Thursday, February 28, 2013

Jose Mourinho to return to Chelsea

Rafael Benitez will be in charge for Saturday’s game against West Brom but Chelsea are considering replacing him with Avram Grant until the end of the season before bringing Jose Mourinho back as manager in the summer.
The Evening Standard sounds remarkably confident of its "exclusive".

Will it happen? I hope so, though it is hard to see the Special One being as successful as he was the first time round.

Ian Hislop has been editing Private Eye for too long

Who says so? I'm talking about the Eye's former editor Richard Ingrams, stoopid!!!??!!

From the Press Gazette:
Private Eye co-founder Richard Ingrams believes Ian Hislop has been editor of the magazine for “too long”. 
This was Ingrams’ response when asked how long his successor had been in the editor’s chair at the title. 
Ingrams, who appointed a 26-year-old Hislop as editor when he stepped down in 1986, told Press Gazette he admires what Hislop has done at the Eye but that he is a “great believer in retiring”. 
“I think the danger of him staying on is that the options become less and less and less,” he said. “He should at least now be thinking, ‘who is going to take over?’”... 
He also suggested that it might be time for Hislop to start looking elsewhere on television.“I can’t understand how anyone can go on being on Have I Got News For You for so long,” he said. 
“I would be sick of it after about ten years. I’d get up and do something else. But he can do it. He can remain fresh on that. I couldn’t do it at all.”
Is he right?

The Press Gazette ends this story by telling us that "Private Eye’s average fortnightly sale of 224,796 makes it the UK’s most popular news magazine". So Hislop must be doing something right, even if you do wonder how many rival news magazines there are these days.

I once wrote that:
Ian Hislop took over a magazine that reflected the prejudices of its previous editor. Richard Ingrams was essentially a Tory Anarchist with a few left-wing notions that he got from his great friend Paul Foot thrown in. ...
The Ingrams mixture worked and produced a popular magazine, though quite why it worked was always a bit of a mystery. It was certainly a mystery to Hislop, who seems wary of tampering with the Ingrams formula. with the result that Private Eye now appears increasingly, er, formulaic.
Perhaps part of the Eye's appeal is precisely that it is the same every time. But while I still value its reporting and gossip, its humour pages do seem stale. Perhaps it needs some new contributors, if not a new editor?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Museum Without Walls by Jonathan Meades

Owen Hatherley reviews Museum Without Walls, Jonathan Meades' new book, in the London Review of Books:
Meades’s work is so generous, so rich and so obviously contentious that to mount a critique of it seems churlish. No one else could combine all of the aesthetic and political positions he flexes so aggressively. 
The enemy of populism and the taste of the ‘masses’ who nonetheless shows a scrupulous respect for their intelligence; the magic-mushroom-guzzling rationalist; the passionate hater of Blair and Blairism who has a place in his heart for the Fabians and the white heat of technology; the enthusiast for Portsmouth’s Tricorn Centre (above), demolished in 2004, who dotes on Lutyens; the proud insulter of Islam who loves the multiculturalism of Birmingham; the critic of colonialism who relates the horrors of the Opium Wars and the Highland Clearances, then pauses to excoriate De Gaulle for betraying the pieds noirs; the sympathiser with the nouveaux philosophes who quotes Trotsky approvingly but pictures the ‘future mass murderer Lenin’ pottering around Letchworth. 
Above all, Meades is a scourge of all forms of belief, faith and ideology, of everything that he regards as childish and credulous – yet the architecture that shakes him most is created by people crazed with dogmatism and righteous fervour. 
Whether or not he is aware of the contradiction, it charges his prose as he grapples with his own horror and fascination: at Victoriana, at the Arts and Crafts movement, at modernism, at Stalinist architecture – most of which he loves, and most of which are based on values, theories and opinions he finds either silly or repugnant.

Will the UK stay in UKIP?

UKIP does not only stand for British withdrawal from the European Union. At the last election it had a whole manifesto of policies, including:
  • reinstate grammar schools
  • increase defence spending by 40 per cent
  • bring back Pullman trains
  • reinstate the Radio 4 theme 
To these it has recently added opposition to equal marriage.

These policies have no logical connection. Just because you support British withdrawal from the EU there is no reason you cannot support comprehensive schools, gay marriage or contemporary rolling stock design.

What unites them, of course, is that they are issues that unite angry white men - particularly angry white men of a certain age.

But there is another issue that appeals to this demographic.

Unionism used to be the Conservatives' trump card. It won them a majority of Scottish MPs in the 1950s, which is something that it is near impossible to believe now.

Not only is Unionism less effective as a policy: the Conservatives are not that keen on it any more, as I once observed when looking at King's Lynn Conservative Club.

And if you ask an angry white man of a certain age what he thinks of the Union he will most likely tell you (if he lives in Southern England, as so many of them do) that he is fed up with paying for services in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales that are better than the ones he can use himself.

If the Scots want independence, he will likely continue, let them have it and see how much they enjoy paying the full cost of those services themselves.

Which makes me wonder how long the UK will stay in UKIP. Their target voters are not keen on it at all.

Good news for Tim Montgomerie, but perhaps not David Cameron

The news broke today that Tim Montgomerie, the editor of Conservative Home, is to become the new comment editor of The Times. Congratulations to him, and it is always good to see someone from the blogosphere get on in the mainstream media.

But I wonder if it is such good news for David Cameron.

Montgomerie is one of the more eloquent holders of the view that the way for the Conservatives to gain a majority is to move to the right and concentrate on issues like spending cuts, immigration and Europe.

It is not for nothing that Conservative Home is known to some as the Continuity IDS.

If Montgomerie's appointment is a sign The Times is to embrace this agenda more tightly then that is bad news for David Cameron.

Because Cameron has grasped that the way for the Conservatives to win that majority is for them at least to appear more moderate than they did in the decade after John Major's premiership. And if another newspaper is pushing him in the opposite direction then his task will become that much harder.

I am reminded of a story in one of Simon Walters' books. It is to the effect that Charles Moore reflected ruefully when he left the Daily Telegraph in 2003 that, throughout the eight years of his editorship, the Conservative Party had been unelectable. Walters remarks that it did not occur to him that his editorial policies may have been one of the reasons for that unelectability.

David Cameron must hope that no one finds it necessary to make the same remark on the day, far distant, when Tim Montgomerie leaves The Times.

Watching the self-appointed detectives

Because I have known Chris Rennard for almost 30 years, and because I have not been well for the past few days, I have held off commenting on the story of the week.

The nearest I have come to it is this piece by Lord Bonkers on Liberator's blog.

I am often surprised by the old boy's knowledge of modern culture, but as my readers are so young these days I had better explain that his title is a reference to this record...

