Sunday, June 30, 2013

Derby in the mid 1960s

Thanks to Just One More Ten Pence Piece ... for pointing us to this vintage film of Derby.

If you enjoy it, you may also like this footage of the last days of the city's trolleybuses.

Market Harborough on The News Quiz

Thanks to @solarpilchard - "He tweets about Market Harborough."

Six of the Best 365

Photo: David Castor
"I don’t care that George Osborne had a burger on Tuesday night, or that Danny Alexander had a Dominos pizza last night. I don’t care that Eric Pickles had a salad today or that Nick Clegg buys his burgers from a restaurant I've never heard of. I don’t care Ed Milliband once bought a burger or Grant Shapps ate in McDonalds but Vince Cable didn't. I really don’t care. I so, so don’t care." Carl Minns on the day the body politic disappeared up its own rectum.

Andrew Page attended yesterday's annual conference of the Scottish Social Liberal Forum in Glasgow.

Alex's Archives questions the revival of private landlordism.

"The Post Office Tower was deliberately left off Ordnance Survey maps for decades because it was deemed to be an official secret and therefore of such great military importance nobody was allowed to know where it was even though it had become one of the most recognisable buildings in Britain." The Great Wen looks at the history of a London landmark.

On io9, Esther Inglis-Arkell introduces us to a 400-year-old mystery: the Ashen Light of Venus.

Daniel Brigham, writing for The Cricketer, does not mourn Billy Bowden's exit as an international umpire.

Fairport Convention: Red and Gold

Cropredy in Oxfordshire was the site of a battle in the English Civil War, which can claim to be the last fought on English soil under the command of the monarch. It took place 369 years ago yesterday.

These days the village is better known as the site of the festival staged each year by the folk-rock band Fairport Convention.

Fairport's glory days were back in the sixties when they had two geniuses (genii? genarooties?) in the shape of Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson.

This song, written by Ralph McTell, tells the story of the battle and is one of their better moments since that era. Perhaps it is a little slow and wordy at first, but stay with it as the overall effect of the song is moving.

The English Heritage report on the battlefield says that Cropredy Bridge bears this fading memorial plate:
The site of the Battle of Cropredy Bridge, June 1644. From Civil War Good Lord deliver us.
That is also the message of this song.

My eighth Whipped column for Ad Lib

Whipped: From the desk of the Junior Whip

I have mentioned the Chief Whip’s favourite DVDs before. These days he does not watch “House of Cards” often. It’s “To Play the King”, where Francis Urquhart takes on and defeats the monarch, that is his favourite.

So I think the Queen should be worried the Chief Whip takes such an interest in the State Opening of Parliament.

There are two traditions honoured that day. The first is that, when Black Rod arrives in the Commons, Dennis Skinner makes a joke no one finds funny. The second is that a hostage is sent to Buckingham Palace to make sure the Queen returns safely from Westminster.

What happens is this. The most junior Conservative whip is rounded up, has his hair combed and his knees scrubbed and is then taken to the Palace by the Conservative Chief Whip and our Chief Whip, who are dressed in their spiffiest morning suits.

Having delivered their charge, the two of them are driven back to Westminster in an open top horse-drawn carriage in the procession headed by the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh.

“The crowds were cheering and waving flags,” said the Chief Whip afterwards.

“Yes, but that was for the Royal Family, wasn’t  it?”

His answer was to throw some photocopying at me. Like I say, the Queen should be worried.


Some of our backbenchers grumbled about the Queen’s Speech, but not half as much as the Tory backbenchers did.

The only thing that keeps them happy these days is the prospect of culling badgers. That is Tory MPs for you: if one of them turns up, the stoats look nervous and the foxes remember urgent prior engagements. Killing animals floats their boat.

I told the Chief Whip I was against the badger cull and was going to join a demonstration.

“Just be careful you don’t join the wrong sett,” he growled.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Who needs Glastonbury when you have the Foxton Locks Festival?

With three stages, alpacas, food, a Saxon village, a real ale bar... there was a lot to enjoy at the Foxton Locks Festival this afternoon. And it is on tomorrow too.

Friday, June 28, 2013

North Evington Working Men's Club and Institute, Leicester

This is another large and unexpected building from my explorations last Saturday. Today it is the Piccadilly Cinema, showing the latest Bollywood blockbusters, but (says the invaluable Cinema Treasures site) it began life as the North Evington Working Men's Club and Institute, becoming a cinema in 2000.

It is hard not to think of it as another expression of the lost white working-class culture of the area that I wrote about the other day.

Somewhere nearby, and also closed now, is Spinney Hill Working Men's Club, where I drew with Nigel Short when (aged only 14, I have to confess) he gave a simultaneous display there in 1979.

Town councils still reluctant to allow meetings to be tweeted

Government guidance says councils should allow social media reporting of meetings and even filming. But a survey of its local authorities by the Rutland & Stamford Mercury suggests that this is not always what happens in practice:
Town councils in the area are not allowing reporters and members of the public to tweet live updates from their meetings even though the Government is urging authorities to be more open to the idea. 
Lincolnshire and Rutland County Councils and South Kesteven District Council do allow tweets. 
But only one local town council – Market Deeping – says it is currently OK to use social media to reveal what is happening at its meetings.
The report quotes a Liberal Democrat councillor from Stamford as saying:
"Until it becomes law we should not consider it and I will be opposed to it."
Why this reluctance to allow tweeting? The closest the Mercury could find to a reasoned argument was this:
Uppingham town clerk Susan Awcock said allowing tweeting was "a dangerous path to take." 
She said there were concerns about people picking “bits and pieces” from the meeting to report live.
But then newspapers pick bits and pieces to report. Should we ban journalists from meetings too?

UKIP comes third in Rutland by-election

After the recent defection to it of the three Rutland councillors, UKIP must have had high hopes of last night's by-election in the Ketton ward. In the event they came third.

The result:

Gary Conde (Conservative) 330
Andrew McGilvray (Independent) 260
Liam Powell (UKIP) 130
Martin Brookes (Independent) 24

Yes, that is Martin Brookes the blogger.

