this, the paper goes in for all sorts of interesting, but contradictory and lightly sourced, gossip:
Senior party figures are discussing a possible challenge to Mr Clegg's authority. One party grandee called for a "stated change of direction" from the Liberal Democrat leader after 3 May, to placate party members upset by the NHS reforms and Mr Clegg's continuing closeness to David Cameron. 
Another senior Liberal Democrat said there was talk of a leadership challenge. He said that "no one is at the stage of collecting letters" but warned that, without a drastic change of course, Mr Clegg could face a "visitation from the men in grey suits" telling him he must go. 
However, most Liberal Democrat MPs believe Mr Clegg will stay the course until the next election.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Jeremy Hunt: A better idea for Nick Clegg

Today's Guardian quotes Nick Clegg as saying of Jeremy Hunt:
"Unless anyone has got a better idea I think having a judge where a cabinet minister needs to give evidence under oath is about the best context to really get down to find out what happened or what didn't happen."
I have a better idea: let's ask Sir Alex Allan, the prime minister's independent adviser on the ministerial code, to investigate the affair. That's what he is for.

It's not a terribly original idea. The same Guardian report quotes Simon Hughes and Lorely Burt as calling for Sir Alex to be called in.

Hell, the idea has even occurred to Ed Miliband.

What does surprise me is that Cameron and Clegg thought that Lord Leveson would fall in with their plans. He is clearly his own man and determined that his inquiry will be seen to be independent of government or anyone else. What made them think for a moment that he would agree to rewrite his programme of witnesses to suit their and Jeremy Hunt's convenience?

If I can see that from far-off Market Harborough, why couldn't they see it from Downing Street?

Plane Crazy: The case against the expansion of Lydd Airport

Friday, April 27, 2012

Market Harborough copes with the drought

Lord Leveson puts Jeremy Hunt in his place

From the Guardian website this evening:
Lord Justice Leveson has rebuffed the government by making clear it was not his inquiry's role to rule if the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has breached the ministerial code by his handling of the News Corp bid for BSkyB. 
The firm refusal from the Leveson inquiry is embarrassing to David Cameron, who claimed on Wednesday that the inquiry was the best forum to determine whether Hunt, as well as his special adviser Adam Smith, had handled the bid in a partisan manner. Instead, Hunt may now have to face a separate, and potentially more painful, investigation by an independent watchdog set up to police the behaviour of ministers. 
Leveson's spokesman also denied claims by the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, that he was going to bring forward the date of Hunt's appearance at the inquiry so his case could be fast-tracked. Clegg said: "I think we've already got an agreement Jeremy Hunt will go the Leveson pretty quick." Leveson's spokesman said this was inaccurate.

Roger Helmer's new office causes controversy

When Roger Helmer defected to UKIP he was obliged to stop using the East Midland Conservative MEPs' office in Market Harborough.

He has now found himself new premises in the town. (To be accurate, they are outside the town at present, but the town will soon expand to reach them.)

But the nature of those premises have caused some eyebrows to rise. Because Helmer has resurfaced at the town's new Innovation Centre, which the Tory-run Harborough District Council bills as " a hub for businesses to launch, innovate and grow".

So much so that my old friend Simon Galton has said:
"It is ... questionable whether Mr Helmer qualifies to be in the building. What jobs is he creating and where is the innovation?"
As another old friend points out in the comments on the article, Mr Helmer's is not a name one associates with innovation.

In fact his unpleasant views on rape and gay marriage win him envious glances from passing dinosaurs.

Headline of the Day

York's The Press wins it with:

Naked café boss ‘under pressure’

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Saving Leicester's industrial heritage

Whatever the faults of the mayoral system in general and the Leicester's current office holder in particular, Sir Peter Soulsby does have a stronger interest in the city's heritage than some who have had charge of its affairs in recent years.

Today's Leicester Mercury reports his visit to the Victorian All Saints Brewery, which has long been derelict and prey to vandalism and suspicious fires. Derelict Places explored the site in 2007, and I took the photograph above from the graveyard of the neighbouring church a couple of years after that.

The Mercury report begins:
A conservation strategy is being drawn up to save Leicester's crumbling industrial heritage. 
Far too many of the city's historic mills and factories are being left to fall into ruin, according to city mayor Sir Peter Soulsby, who said he believed it was time to secure what is left. 
It follows his visit to the site of the derelict All Saints Brewery site, in Highcross Street, where he met with representatives of heritage groups and Leicester City Council conservation and building control officers. 
Sir Peter said: "What's happened here should serve as a warning and it's very sad to see part of our industrial heritage lie in ruins. 
"In Leicester, we haven't always valued our wonderful industrial heritage and that needs to change. So many of our buildings are in danger and what we need is a new heritage strategy." 
Most of the All Saints site has been demolished for safety reasons, with the shell of the 19th century master brewer's house all that remains.
As the article goes on to demonstrate, there are several more valuable industrial buildings at risk in this part of the city. Let's hope the new strategy will have enough teeth to save them from a similar fate.

David Parsons still in hot water

David Parsons, the Conservative leader of Leicestershire County Council, survived the special meeting called to demand his resignation on 18 April after the voting split along party lines.

But that meeting did not mark the end of this affair. Today's Leicester Mercury reveals that Parsons used his car and chauffeur to go to his daughter's wedding, but made no payment was made to the council afterwards.

Surely Leicestershire Conservatives could find an alternative leader who would not be a positive embarrassment to them?

Barbara Janke to stand down as leader of Bristol City Council

From BBC News:
The leader of Bristol City Council has announced she is to step down. 
Barbara Janke said she would stand down as council leader and as leader of the Liberal Democrat group. 
Ms Janke announced her decision to the Lib Dem-controlled authority's cabinet earlier. She said she made the decision as she approached her 65th birthday. 
She said it had been an "enormous privilege" to serve as council leader in 2003-2004, 2005-2007 and from 2009 to the present. 
She will remain leader of the Lib Dem group until the group's annual meeting on 8 May, when a new leader will be chosen.
Barbara was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames from 1986 to 1994 and stood unsuccessfully as Lib Dem candidate for Surbiton at the 1992 general election. She then moved to Bristol and was elected to the council in 1995, taking over as Lib Dem group leader from Stephen Williams (now MP for Bristol West) in 1997.