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

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Photo borrowed from
The Cheese Grater
Viewing the Rennard crisis from afar, Living on Words Alone points to a wider problem in the Liberal Democrats: "We really do not value the input of our members and supporters properly. Most local parties only use people as delivery or canvassing machines, a small clique carry on running the local party and new ideas are frowned upon. Nationally the party makes almost no effort to engage with the membership - other than to ask them for cash."

Cathy Newman, who broke the Chris Rennard story on Channel 4 News, reminds us in the Daily Telegraph that it’s not just the Lib Dems who have a problem with sexism: it’s endemic at Westminster.

"I would so love to throw myself into wholehearted support for this concept, as most of my fellow writers in this magazine do, but every time we get more detail about the project, my scepticism, born of my training at university in economics, simply increases." Christian Wolmar is not impressed by the plans for HS2.

Lisa Belkin on Huffington Post argues that the ban on homeworking imposed by the new chief executive of Yahoo! is the exact opposite of what she should be doing.

Love London Council Housing visits the Carpenters Estate in Stratford, close to the London 2012 Olympic park. It's residents are being moved out so it can make way for a new university campus. As one residents says:  "We've been living next to a construction site for the last six years, and now just when we're about to get all the benefits of that - living next to a new royal park - we're being forced to move out."

Westminster Cathedral's part in Hitchock's 1940 thriller "Foreign Correspondent" is celebrated by Solomon, I Have Surpassed Thee.

Headline of the Day

Well done, LabourList:

Why Labour probably won’t win in Eastleigh

Monday, February 25, 2013

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"No one cares about the real issues, they just want to re-enact scenes from 'The Thick of it'. Dirty tricks are undermining the very basis of our democracy." Cicero's Songs mourns the state of British politics.

The Real Blog looks at the fallacies that lay behind Labour's mania for regulation: "The coalition has still not really understood the mistakes of the public service and regulation system they inherited. There is still no narrative to explain what went wrong - and explain it to the public or grasp the nettle to do something about it. Because they haven't grasped it and, in some ways, are still making the same mistakes (shared back offices, digital by default, payment by results)."

The battle to reclaim Chesterfield starts here, says the town's new Lib Dem PPC Julia Cambridge.

The work of the British group Playing Out is praised by The Atlantic Cities: "This is the point we have come to in much of the developed world: The freedom for a child to walk out the door and skip rope or play catch is something that has to be scheduled, organized, and officially permitted."

"And yes, it is a sad moment. Up till now I've put a brave face on it, but even so, it’s still sad". Francis Pryor on the broadcast of his final Time Team episode.

The Daily Beast reviews a book that explains how Manhattan's gridiron street plan was established early in the 19th century.

Headline of the Day

A win for the Daily Telegraph:

Otters' shrinking genitals cause fertility scare

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Barbican, 1969

From the City of London website:
During the Second World War the City suffered appalling damage and loss of life. The Cripplegate area was virtually demolished and by 1951 the resident population stood at only 48, with 5,324 in the whole City. Discussions started in 1952 on what sort of redevelopment should take place on the devastated site. Many people involved with the City of London voiced their concern at the dwindling number of residents living within the Square Mile and plans were considered for returning a stable population. A report was presented and the Court of Common Council, of 19 September 1957, accepted as a matter of policy that there should be a genuine residential area created on the site.

Peril on the Iron Road by Bruce Carter

One of the many good things about Boxmoor Primary School - in my day it was housed in a long-demolished Victorian building - was that we got read stories at the end of the day.

And one of these was set locally. Bruce Carter's Peril on the Iron Road told of the building of the London to Birmingham Railway through Hertfordshire and the attempts of a local aristocrat to prevent it. I wonder if a children's book written today (Peril on the Iron Road dates from 1953) would be quite so firmly on the side of Progress?

A few years ago I bought a copy of it through eBay - recreating your childhood in this way used to take hard work and a lot of luck, but today you can do it at the click of a button.

It turned out to be a workmanlike children's book, but the structure is a little odd. What I remembered as the climax appears halfway through the tale and we then skip forward a few weeks for the rest of it.

But who was Bruce Carter? It sounds like a pen name, but my occasional attempts to find out who he was never got far.

Until this week. The novelist Deborah Moggach has been on the radio a lot recently because she has a book coming out. After hearing one of her interviews I looked her up on the net and found that she is the daughter of Richard and Charlotte Hough.

Richard Hough turns out to be a naval historian who, in the words of his daughter, "also wrote a few of the old potboilers because he had to keep us all going". And if you look at his Wikipedia entry you will see he wrote those books under the name Bruce Carter.

"Peril on the Iron Road" is illustrated by Charlotte Hough, which would have been a much bigger clue to Bruce Carter's identity if I had thought to follow it up. And through the book I discovered a remarkable story about her. At the ago of 60 she was imprisoned for helping a desperately ill friend commit suicide.

Deborah Moggach speaks about this in a Daily Telegraph interview from 2010:
Last night, Moggach talked publicly about the ensuing family scandal for the first time for 25 years. The Old Bailey trial, the gossip, the furore. The clanging of doors as her mother, sentenced to nine months for attempted murder, "disappeared into the underworld, like Orpheus." Then the relentless bullying by inmates. 
She believes her mother acted bravely, out of deep compassion, and that the mental torment she suffered during her incarceration – revealed in a sequence of mordant letters – points up the inhumanity of the law, then as now, towards so-called mercy killings.
It is hard to disagree with that.

George Osborne is hiding behind Danny Alexander

I have just heard Danny Alexander interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme about the downgrading of Britain's credit rating.

It was not a disaster - there was so little time and Evan Davis has such respect for his own opinions that Danny was hardly allowed to say a word. Besides, he is a big boy these days and can look after himself.

But where was George Osborne?

If he is afraid to face the press then he lacks the authority to be Chancellor of the Exchequer. If he carries on like this he will become a liability and David Cameron will be looking for a new Chancellor.

Incidentally, Labour should not be gloating over this downgrading. It reflects a view on the international bond market, to which the last Labour government put us in such deep hock, that austerity has not been implemented fast or far enough.

Friday, February 22, 2013

UKIP MEP Marta Andreasen switches to the Conservatives

From ITV News:
"Our party is the only one on the up," the UKIP leader Nigel Farage told our cameras in Eastleigh today. 
And yet by the end of the day, UKIP was absorbing the news that one of its most prominent MEPs had defected to the Conservatives 
Marta Andreasen is not a name well known to those outside Westminster or Brussels. But if you were to name a UKIP member other than Mr Farage - she might be the one you would choose. 
It reinforces UKIP's main problem: that the party is nothing without Nigel Farage.

When Swindon Town and Don Rogers won the cup

One of my early football memories is of Division 1 Arsenal being beaten in the League Cup final by Division 3 Swindon Town - largely thanks to Don Rogers, the George Best of Wiltshire.