It is a shame there was no Lib Dem candidate, but I believe this was the first time there had been a contested election in Ketton for 12 years.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Deltics at Weedon - and a lot of other places

Pardon my anorak but, following last week's short film of five Deltics at Stalybridge, here is some footage (rather a lot, actually) of them in their pomp.

My favourite spot for watching them was Retford, where the boys taking numbers called each other "thee" and "thou".

There is a point of interest right at the end of the film where you see Weedon station still standing. Wikipedia says it closed in 1958 and was demolished soon afterwards.

Weedon is the site of a military complex from the Napoleonic era that was used as an ammunition store in World War II. Hence, perhaps, the substantial station for a rural era.

Whatever happened to the Coalition's commitment to localism?

More and more, the Coalition agreement reads like the blueprint for the government Britain needed but did not get.

Take the introduction to the section on communities and local government:
The Government believes that it is time for a fundamental shift of power from Westminster to people. We will promote decentralisation and democratic engagement, and we will end the era of top-down government by giving new powers to local councils, communities, neighbourhoods and individuals.
What we have seen instead is Eric Pickles threatening to strip local councils of their planning powers and hand them to a centralised planning inspectorate.

And we have seen deep cuts in local government funding while many central government budgets are protected.

As Matthew Oakeshott says behind The Times paywall today:
Ring-fenced spending will be half the total in 2015-16. It's nonsense: no self-respecting finance director would run a business with half its overheads untouchable; no Chancellor should either.
The reason for this ring-fencing of central government budgets is the weakness of politicians and political system. To get elected David Cameron had to promise he would not spend less than Labour in many areas: in the hope of getting elected next time Labour is now promising it will not spend more.

One answer would be for local councils to raise more of their own revenue, but there is currently no prospect of any government tackling that question.

So local government continues to suffer and there is money for vanity projects like HS2 while local bus services are cut.

Rogue TV aerial repairman Keith Matthews arrested

Another win for Leicestershire - this time the Leicester Mercury - in our Headline of the Day Award.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

"Guaranteed English Trapped Rabbits"

I love ghost signs. The last ones I posted - from Northampton - were hard to read: it was having three of them on the same gable end that made me want to share the photograph.

This one was easier to read, and I hope a little fiddling with the brightness and contrast has made it easier still.

The words "GUARANTEED ENGLISH TRAPPED RABBITS" strengthened my view that in exploring Highfields, Crown Hills and North Evington, which have both become home to a large Muslim community, I was discovering the remnants of a lost civilisation.

Maybe it is snobbery or an exaggerated fear of appearing racist - both faults endemic to the British left - but you rarely hear the question of what happened to the white working class who used to occupy these streets debated.

If you watch the film on slum clearance in Leicester, under which streets in nearby parts of the city were razed, you will hear only the positive side of the procedure. The idea that there might have been good things about the streets that were lost is nowhere mentioned. It is like something our of Soviet-occupied Eastern Europe and I did not last till the end when I tried to watch it.

Still, there are ironies here. As I blogged earlier this year:
When I worked in the Highfields of area during the Leicester South by-election of 2004, I was struck by how traditionally English this Muslim area was. There were still corner shops and children playing in the street.
As to the precise location of this ghost sign, that will have to remain a mystery.

The burning of the Ratlinghope wicker man

Last month I blogged that a 30ft wicker man was to be burnt as part of the Sin-Easter Festival, which is held at Ralinghope in Shropshire.

I cannot embed the video, but if you follow this link you will see I was right.

Six of the Best 364

Roger Williams MP, in an article on Liberal Democrat Voice, calls for urgent action to save Britain's bees. He is right [though you may wish to add your own joke about Plan Bee here].

Jock Coats suggests market anarchism as a way forward for the Lib Dems.

"Four years ago, polls suggested that about 40 percent of the American public favored gay marriage. Today, those figures are above 50 percent. According to a Pew Research Center poll conducted last month, 72 percent of Americans viewed legal recognition of same-sex marriage as 'inevitable'." Colleen Walsh writes for Harvard Gazette on the shift in public opinion.

Professor Athene Donald discusses ways of encouraging women scientists on the Royal Society's Inside Science site: "This paper exemplifies, albeit in a very different situation, why having women visible on conference platforms matter. Without such obvious role models, those women setting out may see only a sea of unrelentingly male faces and be unable to imagine themselves breaking the pattern."

Charlotte Du Cann looks at the work of William Blake, Samuel Palmer and Paul Nash.

"It is tempting to see [Matthew] Hoggard as the last of his breed (the steam-powered trains, perhaps, or the heavy horses)," says Backwatersman.

Boy freed from bicycle chain

Our Headline of the Day Award comes home to Leicestershire and the Melton Times.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Poynton shared-space traffic scheme

This video makes an impressive case for shared-space schemes, which reverse decades of transport engineering by forcing cars and pedestrians to mix.

Taking back the streets from dominance by the motor car would be a good idea on all sorts of grounds, from health to community building.

Leighton Andrews resigns as Welsh education minister

Wales Online reports:
Education Minister Leighton Andrews resigned dramatically tonight after First Minister Carwyn Jones told him he had broken the Ministerial Code by campaigning against the closure of a primary school in his Rhondda constituency. 
The resignation of one of the biggest hitters in his Cabinet is a major blow to Mr Jones, who won the Welsh Labour leadership three and a half years ago with Mr Andrews as his campaign manager.
This is a change to inform my younger readers that Andrews was the Liberal-SDP Alliance candidate for Gillingham in the 1987 General Election. And the Welsh blogger CymruMark once wrote:
The Leighton Andrews I observed in the Liberal Party in the 80's was a very different character. Always associated with the ALC/Liberator self-appointed keepers of the radical flame element he was a fluent persuasive speaker with impeccable anti-authoritarian views. 
It was astonishing to see him in Welsh Labour and his contributions to the assembly seem utterly at odds with his previously expressed opinions.
But then, back in the 1980s, Andrews was a great and public supporter of Gillingham Town. Today he is a a great and public supporter of Cardiff City.

Still Lord Bonkers recently praised his education policies in Wales.

Y Ddraig Goch: Free public lecture on Welsh identity, Cardiff, 13 July

History, rugby and Welsh identity in the 21st century: will be discussed in a free public lecture in Cardiff.

