Friday, November 30, 2012

Studeley Royal Water Gardens

This is a landscape of follies, statues and temples to the virtues. My guidebook says:
A path through the trees leads to the Surprise View - a treat for any unsuspecting visitor. William [Aislabie] created this path around 1755, but it was his daughter, Mrs Allanson, who, in the 1790s, put up a shelter with a sliding door, perhaps replacing an earlier covered seat. As visitors arrived, a servant would throw the door back, dramatically revealing the view.
More on the National Trust website.

The 2012 UK Science Blog Prize

Good Thinking has the results of the 2012 UK Science Blog Prize.
With my work hat on, I am pleased to see psychology blogs well represented. I live-tweeted a lecture by Dorothy Bishop earlier this year, and very interesting it was.

I can also recommend the Mental Elf. Not only does he have a great name, but his Twitter feed it a useful source for links to the latest research in mental health.

Norman Lamb on the need to improve mental health services

Speaking at the 'Psychological Therapies in the NHS 2012' conference in London yesterday, the Lib Dem health minister Norman Lamb pledged himself to work to end the "institutional disadvantage  under which mental health labours among other health and care services,”

Norman said he has asked officials to look at whether the exemption of mental health from NHS rules on choice can be removed:

"It seems to me that if any group of patients can benefit from being empowered by being able to choose their provider or which therapy they would like, then it is people with mental ill health."

He also said that officials are exploring the possibility of payment by results in both adult and child mental health services:

"If that project blossoms as we hope it might, then it will transform the commissioning process in a way we simply haven’t seen before. “It will push up standards throughout the system and encourage innovation, invention and inspiration."

Someone who heard Norman's speech told me that there was not a great deal new in it, but his obvious commitment to improving mental health services was impressive.

Welsh government tries to censor S4C

Thanks to Peter Black for alerting us to this story on the BBC News site:
Ministers have complained after a character on the BBC-produced TV series said the Welsh government "doesn't have the backbone" to cull badgers. 
A planned cull in west Wales was cancelled in March when ministers decided to vaccinate badgers instead. 
S4C said the programme included a variety of viewpoints and repeated Wednesday's episode as planned. 
The Welsh government has written to S4C and BBC Wales, which makes the programme that has run for 38 years, claiming it breaches editorial guidelines and that the government has been denied a right of reply. 
Ministers object to a storyline on Wednesday night's episode about bovine TB and a discussion about culling badgers. 
They also want the episode removed from the S4C online service Clic.
Well done to S4C for standing up to the Welsh government - the repeat was broadcast as scheduled yesterday.

There is something ludicrous about a government demanding a right of reply to a soap opera.

And even if the programme had not included a variety of viewpoints, S4C would have been fully entitled to broadcast it. It's a drama, isn't it?

Leighton Andrews is 55.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

William Henry Bragg: Market Harborough's Nobel laureate

BBC Radio 4's In Our Time this morning dealt with the history of crystallography and in particular the contribution of William and Lawrence Bragg. This father-and-son team won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1915 for their work in this field.

The father, William Henry Bragg, was educated at Market Harborough Grammar School in the days when lessons still took place in the quaint half-timbered building in the town centre.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Six of the Best 300

Photo credit:
Peter Black speculates on the possibility that the Conservatives will be able to get their boundary changes through in this parliament after all.

"With its first-rate tax avoidance system, strict libel laws, good living, and easy access to Moscow (the flight's just four hours long), London was always poised to serve as both a clearinghouse for Kremlin-connected billionaires and a propaganda mill for the attendant influencers who underwrite them." Foreign Policy dissects Conservative Friends of Russia.

Stumbling and Mumbling suspects we are expecting too much of Mark Carney as the new governor of the Bank of England: "I suspect the best precedent for Mr Osborne's decision is Fabio Capello's appointment as England manager. That experience taught us that when an impressive CV hits a dysfunctional structure, the structure stays in place. It also taught us that, when this happens, people find lots of ways of blaming the individual and thus avoid having to question their ideological faith in the importance of individuals rather than structural forces."

Giselle Cory on Huffington Post asks if underemployment is the new normal.

A New York Times editorial argues that arresting people for the possession of small amounts of cannabis wastes millions of dollars and unfairly puts people through the criminal system.

IanVisits rediscovers London's lost pneumatic railways.

Rupert Everett wins Film Quote of the Year

Discussing Richard Curtis in the Daily Mail in September, Everett said:
Curtis, for anyone who doesn’t know, was to Blair’s Britain what Leni Riefenstahl was to Hitler’s Germany.

Michael Deacon on George Entwistle

From Deacon's sketch in this morning's Daily Telegraph:
“A decent man” was what Lord Patten kept calling George Entwistle. “A decent man overwhelmed by a difficult job,” for example. And: “I’m not going to join in the trashing of a decent man.” 
Anyone who does want to join in the trashing, however, will have been interested to learn that this same decent man, in his final hours as director-general, rejected a pay-off of six months’ salary, and instead (according to Lord Patten) demanded “12 months and more”. Lord Patten, as chairman of the BBC Trust, quickly surrendered 12 months’ worth (£450,000) in order to avoid an even costlier tribunal. A crushing victory for dear Mr Decent. 
If, only a few weeks ago, you saw Mr Entwistle respond to MPs’ questions by flapping like a fish on a dock, or heard him gulping and babbling before John Humphrys on the Today programme, you’d never have guessed he was capable of such cold resolve. Nice to know he can get tough when it really matters, isn’t it?

The strange flight of David Wildgoose

Watching the Channel 4 News coverage of the Rotherham by-election just now, I noticed that the English Democrats' candidate is called David Wildgoose.

A little googling confirms that is the same David Wildgoose who fought the 1994 by-election in the same constituency for the Liberal Democrats.

He also fought Rotherham for the Liberal Democrats in the 1992 and 1997 general elections and then fought the Wentworth constituency in 2001.

He reappeared as the English Democrat candidate against Nick Clegg in Sheffield Hallam at the 2010 general election.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The water mill at Fountains Abbey

When Fountains Abbey was dissolved its water mill continued working. By 1900 it was providing electric power for Fountains Hall. Today it is in the hands of the National Trust and open as interpretation centre while new way to harness the power of its millstream are sought.