In a comment piece on the same page Paul Barltop, the BBC's political editor for the West of England, says:
The fact that Bristol's no longer notorious for its high council tax and poor schools is a legacy she'll hope to be remembered by.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Feed him to the Ailuropoda melanoleuca

“What does Lord Bonkers think of the proposal to supplement the diet of Edinburgh’s Ailuropoda melanoleuca?” – Zoologist, Edinburgh

I take it that you refer to the scurrilous song about the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and, indeed, Strathspey that is going the rounds. I have no time for That Sort of Thing and there is no truth in the rumour that I have been known to whistle it if I come across Danny Alexander at Westminster.

As to Ailuropoda melanoleuca – or the giant panda – I was once sent one by a grateful People’s Republic of China. And quite delicious it was too!

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

The mystery of the Tamar beaver

In December 2008 I reported the escape of a beaver from a farm in Devon. Two females who escaped with him were soon recaptured, but Igor got clean away. He was last heard of felling trees beside the Tamar near Gunnislake in Cornwall.

So when a beaver was found at Gunnislake last week, it was naturally assumed that Igor had finally been caught.

Except, says the Daily Telegraph, that this beaver is a younger, smaller male and therefore cannot be Igor. Which may mean that there may be more beavers living wild in the area and breeding.

No doubt the Department of Cryptozoology, University of Rutland at Belvoir, has been called in. In the mean time, Cornish Liberal Democrats are collecting signatures against George Osborne's plan to impose VAT on beavers.

Jeremy Hunt deletes tweets and hides behind trees

Two insights into the career of our beleaguered (or possibly embattled) Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport.

A Bloggerheads post from May 2010 reveals that Hunt deleted all his tweets as soon as he was appointed to the Cabinet. Fortunately Tim Ireland had kept an archive of these and reprinted them all in the post. Interestingly, they reveal that Hunt used Twitter chiefly for abusing Nick Clegg.

And on the Daily Telegraph site today Iain Martin recalls the evening he saw Jeremy Hunt hiding behind a tree:
That night at UCL Jeremy Hunt wanted to be close to News International, and to have dinner with James Murdoch, but he didn't want to be seen being close to News International. How apt, when one considers what followed.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Liberal Democrat libraries

A press release arrives from what me must learn to call Great George Street telling me that last year Conservative and Labour councils closed more than 40 libraries. But for the second year in a row, no Liberal Democrat-controlled council in England and Wales closed any library.

Better than that, Liberal Democrat-controlled Cardiff is opening five new libraries and Portsmouth and Bristol are opening new ones too.

It's nice to know you are in the right party. And that even in times of austerity, well-run local authorities can make a big difference.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Vince Charming

you probably thought my collection of songs about Liberal and Liberal Democrat MPs was complete.

Not so.

Because here is a song about today's hero Vince Cable. There is even another one about him: Vince Cable's Way.

Thanks again to @abjtal on Twitter

Six of the Best 244

Word reaches Caron's Musings of an intelligent, calm and rational debate at the Lib Dem Federal Conference Committee last night as it discussed whether to accede to the request of Sussex Police to use an accreditation system for those registered for this year's Autumn Conference.

A period of silence on the part of Lord Steel would be welcome, says Living on Words Alone (quite rightly).

Gareth Epps has given up on Liberal Democrat Voice: "The site’s ‘comments moderation policy’ is drawn out in such a way as to let the moderators do whatever they like, be it to follow through any personal vendettas ... prohibit any debate that may go beyond rules written by the Polite Society, or to skew a particular debate."

On AlterNet Gary G. Kohls looks at the unstoppable rise of psychiatric medication in America: "Since the introduction of major tranquilizers like Thorazine and Haldol, 'minor' tranquilizers like Miltown, Librium and Valium and the dozens of so-called 'antidepressants' like Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil, tens of millions of unsuspecting Americans have become mired deeply, to the point of permanent disability, in the American mental 'health' system."

The derelict Clydebank Town Hall and its neighbouring public baths are explored are explored by Reality Trip. There are some remarkable photographs in this post.

Glasswerk National reports that a blue plaque is to be unveiled at the Blacksmith's Arms in St Albans, the pub where the Zombies first met 51 years ago.

Against a doggie database

Reader's voice: Don't tell me... You've thought of something else you didn't have time to blog about last week.

How did you guess? Except that I did blog about it - in September 2009. Back then, I wrote a post disapproving of plans by the Labour government to introduce a national database for dogs.

Those who share my increasing weakness for the view that whoever you vote for the government gets in will not be surprised that the very same proposal has re-emerged as a Coalition plan.

This time the pretext being used is attacks on postmen rather than the theft of dogs belonging to Bruce Forsyth's daughter. I am sure those attacks are a problem that deserves more attention, but I do not see how microchipping dogs will help.

I suspect that the sort of people who keep dangerous dogs are the least like to have them microchipped. I suspect this law will be a burden on the law abiding and leave the people who cause the problem untouched.

Jeremy Hunt on the Murdoch's BSkyB takeover, 3 March 2011

Why unpaid interns are bad for the Liberal Democrats

Something else I did not get time to write about last week was the news that the Liberal Democrats will not after all be paying interns who work for the party.

I say "after all" because Nick Clegg is on record as saying that in future internships would come with "real support to cover costs" in order to "give new people opportunities to participate in that kind of political activity". He also said they would "conform with minimum wage legislation as much as possible".

Money is short for the party, of course, but this is not some starry-eyed commitment Nick made when we were  still in opposition and life way easy. He made it only a year ago.

We could do with out another example of the Lib Dems promising something and then finding that we are unable to deliver it. But let's be clear why it is really wrong for the party not to pay interns.

I am old enough not to be as concerned as I should be about young people being exploited. In any case, the real problem with unpaid internships is that the only people who can take them up will come from families in London and the Home Counties who are wealthy enough to support them.

There is already a problem about Westminster being dominated by the products of private schools, Oxbridge and the South East. In fact, I sometimes suspect poor Nick is the least posh person in his own office.

We would all like the Liberal Democrats to be an exception to this trend - both to encourage social mobility and so that the party can draw on a wider pool of talent and more varied experience of life. But this is not going to happen unless we find a way of paying our interns.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The Rutland fig

“If you have room for only one fruit tree, do you go for damson or bullace?” – Jim Hartley

The fellow goes on to ask which fruit the current of Lib Dem MPs remind me of: “Ming Campbell, something rather old fashioned, but solid: quince? Danny Alexander, orange, bitter & no good in the sun: Seville orange. The great leader is of course bland and yellow and would have to be a banana.” I think this is what the young people call ‘satire’.