Dr Victoria Galbraith will be speaking on “The pride and identity of the Red Dragon (Y Ddraig Goch): Suit of armour or double-edged sword?” at the Angel Hotel, Castle Street, Cardiff on Saturday 13 July 2013 at 12 noon.

This hour-long public lecture forms part of the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Counselling Psychology. You can just turn up on the day, but it would be a great help if you could register your intention to attend in advance.

More on the British Psychological Society website.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Mick Aston RIP

I am so sorry to hear of the death of Professor Mick Aston from Time Team.

This video, with its lightly worn learning, shows him as we will all remember him.

Later. More4 is broadcasting a tribute evening for Mick Aston on 13 July.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Bar room philosophy at the Bonkers' Arms

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


When the Smithson & Greaves Northern Bitter is flowing in the snug at the Bonkers’ Arms, conversation often takes a philosophical turn.

“Who would have thought at the last Liberal Democrat leadership election that, a few years later, one of the candidates would be deputy prime minister and the other would be in prison?” says one of my drinking companions.

“But are you sure the authorities have got it the right way round?” replies another.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Let Trenton Oldfield stay in Britain

I happened to be at home when Trenton Oldfield staged his protest at last year's Boat Race, so I was able to share Lord Bonkers' thoughts on the matter with my readers.

Because so many people were googling his name that afternoon, that post rapidly became one of the most-read ones this blog has ever had. And after that no one read it because Oldfield had been deservedly forgotten.

But the Home Office has not forgotten him and, after serving two months in Wormwood Scrubs, he has been ordered to leave the country.

It his hard to disagree with Oldfield's words:
"It feels to me that this is a very vindictive decision, very political and very much an overreaction."
He should be allowed to stay.

North Evington Market Square

North Evington, a late 19th-century industrial suburb of Leicester, was developed by Arthur Wakerley - architect, mayor of Leicester and unsuccessful Liberal parliamentary candidate. Exploring it today, you notice how houses and factories were built next to one another in a way that goes against the planning philosophy of the 20th century.

At the suburb's heart was the market square that Wakerley laid out. Jean Farquhar describes it in her Arthur Wakerley: 1862-1931:
Wakerley built a Market Hall at the north end of the Market Square, with splendid Dutch-style gables and some art nouveau stained glass, which housed a temporary police station, a coffee room, a surgery, and a barber's shop.
And she quotes the Leicester Daily Post as saying:
"Only those who have visited New Evington, Leicester, can vividly realise the immense advantage of the offer and the boon it is likely to prove to the entire district."
But, says a University of Leicester page on Wakerley, the market never thrived and its licence was eventually withdrawn in 1947. In 1982 the square was redeveloped as the open space with a band stand that you see now.

Today the market hall is occupied by a madrasah (there is now a large mosque on the south side of the square) and, though the photo above shows the splendid gables, the art nouveau stained glass has long vanished.

The west side of the square is occupied by the police and fire stations that Wakerley built. Jean Farquhar, relying on a memoir of the Edwardian era, writes:
The relationship between the North Evington community and its Police seems to have been a happy and confident one: factories lodged their keys in the Police Station nightly, and numbers of children 'got lost' in order to be given refuge in the warm Station until claimed. To see them enjoying the hospitality provided out of the staff's own pockets. gave little impression of the supposed fear of policemen by children.
She continues:
A similar happy relationship seems to exist today between the Police and the many Asian children who live around the Police Station, who have been observed entering the station and enquiring "Got 'ny stickers?"
That was written in 1984, but the police station on the market square at North Evington has since closed. Its homely lines make it easy to imagine the good police/community relations claimed for the area.

Royal Mail takes action over "aggressive raspberries" at Shropshire home

The Shropshire Star continues its winning run in our Headline of the Day Award.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Clear off, M. Farage

As so often, the old boy has proved prophetic.


In my long experience, new parties grow like mushrooms but rarely survive long past breakfast. At one time, Lord Sutch and his party were all the rage: so much so that little Steel insisted we stand down in Sutch’s favour in half the constituencies across the country. It did not come to anything and I never thought it would.

Today the talk is of someone called Farage. Farage? Rather a fancified, Frenchified name, don’t you think? Evan a little poncey, as dear Violent would have put it. I find it easy to imagine the man having his lunch: whereas you or I would choose a pork pie or gamey stilton, Farage would favour the leg of a frog or perhaps some snails. No doubt he wears a beret too and cycles the lanes of England selling onions. He may think this a clever way of meeting voters, but I cannot see him prospering.

Clear off, M. Farage: We don’t want your sort in Rutland! (In all fairness, I must add that, when I mentioned this to Meadowcroft, his eyes lit up at the prospect of someone clearing his vegetable garden of snails.)

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Six of the Best 363

"In short, this kind of bond will severely limit our opportunities to do business with any other country which isn't an ageing, predominantly white countries with sluggish economic growth." The Potter Blogger argues that Theresa May's plan to require visitors to the UK from 'high-risk' countries to pay a £3000 bond will be bad for the British economy.

The Real Blog asks why everyone is so angry these days.

The Atomium questions the prison sentence awarded to Jeremy Forrest.

"I may still be an arsehole, but at least I’m a sober arsehole," says The Alcohol-Free Shop Blog.

"Graeme Smith summed up the Afghan fearlessness before his South African side faced them in the ICC World Twenty20 in West Indies in 2010, the first of their two appearances on the headline stage so far. “I read their opener said he was not scared of facing Dale Steyn and I wouldn’t be either if I grew up in a war zone,” the Proteas captain said." All Out Cricket on the rise of the game in Afghanistan.

Seriously for Real? examines the beauty of the most haunted and mysterious abandoned amusement parks on earth.

Jimmy Page and Steve Winwood: City Sirens

In 1983 the aristocracy of British rock held a concert to raise funds for Ronnie Lane and research into multiple sclerosis.

The ARMS concert saw all three Yardbirds guitarists - Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page - playing together - and also marked Steve Winwood's re-emergence into the spotlight.

Since Traffic had ceased touring almost 10 years before he had concentrated on session work and had recorded a couple of solo albums almost single-handed. Yet here he was, stealing the show, looking improbably youthful and ready to be a slightly unlikely star of the MTV era.