Remarkably, you can the original doors of the abbey now serving as floorboards inside the mill. Henry VIII's commissars would be delighted.

On the Buses explains the Jimmy Savile era

Though his roots reached back to the era of post-war racketeering, Jimmy Savile came to prominence in that odd period between the dawn of the permissive society and the rise of feminism. This era took in the second half of the 1960s and most of the 1970s.

And I am increasingly coming to the conclusion that the key texts in understanding this era are the three spin-off films made from the ITV comedy series On the Buses.

This was a rare success for ITV comedy which was shown between 1969 and 1973 and starred Reg Varney as the bus driver Stan Butler and Bob Grant as his conductor Jack Harper.

There were three spin-off films: On the Buses (1971), Mutiny on the Buses (1972) and Holiday on the Buses (1973). As a Guardian article on the oeuvre by Andrew Roberts once said:
It may seem bizarre now, but On the Buses was the most successful British film of 1971, outgrossing allcomers, including Diamonds Are Forever.
Roberts went on to aay:
In retrospect, On the Buses is as bleak as any offering from Ken Loach, with its London of rusting Hillman Minxes, bare light bulbs and kitchens reeking of congealed fat.
All that was true, but we should not ignore the sexual politics of On the Buses either. Reg Varney and Bob Grant were both middle-aged and not particularly attractive, yet all the dolly-bird conductresses were depicted as being up for sex with them at the drop of a peaked cap.

And the first of the films revolved around Varney and Grant's successful attempt to sabotage management's attempt to bring in women drivers. Females characters may have been available, but they were certainly not liberated.

What of the labour politics of On the Buses. Stumbling and Mumbling once wrote a post blaming all Britain's subsequent economic woes on Reg Varney - he also opened the first ATM machine.

Andrew Roberts, however, sees it differently:
But it sold vast numbers of cinema seats – unlike its near contemporary, Carry On at Your Convenience. The only entry in the Carry On series with a contemporary blue-collar work setting, At Your Convenience made the fatal error of siding with the management – unlike On the Buses, where Inspector Blakey merely exists to be splashed by Reg Varney's bus passing through a convenient puddle.
Even at the time, Blakey was my favourite character. And I don't know if it is age, my experience of public transport or our post-Thatcher society, but I cannot help noticing today that the passengers counted for nothing in On the Buses.

Just at Alexander Mackenderick, the director of Whisky Galore!, sympathised with Captain Waggett, the representative of English officialdom who attempted to round up the whisky rescued from the wreck of the S.S. Cabinet Minister, so I now see Blakey as the hero of On the Buses and its spin-off films.

And whatever you think of the labour politics of On the Buses, its sexual politics was indefensible.

I 'ate you, Butler.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

The shorter shock new Ofsted report

Some schools are better than others.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The streets of York in the 1960s and 1970s

Back to York - and thanks to York Stories, who tells us where most of these photographs were taken - for this slide show of the city's streets in the 1960s and 1970s.

It was obviously put together by a VW fan. The music is Oo-Wah by Buddy Milton and the Twilighters.

Six of the Best 299

Last week made A Scottish Liberal proud to be a Liberal Democrat.

With Obamacare apparently secured, The American Prospect considers what liberals in the USA should strive for next.

"I was really pleased when residents in my block of flats voted recently against becoming a gated community – or at least against locking the gates we already, unfortunately, have installed. I don’t want to live in something that feels like a prison, when you have to rattle keys to get to your front door, with the gate clanging shut behind you as you walk towards it. And I think that having people around in the communal garden, a pleasant, social environment, as we have now – I regularly say hello to at least 20 of my neighbours, and know some people who use it as a walkthrough – is much better security than a lockdown that screams “something to fear here!" Philobiblon fights back against our self-defeating obsession with security.

Malcolm Noble Mysteries - Market Harborough's leading crime novelist - writes on his positive experience of the regional press and his fears for its future.

You can listen to a talk on Luddism in Lancashire and Cheshire by Richard Holland on Soundcloud.

Landscapism ponders a triptych of ruins around Llanthony Priory.

The River Jordan, Little Bowden

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Fountains Abbey

Today Fountains Abbey serves as the most wonderful folly you can imagine.

Britain's largest monastic ruin and most complete Cistercian abbey stands in the landscaped park of Studley Royal, another great house that belonged to the Aislabie family. The house itself suffered a serious fire in 1946 and was pulled down shortly afterwards, but its park and water garden are very much still there.

Some would see the dissolution of the monasteries as an advance of modernism  but more and more I see Henry VIII as Britain's answer to Stalin - at least when I am walking around abbey ruins.

Huby's Tower, seen in the photograph above, dominates most views of Fountains Abbey. But it was not built until the early 16th century, not long before the monks were driven out.

Little Bowden Rec under water

This is Little Bowden Recreation Ground, famous for Backwatersman's Stump Watch, Bryan Magee's philosophical epiphany and the rescue of a cat.

This afternoon parts of it were flooded. This was nothing to do with the River Jordan: it was just the volume of rain we have had over the past few days.

But at least some people were enjoying it.

Benjamin Britten: Cuckoo! from Friday Afternoons

As I wrote the other day, 2013 sees the centenary of Benjamin Britten's birth and the Britten 100 website has been launched in preparation for the celebrations. So this Sunday's music video sees a rare excursion into the classical world.

Friday Afternoons was a set of songs that Britten wrote to be sung in schools.They are settings of poems, many of them collected by Walter de la Mare in his anthology Tom Tiddler's Ground. Cuckoo! was written by Jane Taylor, whom I assume to be the same woman who wrote the words to Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.

This performance by the choir of Downside School, Purley, was recorded around 1960 and is used on the soundtrack of the recent American film Moonrise Kingdom.

In our post-Savile world we shall, for better or worse, hear a great deal about Britten and boys next year. For the time being let us just remark on how superlatively well he wrote for children's voices and how much we have lost with the decline of the tradition of singing in schools.