The fruit tree I ‘go for’ is neither the damson nor the bullace but our trusty Rutland fig. Each year, Meadowcroft cuts a fresh length of twine to hold up his trousers and goes down to Westminster to negotiate with the Serjeant at Arms about the trees for Portcullis House.

So adept is he at playing the country bumpkin come to town that the House authorities are quite disarmed and thus prey to his wiles. Why, over the last 12 years, he has stung them for £400,000 to maintain the trees we sent to grace the place when it first opened! When a tree is as profitable as that, I look no further.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Monday, April 23, 2012

The road from Snailbeach to Stiperstones

ShropshireLive says:
A Shropshire road is to close for up to three days in June as work is carried out to investigate the integrity of a wall which retains the road. 
The Snailbeach to Stiperstones road will be closed in Snailbeach between 9am and 4.30pm for up to three days, starting on Wednesday 6 June 2012.
This is a remarkable stretch of road. With hairpin bends, it runs for a couple of miles between these two villages along the side of the Stiperstones ridge. And not so many years ago it was possible to scramble up from it and enter the hill along an old lead-mining adit driven into its side.

Actor playing Judas hangs himself - a Market Harborough parallel

I am still reading Judith Flanders' The Invention of Murder. On the train home this evening I read about the Whitechapel murder of Harriet Lane by Henry Wainwright in 1874. The Times, at least, gave the case more column inches than the Jack the Ripper murders in the same borough 13 years later.

Like many murders of the period (though the tradition was dwindling by 1874) the case was the subject of a play. And Flanders writes:
The Royal Clarence Theatre, Dover, had The Whitechapel Tragedy running for a week. The following year a theatre in Market Harborough produced either the same play or a variant of it - its only trace is a newspaper report of the execution scene, which appears to have been played out in full onstage (another indication that it was unlicensed): the stool slipped and the actor-Wainwright nearly went the way of the real one.
A welcome little nugget of local history, I thought. But when I saw what was the most read story on the BBC News site this evening it became a little eerie:
A Brazilian actor has died after accidentally hanging himself while playing Judas in an Easter Passion play. 
Tiago Klimeck, 27, was enacting the suicide of Judas during the performance on Good Friday in the city of Itarare. 
The actor was hanging for four minutes before fellow performers realised something was wrong.

Peter Oborne on Conservative Home - the continuity IDS

Something else I was too busy to blog about last week was the attack on Conservative Home that Peter Oborne wrote in the Daily Telegraph:
The growth of the internet has encouraged the development of a monocultural community of young men (very few women) who are devoted users of Twitter, serial attenders of think-tank breakfasts and keen analysers of each and every political event. 
Conservative Home insists that it speaks for mainstream Conservatives, a claim that I used to be sympathetic to, but which is surely now only believed by BBC television and radio producers, and which needs to be exploded. 
The lives of most Tory supporters are too interesting, enjoyable and civically engaged for them to read it. The website, as its recent interventions demonstrate, represents a narrow, Right-wing faction. 
It is given to issuing “alternative manifestos”. It has just concluded a disloyal survey of 1,500 Tory party members in an attempt to find out which Conservative politician is favoured to succeed Mr Cameron. It wages a poorly judged campaign against the Tory chairman, Sayeeda Warsi. It was a supporter of the Downing Street director of communications, Andy Coulson, who has since been arrested.
I think there is a lot in this - and not just because I once exposed the campaign against Warsi myself. Certainly, when Oborne appeared on Newsnight with Conservative Home's editor Tim Montgomerie, Montgomerie did not defend his views so much as point out that Oborne had said similar things himself on many occasions.

The need to write frequently and to be controversial often leads columnists to contradict themselves - it is known in the professional literature as Simon Jenkins Syndrome. But that does not show that Oborne is wrong here.

Montgomerie, as Oborne points out, was Iain Duncan Smith's chief of staff while he was leader of the Conservative Party. And what Conservative Home is essentially trying to do is to persuade the Tories to return to the policies it put forward during the Hague and Duncan Smith years. It is for this reason that the website is known to some as the 'Continuity IDS'.

Yet these policies were surely one of the reasons that Tony Blair led such a charmed for so long as prime minister. For a while it looked as though the rule that governments become unpopular in the middle of their terms had been overturned.

At the heart of Conservative Home's self-confidence is the strange truth that the more extreme a person's views, the more certain he or she will be that the majority of voters share them. You could even call this Calder's Fourth Law of Politics - the first three are here.

Oborne is right, and I suspect that David Cameron shares his analysis. Which is why he takes little notice of Conservative Home's views.

No to a referendum: Parliament should decide on Lords reform

Mark Thompson says Liberal Democrats should not fear a Lords reform referendum. Richard Morris goes further and makes the case for holding one.

Well, I don't fear a referendum, but I don't want to see one held.

As I argued in Liberal Democrat News last year, the way that our relations with the European Union - which should have been one of the great issues in British politics for the last 20 years - have been taken our of electoral politics has been harmful to the standing of Parliament:
Why should voters feel enthusiastic about Westminster when their representatives avoid talking about one of the most important issues facing the country?
So it seems wrong to me, when faced with an important issue like Lords reform, to hurry to remove it from the jurisdiction of Parliament.

Britain is a representative democracy and that is a system that allowed democracy to survive here throughout the 20th century - quite an achievement when you look back at the history of that period. We should be wary of undermining it in this way.

If MPs duck out of taking important decision then the dreary charges that they are only in it for themselves or are all the same will only gain volume. Worse than that, supporters of parliamentary democracy will begin to suspect there is something in them.

The principle that there must be a referendum whenever constitutional change is proposed is a modern invention and it has not been applied consistently. Not every city that has opted for an elected mayor has had a referendum first.

You could, I suppose, argue that a referendum campaign would interest the public in Lords reform, but that did not happened with AV. If anything, the campaign spread ignorance and confusion while, as Willie Whitelaw would say, stirring up apathy.

Margaret Thatcher was fond of quoting the words of Clement Attlee: "plebiscites are the device of dictators and demagogues". He was right and we should be wary of undermining parliamentary democracy by rushing to hold another.

For St George's Day: Morris dancing at Clun

It's St George's Day. And what could be more English than morris dancing?

