Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Record of Delivery: What the Liberal Democrats have achieved in government

Marsh Brook signal box and Malcolm Saville

Earlier this week the Department for Culture, Media and Sport announced that 26 signal boxes have been granted Grade II listed status. BBC News has the full list, and if you study it you will see that Marsh Brook box in Shropshire, which has featured here before, is among them.

My earlier post mentioned that there is a theory that Marsh Brook is the oldest signal box still operating in Britain. It also features in the Lone Pine stories of Malcolm Saville and, with the help of the person who runs the Malcolm Saville Society Twitter feed, I have been able to track down two passages that mention it.

Published in 1943, Mystery at Witchend was the first of the Lone Pine Stories. And in the very first chapter you will find:
At last they were ready to start, but got no further than the level-crossing gates. A brown-faced signalman leaning from his window smiled at them through the rain, and Richard called out: "May I come up and pull one of those levers one day?" but he couldn't hear the answer as a goods train clanked by. Some of the long, low trucks carried tanks, and as they passed, old John said, "I've got a lad in one of them things in Africa."
And in chapter 2 of Lone Pine Five from 1949 (by the magic of series fiction the children have barely grown older) you will find:
Meanwhile, Dickie and old George the signalman had recognized each other. 
"Do you remember, George, the very first day we came to Witchend and got off the train you promised I could come and pull some of your levers? I never did, you know. Shall I come now?" 
"I won't make no promises, young man, but I remembers you and all of you for that matter, right well. Just come up here and see me some time when I'm not so busy. . . . Now sir, I'll be closing the gates again in a minute, so maybe you'd better come over."
These passages occur in the original versions published by George Newnes. When the stories were republished as Armada paperbacks the text was cut to fit the shorter format and both passages are missing from these later versions. This is a pity, particularly in the case of Mystery at Witchend and its picture of rural railways carrying tanks. Without this sort of detail the stories are far more formulaic, though never quite Blytonesque, and less remarkable.

You may be able to pick up the George Newnes editions for a few pounds, but if you want the Lone Pine stories with dustwrappers you are going to have to pay silly money. The best bet may be the recent paperback reissues by Girls Gone By, which have the full text, but the earlier ones in this series are now getting rare and expensive too.

Warring Harborough Tories reduce the council to a farce

In November 2012 Michael Rook, leader of the ruling Conservative group on Harborough District Council, sacked his deputy Blake Pain.

By June 2013 Blake Pain had become leader of the group, and he got his revenge by suspending Michael Rook.

The result, though this Harborough Mail report is almost impenetrable, appears to be that the Tory group is split into warring factions:
A review into the decision by Harborough Council to replace a major planning document just a year after its adoption will go ahead after a group of councillors withdrew their objections to it. 
Former council leader Mike Rook and fellow Conservative councillors Grahame Spendlove-Mason and Colin Golding had called-in the decision by the authority’s new leadership to launch the review. 
It meant the matter was to be discussed at a scrutiny meeting this week, but it was revealed at Monday’s full council meeting that they had withdrawn their call-in. 
However councillors branded the call-in process farcical this week after it emerged the scrutiny meeting still had to take place before the review could be recommissioned. 
Held at The Three Swans Hotel last night (Tuesday) it lasted just two minutes as councillors decided the review should go ahead as originally decided.
What I think is behind this is a disagreement within the Conservatives over where to build new houses in the district. A group of rural Tories, led by Michael Rooks, wants to protect there own patches by cramming as many houses into Market Harborough. And another group, led by Blake Pain, wants to spread them more evenly across the district.

But unless you are an experienced kremlinologist, your guess is probably no better than mine.

Let us close with the robust good sense of the Lib Dem group leader Phil Knowles, again from the Harborough Mail:
“I now await the outcome of the investigation [into the Local Plan decision] and hope to see the resulting report made public and available but there are other questions that need to be addressed internally after tonight. 
“We need to look at the processes and protocols, to see why no stop mechanism is available. Secondly and importantly we need to know just how much all of this has cost. 
“I fully support the call-in mechanism - it is in the constitution. When the signatories decided to put this call-in forward they started a process that resulted in considerable amounts of officer time, the cost of legal advice being sought and much more culminating in the calling of a Special Scrutiny Panel Meeting. 
“When the signatories then decided for what ever reason to withdraw their signatures the cost did not stop, the process continued and we ended up with a specially convened Scrutiny Meeting lasting all of two minutes. I have already advised the officers that I will be seeking the information about just how much all of this has cost.”

The Burton on the Wolds oilfield

Forget fracking: we have struck oil in Leicestershire.