But the people behind the Britten centenary celebrations are trying to do something about this with their Friday Afternoons project:
Friday Afternoons is a nationwide singing project led by Aldeburgh Music, culminating on Britten’s birthday – 22 November 2013. The initiative, which forms part of Aldeburgh Music’s Britten Centenary programme and the worldwide Britten 100 celebrations, is based around the set of 12 Friday Afternoons songs that he composed for the school in Prestatyn where his brother was schoolmaster.

Struck a glancing blow by Violet Asquith

Over on Liberator's blog, Lord Bonkers casts new light on events at Cruden Bay in the summer of 1908.

Former Chelsea manager Dave Sexton has died

I was very sorry to hear of the death of Dave Sexton, who was manager of Chelsea when they won the FA Cup in 1970 and the European Cup Winners Cup the following year and thus one of my boyhood heroes.

Sexton was not a colourful figure like Tommy Docherty, whom he succeeded at Chelsea and was to succeed at Manchester United a few years later. Nor was he a paterfamilias like Jose Mourinho or Sir Alex Ferguson. At Chelsea, at least, he seemed subservient to the personalities of the team's leading players.

But he must have been a great coach. On the BBC Sport site, Sir Trevor Brooking pays his tribute:
"Anyone who was ever coached by Dave would be able to tell you what a good man he was, but not only that, what a great coach in particular he was. 
"In the last 30-40 years Dave's name was up there with any of the top coaches we have produced in England - the likes of Terry Venables, Don Howe and Ron Greenwood. His coaching was revered."
Perhaps Sexton's greatest achievement was not at Stamford Bridge or Old Trafford. In 1975/6 his QPR team came close to winning the title. finishing only a point behind Liverpool.

This goal sums up all that was good about Sexton's QPR.

Labour peer calls for nuclear attack on Afghan border

So far it has not been picked up by the British press - a reader directed me to Press TV and there is also a report on the website of the Pakistani newspaper The Nation - but on Thursday a Labour peer called for a nuclear attack on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border.

Here is the former defence minister Lord Gilbert speaking in the Lords that day:
I draw your Lordships' attention to what used to be called the neutron bomb. It is a very misleading description. It was not necessary a bomb. It was a warhead that could be attached to a torpedo or a missile. The main thing was that it was not a standard nuclear warhead. Its full title was the ERRB-enhanced radiation reduced blast weapon. 
I can think of many uses for it in this day and age. It is something that we could go and talk to the Chinese about. Building on the example that I just gave your Lordships about the Straits of Magellan, you could use an enhanced radiation reduced blast warhead to create cordons sanitaire along various borders where people are causing trouble. 
I will give an example. Your Lordships may say that this is impractical, but nobody lives up in the mountains on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan except for a few goats and a handful of people herding them. If you told them that some ERRB warheads were going to be dropped there and that it would be a very unpleasant place to go, they would not go there. You would greatly reduce your problem of protecting those borders from infiltration from one side or another. 
These things are not talked about, but they should be, because there are great possibilities for deterrence in using the weapons that we already have in that respect.
If you ever doubted the need for reform of the upper house, John Gilbert here makes an eloquent case for it.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

David Cameron: "Marred by personal insensitivity and brusqueness"

In last week's Spectator Lloyd Evans reviewed Simon Hoggart's House of Fun: 20 Glorious Years in Parliament.

He began by saying "Simon Hoggart has spent 20 years going to Westminster to annoy people." But that is surely an underestimate. Hoggart was writing a Westminster gossip column for Punch when I was still at school.

Still, Evans finished his review by offering, via Hoggart, a telling vignette of our prime minister:
There's a fascinating snapshot of the 38-year-old David Cameron during the 2005 election campaign. The young MP for Witney had been sent on a day-trip to Dartmoor to support Stanley Johnson's bid to seize a rural seat from the Lib Dems. 
Hoggart immediately recognises Cameron's ability. "He looks and behaves like a junior minister, and already talks the talk. Cameron condemned Labour's propaganda - 'Don't let the Tories in by the back door' - with a characteristic touch of asperity: "After eight years that's pathetic!" 
When Johnson's agent suggests that they canvass votes in a hair salon, Cameron declines. "I fight shy of hair-dryers. Hair-dryers and banks. You should never disturb people when they're with their hair or their money." 
He's in a hurry to get away, and after racing around a few dreary shops, he grabs Johnson by the arm. "Stanley, that was huge!" he says, and he disappears. 
Hoggart captures all the Prime Minister's traits - already present in this vignette, if in a vague and undeveloped form. The ebullience, the quick wit and the political intelligence, marred by personal insensitivity and brusqueness. Cameron to a tee.

Six of the Best 298

Liberal Democrats against Secret Courts welcomes today's editorial in The Times. The paper concludes: "Openness is often difficult for public authorities and some of the issues they are confronting are difficult too. But the principle that justice must be done in the open is a fundamental one and, if the events of the week have shown anything, they have demonstrated that the Government is wrong to proceed with its Bill."

Lord Freud is "ignorant of basic economics and psychology," argues Stumbling and Mumbling.

"There is a sort of sleaze triangle of academia at work here, with for-profit ghostwriting companies, for-profit plagiarism-protection sites, and universities - many of them for-profit these days - all making money in a fake academic exercise in which students pay for credits they did not earn." Daniel Luzer on AlterNet on a dispatch from within the academic fraud industry.

Disgruntled Radical revisits the Cambridge Union after almost 40 years.

Diamond Geezer looks at plans to extend the Northern Line to Battersea - I have borrowed this illustration from him.

Back above ground, National Railway Museum blog shares some visitors' memories of railway food - curly sandwiches and all.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Fountains Hall

As the Ripon & District Light Railway was never built, I had to get the bus out to Fountains Abbey on my second day in the city. To my surprise, I was the only passenger both on the journey out and the journey back.

There is far more to see than just the Abbey at Fountains Abbey. This is Fountains Hall, built in the early 17th century with stone from the Abbey and at first in the hands of Stephen Proctor. A Protestant and one of the new men who prospered in Henry VIII's reign, he was unpopular with his neighbours whose sympathies, privately not publicly, were still Catholic.