The blackened faces here, suggests Wikipedia, are either a reminder that morris dancing was originally known as Moorish dancing, a form of disguise adopted by 17th- and 18th-century labourers supplementing their wages with a spot of dancing and begging, or a remnant of the 19th-century craze for Black minstrels. (That last explanation seems to be the one Roy Palmer favours in The Folklore of Shropshire.)

Whatever the explanation, the faces are typical of Border morris - "from the English-Welsh border: a simpler, looser, more vigorous style". (That's Wikipedia again.)

This video was filmed in The Square at Clun. The pub on the right is the friendly White Horse. The sign on the left is for the long-closed Buffalo, which will be familiar to readers of Malcolm Saville's The Neglected Mountain.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Six of the Best 243

Epsom & Ewell Liberal Democrats pay tribute to Lord Jack Ashley, who died yesterday.

"The business model of F1 has meant that politicised events are increasingly inevitable. Almost every race in the F1 calendar (the British Grand Prix is a notable exception) receives some form of government backing." Duncan Stephen argues that Formula 1′s business model inherently politicises the sport.

If Lords reform happens, it will be without a referendum, says A Brief History of Liberty.

English Buildings visits the empty former Midland Bank in Granby Street, Leicester - where Martin Johnson used to work in the days when rugby union was amateur.

A guide to the county's best teashops can be found on the Shropshire Life site.

"The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society is the album that is nearly universally acknowledged as The Kinks’ masterpiece, having a thematic and musical coherence greater than any of their earlier albums, while having stronger songs than any of the later ones. It’s all the more surprising, then, that such a coherent album had such a tortured genesis." Andrew Hickey takes you through it song by song.

Songs of Praise and the class system

Round at the Dower House this afternoon, I watched the senior semi-final of the Songs of Praise Junior Choir of the Year contest - my mother used to babysit one of the basses in the Oakham School choir.

Of the six choirs taking part, five came from private schools. I don't know if the reason for this is cultural or economic - does it cost much to have a good choir? - but we have become used to this sort of dominance of sporting and cultural excellence by the private sector.

The only state school choir taking part came from Wales, which may be a tribute to that country's strong choral tradition or its less class-bound society. Or it could be chance.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Advice to E. Bandymill

“No-one likes me at work. What should I do?” – E. Bandymill, Doncaster

I wonder if you were wise to take this job in the first place?

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Bow Wow Wow: Go Wild in the Country

Today's Independent reviews a concert by a revived Bow Wow Wow, so it is high time the band featured here.

The band was put together by the punk impresario Malcolm McLaren in 1980, most of its members having previously played with Adam Ant. He, it sounds odd to record now, was averse to commercialism and McLaren lost patience with him, wanting to have hits.

What really made the band, though, was the vocalist McLaren found to front it. He heard 14-year-old Annabella Lwin singing along to the radio in her Saturday job with a dry cleaners. Putting them together, he formed a considerable post-punk band.

Lwin's age involved McLaren in a Scotland Yard investigation when he had her photographed, demurely naked, in a recreation of Manet's Le déjeuner sur l'herbe for an EP cover.

Times change. Blind Faith had no such more problems with a more explicit cover in 1969. Today it would be unthinkable.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Bridgnorth and Ironbridge floods in 1963

A radical case for children standing up when a teacher enters the room

Conservatives spend a lot of time calling for things to be brought back - Matron, the birch, National Service.

So it is no surprise to hear that David Cameron wants to return to the days when children stood up when a teacher entered the room.

Before you mock, remember that the left is not much better. Its passion is keeping things as they are. The teachers' unions have opposed every initiative in education for as long as I can remember. And in all the debate over the Health & Social Care Bill, I cannot recall hearing someone who opposed it suggest anyway in which the NHS might be improved.

The prime minister should not be specifying how schools run themselves in such detail, of course - that should be left to the schools themselves - but I suspect many parents will share Cameron's view.

I suspect that one of the reasons that comprehensives struggled to win public esteem was that their rise took place at a time when many traditional aspects of education, such as uniform, were in decline. So they became associated with a particular attitude to schooling that not all parents warmed to.

Still, one of the reasons I support Coalition education policy is that I want to see different kinds of school flourish, and it is perfectly possible for an outwardly traditional school to have a more contemporary curriculum than a more modern rival. This was certainly the case with the two secondary schools I attended.

But the point I really want to make here is that there is a good radical case for having children stand up when a teacher enters the room.

The problem with modern society, we radicals surely agree, is that the rich are held in too high esteem and that desirable things other than money - like age, wisdom and education - are given too little respect.

Having children stand, in line with Cameron's outbreak of traditional Conservatism, would be one way of reversing this.

Where are Nick Clegg's weird critics?

Last Sunday, following an interview Nick Clegg gave to the Independent, I blogged about the increasingly collectivist turn that Lib Dem family policy appears to be taking.

There was a point in that interview that I wanted to return to, but I have been too busy with work this week.

That point is this:
And he pledged to take on those with the "sepia-tinted 1950s" opinion that mothers should not work, after attacks on his City lawyer wife Miriam, claiming her critics are as "weird" as homophobes.
Nick is right to be angry at attacks on his wife, but the rest of the argument is odd.

Who are these people who believe mothers should not work? Perhaps you come across them if you spend too long reading the comments on the Daily Mail website, but I don't meet them in real life. Perhaps Nick does, but surely it is possible to disagree with people without calling them "weird"?

But there is a more important point here. Far from there being pressure on mothers not to work, the reverse is true.

For a family to maintain what most regard as a comfortable way of life now takes two full-time incomes - just look at house prices. This is an enormous change from the position in the 1950s. I suspect one cause was Nigel Lawson's tax changes in the 1980s, but no doubt there are many others.

This change has liberated many women - though not all jobs are as fulfilling as being a City lawyer. But somehow the idea that feminism would liberate men by family structures more flexible has been lost. Now everyone works full time.

The collectivisation of childcare has its roots in this too. The right, far from believing a woman's place is in the home, tend to believe that life is about making money. The left are just pleased to see children spending more time in state-approved institutions.

But when I see them arriving at school in the nursery minibus, I can't help feeling they are paying the price.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Lost Victorian Britain by Gavin Stamp

I have just spent three nights at the Hotel Russell on Russell Square in Bloomsbury. It is a striking building by Charles Fitzroy Doll, clad in thé-au-lait terracotta and completed in 1898. Doll also worked on the Titanic, and it is said that his dining room on the ship was an almost exact copy of the one he designed for the Hotel Russell.