"City Sirens" was written by Page for Michael Winner's Death Wish II and sung in the film by Chris Farlowe.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Violent Bonham-Carter's manor


To Whitechapel to conduct a party of tourists about the yards and courts of this insalubrious district. Today we are concerned neither with the crimes of Jack the Ripper (Nanny would often regale me with tales of them) nor with the life and times of Sir Percy Harris (the tour that brings the most visitors to our capital), but with the career of that notorious gangster Violent Bonham-Carter

I tell them of Bonham-Carter’s early struggles and patronage of Barbara Windsor (the black sheep of the royal family and, when they first met, a promising bantamweight) and take them for a drink at the Lame Deliverer – the very pub where Violent is said to have done away with the biscuit magnate Jack “The Hat” McVitie.

The landlord, who witnessed this notorious incident whilst enjoying a ginger beer in short trousers, is quick to point out that McVitie was widely thought to be “getting lairy” and to be “well out of order” – it was, after all, Violent’s manor. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the affair, a good time is had by all and I depart for St Pancras with enough in tips to keep me in Auld Johnston for another year.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Imperial Typewriters, Leicester

I was looking for Arthur Wakerley and North Evington today, but on the way I found this vast factory on a Leicester backstreet.

Manual typewriters were once as ubiquitous in offices as PCs are today, and Imperial Typewriters was the best known manufacturer of them. The company set up in Leicester in 1908 and this, its factory in East Park Road, was one of the city's major employer until it closed in 1975. By then Imperial was owned by an American company and was the last company making typewriters in Britain.

In 1974 it had been the site of an historic strike. An old Socialist Worker interview with Leo Ismail , a Ugandan Asian who arrived in Leicester in 1972, tells the story:
The big employer in Leicester was Imperial Typewriters. Leo, like the majority of new arrivals, got a job there. 
It was a Transport & General Workers Union (T&G) closed shop. Inside the factory the union was very conservative and tended to look on the new workers as competition rather than new allies. There wasn't one black or Asian person on the union committee. 
One day in 1974 the management sacked 40 Asian women without any reason. Leo said, “We went to the union to complain. The officials told us the company had a right to hire and fire as it chooses.” 
So all 1,100 Asians at the company walked out on unofficial strike. The national T&G backed the local officials rather than the strikers.
The article also says:
The dispute was important in shifting the attitude of British trade unionists to immigrant workers. This would bear fruit with much wider support for the largely Asian Grunwick dispute three years later. 
Leo remembers the legacy of the strike, and how it gave Asians in Leicester a new sense of identity and forced them to be self-reliant.
I am sure all this is true, though it may not be a coincidence that the factory closed the year after the strike - seventies trade union victories were often like that.

You can see the workers going to a meeting at De Montfort Hall after the closure plans had been announced in this film on the Media Archive for Central England site.

There was a second Imperial factory in Hull, and there the workers staged an occupation. But manual typewriters were on the way out, swept away by electric models and then by word processors and personal computers.

Today the old Imperial factory in East Park Road is full of Asian textile businesses. This post ought to end with a hymn to multiracial, multicultural Leicester, but there is an unhappy side to its modern use too.

In 2010 a Channel 4 Dispatches programme (discussed in an Independent article) investigating Leicester sweatshops serving the fashion industries. And, says The Cynical Tendency, some of those businesses were housed in the old Imperial factory.

And a year later the UK Border Agency raided the building, arresting 33 workers whose right to be in the country it questioned.

So let's end by looking at a couple of relics of Imperial Typewriters to be found on the street at the back of the building.

The British Lions win the first test and pose a philosophical problem

This morning, rather than stay in and listen to the British Lions game on the radio or find a pub that was showing it, I headed off to explore the backstreets of Leicester with my camera. As you will soon see.

So I missed the Lions’ victory. Or did I?

Because I have always had a philosophical worry over statements like that. Can I assume that the game would have been exactly the same if I had watched it?

My worry is not that, in some butterfly’s wing and hurricane way, my decision to go to Leicester may somehow have affected the game.

My worry is that if I say that I missed the Lions’ victory then I am saying it was inevitable before kick off that they would win. And that seems wrong.

Surely the future is open? How can it have been inevitable before the start that Beale would miss the last kick of the game?

Gilbert Ryle’s essay “It Was to Be”, in his collection Dilemmas, tackles this worry, or something very like it, but it is years since I read it and the version on Google Books is cut off before the end.

As someone with a good degree in Philosophy I feel a little embarrassed by this worry. My feeling is that it is not the kind of problem that you find an answer for: it is the kind of problem that disappears when you realise there is not a problem.

But I have never been able to make it disappear.

Nick Clegg, comfort blankets and very real forks

I awoke this morning to the news that Nick Clegg was to "take on his internal party critics" at the Lib Dem local government conference today and my heart sank.

Political activists now exist chiefly as a sort of stage army that can be brought on so their own leader can look tough by criticising them. It's no life for a grown up.

And how was Nick going to "take on" his critics? It was by saying that he wanted to be in power while they sought the "comfort blanket" of opposition or protest.

This is not good enough.

As Simon Titley pointed out on Liberator's blog last month:
The Liberal Democrats were never a ‘party of protest’. The party always had comprehensive policies and it ran many local councils, and took part in government in Scotland and Wales, long before Clegg even became an MP.
And as I have pointed out before, the fellow Liberal Democrats who are most likely to be critical of Nick's leadership are precisely those who have lost power under his leadership - councillors and group leaders in Northern cities who have seen the gains of years of hard work wiped out.

There was never any reason to think we would be immune to mid-term unpopularity when we were in government, but for Nick to suggest that those who are sceptical of his strategy are not interested in power is silly.

The Independent report also says:
Before 2010, the only way the Lib Dems could get a foothold against the two biggest parties was through targeted, street-by-street campaigns. But he will argue this will not be an option at the 2015 election now that his party has been in government and demand a disciplined central message about a “stronger economy and fairer society”.
This is too is strange. We have had central messages at every general election and the party has no option but to fight targeted, street-by-street campaigns because we do not have enough members or activists to do anything else.