There was a touching piece about this match in this morning's Guardian, occasioned by Sunday's final between Swansea City and Bradford City:
It was almost 44 years ago, yet the passage of time has done nothing to erode the memories Don Rogers and John Trollope have of the part they played in one of football's greatest giant-killings. From the surreal sight of hoof marks on the Wembley pitch to the abiding image of Bob Wilson being left hopelessly exposed in the dying seconds, pictures are ingrained in the mind from the day that Swindon Town – then a Third Division side – defeated Arsenal to win the League Cup.
It turns out that Rogers, whom we last saw scoring the Goal of the Season in 1973, now runs a sports shop in Swindon.

Police steal the identities of dead children to wrong live ones

I know we all suffer from outrage fatigue, but if you are not angered by the allegations in this Guardian story there is something wrong.

A police officer steals the identity of a dead child and uses it to infiltrate perfectly legal pressure groups. While undercover he forms two relationships, fathers a child and then walks away from his responsibilities to enjoy a successful career.

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The Liberal Democrats have not responded adequately to the allegations against Chris Rennard, argues Stephen Tall on Liberal Democrat Voice.

While Niall Paterson on Sky News is not impressed by the obstructive way the BBC has set about releasing the findings of the Pollard Review: "The fact is, media organisations tend to be pretty media-savvy. When you see the BBC behaving like this, it's difficult to argue anything other than that they knew exactly what they were doing."

Joint Public Issues Team says the Liberal Democrats should show their true colours on the Energy Bill

Gavin Kelly, on the New Statesman site, asks if we have seen the end of pledge-card politics. Let's hope we have.

English PEN marks the first anniversary of Pussy Riot's demonstration in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow.

"The Crane Corridor is a 5km-long linear corridor of open space around the River Crane, extending from the east of Heathrow Airport, though Hounslow Heath to Twickenham within the Greater London area. As a Site of Metropolitan Importance, a unique assemblage of dry and wet habitats (i.e. woodland, scrubland, reedbed, meadow and ponds) borders it on both sides, however it is predominantly a wooded corridor." Creative about the Environment on an important wildlife oasis in London.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Is the Guardian biased in favour of Spurs?

Why Maria Hutchings missed the BBC Eastleigh hustings

The Conservatives' deeply unimpressive campaign in the Eastleigh by-election continued in its accustomed style today as their candidate, Maria Hutchings, failed to attend a hustings organised and broadcast by BBC Radio Five Live.

Her excuse, as Michael Deacon reminds us in the Daily Telegraph, was that she had to accompany David Cameron on a visit to the Prysmian Cables & Systems factory in the town.

Cameron, says Deacon, said that she simply hadn’t had time to take part in the hustings because of the factory visit.

But it seems that the same journalists from the BBC had no trouble in reporting both events.

Maria Hutchings herself said she had to come to the factory early to "prepare and come and speak to the people at this business".

So guess how long her speech at Prysmian Cables & Systems lasted.

One minute, 57 seconds.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Steam through Wing Tunnel, Rutland

A nice little clip of a steam working through Rutland's Wing Tunnel between Corby and Manton Junction.

That's Wing as in the Wise Woman of Wing and the turf maze, of course.

Headline of the Day

A win for the Grimsby Telegraph:
Noisy flatulence interrupts court session in Grimsby

Those Vicky Pryce jury questions in full

Love and Garbage has the first draft of the Vicky Pryce trial jury's questions:
1. Can we rely on the readings of chicken entrails by the juror who sacrificed a chicken on the third day of deliberations? 
2. If we believe that the accused had an identical twin who is wholly evil and may have committed the crime can we use this in reaching our decision? 
3. Is the episode of The Tweenies featuring Max dressed as Jimmy Savile something we can take into account in reaching our decision?
Read all 12 on Love and Garbage.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Keith Vaz sings Grease

I use the word "sings" in its loosest sense. The Sandy to his Danny is Barbara Potter, of whom you have read here before.

I liked the comment on the original Leicester Mercury story that suggests we have found the new Arthur Mullard and Hylda Baker.

Why MPs should not job share

There is a danger, as a traditionally minded Liberal, of saying that you are in favour of more women MPs but finding yourself opposed to any measure proposed of bringing that end about.

That said, I do worry about the idea of two people sharing the role of constituency MP, as suggested in a proposal to be put to the spring Lib Dem Conference.

I worry because I fear it would further undermine the basic premise of representative democracy - that is that an MP uses his or her judgement on the issues that come before parliament and is judged by constituents at the next election.

Yes, that view ignores the overwhelming importance of parties, but I would not to see it undermined any further.

We seem now to be governed by politicians who regard elections, not as a chance to justify the way they have voted over the past few years, but as an occasional hazard thrown up by the profession they have chosen.

So all parties have found Europe too hot to handle in general elections and instead pushed the issue away, saying it will one day be the subject of a referendum - a referendum that ever seems to take place.

And at the last election there was something approaching a conspiracy between the parties that saw no one admitting just how severe were the economic problems we face.

Having people sharing the role of MP risks accepting the view that they party politicians are more or less interchangeable. The way that British MEPs think themselves justified in resigning their seats and passing them on to someone else on their party's list halfway through a term suggests it is already accepted in those circles.

And what happens if the two people sharing disagree on an issue? I suspect the answer would be that they would both abstain, which would do nothing for out politics either.

Perhaps this is too pessimistic. There are plenty of MPs who are not smooth professional politicians or party animals. In fact I suspect this parliament has set some sort of record for rebellions against the whip, thought that is probably a function of the unique circumstances of the coalition.

But I still cling to Edmund Burke's view of the role of an MP:
Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
I fear that job sharing would accelerate the retreat from that approach. Perhaps our problem is precisely that we now see being an MP as a 'job'.

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Photo by Sabine J Hutchinson
Mike Crockart, Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West, has started holding constituency surgeries via Skype, reports Caron's Musings.

"Among African-Americans who have grown up during the era of mass incarceration, one in four has had a parent locked up at some point during childhood. For black men in their 20s and early 30s without a high school diploma, the incarceration rate is so high — nearly 40 percent nationwide — that they’re more likely to be behind bars than to have a job." John Tierney writes for the New York Times on mass incarceration as a cause of poverty.

David Corn on Mother Jones looks at a book offering new evidence that George W. Bush scammed his nation into war in Iraq.

Mark Cole tells the tragic story of his ancestor Mary Prout.

"Perhaps the most magnificent timber-framed building in Ludlow is The Feathers, built in 1619 as a house for a Welsh lawyer, Rees Jones, and as dazzling a display of conspicuous wealth as you'll see on an English street. The building became an inn in about 1670." English Buildings looks at a famous Shropshire establishment.

Francesco Mugnai shows us more than 30 of the most beautiful abandoned places and modern ruins he has ever seen.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Trains to Keswick (1972)

A film documenting the last days of the railway line from Penrith to Keswick.