But there used to be an even more remarkable Charles Fitzroy Doll hotel on the east side of Russell Square. The Imperial Hotel. It opened in 1911 and was designed in a style Pevsner described as a "vicious mixture of Art Nouveau Gothic and Art Nouveau Tudor".

It lasted little more than 50 years, as it was demolished in 1966. Stamp tells us that its demise was partly due to a lack of bathrooms - though the restoration of St Pancras shows that can be overcome if there is a will - and to the Greater London Council's declaration that "the whole frame was so structurally unsound that there was no possibility of saving it if a preservation order had been placed on the building". However, he suspects that its loss had more to do with changing tastes in architecture than its structural condition.

The new Imperial is a notably grim building, but there are a few remnants of the original to be found if you know where to look. London Remembers tells us that the decoration from its Turkish baths can be seen:
Two groups of statues line the entrance to the underground car-park. There are six life-size, scantily clad allegorical women, two of them clutch books helpfully entitled "Literature" and "Chemistry"; one clutches a mask - indicating "Theatre" but the other three aren't telling. 
And there are ... 21 Tudor characters, each about 2 foot tall. The 5 bells, in decreasing size are embossed: United Kingdom MCMXII {1912}, India, Canada, Australia, South Africa. The bells and the galleon are on the casino facade.
I came across a second building from Lost Victorian Britain this morning in Ian Jack's Guardian column. He writes about the extraordinary Victorian philanthropist Angela Burdett-Coutts:
friend of Dickens and Disraeli, brazen proposer of marriage to the far older Duke of Wellington, and patron of dozens of good causes, including the charities that became the NSPCC and the RSPCA. Edward VII said that, after his mother, she was the most remarkable woman in England.
One cause she took up was providing the poor of Bethnal Green with better food by providing a covered market that traders could use without paying tolls. Jack continues:
Miss Burdett-Coutts never did things by halves. She spent £200,000 on a Gothic extravaganza that, on the evidence of old photographs, looks more like the college of an ancient university than a rendezvous for cabbage and cod. It had four-storey buildings arranged around a quadrangle, a galleried hall and a clock tower where bells rang out hymn tunes every quarter of an hour.
The market was not a success. It opened in 1869, but closed some time in the 1880s. That is according to Jack - the Wikipedia entry for Columbia Road market implies that it was open in some form long after that. The building survived until 1958, and the same entry says "the remains of railings can be seen in front of the Nursery School. Sivill House and the Dorset Estate replaced the Coutts buildings."

Lost Victorian Britain is full of photographs of extraordinary buildings like these, and not all of them in London. As well as the Imperial Institute in South Kensington, Stamp shows us Joseph Paxton's spectacular conservatory at Chatsworth (blown up with dynamite in 1920 by Paxton's own grandson), Preston Town Hall (demolished 1962) and Bayon's Manor in Lincolnshire (built for Tennyson's uncle and long derelict when it was dynamited in 1965).

Many of these losses, of course, were due to German bombing in Word War II - one of the most striking photographs in the book is of the ruins of St Faith's, Stoke Newington, after the church had been half-demolished by a flying bomb.

And many more were due to the blindness to the virtues of Victorian architecture that afflicted the powerful classes in the 1950s and 1960s. But we should not think that the problem ended there. The Church of England schemed to demolish George Gilbert Scott's Holy Trinity, Rugby, as recently as 1981.

We are brought up to think of ourselves as modern, open-minded and daring, and to laugh at the Victorians as stuffy and old-fashioned. Yet what strikes you about these photographs of lost Victorian (and Edwardian, though Stamp does not say so) buildings is how exotic, even fantastic, many of them are. Most modern architecture looks flat and uninspired by comparison.

If you doubt me, take a trip to Russell Square and compare the Hotel Russell with the modern Imperial.

David Cameron's father ran Blairmore

I am not sure the revelation that David Cameron's father used offshore funds to increase his wealth is quite worth the splash that this morning's Guardian gave it.

But I was amused to learn that Cameron père once ran a company called Blairmore.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Admiring the first Lady Bonkers' obelisk

“My husband and I are old enough now to be contemplating our departure to the next world. In keeping with family tradition, we shall have effigies carved to be placed in the family chapel. Although we shall have individual heraldic animals at the head or feet of each effigy (in our case, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier rampant for him, a weeping cloud of budgies for me), we must share an escutcheon which expresses our political allegiance. He is an (horrible) old Tory and I a fervent Liberal. We both hate the Coalition, so what would you advise?” – Barking Old Trout

Hatchments! That is what you want: hatchments. When I was a young buck and wanted to impress a popsy or a stunner, I would invite her to the Hall, then walk her down the drive to St Asquith’s in the village and show her the family hatchments. It never failed to take the trick, though I have to record that the First Lady Bonkers rather trumped me by showing me her obelisk first.

Should you wish to see my hatchments for yourself, the Revd Hughes will sell you a guidebook – call at the Vicarage if you find St Asquith’s locked. However, I feel that in your circumstances, rather stronger meat is called for. I am reminded of an old friend of mine who had a short way with our Conservative and Unionist allies: may I recommend a stained glass reproduction of a contemporary print of ‘J.W. Logan giving Edward Carson one up the snoot during the committee stage of Gladstone’s Second Home Rule Bill in 1893’? I feel sure your husband will understand.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

In praise of … the seaside

There is a pleasant, gentle third leader in today's Guardian:
The Victorians associated the sea with melancholy and death. The Edwardians just thought the sea was fun – and the music hall song "I do like to be beside the seaside" summed it all up. The Edwardians, it seems, were right.
But I mention chiefly because it was inspired by a press release I wrote in the day job.

Thanks to 19th 20th Century History Images for the picture.

Headline of the Day

A Leicester Mercury headline from January has been drawn to the attention of the judges:

Councillor suspended in dispute over lawnmower

Later. Sources close to the judges suggest that, had they insisted upon a headline from today, the winner would have been ITV News:

Singer Olly Murs nearly misses flight as baked bean spill closes motorway

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Hidden Battles

It is not often you get a chance to watch a film in working hours.

Hidden Battles formed part of the programme of my employer's annual conference this afternoon and I was there to tweet about it and, in particular, the expert panel discussion that followed. (One of the leading military psychologists who took part, incidentally, was Simon Hughes' brother.)