Later in passed into the hands of one of those Catholic families and then into those of William Aislabie, restorer of Hawksmoor's Ripon obelisk.

In the 20th century the owners, the Vyner family, hoped to offer it as a rural retreat for the Duke and Duchess of York. But when Edward VIII abdicated the Duke of York became George VI and had quite enough houses already.

The Vyners finally left in 1979 and today Fountains Hall is owned by the National Trust.

Near the entrance you will find this memorial window to Elizabeth and Charles Vyner, who both died on active service in World War II while still teenagers:


Shirley Williams questions Jersey's status as a tax haven

On Tuesday Shirley Williams asked a question in the Lords about the value of offshore accounts held by British citizens in the Channel Islands and the steps that are being taken to investigate them:
Jersey is one of the most secretive tax havens in the world. In a tax haven, neither corporate profits nor other profits of a corporate nature are taxed, nor are capital gains. Will he say whether there is any way in which those large, wealthy corporations which make their profits out of the UK consumer in this country can be persuaded or cajoled by HMRC into paying the taxes that they should? 
Secondly, can any steps be taken to prevent illegal profits - I am referring to those from, for example, fraud and theft ... - from being placed in secret accounts in a way that enables such people to escape international justice altogether?
In a sign of the strange times we live in, the minister replying was another Liberal Democrat, Dick Newby:
In respect of international corporations, the key thing is the extent to which we can extend international co-operation in that respect, which is why the recent announcement of the UK Chancellor and the German Finance Minister, following a G20 Finance Ministers' meeting in Mexico, was very important. 
We are now looking at concerted international co-operation to strengthen international tax standards. However, at the moment, it may mean that international companies can pay less tax than they would otherwise owe. We are trying to catch up with new forms of commerce and to make sure that tax is paid in proportion to where people are undertaking their business.
Lord Tunnicliffe also asked about Jersey:
My Lords, the Minister mentioned £19 billion that is tied up in Jersey related to UK citizens-a very precise figure. Does this mean that there is sufficient transparency, and that we have a sufficient viewing, of what is happening in Jersey? Do we have sufficient HMRC resources addressing that? And if the answer to both of those is yes, does he have a feel for the amount of money that the UK Exchequer could expect out of these people if we were better able to get hold of that money through agreement?
It is early days, but it looks as though people are beginning to question Jersey's deeply anomalous status as a Crown dependency whose policies disadvantage the huge majority of Her Majesty's subjects.

Floods in Market Harborough - latest

You are no doubt wondering how we are getting on after this week's floods.

I took this photograph on the way to work this morning here in Market Harborough - well, Little Bowden actually.

As you can see, the road was under water. But even though the mighty River Jordan runs beside the fence you can see, I think that was down to the inadequacy of the drains rather than anything else.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Benjamin Britten's centenary falls in 2013

Headline of the Day visits Tunbridge Wells

From the Independent:

Bigfoot on the loose? Residents report an eight-foot hairy apeman with demonic red eyes stalking Tunbridge Wells

A guide to libel for bloggers

There is a new irregular verb in widespread use at the BBC:
I recuse myself
You step aside
He/she/it resigns
It seems to have caught on in Leicestershire too, as last night the ruling Conservative group on Leicestershire County Council announced that its deputy leader David Sprason had decided to "step aside".

Of course, we all wanted to know why. And my old friend Simon Galton, now the leader of the Lib Dem group on the county, tweeted as follows:

I was about to retweet it when I realised that I did not know if it was true. I was pretty sure that someone as sensible as Simon would not tweet in this fashion unless he knew what he was saying was true, but I did not know it was true.

So I retweeted something else by Simon that mentioned the resignation but not the porn. Mind you, I reasoned that anyone sufficiently interested in the resignation would look at Simon other tweets and find the porn story for themselves.

The furore over Lord McAlpine, I suspect, has made many bloggers more aware of issues of libel. And today in the day job I come across a useful and approachable guide on the subject: So you’ve had a threatening letter. What can you do? by Sense About Science.

I recommend any blogger who aims at being controversial, particularly in the current climate, to read it.

As it turned out, the porn story was true. As today Leicester Mercury reports it:
The deputy leader of Leicestershire County Council has stepped down while an investigation takes place after it emerged a pornographic DVD was found in his council computer. 
Councillor David Sprason is now to be investigated by Tory party whips. He told the Mercury he made an "error of judgement" when he watched a movie entitled She Likes It Rough in his county council PC and voluntarily stepped down while the matter is looked into. 
The DVD was found on the CD drive of Coun Sprason's computer in 2007 when he returned it to IT officers at County Hall after it broke. 
The matter came to light after a copy of a confidential letter sent to Coun Sprason by former council monitoring officer Elizabeth McCalla about the DVD was passed anonymously to the Leicester Mercury.
My usual response to such stories is to say that if only councillors bought their own computers, as the rest of us do, then they could watch as much pornography as they like.

However, I was talking to a Labour councillor on another authority today. She explained that councillors are warned that if their own laptop is stolen, and it has confidential data on it, then they will be held legally liable. So it safer to use an encrypted machine paid for by the taxpayer for council business.

Ripon Police & Prison Museum

Ripon has a notably unsentimental selection of museums. There is the Workhouse Museum, the Courthouse Museum and (the one I visited) the Prison & Police Museum.

This is housed in a building that was originally a prison and later served as the city's police station. Displays tell the story of British policing from Saxon times to the present day.

One thing this brings home is how many more local police forces there were before they were merged into the West Yorkshire Constabulary and then the West Yorkshire Police. As a good Liberal, I question what this has achieved.

The second theme of the museum is prison life, including a recreation of a Victorian cell. Other displays illustrate the punitive exercises which were used in prisons, the types of punishments meted out (including a frame over which the delinquent youth of Leeds were once stretched to be birched) and transportation to Australia.

The museum as a whole provides an unexpectedly absorbing insight into social history.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Send for the honey badger

Another week at Bonkers Hall draws to a close. On the whole, I think that is just as well.


What to do about Heath? He is the most engaging of fellows, but the badgers and I simply cannot put up with him any longer.