Energy Business Review has the story:
Egdon Resources received a planning consent from Leicestershire County Council to drill an exploratory borehole on the Burton on the Wolds prospect in the UK onshore petroleum exploration and production license PEDL201, south of Widmerpool Gulf geological basin. 
A 2D seismic data identified two targets with a conventional oil prospect at two distinct Carboniferous stratigraphic levels. 
Egdon will drill the shallower target, Rempstone sandstone, and a deeper secondary target underlying a seismic anomaly, which is indicative of a carbonate reef. 
The mean combined prospective resources for these two targets are estimated to be 3.8 million barrels of oil.
You can hear the doyen of the county's Liberal Democrats, David "J.R." Bill giving the news a cautious welcome on BBC Radio Leicester.

Besides, oil is already extracted in Leicestershire. And the Nottinghamshire oilfield was of strategic importance in World War II.

Incidentally, I was once stung by a bee in Burton of the Wolds. But I still wish the village well and hope the this exploration does not prove too intrusive.

Mr Cholmondley-Warner on the Market Harborough floods

You have seen pictures of Saturday's floods in Market Harborough.

You have seen the video of the 1958 floods in the town.

Now @solarpilchard has put them together.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Claude Lancaster's grave at Kelmarsh church

This is the grave of Colonel Claude Lancaster who rebuilt the cottages at Kelmarsh that we saw yesterday. It is a family plot and was originally erected for his father, so Claude's name appears on the back of the angel's plinth. (Incidentally, if you think it is in poor taste you ain't seen nothing at St Denys, Kelmarsh, yet.)

Claude served as Conservative MP for Fylde and then Fylde South between 1938 and 1970. He was not a great contributor to the Commons and seems to have been chiefly concerned with the coal industry, parts of which he owned before nationalisation.

In 1948 he married Nancy Keene Perkins, who had previously been married to Ronald Tree, the Conservative MP for Harborough until 1945. She was a cousin of both Nancy Astor and Joyce Grenfell and enormously influential as a gardener and decorator - it seems that much of what we think of as the classic English country house style comes from her work.

Their marriage did not last. The Wikipedia entry for Nancy Keene Perkins explains this as follows:
The couple had been having an affair for years prior to their marriage, and Nancy Lancaster later claimed that it was the suffocating, day-to-day intimacy caused by their marriage that made her realise why they were successful as lovers and ill-suited as husband and wife.
Tweedland quotes another explanation. Nancy had previously lived at Kelmarsh Hall with Ronald Tree, and the architect James F. Carter said:
“She was probably more in love with his home than with the man himself.”

David Howell's remarks on fracking show how polarised Britain is

Having had this exchange with the writer of Martin's View only a couple of days ago, I was not surprised by David Howell's bizarre contribution in the House of Lords today:
"Would you accept that it could be a mistake to think of and discuss fracking in terms of the whole of the United Kingdom in one go? 
"I mean there obviously are, in beautiful natural areas, worries about not just the drilling and the fracking, which I think are exaggerated, but about the trucks, and the delivery, and the roads, and the disturbance, and those about justified worries." 
He added: "But there are large and uninhabited and desolate areas. Certainly in part of the North East where there's plenty of room for fracking, well away from anybody's residence, where we could conduct without any kind of threat to the rural environment."
One of the problems we face as a country is the way the golden triangle of London, Oxford and Cambridge dominates our national life - see this recent Guardian article on Oxbridge admissions for an example.

The result of this is that many otherwise educated people have little knowledge of large tracts of their own country and indeed think themselves rather clever because of it.

There is no way of producing energy without an environmental cost, yet opposition to wind farms galvanises Conservative activists to an extent rivalled only by the thought of illegal immigration. At the root of that is the belief that nasty things like environmental degradation should not happen to nice affluent people like them but to someone else - poor people up north somewhere.

Howell has now apologised, and when we have finished laughing at him we ought to ask what we can do to change a society that produces people like him.

The Lib Dems cannot choose their coalition partners

What should the Liberal Democrats do if they hold the balance of power at the next general election?

The answer is that we shall probably have no choice.

The first reason is that the experience of coalition in this parliament may, rightly or wrongly, lead whichever is the largest of the parties - Labour or Conservative - to decide to govern as a minority and try their luck at another general election soon. We could even force this decision on them by refusing to form a coalition, but we Lib Dems are supposed to believe in coalition and would find the prospect a second election more frightening than either of the main parties.

The second reason is that it is unlikely that we shall be able to command a majority when combined with each of the other two parties after the next election.