The film was moving precisely because it took such a cool look at the effect that killing has upon forces personnel. And, as Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes said, 20,000 people leave the British Armed Forces every year.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Six of the Best 242

Jennie Rigg writes about being an embarrassment to the party ("Or: My Party is turning me into Granny Weatherwax When All I Want to Be is Nanny Ogg.")

"Once the bemusement of the situation has died down and you realise that London is, under the glitz and glamour, a city chock full of smells which you usually associate with the aftermath of a drunken New Year’s Eve. And with a more than above average homeless population, reality hits home for the desire of your opponent is that you join these unfortunate people." On The New Journalist, Vaughan Jones tells us what it is like to be the defendant in a libel trial.

Chinese dissident authors criticised the British Council at an unofficial London Book Fair event, reports Index on Censorship's Free Speech Blog.

Wayne Barrett on The Daily Beast explores the links between Mitt Romney and the scandal-ridden 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

The Backdoor Broadcasting Company is a webcasting service that concentrates on recording academic research. Its site is well worth exploring.

"‘Given the images people see on TV, many conclude Afghanistan never made it out of the Middle Ages. But that is not the Afghanistan I remember. I grew up in Kabul in the 1950s and ’60s. Stirred by the fact that news portrayals of the country’s history didn’t mesh with my own memories, I wanted to discover the truth." Retronaut illustrates Mohammad Qayoumi's case with some contemporary photographs.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The governance of Rutland

“Why doesn’t Rutland declare UDI, secede from the UK and become a stateless society with private law and stuff?” – Jock, Oxford

Really, don’t you read my stuff? Rutland has been an independent nation since the occupying Leicestershire forces were driven back over the border in 1997 (I myself led our forces in several skirmishes in that war).

We now live as an anarcho-syndicalist collective – albeit one consistent with our most ancient families continuing to enjoy full possession of their landed estates. For myself, I continue to plot the overthrow of the Duke of Rutland and his replacement with a more suitably qualified candidate.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Interviews with survivors of the Titanic

I am sorry if you are all Titaniced out - and I have not listened to all of this yet - but the opening interview with Charles Lightoller is spellbinding. And I think that is because of, not in spite of, his understatement.

Lightoller was the most senior officer to survive the sinking of the Titanic and is the character played by Kenneth More in the film A Night to Remember.

Matthew Sweet once said: "You almost get the feeling watching A Night To Remember that the ship goes down simply to wipe the smug grin off of Kenneth More's face." But that is a comment on More and no reflection on Charles Lightoller.

Lightoller's seagoing adventures continued even after this recording was made, as Diamond Geezer recorded on Saturday:
After a distinguished naval career during WW1, including captaining yet another sinking vessel, Charles was edged out of White Star civilian service and into premature retirement. He used his own private motor yacht to rescue soldiers from Dunkirk, he was that kind of a bloke. 
And he ended his years managing a small boatyard in East Twickenham, the Richmond Slipways. It sounds an ideal life, pottering about by the Thames building motor launches for the London River Police, right up until he died aged 78. 
His boatyard at 1 Ducks Walk is long gone, and the riverside is now home to a Sea Cadets boating station and some rather exclusive housing. But he's remembered hereabouts, on the western side of Richmond Bridge, by an informative plaque at the foot of Riverdale Gardens.
Charles Lightoller died in 1952 at the age of 78. As Diamond Geezer tells us, his ashes were scattered at Mortlake Crematorium.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Liberal Democrat FCC should stick to party policy on the accreditation of conference representatives

In the middle many people's local election campaigns and with a post on one blog, the chair of the Liberal Democrat Federal Conference Committee (FCC) has launched a consultation on conference accreditation.

This is an odd way of doing things, particularly as it is rumoured that the exercise came as a surprise to some FCC members.

But it is even odder than that. The subject was debated and decided at the party's last Autumn Conference. Andrew Emmerson has the text of the motion that was passed in Birmingham last year.

So my reply to this consultation is that FCC should abide by the democratic decision of the party.

It's not as if the arguments put forward in the Lib Dem Voice post are very good. Take this:
Two senior officers of Sussex police attended an FCC meeting in late March and outlined the reasons they are asking the party to use accreditation. It is their clear view that party conferences, including ours while we are in government, attract people who wish to cause serious harm and violence to conference-goers (and also to those working in the venue and other residents of Brighton, whom they also have a duty to protect). This includes large international terrorist organisations, but also individuals who are able to make bombs or other equipment. 
They gave some examples of lone individuals who have caused serious violence, or attempted to, ranging from the 1984 Brighton bombing to the Norwegian gunman at a youth political event.
The 1984 Brighton bomb was placed in the Grand weeks before Conservative Conference. There was no need for the IRA bombers to register for the event. Nor was Anders Behring Breivik registered for the event on which he opened fire. It is hard to see that conference accreditation has anything to do with these two outrages.

According to the Lib Dem Voice you have only until Saturday 21 April to send you views to the chair of FCC.

There are some good blog posts on this subject:
You may also be interested in an article on the accreditation that I wrote for the Guardian's Comment is Free site just before the Birmingham Conference last September.

William Penny Brookes and the Wenlock Olympian Games

Thanks to my New Statesman article from 2008, longstanding readers will know all about Dr William Penny Brookes from Much Wenlock and his place in the founding of the modern Olympics.

But this film may help introduce him to a wider audience.

Liberal Democrat councils most likely to give lowest-paid workers a rise

Tim Farron writes to tell me that no Liberal Democrat-run council in England has raised its Council Tax:
While Labour and the Tories fight over how many of their councils raised Council Tax, it’s clear that with the Liberal Democrats your money is safest: no Liberal Democrat-run council in England has raised Council Tax. 
This stands in stark contrast to Tory and Labour-run councils which have been racking up the Council Tax in these difficult times. Ordinary working families are struggling already with paying bills, without their councils increasing the burden.
Yes, times are hard, but I find myself a little underwhelmed by this fact. The judgement on whether a council's tax level is the right one must surely be made by Liberal Democrat councillors locally. Eric Pickles' incentives to freeze your Council Tax complicate the picture, but they do not outweigh this central point.

Certainly, if we take over a rural authority from the Conservatives it is quite likely that Lib Dem councillors will decide that a tax rise is needed to improve services.

But Tim's letter does contain one unalloyed piece of good news:
Liberal Democrat councils have not only frozen council tax but are also most likely to be giving the lowest-paid council workers a pay rise.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: A reply to two Nick Cleggs

The new issue of Liberator is on its way to subscribers, so it is time to spend some more time with Rutland's most celebrated peer.