I walk by the shores of Rutland Water seeking inspiration and it duly dawns. On my last trip to South Africa, I was taken to see a vicious creature called the honey badger – so vicious, indeed, that it is known to bring down its prey by biting off the male member. I should like to see Heath take him on! Certainly, I took the precaution of wearing my own Extra Heavy-Duty Cricketers’ Box for Use on Green Minor Counties’ Wickets (patent pending) throughout the visit.

Sure enough, I find the honey badger’s card in my pocket book and hurry to the woody bank beneath the Ornamental Arch where I happen to drop it.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary:

The Lib Dem Blog of the Year Awards debate

At the start of last month I wrote a post suggesting it was time to freshen up the Lib Dem Blog of the Year Awards. There was some debate in the comments at the time and now, as I hoped, others have taken up the idea.

Love and Liberty (Alex Wilcock) has supported some of my ideas and in particular volunteered to resume his unofficial role of promoting the award for the best individual post if the organisers agree to reinstate it. His offer of help to the award organisers was matched by Somebody's Flung the Cat Again (Jennie Rigg).

Alex was also forthright about the way this year's awards were run:
In previous years, nominations closed at the end of August and shortlists were published in early September, giving weeks for many different blogs to get attention and celebration and, as the BOTYs are intended, to give “a fun way to celebrate the talent in the Lib Dem blogosphere, whilst introducing you to some blogs you might not have read before”. 
This year the shortlists were published on September 22nd – just two hours before the awards were given out. They may as well have skipped straight to the winners, for all the attention the shortlistees could get. No wonder so few people turned up. 
Then, after the awards, though this surely isn’t down to LDV, in previous years all the shortlistees for the main award – not just one “Blogger of the Year” – got to interview the Leader. Nick might be happier with a one-to-one, but that’s not the point; that was to engage more people, more styles, more perspectives.
Another contribution came from Liberal Burblings (Paul Walter), who told us that blogging (at least as understood by the judges of the Blog of the Year Awards) is dead and we should be giving awards to tweeters instead.

He was taken to task for this by The Very Fluffy Diary of Millennium Dome, Elephant (Richard Flowers), who accused him of "anti-intellectual sneering".

In fact it was worse than that. He actually accused him of "ANTI-INTELLECTUAL SNEERING".

My own view is that blogging is certainly not dead but that the style of it encouraged of late by the Blog of the Year Awards - pretending you are a commentator in a national daily - probably is.

At the very least we need, as I said in my original post, "some new, varied categories to widen the pool of potential winners".

Anyway, what do you think?

Later. The View from Creeting St Peter (Mark Valladares) joined the debate last night too.

Floods by Market Harborough railway station

It has been raining all day in Market Harborough and the Welland is in spate. And because of that the normally insignificant River Jordan, also swollen by the rain, has been unable to enter the Welland.

As a result it has burst its banks near the point it joins the Welland and flooded this car park across the road from Market Harborough railway station. People will have arrived home from London in the dark this evening and been aghast at what they found.

There is an even more insignificant stream that flows along the side of the road where I live before entering the Jordan. I have known it flood the road in the past, so I came home from work early to make sure everything was OK.

The stream had begun to flood the road, but by then the rain had stopped so I had no need of sandbags.

Six of the Best 297

Photo: Financial Times photos
The Widow's World notes the letter in today's Times from Lib Dems Against Secret Courts and urges you to sign its petition.

This evening Max Atkinson and Paddy Ashdown are taking part in an event organised at Portcullis House by the UK Speechwriters' Guild. If you couldn't attend then you can enjoy some vintage videos of the first Lib Dem leader on Max Atkinson's Blog.

"These rules have been catastrophic for local organisations which rely on leafleting to build an audience, but cannot afford such fees. A flyer ban in Leicester Square caused the collapse of several comedy nights and a dramatic reduction of audiences. One Women’s Institute was threatened with a fine for handing out leaflets about their art exhibition. Oxford student societies and arts events have to pay £100 a month for leafleting. The leafleting licence system in Brighton caused the decline of smaller, more experimental music nights, which cannot afford the fee." On Lib Dem Lords Tim Clement Jones writes on his campaign to prevent local authorities restricting leafleting for cultural events.

Great Jewish Comedians has a video of a 1965 stand-up performance by Woody Allen.

"Barely 150 metres from IWM London today is the site of the most destructive explosion in Lambeth during the Second World War, which killed 43 people." You can see the results of this V2 attack on Transforming IWM London.

"Today, more than 50 years since their demise, there’s only the odd clue that trams ever ran in Leicester. Just two of the old terminus buildings still stand, in Stoneygate and Narborough Road, and you can find many of the original tram shelters around the city – one stands outside Humberstone Park." This Was Leicestershire remembers Leicester's trams.

Jimmy Savile the crook

This evening at 10.35 p.m. ITV is showing a second documentary on Jimmy Savile by Mark Williams-Thomas.

It seems this one will concentrate on Savile's early career, so if you intend to watch it I suggest you read this startling article on The Sump Plug as preparation:
We may never find out who Jimmy Savile really was: whether the entertainer, the philanthropist, the discotheque pioneer, the loner, the Bevin Boy, the loyal company man, the daft-coiffed eccentric, the secure-mental-hospital administrator, the all-in wrestler, the sociopath, the counsellor to royalty, the morgue attendant, the marathon runner or the serial sex fiend. At various times he was all those things. 
But it seems that from the early Fifties until at least the mid-Sixties he was, above all, a crook.
For another glimpse of the underbelly of Manchester in this period, I recommend the film Hell is a City.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Lord Bonkers' Diary: "I’ll take this bazooka just in case"


Another trying day with Heath. This afternoon, I suggest we go to the village school to watch the little mites rehearse their Christmas play. “Very good,” replies the normally estimable Heath, “but I’ll take this bazooka just in case we run into a badger.”

As we stroll down my drive past the lake (and his missile launchers), he asks me which play the school is giving this year. “Toad of Toad Hall,” I tell him. “It’s one of my favourites – better than all that gloomy Scandinavian stuff they go in for these days. It’s based on The Wind in the Willows, of course. All the characters are there: Toad himself, Ratty, the Mole, Badg…. Shall we go the Bonkers’ Arms instead?”