You can find a history of the line on the Cockermouth website and there is a local group campaigning to reopen it.

Richard Briers, Tom Good and the rise of Margaret Thatcher

For all his ability as a classical actor, Richard Briers (whom we are mourning today) will be best remembered for his roles in situation comedies and for one in particular.

Yet Briers was not a great admirer of Tom Good. He told the Daily Mail a few years ago:
"I thought Tom was a very selfish person. Poor old Barbara never got any dresses, and presents, any treats. He was so obsessed. It was always about him...his ideas, his plans." 
And he said that Tom's green credentials were seriously undermined by the way he relied on wealthy neighbours Margo and Jerry when things went wrong. 
He added: "Tom had a parasitical side to his nature. He would always be popping over to Margo's for a handout."
And though The Good Life appears to have established itself as a timeless classic, it has its roots in a very particular time and place: Britain after the oil crisis of 1973 and before the advent of Margaret Thatcher.

In my day job I have learnt the hold that television comedies have on the popular imagination. We once got the same piece of psychology research reported a couple of times in the same month just because it gave the papers an excuse to publish a picture of Harry Enfield's Kevin the teenager.

Yet you rarely see these comedies used as a vehicle for social or political analysis. One exception to this rule is The Age of Insecurity by Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson from 1998 - a work I admire, and not just because it is the first book whose index I appeared in.

Here they are on Fawlty Towers as a metaphor for Britain in the 1970s:
riven by conflict, indifferent to the needs of customers, held back by shoddy workmanship. Interestingly, perhaps, the only person who could make the hotel work was Basil's gorgon of a wife, Sybil. Like another woman coming to prominence in the mid-1970s, she was middle-aged, blonde, shrill, philistine and utterly ruthless.
And here is their take on The Good Life:
The Good Life showed that even those who would have considered themselves to be part of the progressive wing of the bourgeoisie, the Guardian-reading supports of the Welfare State and redistribution, had lost faith in the ability of the Government to deliver. ... 
The edge to The Good Life's humour was provided by the contrast between Tom and Barbara and their next-door neighbours, Jerry and Margo, who remained committed to their traditional bourgeois values of class superiority, keeping up appearances, the quest for promotion, comfort, security. 
The sympathy of the viewer was intended to be with Tom and Barbara as they mucked out the pigs and milked the goats, but many would have instinctively felt for Jerry and Margo as their suburban lifestyle was squeezed between the nutcracker jaws of high inflation and militant trade unionism.
They go on to suggest that The Good Life is the one classic sitcom from the 1970s that could be transplanted to 1998. I am not so sure about that: the seventies had power cuts and retired generals raising private armies, but the nineties were tame by comparison.

And it is the differences that Elliott and Atkinson point to themselves that are more striking. Tom and Barbara, they say, would be downshifters who had made their money and were now intent on 'finding themselves'. And Jerry and Margo?
The new Jerry and Margo would be much like the old Jerry and Margo, but with rather more reason to be worried. In the 1970s there was really not much threat to Jerry's comfortable perch on the corporate ladder ... But in the 1990s he would be forever looking over his shoulder to see whether the management consultants called in by his new Japanese or American owners were about to downsize him.
As to Tom Good's ideas, Davie Philip once suggested in Scottish Left Review that they were based on the writings of John Seymour, "the father of self-sufficiency":
Surprisingly John once told me that he was actually wrong about self-sufficiency. On a visit to his small-holding in Wexford, John shared with me his conclusion that it would be too difficult to sustain the noble effort of living off-grid and providing for all your own needs on your own land. Self sufficiency wasn’t enough. His new thinking was co-sufficiency, self-reliant local communities that could provide the social relationships essential for facing an uncertain future. Seymour predicted that we would need strong connected communities that could work together to meet their needs and make the transition to a post-industrial economy not dependent on fossil fuel. 
If Tom and Margo of The Good Life were striving to be self-sufficient now, they would probably have started a community garden or joined their local Transition group and be engaged in the building of food and energy security with their neighbours. That’s The Good Life 2.0, a community approach to building local resilience because, as Richard Heinberg writes in his book ‘Powerdown’, “personal survival depends on community survival”.
I think Richard Briers was right: Tom Good would have been too selfish for The Good Life 2.0.

And I don't think Tom and Margo would ever have worked, even though a latter-day Margo would surely be keen on organic food.

Jerry and Barbara would have been a different matter. One of the show's strengths was that you could see he fancied her something rotten, even though nothing was ever said. I think Barbara should have run off with him.

But Richard Briers was not Tom Good. and it is the actor not the character whom we are mourning tonight.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

"Politicians: Only in it for themselves!" Leicester, 7 March

Unlock Democracy Leicestershire is holding a a public meeting on the state of politics at the Secular Hall in Leicester on Thursday 7 March.

Held under the title "Politicians: Only in it for themselves!" it will feature a panel comprising:
  • Jon Ashworth MP
  • Andrew Bridgen MP
  • Professor Steven Fielding
  • Roger Helmer MEP
So no Liberal Democrat then (unless I have misjudged the politics of the admirable Steven Fielding).

Still, the organisers say the audience will get the chance to contribute and promise tea and biscuits.

You can read more about the event on the Unlock Democracy website. And more about Leicester Secular Hall on the Leicester Secular Society site.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Leicester ghost sign

Lembit Opik plotting to oust Nick Clegg, says the Mirror

From the Daily Mirror website this afternoon:
Former I’m a Celebrity star Lembit Opik is behind a plot to topple his Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg. 
The ex-MP delivered a motion to party bosses to make it easier to trigger a leadership fight. 
The move must now be voted on at the spring party conference in Brighton in March – one week after the Eastleigh by-election.
The report goes on to explain that under the current system it takes 75 local parties have to call a leadership contest, the Opik amendment, if passed, would mean it would take only 10 delegates.

The Mirror goes on to say:
Mr Clegg is said to be furious Mr Opik’s move poses such a serious threat to his position.
But that is obviously nonsense.

Whatever your view on how easy it should be to trigger a leadership election, I doubt that Nick is furious. Lembit, through his antics, contrived to lose what is historically our safest seats at the last election. So any move made in his name will have far less chance of succeeding than it otherwise would - see the results of the  contest to find the last Lib Dem London mayoral candidate if you doubt this.

I therefore suspect that Nick is rather relaxed about the Opik amendment - which, incidentally, sounds like the title of a thriller from the 1970s.

Ken 'Snakehips' Johnson and his West Indian Orchestra: I'm in Love

I enjoyed the Culture Show special on Black British swing musicians of the 1930s yesterday evening. One of the experts taking part said that although their music was clearly influenced by American big bands of the era, there was also a calypso-like influence that came from their Caribbean background. I am not sure, to be honest, that you can detect it in this track, which is the only one by this band I can find on Youtube.