At the height on Cleggmania during the last election campaign a television programme (I think it was Newsnight) went to one of the Bournemouth seats to look at the Liberal Democrat campaign. Though this was just the sort of constituency we were going to have to win if we were going to fulfill the polls' forecast of over a hundred Lib Dem MPs, they were unable to find it. We just did not have enough people on the ground.

Oh, and apparently we are at a "very real fork in the road". Not just a fork; not a false fork; but a real one and a very real one at that.

Nick needs to realise that his party is just as interested in power as he is - indeed, many were exercising it locally long before he came along. What many worry about is whether his strategy is likely to allow us to take and exercise power nationally and locally in the future.

What he should offer is an adult conversation about his members' worries, not this talk of comfort blankets and very real forks.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Northampton ghost signs

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Clegg on Milton Keynes


A fine evening: I find that Littlewood’s shirt is quite sufficient to keep me warm as I walk by the shores of Rutland Water. My cattle low in the nearby fields, the shrill call of wheway and hamwee can be heard across the waves and I fancy I can distinguish the harps of the Elves of Rockingham Forest playing in my covers. (Strictly speaking, they are trespassing, but I find it best not to make a fuss: it is wise to keep on the right side of these fellows.) The breeze is heady with the scent of May blossom and meadow flowers.

I fancy I can spy a familiar figure approaching. Sure enough, it turns out to be Clegg. “Isn’t it beautiful?” he asks me. “What we need is a new city built right here. Have you been to Milton Keynes? Wonderful place, I love it. Not enough to live there myself, obviously, but I love it.” I begin to wish I had gone the full ten shillings with those boys of his.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

ATOS turns Market Harborough man away disability benefit assessment because he is in a wheelchair

Just when you thought your opinion of ATOS could fall no lower comes this story from the Leicester Mercury:
A man has claimed he was turned away and labelled a fire hazard after attending a disability benefit assessment in a wheelchair. 
Charles Foreman said he was asked to leave the building as he presented a health and safety risk at the medical examination.
And his wife takes up the story:
His wife Karen, 52, a shop manager, said she was asked to take her husband out of the building after she checked in at reception. 
She said: “We were in bit of a hurry so I took Charles up in the lift and left him on the first floor as that was where the examination was to take place. 
“I went down to check in properly and the woman there told me we had to leave as my husband was in a wheelchair. 
“She said that the building was not equipped for people in wheelchairs and that he was a fire risk and a health and safety hazard.” 
Mrs Forman said she offered to take the wheelchair away as her husband can walk short distances. 
She said: “I told her I had used the wheelchair for speed as we had to park in a car park nearby. 
“The woman was unmoved and just kept saying they could not see him as he was a fire risk.
Almost the most concerning aspect of this story is that it ends with a Department of Work and Pensions spokesman defending the actions on ATOS.

So we taxpayers are giving ATOS £400m to conduct these tests, but still have to fund the press office at the DWP to go round after them with a bucket when they appear to have made a hash of things.

Over to you, Vince.

Family cat blamed for setting Telford home on fire

Once again the Shropshire Star wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Note that, even when the perpetrator is a cat, crime stories in the Star generally concern Telford.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Six of the Best 362

Writing on Liberal Democrat Voice, Kate Parminter takes Owen Paterson to task: "We should use the time before any decisions need to be made about growing GM crops in Europe to get the full facts and engage impartially with the public.  Mr Paterson should lay down his cheerleading pom poms and listen to what the British people say they want for their food and countryside in the future."

Peter Black reports on Morris the cat's bid to become mayor of the Mexican city of Xalapa, the capital of the state of Veracruz.

"In our world of voter apathy and predominantly centrist politics, the suffragettes can seem pretty alien. With hindsight, some of their actions might be dismissed as futile acts of vandalism: we now know it took the sweeping social change of a world war to really make a difference to women’s suffrage. But their story is also part of London’s story; the suffragettes’ short but idiosyncratic chapter of history makes up part of the city’s fabric." Londonist is our guide to Suffragette City.

The Streatham & Brixton Chess Blog is not impressed by the Spectator's correspondent on the game.

"Here are 12 lucky words that survived by getting fossilized in idioms," says Mental Floss.

Observations on the Weather visits the Richard Jefferies Museum at Coate Water in Swindon.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Rutland six-card stud


One of my ancestors built the almshouses in the village. There, amid ivy and wisteria, the older inhabitants pass their declining years – I suspect Meadowcroft has his eye on a spot there when the time comes for his son to take charge of my gardens.

When I visit the place this afternoon, I find a chap called Littlewood berating the inhabitants. “Go back to work!” he cries. “You’d be much healthier. Here, have a cigarette.” He tries to interest me in his theories, but they merely remind me of the time that Laws tried to persuade me to sell the Well-Behaved Orphans. (I thought this outrageous – besides, the figures were not wholly convincing).

Later, Littlewood challenges me to a hand or two of poker. Being perhaps unfamiliar with the finer points of Rutland six-card stud, he ends the evening rather out of pocket.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Rutland Anti-Corruption Group councillors join UKIP

Earlier this year I blogged about the ridiculous decision of Rutland County Council to investigate the possibility of suing three of its own members for defamation. No less an authority than Tom McNally told the council that this was a non-starter.

Today came news that those three councillors, the members of the Rutland Anti-Corruption Group, have decided to join UKIP.

I wish them well, and nothing could be more calculated to annoy Rutland's ruling Conservatives. But whether Nigel Farage, his party and his beery non sequiturs have anything to do with the openness these councillors say they stand for remains to be seen.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Five Deltics at Stalybridge

"People will never feel nostalgic about diesels they way they do about steam locomotives," my elders used to say.

In fact, railway enthusiasm continued to thrive through the 1970s and only became terminally unfashionable - even to be taken as a symptom of learning disability - after that.

I would suggest that the high point of this enthusiasm was the last run of the Deltics on the East Coast main line.

By the time I was a student at York these wonderful throaty diesels had been displaced from the Scottish expresses and were in charge of the stopping trains to London.

They ran for the last time on these services on 31 December 1981, but two days later a special ran to Edinburgh and back. I remember watching it from a rainy cutting-side at Little Bytham in Lincolnshire.