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary:

Ripon Cathedral and St Wilfrid's crypt

Ripon is the fourth smallest city in England, so its cathedral is never far away. Here it is seen from the south across the River Skell.

Perhaps its outstanding feature is the crypt from St Wilfrid's seventh-century church on the site. The Ripon Cathedral website clams it is "arguably the oldest church building in England to have remained in continuous use".

You can enjoy a tour of the crypt on video.

Probably the cutest kittens in the world

Ladies and gentlemen, I present The Spice Kittens.

Warning: This 24-hour webcam is seriously addictive.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Biffing the badgers


I had settled down to write this Diary after breakfast when I was disturbed by the sound of mortar fire. A minute later, Heath bursts in: “Sorry about the noise. I thought I saw something moving in that covert of yours and thought it might be a badger. Best not to take any risks. I’ll give it another biffing when the smoke has cleared a bit.”

“Why don’t we have an early stiffener at the Bonkers’ Arms?” I suggest hurriedly. “Meadowcroft can call the fire brigade.” As I lead him down the drive I add: “They’ve got a guest bitter from your neck of the woods. It’s called Badg… On second thoughts, let’s stick to the Smithson & Greaves Northern Bitter.”

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary:

Harborough District Council's deputy leader gets the sack

From the Leicester Mercury:
A council's deputy leader has been sacked over a disagreement about where hundreds of homes should be built in the future. 
Blake Pain was dismissed from the Conservative-run Harborough Council's executive today. 
Council leader Michael Rook said he and his deputy had "irreconcilable differences" over policy on allocating building land. 
Coun Pain, who represents the district's Lubenham ward, disagrees with plans to review the council's core strategy, adopted a year ago.
And the Harborough Mail has Blake Pain's full statement:
“I came into local politics because I believe in democracy, localism and public service. 
“I’m disappointed that the leader has taken the easy route by removing me. In doing so he has shut down the voice of residents who live in my division at executive level. 
“We have a core strategy that was adopted less than a year ago at a cost of about £500K of tax payers money. The proposal to replace that strategy and all its saved policies with a local plan is a political one. 
“This is a sledgehammer of a proposal which is being driven, by a few, to increase the number of houses built within the district. 
“Whilst it is not clear yet what the full impact of such a decision will have on the rest of the district, Lubenham ward has already been earmarked for a further 800 homes over and above the 1,000 accepted less than a year ago following an independent and public inspection. 
“I, like many members of the public cannot understand the logic behind where we are. In trying to make sense of the current situation, the public have researched past council papers and listened to recordings of previous meetings. 
“They have concluded that resolutions haven’t been kept, meetings have been conducted with elements of amnesia and there has been a distinct lack of relevant objective information amongst the verbal and written information offered. 
“To re-coin an infamous phrase the council is and has been 'economical'. 
“Executive committees at all councils have to make tough decisions for the benefit of the public they serve; that I do not disgree, but usually, there is an understandable logic behind those decisions. 
“When the public fails to understand the logic and their elected representative’s concerns are ignored, surely the correct democratic action isn’t to shoot the messenger.”
I suspect - and please correct me if I am wrong - that somewhere behind all this lie town vs. country tensions in the ruling Conservative group.

Harborough is a large rural district and the town of Market Harborough supplies only a minority of its councillors. More than that, Market Harborough is not well represented on the council's executive, though Pain's ward does stand next door to the town.

That executive recently voted to allow massive development on the edge of Market Harborough - a decision opposed by the local Liberal Democrats.

I suspect its rural majority reasons that if they build all the houses they can in Market Harborough then they will be able to keep their own villages from development and thus keep their voters happy.

Cllr Pain, because he speaks for residents close to Market Harborough and represents part of the town on the county too, was in the way of this plan and so had to be sacked.

1 in 3: A WaterAid film for World Toilet Day

Headline of the Day

A win for the Daily Mail:

Mutant 'super rats' with resistance to poison invade Henley-on-Thames 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Lord Bonkers' Diary: "Befangled with ballistics"


Meadowcroft puts his head through the Breakfast Room window (fortunately, it is open at the time) to inform me that my drive is “befangled with ballistics”. I rush outside to see what the fuss is about and am met by an extraordinary sight: the drive is occupied from the Lodge, past the lake, around my carriage sweep and under my porte cochère by jeeps, tanks and missile launchers. It reminds me of the chilly Moscow afternoon when (for reasons I need not enter into here) I found myself obliged to join the party taking the salute in Red Square.

Just as I am thinking of returning for the Library revolver, a bearded figure in a tin hat emerges from the turret of the largest tank. It bounds forward to greet me and turns out to be Heath. “Hope you don’t mind. I’ve bought a few friends just in case you have badgers.”

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary:

Six of the Best 296

Making the case against secret courts on the Spectator's Coffee House blog, Charlotte Henry reminds us what was in the Coalition agreement: "We will be strong in defence of freedom. The Government believes that the British state has become too authoritarian, and that over the past decade it has abused and eroded fundamental human freedoms and historic civil liberties."

The latest revision of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders threatens to turn childhood tantrums into a medical condition, says David Dobbs on Wired.

Carla Saulter on Grist explains why public transport is good for children.

Terence Eden reviews his brief career as a child screen actor.

"The cathedral, seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Liverpool, would have been a massive 530 ft long, larger than any other cathedral in England. The ceiling of the nave would reach 138 ft from the floor, while a great dome, 168 ft in diameter and 300 ft high would crown the church ... The cathedral’s dome would have been larger than St. Peter’s. The entrance arch on the west portal would have been able to contain the tower of Liverpool University." Andrew Cusack looks at the greatest building never built - Lutyens’ plans FOR the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool.

Over in New York, the Brooklyn Historic Railway Association tells us about the oldest underground railway tunnel in the world - the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel.

Ginger Baker's Air Force: Man of Constant Sorrow

We all know this song from the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? but it was first recorded around a hundred years ago.