Snakehips Johnson was born in British Guiana and came to Britain at the age of 15, attending Sir William Borlase's Grammar School in Marlow and Edinburgh University.

But he soon became better known as a dancer - you can see him dancing on Youtube - and a band leader. The status he soon gained seems to have owed as much to his looks and entrepreneurial sense as his musical ability.

He had grasped how exciting an all-Black swing band would be in the London of the 1930s (even if one or two of the musicians in the photographs shown on the Culture Show did seem to be subtly blacked up) and soon got the hottest gig in town. His West Indian Orchestra was the house band at the most glittering nightspot in town: the Cafe de Paris.

War came, but the cellar club at the Cafe was so deep that people assumed they would be safe their from the blitz and the show went on.

Until the night of 8 March 1941. A Daily Mail feature tells the story:
That night, the area between Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square was being strafed with bombs. 
But inside the CafĂ© de Paris, West Indian-born band leader Ken Johnson – known as 'Snakehips' because of his silky dancing style – revved up his swing band into the opening bars of the Andrews Sisters' hit, Oh, Johnny, Oh, Johnny, Oh! 
The floor was heaving with couples. Suddenly, there was an immense blue flash. Two bombs had hit the building, hurtled down a ventilation shaft from the roof and exploded right in front of the band. 
Snakehips' head was blown from his shoulders. Dancers' legs were sheered off. The blast, magnified in the confined space, burst the lungs of diners as they sat at their tables and killed them instantly. 
At least 34 staff, guests and band members died that night.
Snakehips Johnson was buried at his old school in Marlow. He was 26.

According to Another Nickel in the Machine one of the first people on the site of this carnage was a special constable by the name of Ballard Berkeley. Years later he was to play the Major in Fawlty Towers.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Jo Swinson promises reform of whistleblowing laws

From tomorrow's Guardian:
Whistleblowing legislation is to be overhauled and a government consultation held to investigate whether the Public Interest Disclosure Act... 1998 is failing to protect those who speak out from being victimised, harassed and even sacked by their employers. 
In a private letter sent on Wednesday to MPs and peers campaigning for the Act to be changed, employment relations minister Jo Swinson promised a series of amendments to the legislation, followed by "a call for evidence" by the government to examine whether the Act is, as campaigners claim, not "fit for purpose".
The report also contains new claims that Sir David Nicholson, the chief executive of the NHS, ignored warnings that patients could die there because managers were being forced to meet unrealistic targets.

Shropshire Hills Shuttles 2013

The timetables for this summer's shuttle bus services in the Shropshire hills have been published. These services will run on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays from 4 May to 29 September. You can find maps and timetables on the Shropshire Hills AONB website.

The Long Mynd and Stiperstones service will run this summer, as will the one (new last year) from Church Stretton to Much Wenlock.

The really good news is that a new service will run from Ludlow via Bromfield, Leintwardine, Brampton Bryan, Bucknell, Knighton and Clun to Bishop’s Castle. I am particularly pleased to see these buses reaching Clun again.

Many of these towns will be familiar to people who grew up reading the children's books of Malcolm Saville. Leintwardine appears in The Secret of the Gorge (1958) as Bringewood Chase.

Saville describes it as follows:
The village of Bringewood Chase, on the borders of Hereford and Shropshire, had been there a long time. The straight road running due north after crossing the river was built above the foundations of one made by the Romas of the use of their legions. The church  a white-walled inn, a tiny post office and a few shops all faced the village street.
I don't suppose there are so many facilities there today, but I hope to visit Leintwardine this summer.

Sir John Lubbock - Eric Avebury's great grandfather

The other day the Guardian interviewed the Liberal Democrat peer Eric Avebury as part of a feature on people who are still working past the ago of 80. In it he said:
On my 80th birthday, I said I am never going to retire and I have stuck to that. It would have been a great disadvantage if I didn't have work. People who don't do anything after a certain age decline – the lack of mental stimulation has a bearing on your physical side too.
And he demonstrated his continuing activity by writing a piece for Liberal Democrat Voice on the plight of gay asylum seekers.

By chance today I came across an article about Sir John Lubbock who, by my calculation, is Eric Avebury's great grandfather. As it says, Lubbock was a banker and a politician, but as it is on the Royal Society site it is most interested in his career as a scientist:
In 1842 Charles Darwin moved in to Down House near to the Lubbock family home of High Elms. Despite his initial disappointment (Lubbock later recalled that when his father came home with the promise of ‘great news,’ he had rather hoped his father was going to announce that he was getting a pony rather than hailing the arrival in the neighbourhood of an eminent scientist), young John soon found a mentor and comrade in his dyspeptic neighbour and became a regular visitor to Down, applying his burgeoning work ethic to the study of natural history and biology.
The Royal Society is holding an event to honour Sir John Lubbock - Avebury's Circle: the Science of John Lubbock FRS (1834-1913) - on 23 March.

Finally a note on names. Sir John Lubbock became the 1st Baron Avebury and Eric Avebury, the 4th Baron Avebury, began life as Eric Lubbock. Under that name he was famous as the winner of the Orpington by-election in 1962.

That was my problem with 18th-century history at school: politicians changed names halfway their careers and unless you could cope with that you were lost. I never did work out where Godolphin had sprung from.

Danny Alexander: We don't need more cuts to the welfare budget

From the Daily Telegraph website this morning:
Further cuts to the welfare budget are not needed, chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander has said. 
The senior Liberal Democrat Cabinet minister said that no more additional savings from the benefits budget were required in the next spending round. 
The comments will be sure to infuriate the Tory right, with some suggesting that defence and policing should be protected in the next spending round.
I wouldn't take too much notice of that last point: the Tory right is permanently infuriated. In fact, being infuriated is the sole reason for its existence.

But this does suggest that the Liberal Democrat leadership appreciates that we must dissociate ourselves from the worst excesses of George Osborne's economic approach.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Don't be beastly. Go to Eastleigh

Restoration plan for Delapre Abbey

Last September I visited Delapre Abbey and the miniature railway in its park.

Today, via the BBC's Northampton pages, comes news of a restoration plan:
Plans for a £3.6m transformation of an 850-year-old abbey in Northampton have been revealed. 
Delapre Abbey could undergo the restoration if the borough council's plans and bid for lottery funding are approved in the summer. 
It is hoped parts of the main abbey would be restored for tours and events, and two stable blocks turned into visitor areas and small business units. 
The work would be completed in phases and should take three years.
No doubt this is for the best, and it would be good to be able to look round the main building. But I liked the slightly ramshackle atmosphere at Delapre and I suggest you visit it before things are improved too much.

The boyhood of Huhne

Comedians do not always tell the truth about their pasts. Think of Stewart Lee and his stories about David Cameron and Richard Hammond. ("Now that story about David Cameron is not true. But I feel what it tells us about David Cameron is.")