But the Deltics live on in preservation and even in the occasional freight working. The video above, which will annoy my sterner critics, show five of the beasts at Stalybridge in 2011.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The Cleggs in Switzerland


Did you see that the Cleggs went skiing in Switzerland at Easter? I have been telling them for years that if this is Their Sort Of Thing then they should consider a stay in the north of Rutland. There, where the snowy peaks rise to meet the Lincolnshire Wolds, sport can be had that is the equal of any the Swiss can offer; moreover, our cheese does not have holes in it and you will not find yourself obliged to drink the dreadful gassy Dahrendorf lager in the evenings.

You will no doubt have read that the Cleggs like to paint hard-boiled eggs and hide them about the chalet for their sons to find. I know that, when the family was slow to return to England, many reasoned that the boys must be a little on the slow side.

The truth, I should point out, is that I tipped the little scamps half a crown a piece to hide their father’s passport and it took him simply ages to find it.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Stephen Twigg's faulty thinking on free schools

Stephen Twigg made an effort to move on Labour's policy on free schools in his speech this week, but he is not there yet.

Take his complaint that:
Under Michael Gove’s policy, millions have been spent opening schools in areas with a surplus of places, while children elsewhere face a shortage of places.
I pointed out the flaw in this argument when Labour was still in power:
Surplus capacity will tend to exist in areas where the schools are bad, because parents there are more likely to pay to send their children to independent schools or to make more effort to work the state system to get them into schools further away.
And I concluded:
As things stand, the government will allow new schools only in areas where parents are perfectly happy with the existing provision.
Somewhere at the root of this faulty reasoning is Labour tractor-production approach to social problems: all children are the same and all schools are the same and what matters is the total numbers. There is no sense that children and their parents are individuals and a dynamic force with goals and wishes of their own.

The same faulty thinking lay behind this complaint from the same speech:
Under Michael Gove’s policy, increasing numbers of schools are able to employ unqualified teachers. When we know the key to standards is the quality of teaching, this is the wrong approach.
That sounded great until it was revealed that the Labour MP Tristram Hunt is in the habit of teaching the off primary school class on the Spanish Armada.

It's not just that this is a neat ad hominem argument against Labour: it's that I cannot imagine anyone more likely to inspire a class than Hunt.

If free schools use their freedoms to bring in people to the classroom from outside the teaching profession, then I am all in favour of it.

Despite Twigg's efforts, Labour still gives the impression that it is speaking for the teaching profession rather than children and their parents.

British Stone Skimming Championships to take place near Bishop's Castle

From the Shropshire Star:
The lake at Walcot Hall in Lydbury North, near Bishop’s Castle, will be the venue for the unusual tournament on June 30 and about 100 competitors are expected to try their hands. 
Spectators are welcome but the action will not just be confined to the skimmers, with other events planned for the day, all with a stoney theme.
Should you wish to watch or take part, contact details can be found here.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Craig Murray on Haute de la Garenne

Craig Murray wrote on his blog last year:
I receive, constantly, emails from people wishing me to take up various cases on my blog and furnishing information. 95% of the time I do not publish because I am not able to investigate fully (there is just one of me) and I do not know the source: the exclusives on this blog come mostly from my access to well-placed sources I have known for years through my past diplomatic career, and trust. 
A notable proportion of the cases brought to me by those I do not know involve alleged paedophile rings. I was sent information about Haut de la Garenne for years, which named a string of senior people alleged to take advantage of organised paedophilia in the care home. Among the judges, politicians and aristocracy, there was indeed the name of Jimmy Savile. 
I have to admit it was not just that I could not prove any of it, I was actively sceptical about what seemed a random list of names of the famous. We now know for certain that Savile visited the place several times. The whole Haut De La Garenne investigation always seemed to obscure more than it revealed; I do hope it is now re-opened, and taken away from the local Jersey police.
It is also worth watching the video included in this post...

J.W. Logan in the Spectator

Last week I wrote a short post promoting the new, free online Spectator Archive. As I suspected, it is going to be a priceless tool for research.

Take this blog's hero J.W. Logan, Liberal MP for Harborough in the good old days.

I once wrote a post quoting James Moore's The Transformation of Urban Liberalism:
In the Harborough constituency Liberal lecturers were frequently refused access to Anglican schoolrooms where they wished to hold meetings. Eventually the Liberal Association became so frustrated with the situation that parliamentary candidate J.W. Logan built himself a portable meeting room which he took from village to village. The mobile contraption - dubbed the "Free Speech Hall" - obviously worked and following its introduction the local clergy were less reluctant to hire out school halls to Liberal candidates.
But there was more to Free Speech Hall than that. Here is a short piece from the Spectator, published after Logan was first elected to parliament, winning a by-election in 1891 (and reprsentative of the slightly hit-and-miss scanning that its archive offers):
Mr. Logan, the Gladstonian candidate, may well pride himself on his tactics. He has been in the field for nearly three years ; has taken round a van, in which Gladstonian meetings have been held under cover; and he has instructed his rural voters in the art of using the ballot by providing them with the means of playing at polling in the various villages of the Harborough Division. He has reaped his reward, and will possibly gather in a rich aftermath at the General Election
This suggests parallels between Victorian Liberalism and campaigning in poor Black communities in American today. It also suggests a solution to the problem of low turnout in inner-city areas in Britain today.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: “I Made Eastleigh Happen”

The new issue of Liberator is with subscribers, or at least on its way, so it is time to spend another week at the demi-paradise that is Bonkers Hall in Rutland.


A package arrives in the post. I find it to contain a rather stylish badge, which I consider wearing while I go about my business on the old demesne. Then I read what it says – “I Made Eastleigh Happen” – and ring for my secretary.

“Could you forward this to Dartmoor or Wormwood Scrubs or wherever the poor fellow is at the moment?” I ask him. “It was obviously meant for Huhne.”

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

Cameron will go to Kazakhstan despite dubious record on rights

The Independent wins Headline of the Day.