This slightly chaotic live version appears on the first Ginger Baker's Air Force LP. The singer is Denny Laine, whom we last saw with the Moody Blues. Later he was to be kidnapped by the McCartneys and forced to sing and play on dross like Mull of Kintyre.

Also playing on the track are this blog's hero Steve Winwood on bass guitar and Leicester's Ric Grech (of Blind Faith and Family) on violin.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Lord Bonkers' Diary: David Heath at the Hall


Do you know David Heath? Our Liberal Democrat MPs are fine fellows to a man – and, indeed, a woman – but if I were kidnapped by highly-paid BBC executives and forced to listen to the ramblings of David Dimbleby until I named my favourite amongst them, my choice would almost certainly light upon Heath. In recent years, he has served as Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, which means that he has been privy to the most delicious gossip: who is up, who is down, whether the government will be obliged to make concessions on the Tramways Bill.

For all these reasons, Heath is a favourite guest here at the Hall and I look forward to his arrival tomorrow, even though he has recently been moved to Agriculture.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary:

The Treaty of Ripon

Thanks to the booklet published by the city's civic society, I came across the plaque in a Ripon backwater.

The Treaty of Ripon put an end to the Bishops' Wars of 1639-40 between England and Scotland. These were caused by Charlies I's attempt to impose an Episcopalian system of church government upon Scotland.

Defeat in these wars, and their expense, forced Charles to abandon his attempt to govern without a parliament and were thus a Cause of the Civil War.

The English puritans were sympathetic to the Scots' resistance to High Anglicanism but suspicious of what they saw as their attempts to interfere in English business. Again, this attitude prefigured the concerns of the Commonwealth era.

The late Conrad Russell writes: There was more to it than that.

Sarah Teather attacks welfare cuts and demonisation of the poor

Sarah Teather is interviewed by Toby Helm, the paper's political editor, in tomorrow's Observer:
She accuses parts of government and the press of a deliberate campaign to "demonise" those on benefits and of failing to understand that those in need of state help are just as human as they are. With vivid outrage she describes the language and caricatures that have been peddled. 
"Whenever there is any hint of opposition they wheel out a caricature of a family, usually a very large family, probably black, most likely recent immigrants, without much English, lots of children, apparently chaotic, living in a desirable neighbourhood that middle-class people would like to occupy. That is the caricature and of course it is a partial spinning of the truth and it allows the demonisation to take place. 
"I would really urge particularly Conservative colleagues but people in all parties to be careful. I don't think we can afford to preside over a society where there is a gradual eroding of sympathy for people at the bottom end of the income spectrum and a rapid erosion of sympathy for people on benefits." 
She returns to the theme of morality and politics, saying: "I think deliberately to stoke up envy and division between people in order to gain popularity at the expense of children's lives is immoral. It has no good intent. 
"There are all sorts of things you have to do when times are tight that have negative consequences but you do them for good purposes. To do something for negative purposes that also has negative consequences – that is immoral."

Why you should always vote for yourself

Lord Bonkers explains over on the new Liberator blog.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The final issue of Liberal Democrat News

The final issue of Liberal Democrat News arrived today. It is being replaced by a monthly magazine, Ad Lib. The first issue will be sent to all party members next month and to all Lib Dem News subscribers from January.

It is sad to see a title close, particularly when you have been writing for it for so long and when, if you add in the old Liberal News, it has been running for 66 years.

Still, I get a thank you and an anecdote on the last page:
I learnt a lot about journalism and what editors look for through writing for Lib Dem News – first for David Boyle and then for Deirdre Razzall. 
After sending in one of my early pieces I phoned the office (as nervous contributors do) to make sure it had been received. David said it had. 
“Sorry it wasn’t better,” I said, because I was a little disappointed with the way it had turned out. 
“Oh no,” David replied, “it was just the right length.”

Lord Bonkers' Diary: "Beardies, weirdies, beardy-weirdies, weirdy-beardies"

A second day with Rutland's most popular fictional peer. This time thanks - or apologies - are due to David Nobbs.


In Brighton for the Conference of the Liberal Democrats, whom should I bump into but our own Nick Clegg? He kindly asks me to look at his main speech of the week: “I've already given the press most of it, but you may be able to tweak the odd line.”

Well, I have tweaked for every Liberal leader since Campbell-Bannerman, so I settle down in the lobby of the Grand with a pot of orange pekoe and a red ballpoint. And this is what I read:

“We are not the party for you. You know who you are: Socialists, Social Democrats, Social Liberals, social anythings, beardies, weirdies, beardy-weirdies, weirdy-beardies, flat-earthers, Friends of the Earth, friends of Vince Cable, Little Englanders, Len McCluskey, tree-huggers, bunny-huggers, beard and sandals, beards and scandals, Polly Toynbee, polly wolly doodle all the day. If people want just protest politics, if they want a sort of ‘I don’t like the world let me get off’ party, they’ve got one. They can all fuck off and join the Labour Party.”

The waitress has to replace the tablecloth after I lose a snootful of the pekoe, but she is Terribly Nice about it. The manuscript is a little damp, but I score through the passage and substitute some lines of my own about our becoming a party of government before hurrying off to return it to Clegg.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary:

Thanks to Jill Hope and how UKIP may help the Lib Dems

When she agreed to fight a by-election in Corby - a Conservative/Labour marginal with little history of Liberal Democrat activity - Jill Hope knew she was undertaking a thankless task. We owe her our thanks for doing so.

Like Neil Monnery I suspect UKIP's showing in Corby is encouraging for the Liberal Democrats. Neil believes UKIP will split the Conservative vote next time.

Maybe the mechanism is more subtle than that. The better UKIP does, the more large parts of David Cameron's party will be convinced that he failed to win the last election because he was too moderate.

So there will be pressure on Cameron to move to the right, and if he gives in to it this will open up the sensible middle ground for the Liberal Democrats to occupy.

Even if, as is quite possible, UKIP's support fades as the next general election approaches, they will have helped the Lib Dems in the years before then.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The end of the Ritz, Market Harborough

To think I watched Jaws and Monty Python and the Holy Grail here.