This time is Diary is devoted to answering questions from his readers. Here are the first.

“In 2010, I told the prime minister that his Health Bill was probably OK and I’d support it, but I didn’t read it properly first as I got bored after the first 50 pages. I now find that it is about as popular as a return to the use of leeches in medical practice. Can you advise me?” – Mr NC, Sheffield Hallam

“I keep getting mixed up between two of my jobs, Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Liberal Democrats. Before Christmas, as DPM I defended David Cameron’s performance in Brussels and then as Lib Dem Leader I attacked it. This month in the cabinet, I supported the NHS Bill unamended and then as Lib Dem Leader I signed a letter with my friend Shirley asking everyone to support the amendments.” – Mr NC, Sheffield Hallam

Now look here: you cannot both be the real Nick Clegg. I don’t know which one of you is playing the giddy goat, but it must stop at once. As to your questions...

NC1: Yes, the bill was Rather Hard Work. My custom when I can’t stay awake past page 3 of a new piece of legislation is to see which way the most blinkered Socialists in the House are voting and then head for the opposite lobby. This has served me well over the years. As to leeches, I gather that they never quite went out of use: to this day, there are eminent surgeons who believe them quite the thing for safely removing congested blood from a wound – and that is not just at the Oakham Royal Infirmary, where I admit news of the latest advances in medical science can be slow to arrive.

NC2: This ‘coalition’ business can be confusing, can’t it? Only the other day, I was planning a raid on the lands of a neighbouring Conservative when my Bailiff respectfully asked if we weren’t meant to be on the same side now. I replied that he was Putting Things Too Strongly, but I did later issue orders for a lesser grade of explosive to be used.

My own judgement is that, if you can convince people you are on both sides of every important question that faces the country, then you may well have a future in the political game. If you really are the one who is Nick Clegg, of course.

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

Grappling with Lembit Opik - the video

On Saturday I carried the news that Lembit Opik is make his debut as a wrestler at Welshpool Town Hall on 2 June. Now you can watch a video of the embarrassingly contrived confrontation that led to this turn of events.

Liberal Democrat Voice, which has also posted this video, adds the news that Lembit has another ambition. He wants to be elected as Northumbria's first police and crime commissioner.

Perhaps it would be better if he became a masked superhero and left it to the commissioner to call upon him in time of need?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Tax avoidance for the rich, PAYE for the rest of us

Two recent news stories have exposed how different are the arrangements for taxing the rich and for taxing the rest of us now are.

The call for candidates for public office to be required to publish their tax returns would not have been made if people had confidence they were paying a fair amount of tax in the first place. Clearly we do not have that confidence, so we now prefer to rely on the threat of public ridicule rather than HM Revenue and Customs.

And the row over the reduction of tax relief on charitable donations also reveals that the wealthy inhabit a different tax world from the rest of us. There is a scheme whereby people under the PAYE system can use it to make charitable donations. But if you or I announced to the authorities that we had decided to reduce what we pay in income tax and give it to charity instead, I think we would receive pretty short shrift from the authorities.

I am all for philanthropy, but there should be one tax regime for all.

Aghet - A Genocide

Thanks to Eric Avebury for tweeting the link to this 90-minutes documentary on the Armenian genocide. It is an English-language version of the German original Aghet – Ein Völkermord.

The last years of the Ottoman Empire are an obscure corner of history for us in Britain, yet they saw the mass slaughter of Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians. The attitude of the government of modern-day Turkey is hard to understand when Atatürk's seizure of power marked such a clean break from the Ottoman past.

Nick Clegg's family policy: Whoever you vote for the Government gets in

A common critique of education and family policy during the Blair and Brown years was that it was too interventionist - too many targets, too many boxes to tick, academic at too early an age. But any hope that the Coalition would reverse this trend has long since died.

The review of the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum presided over by Sarah Teather, for instance, did see a reduction from 69 to 17 of the number of targets for five year olds. But a wide range of voices criticised its failure to address the "'schoolification' of early childhood, with its over-assessment and excessive monitoring". And that review also brought in new 'progress assessments' for two-year-olds.

I recently argued that the Pupil Premium has declined from being a radical scheme that would give popular schools an incentive to admit pupils from poor families to one which is intended to keep those pupils exactly where they but fund them a little more generously. You might say we have moved from locating the problem in poor schools to locating it in poor children.

Then a couple of days ago came news that Nick Clegg (in quite which capacity the Guardian does not make clear) is to set targets for schools to narrow the performance gap between disadvantaged children and other pupils.

Not only that:
Each school will also be expected, in its annual online report from September, to set out broadly how it is spending the pupil premium money, and what it intends to do with the money next year.
Until recently it seemed that Liberal Democrat and Conservative politicians shared the view that schools knew best how to themselves. Now the Pupil Premium is being used as a way of giving government more control. It seems the man in Whitehall knows best after all.

And today came Nick's interview in the Independent:
"Every parent wants their child to do better than they did, and every parent wants their child to fulfil their potential," he said. State intervention to teach children as young as two will form the centrepiece of his "obsession" which will see childcare made the coalition's highest priority social policy.
What strikes me most is the implication that doing the best for your children means allowing the state a greater role in their upbringing. As with Nick's enthusiasm for summer schools funded by the Pupil Premium, you don't get the feeling that poorer families are going to get much say in the matter.

To me the essence of Liberal radicalism is Thomas Rainsborough's observation "really I think that the poorest he that is in England has a life to live as the greatest he". Not so long ago, we radicals wanted the workers to run their own industries. Today we seem reluctant to trust them with their own children.

In this area of policy is seems, more and more, that whoever you vote for the Government gets in.

To end on a happier note, Rainsborough has a street named after him in Market Harborough.

Steve Winwood: John Barleycorn Must Die

I was shocked to discover that it is more than three years since John Barleycorn featured as a Sunday music video.

Last time the song appeared - in December 2008 - I chose a live performance by Traffic from their great 1972 Santa Monica gig. This is a recent Steve Winwood solo performance and it suggests that his voice has improved with the years.