But I think Charmian Hughes is telling the truth here:
The Jesuits say 'Give me the boy at seven and I will give you the man'. 
Chris Huhne wasn't seven when I first met him, he was 11. 
It was 1965, I was nine and my family had just moved to London. Chris and his arty lively clever family lived in our new road. When his mother took her children to the Mermaid theatre to see some mime, she took me along too - my first ever theatre visit -and I saw my first comedy film, Peter Sellers' Two Way Stretch, with them as well. While my own mother said I was strange, Mrs Paul Huhne said I was interesting. She and her family were beacons of light and fun in the lonely claustrophobic urban catastrophe that I knew only as South Kensington. 
Like all boys, Chris was an annoying squirt who was sometimes allowed to play 'Julip Horses' with me, his sister and our friend Jessamy. Then one summer hols, now 14 and back from my convent boarding school, I dropped round to his house to find him disconcertingly yet excitingly transformed. It was a different species that opened the familiar door; deep voiced, with shining layered black hair and eyes as brown and round and alive as my guinea pig Truffles'. What's more, he now sported a black beret, broke spontaneously into French at will, had unpredictable fits of piano playing mid-conversation and had become a Communist.
Anyway, Charmian Hughes is appearing in Leicester tomorrow night as part of the Comedy Festival. If you go along you could ask her yourself.

Winston Churchill on committees

You may take the most gallant sailor, the most intrepid airman or the most audacious soldier, put them at a table together - what do you get? The sum of their fears.
We had better award the old boy Quote of the Day while we are at it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Six of the Best 323

"I am not a number: I am
a free dog."
In the face of a renewed attempt by the government (whoever you vote for they get in) to introduce a doggie database, Martin Tod revisits a speech he made to the Liberal Democrat Conference a decade ago "If ID cards are going to be complicated, bureaucratic and expensive for people – why are they not going to be complicated, bureaucratic and expensive for dogs?"

Liberal Democrats against Secret Courts presents more evidence of British complicity in torture.

" I've applied for countless jobs since November, and had no interviews. Most companies don’t even acknowledge receipt of application forms (even the ones that require you to spend hours – sometimes days – answering their endless, open-ended questions), never mind tell me I wasn’t successful. I just deduce it from their silence." MadamJ-Mo on the miserable world of job seeking.

Stumbling and Mumbling is characteristically interesting: "The conservative disposition is a valuable intellectual tradition. It would be a great shame if it were discredited by its association with anti-gay bigotry."

"School shootings were almost unheard of before the SSRIs appeared on the scene. Correlation is not causation but in between this and the next blog post I will be laying out the evidence that antidepressants cause violence up to and including homicide at two lectures in Chicago," says Dr David Healy.

Swindon in the Past Lane visits Coleshill Model Farm.

"Ambridge umbrage" wins Phrase of the Day

It occurs in a Guardian Media Monkey items that tells us the BBC is considering closing down the online message board devoted to The Archers. Some suspect this move is being mulled because recent storylines have not gone down well with those who post there.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Search for King Richard III: The Genealogy

Write a guest post for Liberal England

This is a reminder that I welcome guest posts on Liberal England. So far 31 have appeared.

And as you can see from the list of the 10 most recent guest posts below, I am happy to consider a wide range of subjects.

If you would like to write a guest post for Liberal England yourself, please send me an email so we can discuss your idea.

  • Blogging for happiness - Ellen Arnison
  • An economic liberal case for a consumer-driven economy - Matt Burrows
  • John Locke and Wrington - Lisa Harding
  • Spelling out the reason to vote Liberal Democrat - Andrew Brown
  • Tommie Smith - The man behind the image - Matt Roebuck
  • Don’t make the dull middle class go to university - Dr Anonymous
  • House of Lords reform in a 1950s whodunnit - Charles Beaumont
  • The difficulty of getting started in farming - Joshua Metcalfe
  • Why the British say no to new builds - Amy Fowler
  • The uncertain politics of railway preservation - Joseph Boughey
  • Monday, February 11, 2013

    The Search for King Richard III: Injuries to the Remains

    Jiggers Bank wins Road of the Day

    From the BBC News Shropshire pages:
    A Shropshire road which was closed in November by rockfalls is expected to remain shut for three more months. 
    An emergency closure of Jiggers Bank in Ironbridge took place after rocks fell onto the road following heavy rain. It was followed by further rock falls. 
    Telford and Wrekin Council said the "scale of works" needed to stabilise the area meant Jiggers Bank would be closed until June.
    It will be little comfort to those affected, but Jiggers Bank has won this blog's prestigious Road of the Day award.

    Now read and watch more about subsidence in the Ironbridge Gorge. (That invitation is perhaps more enticing than at first it appears.)

    Drone strikes: Naming the Dead

    The Bureau of Investigative Journalism is seeking to identify as many as possible of those killed in US covert drone strikes in Pakistan, whether civilian or militant.

    Chris Woods, the leader of the Bureau's team for this project, says:
    "At the moment we know the names of fewer than 20 per cent of those killed in Pakistan’s tribal areas. At least 2,000 deaths still remain publicly anonymous."
    "Our aim will be to identify by name many hundreds more of those killed. A significant number of those identities will be known by local communities, by US and Pakistani officials, and by militant groups. We hope to convince them to share that information."
    I am reminded of the war in Iraq, where the British and US governments refused to publish figures for civilian deaths and the task had to be undertaken by volunteers.

    You can read more about Naming the Dead on the Bureau of Investigative Journalism website.

    Pope resigns - shock new development!

    Sunday, February 10, 2013

    The Search for King Richard III: Identifying the Remains

    Clegg quits

    From BBC News:
    Nick Clegg has said he is "off the ciggies", but has admitted he fears he may take up smoking again. 
    The deputy prime minister, who has tried several times previously to give up the habit, told Sky News he could not "make bold predictions" about staying the course.
    Perhaps that is wise. Nick also gave up smoking in November 2011.

    Six of the Best 322

    A View from Ham Common is surprised by the Conservatives' choice of candidate for the Eastleigh by-election: "surely the Tories best chance of winning in Eastleigh is to win over disaffected Lib Dems. Maria Hutchings, I would suggest, is  more likely to send them the other way."

    But maybe he shouldn't be. Mark Thompson shows that the Tory intake of 2010 is less liberal socially than their MPs who were elected in 2005.

    Simon McKay on the legality and morality of police officers using the identities of dead children to conduct undercover operations.

    Nearly half of all US farms now have superweeds, reports Mother Jones.

    ""What have you done, what have you done," Boycott muttered as it dawned on him he was out. Botham's response - allegedly, "I've run you out, you ****" - has gone down in folklore." On ESPN Cricinfo, Martin Williamson remembers the day when a young Ian Botham was given orders to run out his captain to help England win a test match.