I hope the shaky grammar is for comic effect.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Northampton Cathedral

The Cathedral Church of St Mary and St Thomas stands in Barrack Road. As Borough Council page about the area says:
Barrack Road provides a splendid entry into the town from the north and is a perfect example of Northampton’s grand era of town building in the 19th century. The conservation area extends along a half kilometre of attractive Georgian terraces, once the proud homes of Northampton’s ‘stout and wealthy’ citizens. In the 1930's it was widely regarded as being the finest approach to Northampton, and the prestige associated with this regal terraced avenue has remained. 
The name of Barrack Road is derived from the Gibraltar Garrison, the headquarters of which were established in the late 18th century as a cavalry barracks, and its large Irish contingent is thought partly to be the reason for the location of the Roman Catholic Cathedral in the vicinity.
The cathedral has its origins in a chapel built by Pugin in 1844 and extended by one of his sons 20 years later. Some of this original building was lost when the cathedral was enlarged after the Second World War.

But I am still glad that Northampton has a cathedral. And the story about the barracks being a factor in its siting may well be true as the first Roman Catholic cathedral in York was placed in the heart of an area of poor Irish immigrants.

I looked around St Mary and St Thomas on Saturday afternoon and had the place to myself.

"Over the summer, your child could fall two months behind other classmates!"

Last year I wrote a sceptical (and rather repetitive) post about summer schools, which have turned out to be a large part of Nick Clegg's much-heralded pupil premium:
I am sure that summer schools could be good for children. And as Baden-Powell showed, if you get things right, children will come running. 
But, as the it stands at the moment, the Pupil Premium seems to promise a world in which middle-class children in good schools go on holiday while working-class children in bad schools go to summer school. 
As a Liberal (and as a former poor child) that is not a world I find particularly attractive.
I need not have worried about the class angle. Today in leafy Market Harborough I saw a poster advertising a tutoring service under the slogan "STOP THE SUMMER SLIDE". It went on: "Over the summer, your child could fall 2 months behind other classmates! We can help..."

There is research suggesting that children from poorer homes can fall behind over the summer, but what we see here is a generalised anxiety. The danger is a sort of educational arms race that will see children who are doing perfectly well under current arrangements denied a proper summer holiday.

Guardian wins Correction of the Day

From the Guardian:
An episode of Radio 4's In Our Time programme reviewed in Friday's G2 ... was not last week's episode as the article suggested. It was an archive episode that was broadcast in 2003, which the reviewer listened to via the BBC's website.
Always remember, folks: journalists are trained professionals and we bloggers are just amateurs.

Still, the Corrections and Clarifications column is one of the Guardian's most entertaining features, so I shan't be so churlish as to reveal that this howler was perpetrated by Nosheen Iqbal, "Acting Culture Editor of and G2's radio critic".

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Six of the Best 361

Liberator's blog looks at who is likely to get the next batch of Liberal Democrat peerages.

"The pub wasn't turning over anything like the previous tenants figures suggested and almost from the off we knew we were going to struggle. As I waived my husband off for what was supposed to be his last tour of Afghanistan, both he and I knew it wouldn't be the last time I would be doing this. It turned out that way too ... Even now, over four years later, he is still in Afghanistan and we can’t see a way for our family to be together." A post on PUBlicity shows why the campaign against pubcos is right.

David Boyle is discussing his new book "Broke: Who Killed the Middle Classes" at several literary events this summer. More details on The Real Blog.

Spies now have too much influence over government. Says who? Says John le CarrĂ© in the Guardian.

Transpontine examines the days when Jessica Mitford lived in Rotherhithe.

"Their solution was to fill the first edition, on pages which would be replaced by match reports later, with transfer gossip stories. 'Eventually Murdoch got another printing press in the north so they could get the football in first time,' says a Fleet Street veteran. 'Then people complained that they missed the transfer stories! So they got back in and have been getting in ever since.'" explains how those unfounded transfer rumours came to fill our newspapers.

The Villagers: Nothing Arrived

The Villagers are an Irish indie folk bands whose first album was nominated for the Mercury Prize. This track is taken from their second.

Pitchfork says:
"Nothing Arrived" situates a pat lyrical resolution ... amidst easygoing pianos and acoustics like a wordy rendering of Travis ca. 12 Memories.
But I like it.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Liberty Hall, Washington Street, Northampton

I spent the afternoon exploring Semilong and Kingsthorpe in Northampton and was intrigued by this building. It seemed a little too industrial for a church or a school. My bet was a public baths, but I was not convinced.

When I got home I found its history on the Cinema Treasures site:
The former Liberty Hall is located in Kingsthorpe, to the north of the town centre, at the junction of Washington Street and Lincoln Street. Pictures were shown here as early as 1898, but on a temporary basis. The 1910 Kelly’s Guide to Northampton, lists it as Liberty Hall, secretary: Patrick Flynn. Writing in the August 1975 Cinema Theatre Association Bulletin, Marcus Eavis referred to it as the Kingsthorpe Picture Palace ‘definitely in business before December 1912’. Local sources also note it as Kingsthorpe Electric Palace, with an opening date of 21st October 1912. 
Around 1919 the venue was known as the Gem Cinema, advertised locally as “Little, but Good!”, with F. Haines as proprietor and W. G. Jolley the resident manager. Prices ranged from 3d to 1s with 2 weekly matinees. In 1928 the proprietor and resident manager was C. Goff but the Gem Cinema must have closed shortly after as there are no references to it operating by 1930. 
For many years the former cinema has been used by nearby ice-cream manufacturer E. Gallone Ltd. for servicing their vans, it is often possible to see a number of the familiar yellow and cream vehicles parked either outside or on the ramp inside the premises.
Sure enough, you can see an ice cream van in the picture I took today. And the antique petrol pumps in the yard are worth a mention too.

But I suspect that Liberty Hall had a life before it became a cinema. A church mission hall perhaps? Or does its name point to a connection with the Liberal Party?