I see that the late Helen Elsom left a comment on that 2008 post suggesting that John Barleycorn is not a true folk song but, at least in part, the work of a modern antiquarian. The Wikipedia entry on the song shows that some have shared her doubts:
in their notes to the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs (London, 1959), editors A L Lloyd and Ralph Vaughan Williams ponder whether the ballad is "an unusually coherent folklore survival" or "the creation of an antiquarian revivalist, which has passed into popular currency and become 'folklorized'".
But it says that Lloyd and Vaughan Williams also note that it is an old song, with printed versions dating as far back as the 16th century.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Ladies of Means and Beasts of Burden

I blogged recently that Nina Boyd is researching a group of wealthy ladies who were committed antivivisectionists - one of them Nora Logan, the daughter of the Liberal MP for Harborough J.W. Logan.

Nina has now written a little more about this project on her website:
I am researching a group of women who committed their lives to animal welfare. They lived and worked together from the beginning of the twentieth century until the last of them died in the 1960s. 
Margaret Damer Dawson, Nora Logan, Nina Duchess of Hamilton and Brandon, Lizzie Lind af Hageby, Leisa Schartau and Berthe Delius were all talented women, wealthy enough to be able to remain single (only the Duchess of Hamilton married) and pursue their passion for an end to vivisection and other forms of animal cruelty. 
Their public activities are reasonably well documented. Any information about the personal lives of these six women would be welcomed.
You can email Nina Boyd via her website.

Grappling with Lembit Opik

Yesterday's Daily Mail told us that Lembit Opik would be making his debut as a wrestler at Welshpool Town Hall last night. I had a search on the net, but as the only mentions I could find suggested he would merely be attending the event I did not blog about it.

But look what happened last night. Lembit did attend the wresting, and the County Times, the Mid Wales newspaper, reports that he was "unable to keep his mouth shut and managed to talk himself into a grudge match with Welsh bad boy Kade Callous at the same venue on June 2".

The story goes on:
Annoyed that Kade Callous used foul play to defeat his opponent Iestyn Rees, Lembit joined the rest of the packed out audience in calling the Welsh Wresting star a cheat! 
Later in the evening, Lembit again rubbed Kade Callous up the wrong way by costing him the chance of victory in the Rumble by grabbing his arm and distracting him. 
Angered by Lembit's actions, Kade Callous grabbed the County Times columnist by the throat, launched him into the ring and challenged him to a fight at Welshpool Town Hall on the evening of the Queen's Jubilee. 
"You're in my world now Lembit," shouted Kade Callous. 
"The last time you were in this town hall you lost, on that very stage they stood up and announced to the world that you are no longer the MP of your constituency. 
"Now you are going to lose again. Do you really think you can beat me? Do you think you can knock me out? Who do you think you are, John Prescott? 
"I will beat you from rope to rope, from corner to corner all over this ring. 
"The last person to stick their nose in my business had it bitten off!" 
At first a petrified Lembit Opik seemed reluctant to get involved, that was until Kade Callous added: "You're not a man, you're a coward!" 
The word 'coward' - combined with the encouragement of the sell-out arena - triggered something off in Lembit's mind that saw him agree to a fight, before being saved from further humiliation when 'goody' Iestyn Rees came to his rescue.
All very silly and all very contrived - like everything else in wrestling, this was obviously arranged in advance.

My words from 2008:
Lembit has tested to destruction the proposition that there is no such thing as bad publicity. He now needs to take himself more seriously in order to persuade others to take him more seriously. He has a Westminster seat to retain and will no doubt return to the Lib Dem front bench soon. Otherwise... 
As I write this, Neil and Christine Hamilton, as if in dreadful warning to him, are appearing on Hole in the Wall.
now seem less prophetic that hopelessly inadequate.

The serious point is that Lembit's antics will do nothing to help whoever stands in Mid Wales for the Liberal Democrats at the next Westminster and Welsh Assembly elections. He might even have got away with his determination to be a media personality if he had sat for a different constituency, but the people of Montgomeryshire - polite, staid, a little old fashioned - were never going to be attracted by it.

Meanwhile, the Daily Mail's parallel with the Rector of Stiffkey seems ever more apt. Far away on the breezy Lincolnshire coast, a lion licks its lips.

Friday, April 13, 2012

FA Cup semi-final 1970: Chelsea 5 Watford 1

With Chelsea playing Spurs in an FA Cup semi final tomorrow, here is a reminder of how they won at the same stage in 1970.

And I was there. The game was played on the neutral ground of White Hart Lane.

It's a bit tough on Watford that there goal is not here - it equalised Chelsea's first goal, if I remember correctly.

Note how poor the pitch was, though the one at Wembley for the final was even worse.

I was there too, but didn't go to the replay at Old Trafford. There Chelsea finally overcame Leeds United.

If your team wins the cup when you are 10, life is bound to be a bit of an anticlimax after that.

Nick Harvey celebrates 20 years in the Commons

An articles in the North Devon Journal notes that it is 20 years since Nick Harvey won back Jeremy Thorpe's old seat for the Liberal Democrats.

Nick talks about the way the constituency has changed over the years - and also the way his career has changed:
Since becoming a minister Mr Harvey said he still splits his time between London and North Devon in largely the same way but his time in London is, "spent vastly differently." 
"As a minister I'm able to make representations behind the scenes and meet other ministers as an equal," he said. 
"Although it's dispiriting having to make cuts it's what political tides and fortunes have called for and they have to be made." 
Mr Harvey also said working with the Tories has not been how he expected it to be. 
"I do find that if I stick up for North Devon over rural issues there's a greater understanding than I'd expect from the Labour party perhaps," he said. "And they are all good people to work with."
I first came across Nick when he was staying in the Liberator hotel at a Liberal Party Assembly in the 1980s. It would have seemed a little fanciful then to suggest that there was a future defence minister amongst us.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Alfred Dobbs was MP for one day in 1945

If there were a poll for the unluckiest MP ever, the winner would probably be Alfred Dobbs.

He gained Smethwick for Labour in the party's landslide on 26 July 1945. The following day he was killed in a road accident when, attempting to avoid a child, his car was in collision with a military vehicle in Doncaster.

You might think he holds the record for the shortest service as an MP. But according to Wikipedia the Irish Nationalist Thomas Higgins, who won North Galway in 1906, contrived to die between the close of the poll and the declaration of the result.

That same Wikipedia names three other MPs who died between the close of the poll and the declaration. Remarkably, two of them also managed this feat at the 1945 election. However, they were all defending seats for which they had previously been elected. Higgins is the only newly elected MP to die in this narrow corridor of time.