    IanVisits takes us into the vast undercroft beneath the Albert Mermorial.

    Kraftwerk: Das Model

    Kraftwerk have been in the news this week because of their concerts at Tate Modern.

    I can't claim to have been an early devotee of krautrock - hence this pedstrian choice of The Model, which  was a UK  no. 1 single in 1982. But I hope the cool kids will be pleased I have chosen the German version.

    Saturday, February 09, 2013

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: Rutland's new police and crime commissioner

    The end of our latest visit to Rutland's most celebrated fictional peer.

    Rutland's new police and crime commissioner

    I am often asked to teach Liberal Democrat candidates the theory and practice of polling day organisation. After I have taught them the rudiments of knocking up and how to prime the Bonkers Patent Exploding Focus (for use in marginal wards), I give a little homily. (Or was she a Dickensian heroine?) Anyway, what I say to them is this: “Always remember to vote for yourself.”

    The truth of this was borne in upon me with renewed force today. Because, thanks to my decision to follow my own advice, I am the new Police and Crime Commissioner for Rutland. I won yesterday’s election with a majority of one – and that because I rushed down to the village school to vote just before the polls closed. So you can see that my vote was quite decisive. It was not just that I had a majority of one: mine was the only vote cast in the whole of Rutland.

    But a victory is a victory, whatever the turnout or majority. Tomorrow I shall begin work on my plans to ensure that all police constables are fat and jolly and spend their time alternately helping old ladies across the road (preferably when they want to cross) and clipping apple-scrumpers around the ear.

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

    Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

    Eastleigh by-election: Shock new development

    The memorial to Richard III in Leicester Cathedral

    Despite the best efforts of a few Yorkshire politicians, the "Where should Richard III be buried?" question was always a bit of a non-issue.

    The Leicester Mercury quotes a spokesman for the Ministry of Justice:
    "When applying for an archaeological exhumation licence, the applicant must state that the remains will be laid to rest at a suitable location. 
    "The licence we issued states that the applicant (the University of Leicester) would, no later than August 31, 2014, deposit the remains at Jewry Wall Museum or have them reinterred at St Martin's Cathedral or in a burial ground in which interments may legally take place. 
    "The precise location of reburial is now for the University of Leicester. 
    "This means that no one except the licence holder, i.e. the University of Leicester, can decide where the remains end up."
    Not only that. As a magnanimous statement from the Chapter of York, published on the York Minster site, says:
    the recent verification of the identity of his remains follows a significant period in which Leicester and Leicestershire gained a sense of Richard belonging there, at least in death. It was Leicester Franciscans who gave him burial, and the cathedral has a major memorial to his memory at its heart.
    That statement goes on to declare:
    The Chapter supports the terms of the Ministry of Justice licence and the wish of Chapter of Leicester that Richard should be reinterred in Leicester Cathedral. The Chapter of York commends Richard to Leicester's care and to the cathedral community's prayers.
    The photograph above shows the memorial to Richard (complete with white roses) you will currently find in the choir of Leicester Cathedral. I hope that when he is laid to rest there his tomb or stone will be similarly tasteful, and someone I spoke to there today who has seen some of the suggested designs was confident it would be.

    Finding the bones of a saint used to be a good way of bringing pilgrims to an abbey, and Leicester is quietly cashing in on Richard in the same way.

    There is an exhibition - Richard III: Leicester's Search for a King - at the Guildhall and many other events besides. I had to queue for around 20 minutes to get into the exhibition today. Thanks to Daniele Taverna on Twitter you can see me doing it. I am the one towards the back of the queue in the rather dashing flat cap.

    Eastleigh Lib Dems choose Mike Thornton as their by-election candidate

    At a meeting this evening Eastleigh Liberal Democrats chose local borough and parish councillor Mike Thornton as their candidate in this month's by-election.

    You might think that, with a by-election called in such circumstances, the seat cannot possibly be held by the Liberal Democrats. But that does not appear to be case.

    Eastleigh is an area of exceptional Lib Dem strength in local government, with the party holding every council ward in the constituency. Conservatives activists seemed convinced they would win it back at the last election, but in the event Chris Huhne increased his majority. The moral is that, unlike Conservative activists, the public is not obsessed with Europe.

    The other reason for Lib Dem optimism is the nature of Chris Huhne's offence. Generous expense claims did for at least two Lib Dem MPs at the last election, but the voters in Eastleigh may be more forgiving.

    Elizabeth Day, in a glorified vox pop piece for the Guardian, found a man who said he would have done the same as Chris and a woman who knows people who have done the same thing.

    Persuading someone else to take your points is wrong, but it may be that Eastleigh will judge that Chris Huhne has been more stupid than wicked.

    Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

    Headline of the Day

    The judges appreciated the air of diffidence about this effort from the Northampton Chronicle:

    Uncertainty surrounding snowfall in Northampton

    The Search for King Richard III: Medieval Archaeology

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: Struck a glancing blow by Violet Asquith

    Struck a glancing blow by Violet Asquith

    I see this morning’s Daily Mail has got hold of rather a ticklish story:
    At the end of a long, relatively uneventful Edwardian summer, the papers were suddenly full of dire news about the 21-year-old daughter of the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith. 
    The headlines were shocking: ‘Premier’s daughter missing’, said one; ‘Miss Asquith’s peril’, warned another. She had been reported missing at Cruden Bay on the Scottish coast, where the family had been spending their holiday in September 1908 at a rented fortress with the ominous name of Slains Castle. 
    After a dangerous search lasting half the night, Violet Asquith was finally discovered lying in wet grass on a rocky ledge above the sea - uninjured but apparently barely conscious.
    A doctor was summoned and she quickly revived. But rumours continued to swirl: had she fallen by accident or had there been foul play? Some even whispered that she might have been intentionally trying to harm herself. 
    The Prime Minister moved swiftly to quiet any speculation by offering an innocent tale about his daughter stumbling in the dark. But no one could explain why Violet had remained missing for so many hours. It took several days of determined stonewalling before the Press stopped asking questions. 
    What happened that night has long remained a mystery - but buried in the Asquith family papers, now at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, I have discovered an astonishing revelation: the story of Violet Asquith’s brush with death is inextricably linked with her doomed love for a rising young star in her father’s Liberal cabinet - Winston Churchill.
    Well, I suppose it was bound to come out sooner or later. As one who was also staying at Cruden Bay that summer, I can confirm that Violet Asquith did indeed carry a torch for Churchill and threw herself off the cliff when he made it clear that he preferred his darling Clementine.

    What the Mail does not record, however, is the reason that Violet Asquith survived her plunge. It happened that I was walking along the beach composing a speech on Chinese Labour at just the time that she went over the edge. The Asquith were always sporty, healthy girls, and if she had scored a bull’s eye on my crumpet her father might well have had to find a candidate to fight a by-election in Rutland South-West. As it turned out, she caught me a glancing blow. This broke her fall sufficiently to save her from serious harm, but I still get a pain in my shoulder in wet weather.

    Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

    Friday, February 08, 2013

    Six of the Best 321

    "It's a bizarre circumstance that the Conservatives ... have chosen a candidate who appears opposed to it and its leader. As well as declaring against Gay Marriage, Lords Reform and Abortion rights - all key elements of the Cameroon modernisation agenda and part of the Tory General Election Manifesto she fought the last election in support of - she's effectively pre-rebelled against the housing and infrastructure policies of the Government she's campaigning to be a part of." Leading Lines on the ironies of the Eastleigh by-election.

    Spitalfields Life photographs the fight back after fascists firebombed the anarchist Freedom Press bookshop in Whitechapel. I have stolen the photo you see here - property is theft and all that.

    "It is a strange reversal of fate that makes you worry a little about your son, at the hands of an educational system that is more geared up to deal with girls.  Until 1990, it used to be the other way around," says The Real Blog.

    The Atlantic Cities on the evidence that children who walk or cycle to school can concentrate better.

    "Leicester’s experience with the Richard III discovery underlines that universities have powerful stories to tell about research and education that is useful, pushing the boundaries of human knowledge, making the world a better place, or just plain fascinating. They should come down from the ivory tower and talk." Paul Woodgates writes in the Daily Telegraph on the lessons of the discovery of the king.

    Past in the Present asks if Pimlico is still 'the poor man's Belgravia'.

    Leicester Labour whip banned by city school

    This blog first came across Barbara Potter as one of two Leicester Labour councillors who backed the return of the death penalty in August 2011:
    "Bring it on. Give these murderers the option of the noose, the electric chair or lethal injection. I think the vast majority would back this campaign."
    The Labour group whip was back in the news today. According to the Leicester Mercury she has been banned from a Leicester primary school (Humberstone Junior School) after falling out with teachers and governors.

    There may be more to this story than meets the eye, but I suspect those teachers and governors do not appreciate Labour councillors and National Union of Teachers activists holding school-gate protests against plans for it to become an academy.

    The search For Richard III: The archaeological dig

    Thursday, February 07, 2013

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: The Life of Pie

    The Life of Pie

    To the cinema in Melton Mowbray to watch Life of Pie. As this drama is set in that very town’s pork pie industry the place is packed to the rafters. The film turns out to tell the story of the hero’s rise from crust-raiser’s boy to that most trusted of positions – jelly man. We all had the jolliest of times and I shall give it four stars in my review in the High Leicestershire Radical.

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

    Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

    Tory wrongly declared elected refuses to give up his seat

    Last month the Daily Post carried this story:
    Confusion over similar names led to a laughable blunder by vote counters that saw a Tory candidate handed a council seat in Labour's north Wales heartland. 
    Labour stalwart, Paul Penlington, turned red when his true blue rival, Allan Pennington, was declared the winner of the May 2012 poll in Prestatyn North. 
    It cost tens of thousands of pounds and required the attention of no less than three High Court judges before the muddle was today finally sorted, with Mr Pennington being ousted and Mr Penlington handed the seat that should have been his in the first place.
    However, news comes that Allan Pennington is refusing to go quietly. He has told the Daily Post:
    "I’ve been as much a victim of this as Mr Penlington and I don’t dispute the fact that there has been a mix-up," he said. 
    "My concern is that the difference in votes was so tantamount it makes me wonder why Mr Penlington didn’t speak up about it on the day of the election count if the mistake was so obvious to him. The first I got to know about it all was three days later. 
    "From what I understood about electoral law, I thought that once you’ve been sworn in, that’s it – like a referee in a football match – that decision stands. 
    "If I lose my seat, I lose money – my livelihood is at stake and I am 60 at the end of the month. Not only will I lose my position within the community but I also stand to lose my home and so I will fight tooth and nail."
    It seems that Mr Pennington's understanding of electoral law is at fault. But the more fundamental point is that local councillors should not be reliant upon their allowances for a livelihood.

    This trend - and I have even been told of councillors who look down on colleagues who also have a full-time job - is partly responsible for the position we now have where backbench councillors are treated more as middle-ranking employees than people elected to hold the council to account.

    Still, you think the Labour agent might have looked a bit more closely on the night as the party was losing a previously safe seat. And what does Mr Pennington mean by " the difference in votes was so tantamount"?

    Thanks to Tim Minogue and David Boothroyd on Twitter.

    Wednesday, February 06, 2013

    The announcement of the discovery of Richard III

    Yesterday I said I would post the University of Leicester's videos about the Richard III dig last summer.

    So I shall. But here first is Monday's press conference where the identity of the skeleton was confirmed.

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: Call Nick Clegg

    The latest issue of Liberator was waiting for me when I got home this evening, so it is time for us to spend a few days in the company of Rutland's most celebrated fictional peer.

    Call Nick Clegg

    My less far-flung readers will be familiar with Bonkers Hour on Radio Rutland. Each week members of the public telephone me with their questions on matters of current interest and I give my candid views. We encourage hard-hitting questions – though I, of course, reserve the right to evict tenants who get above themselves.

    I have been telling Clegg for some time that the wireless is here to stay and that he should do something similar. So I am glad to learn that he is taking part in a programme of his own on a London radio station this very morning. I climb one of my follies with a receiver and a field telephone to join the fun.

    Some fellow from Woking claims to have torn up his Liberal Democrat membership card. The fellow must be Mr Apollo himself as the things are printed on some form of laminated plastic these days and I can never tear it however sorely I am provoked. Then there is a question about some Spanish fellow called Juan Si that causes general hilarity. Should I know him?

    Time to take part myself. I call the radio station and demand to be put on air at once. The conversation goes like this:

    PRESENTER: Our next call is, er, Lord from Rutland.

    ME: What this I hear about you supporting secret courts, man? Have you taken leave of your senses? What the devil is behind this ridiculous idea?

    CLEGG: I can’t tell you that.

    ME: Why not?

    CLEGG: It’s a secret.

    PRESENTER. Our next caller is Ron from Walthamstow…

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

    Mike Hancock MP wins Quote of the Day

    Here is the Liberal Democrat MP for Portsmouth South, as quoted in the current issue of Private Eye:
    "Why this obsession with political prisoners in Azerbaijan?"

    Tuesday, February 05, 2013

    Richard III: The King in the Car Park

    Last night's Channel 4 documentary Richard III: The King in the Car Park was a bit of a mess, though an enjoyable one. Part of me suspects the programme was originally intended to poke gentle fun at the proceedings and had to change direction suddenly when they found the old boy.

    Perhaps Philippa Langley from the Richard III Society was a bit much, but without her drive and obsession the dig would not have taken place.

    There are some more conventional videos about the dig on the University of Leicester website and I shall post these over the next few days.