The Great Little Bowden Allotment Fire of 2013: The Scouts help out

A heart-warming follow up to the drama of two weeks ago can be found in the Harborough Mail:
An arson attack which destroyed sheds, fence panels and trees and which will result in one man leaving his allotment has inspired community-spirited scouts to step in. 
Duncan Elliott, leader at Bowden Scouts, contacted the Mail after reading about the plight of Peter Pickering and his dad Joe last week. 
Peter Pickering has decided to give up his own allotment after nearly 40 years following the arson attack at the allotments near Little Bowden Recreation Ground, off Scotland Road in Harborough, on Friday, May 31 ... 
Mr Elliott said that it is a win-win situation as the work the Scouts will do will not only help Mr Pickering but will also help them attain their community badges. 
A key part of the badge is providing help in the community, something that this action by Bowden Scouts will certainly achieve. 
There will be between 10 and 15 scouts taking part in the clean-up and Peter Pickering said he expects the majority of their work to include removing debris left over from the fire. Burnt timber has already been removed. ...
Peter Pickering’s 90-year-old dad Joe, of Foxton, has now revisited his decision to quit the allotments and will continue.

Defectors and the Liberal Party 1910-2010

Last month Dr Alun Wyburn-Powell, the author of  Defectors and the Liberal Party 1910-2010, kindly wrote me a guest post on the history of defections from the Liberal Party and the Liberal Democrats.

Now his book has been reviewed by Nicholas Thomason for the LSE Review of Books:
For the majority of Liberal MPs who joined Labour, there was to be no happy ending however. Over half of the forty-seven defectors found their move to be unsuccessful. Confronted with a tight-knit culture of trade unionism, strict party discipline and often poverty; the largely wealthy, professional Liberals struggled to integrate. 
Friendships were difficult to forge and the lament of Scott, one of the Disillusioned Progressives, summed up the feelings of many: “…I have joined the Labour Party – but I have found few friends there + [sic] am looked upon with suspicious eyes. It is a poor result…’

Friday, June 14, 2013

All Saints, Sutton Bassett

Isn't this sweet?

The tiny church of All Saints is in Sutton Bassett. It was locked last Saturday - though the addresses where you could call for a key were listed on the door - but you can read about the interior on The Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture in Britain and Ireland.

Although Sutton Bassett is a small village, a few houses and the Queen's Head strung out along one road, it used to have a Methodist chapel too. And what with the beer festival, a vintage bus parked on the road and an ambulance trying to get through the throng, it even had  traffic jam while I was there.

Where do the Liberal Democrats go from here?

I’m buggered if I know.

That’s not really enough, is it? No wonder this blog is slipping down the rankings. But let’s try to write the sort of post the punters want.

Earlier this week Stephen Tall wrote about the need for a distinctive Liberal Democrat narrative for the 2015 general election:
For sure we all know the on-message-in-volume-over-time mantra by now: “A stronger economy, a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life.” But that’s not ... a narrative. It’s fine as a slogan and I’m not claiming I could better it. But I strongly suspect that if you blind-tested it with voters they would be unable to distinguish it from the Labour or Tory slogans.
The leadership's answer seems to be more of the same, in the shape of the A Million Jobs campaign.

It is good to see us engaging with such a central economic issue - our concerns can seem a little recherche to those outside the party. Indeed, when given the chance to argue for electoral reform in the AV referendum we seemed mystified as to how to argue for it.

But do we really expect voters to say in 2015: "I'm going to vote Liberal Democrat because, unlike the other parties, they believe in creating jobs"? That seems overoptimistic.

The Guardian quotes on of those unnamed, ubiquitous Liberal Democrat 'sources' as saying:
"The government as a whole has not told the jobs story. We as Liberal Democrats have been central to the growth of jobs through industrial strategy, regional growth policies and green jobs. This is a story that is going to take a year to build up."
That is true, but the Conservatives have an equal claim to this territory and it would be remarkable if they did not try to stake a claim there too. Besides, if you look into the detail of the 'Million Jobs" site you will find a lot that is about house building rather than industrial strategy or growth policies.

Today David Boyle wrote about an issue that is equally central to the economy but where there is a distinctively Liberal position to be expressed.

Writing of George Osborne's plans to return the Royal Bank of Scotland to the private sector, he said:
Britain is crying out for a small banking infrastructure like our competitors. The unbalanced state of the economy demands it. The coalition agreement promises to "foster diversity, promote mutuals and create a more competitive banking industry". How can the coalition justify returning the RBS monolith to the market without making it a useful and effective supporter of business recovery again? ...
The Treasury can go ahead with a sell-off and ignore the Commission if it wants to, but it can't ignore the Lib Dem half of the coalition. It seems to me a clear cut case for the Lib Dems here: vetoing early privatisation until RBS can be returned to the market as a useful and effective lending infrastructure, which it manifestly isn't at the moment. 
That alone would justify the party's involvement in the coalition. The prize could not be more important: providing the UK with an effective lender to expanding business which is so urgently needs.
This campaign would be right, popular and help make us distinct from the Conservatives. By its own it would not be enough, and "we stopped the wicked Conservatives doing X" always invites a question as to why we went into coalition with them in the first place if they are so wicked.

But this just the sort of issue that should form part of that distinctive Liberal Democrat narrative for 2015.

Tory MEP James Elles may not vote Conservative at next Euro elections

James Elles MEP writes on his blog today:
I for one will only be able to vote Conservative at the European elections next May if good sense prevails – as I still hope it may – and we do not go down a route that can only lead to disaster, both for Britain and for the Conservative Party.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Wheel & Compass, Weston by Welland

This is the Wheel & Compass at Weston by Welland, which was one of the pubs taking party in the Welland Valley Beer Festival last week.

If you think the building looks a little top-heavy, there is a reason. As Unmitigated England once explained:
As you can see, it has a slightly odd upper storey that is obviously an addition. Originally this was a two storey ironstone pub with a thatched roof. But the arrival of surveyors in the adjoining fields in the mid-nineteenth century meant that life was to be as upturned as the Welland Valley pastures that surround it. An extra storey was added to the pub as a long dormitory for navvies working on the line.
And you will see from the photograph below, the lower two storeys were built in ironstone and the later one in brick.

Those navvies, incidentally, were building the Great Northern Railway and London & North Western Railway Joint Line for the contractors Logan & Hemingway.

That is Logan as in this blog's hero J.W. "Paddy" Logan, Liberal MP for Harborough. It was building the GNR & LNWR Joint that brought him to this part of the world in the first place.