Photo by @solarpilchard - whom everyone interested in Market Harborough should follow.

Paddy Ashdown: Afghanistan is not worth the life of one more British soldier

PoliticsHome has the front page of tomorrow's issue of The Times.

The lead story trails an article inside in which Paddy Ashdown says the war in Afghanistan is lost and not worth the life of one more British soldier.

I find it hard to disagree with this - it is been hard for some years now to discern what we are attempting to achieve in Afghanistan.

Paddy's article will be find behind The Times' paywall. In any case, thanks to the Guardian core readership strategy, I find myself buying The Times more and more these days.

Six of the Best 295

"We need to broaden our idea of what constitutes proper evidence, and develop an understanding of where good old-fashioned human judgement and instinct is more appropriate, given its speed, responsiveness and ability to handle both complexity and individual variations." Thinking Liberal gets it exactly right in questioning the enthusiasm for 'evidence-based policy'.

Benedict Carey in the New York Times discusses the role that psychologists played in the campaign for the re-election of President Obama.

Sociological Images has a gallery of vintage postcards opposing women's suffrage.

Caroline Shenton tracks down some souvenirs made from the ruins of the old Palace of Westminster, which burnt down in 1834.

"Austin was a spiritualist, and a member of a Cardiff church, and ran séances (for which he charged). It was to one of these séances that Emily Libby headed in September 1942, and which led to a criminal case against Austin for 'unlawfully using subtle means by pretending to hold communication with deceased spirits to deceive and impose upon certain of his majesty’s subjects'." Dr Alun Withey writes about his wicked Uncle Austin.

This Was Leicestershire looks at Leicester Castle.

Headline of the Day features Cyril Smith and MI5

A clear win for the Daily Telegraph:

Sir Cyril Smith sex abuse dossier seized by MI5

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The King of the Badgers

The new issue of Liberator is with subscribers, so it is time to spend another week in the company of Rutland's most celebrated fictional peer.

I suspect apologies are due to T.H. White, the Revd J.P. Martin and even Kenneth Grahame.

Oh, and Liberator has a blog now.



When in need of wise counsel, I take myself off to a woody bank beneath the Ornamental Arch I erected to mark the victory of Wallace Lawler in the Birmingham Ladywood by-election of 1969 and rap on a door half obscured by foliage. There, after much shuffling and snuffling from within, I am admitted to a dark hallway and then to the cosiest of studies. On its walls are shelves housing the works of our finest poets, a cricket bat signed by the 1948 Australians, an election address from Sir Alan Beith, an oar used by the victorious Oxford eight of 1954, a set of cigarette cards depicting the Presidents of the Liberal Party and a framed photograph of Dorothy Tutin.

There, before a crackling fire, I enjoy a modest supper of toasted cheese or angels on horseback and more than one tumbler of Auld Johnston (that most celebrated of Highland malts) while setting the world to rights with the King of the Badgers. This evening, I am sorry to learn that one of his granddaughters is unwell and is to be sent to a sanatorium in Switzerland to recover if the Wise Woman of Wing’s remedies prove ineffective.

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Ripon & District Light Railway

So there I was walking the towpath of the Ripon Canal when, on the far bank, I saw what looked like the remains of an industrial railway.

I continued to the next bridge, crossed it and then worked my way back through some modern housing to find what I had seen. It turned out to be the Ripon & District Light Railway.

As its website says:
The permanent 2' gauge railway uses Hudson track and rolling stock and Lister locomotives. Its purpose is to move maintenance materials around a small development of houses and light industrial workshops - and to play trains!
The owner, Neill Clayton, was friendly and explained that all the track and rolling stock had been purchased elsewhere and brought to the site. He showed me some of the treasures in his collection - the wagons I saw across the canal had come from an old sewage farm railway system.

And the name? Neill's website explains:
Ripon & District Light Railway draws its name and inspiration from a 1904 proposal to build a 2'6" gauge line linking Fountains Abbey and Ripon town with the North Eastern Railway's main-line station at Ripon. 
The project was welcomed by the City Council - until they realised how much disruption would be caused by laying track through medieval streets. The North Eastern Railway played on these fears - and won approval for their novel 'motor bus' service as an alternative.

Compton for England

An article in an unexpected place - the New York Times - on the significance Nick Compton's forthcoming England debut:
After 55 years, one of the most evocative names in cricket is set to return to the highest level of the game as England begins its series of four five-day test matches against India. 
Nick Compton, a 29-year-old batsman, will be following in the footsteps of his late grandfather, Denis Compton. It is as if a DiMaggio or Mantle were once more to take the field for the New York Yankees.

Chris Heaton-Harris shows David Cameron's weakness

The Conservative leadership has already announced that Chris Heaton-Harris will not face disciplinary action after apparently encouraging James Delingpole to stand as an anti-wind-farm candidate in the Corby by-election.

Which is odd, particularly when you learn that Heaton-Harris is the agent for the Tory candidate Christine Emmett.

This failure to act looks like a reflection of David Cameron's weakness as Conservative leader. He is now openly despised by the party's right wing and dare not move against one of their favourite sons. The Guardian, incidentally, is also suggesting that the energy minister John Hayes may have had knowledge of the plan. Certainly, wind farms stands second only to Europe in the list of the Tory right's obsessions.

Heaton-Harris, of course, did not want to see Delingpole stand and take votes of his Conservative candidate/ He wanted him to say he was standing, make the issue of wind farms a prominent one in the campaign and, having done so, pull out.

This confirms a couple of things.

The first is that the Conservative right still thinks that its pet causes are shared by the electorate as a whole. Wind farms are controversial (though not, I suspect, as controversial as the Tory right believes), but they certainly stand lower in the list of voters' concerns than the economy.

And even where voters share the Tory right's view, the strength with which the right holds that view can make them seem a little strange and put voters off. This was the real problem with the party banging on about Europe under Cameron's predecessors.

The second is that Heaton-Harris and his allies are not as clever as they think (which is very clever indeed). I am reminded of Grant Shapps and his problems with the internet.

The irony of all this is that Heaton-Harris's candidate Christine Emmett lives in a windmill.