After the 2010 election there were those who wanted a Labour/Lib Dem/SNP/Green coalition to be put together. This seemed inherently unstable to me - Alex Salmond would have asked for another billion for Scotland every second month and Sinn Fein would have held the balance of power in the Commons if its members decide to turn up - but even if it was the outcome you wanted the numbers were not quite there.

And it may well be the case after the next election that there is only one coalition (assuming Labour and the Tories do not get together - and they do have much in common) that can be put together. So the decision as to whether to govern with Labour or the Tories after 2015 may well be taken out of our hands by the voters even if the collapse of Lib Dem representation that many forecast fails to materialise - and I suspect it will fail.

Once you have more than two parties of any size under first past the post, election results become something of a lottery. We are not in government today because of Nick Clegg's masterly leadership - we lost seats and votes at the last election - but because of the way the votes for the other parties fell. Being lucky is an immensely useful quality in a leader, but it is best not to mistake it for strategic genius.

Stephen Tall makes some related points in his latest column for Conservative Home: "We Lib Dems haven't chosen our strategy. The voters have chosen it for us."

Market Harborough flooded in 1958

After Saturday night's events it seems appropriate to repost this vintage newsreel.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Colonel Lancaster's cottages at Kelmarsh

As you speed through Kelmarsh on the A508 you may spot these two terraces across the road from the lodge gates of the Hall. What you will not discover, unless you are there on foot, is this plaque on the end wall of one of them.

Though he lived at Kelmarsh Hall in Northamptonshire, Colonel Lancaster was Conservative MP for the Lancashire constituencies of Fylde and then Fylde South between 1938 and 1970. He has been mentioned on this blog before, in a post on Nancy Keene Perkins and Ronald Tree and I have since written more about him.

The story of the fire that destroyed the cottages that originally stood here is told on the Welcome to Kettering site:
It is difficult to believe the tragedy which overtook the stone cottages on the 4th May 1943. On that day, as lunch was being prepared, a spark somehow ignited the thatched roof of the middle house. A strong wind was blowing, and all the 13 houses were destroyed, rendering 44 people homeless. No one was injured, but few possessions were rescued. The cottages were rebuilt in their present form in 1948.
You can see a picture of them on the Leicestershire County Council Collections Online site.

Team Clegg should stop attacking their fellow Liberal Democrats

There were two forceful articles in the blogosphere today, both based in fears about Nick Clegg's strategy in general and a Telegraph article by Isabel Hardman - "Airy-fairy Lib Dems must face life outside the goldfish bowl" - in particular.

Simon Titley wrote on Liberator's blog:
Over the past year, a repeated theme of Clegg’s speeches has been the baseless accusation that many of his party’s members do not want to win or hold power, accompanied by the bogus claim that, until he became leader, the Liberal Democrats were merely a party of protest. ... Clegg even made these accusations in a speech at this June’s ALDC conference, to an audience of councillors (or ex-councillors who had lost their seats mainly due to him), who received his patronising lecture about ‘power’ in stony silence.
And Alex Marsh wrote of Hardman's article on the Social Liberal Forum site:
The post effectively deploys the Cleggtastic straw man of the perennial oppositionists. There is a lot of discursive work going on here. Activists are primarily interested in idealistic purity. Adherence to liberal values and making difficult decisions in government are mutually exclusive. Sensible policies are grown up policies. Sensible policies are the policies that Mr Clegg favours. Sensible policies are by definition therefore policies that are to the right of the views of activists. 
Indeed, Isabel’s post constructs activists as a key problem for the Liberal Democrats. The party’s attempt to maintain internal democracy long after the other major parties have rid themselves of it means that the leadership cannot simply set out whatever policies they happen to favour. Labour and Conservatives have long since removed any real power over party policy from the grassroots, activists, and party conferences. Power lies at the centre. The implication is that life would be a lot easier for the Liberal Democrat leadership if it could wrest power from the membership and shape a policy platform to its own taste, in the light of the focus group results, the triangulation and the marketing briefing.
It seems it is not the Liberal Democrat membership that needs to "adopt a more grown-up approach to policymaking".

Rutland County Council votes to sue its own members

This evening Rutland County Council voted to indemnify its chief executive and other officers to take legal action against three of its own members. The potential costs are estimated at £150,000. For the background see my post from last week.

In that post I described the three councillors under threat as members of UKIP. They certainly announced they were joining UKIP only a month ago and met Nigel Farage.

Yet if you look at their 4Rutland site today you will find no mention of UKIP. Odd.

Summer Reading Round-Up 5

I have invited some bloggers to nominate a couple of books they have enjoyed recently and write a few sentences about each. 

You are welcome to send me your own choices. I suggest you nominate one political and one non-political book, but I don’t insist on that.

You can read Round-up 1Round-up 2Round-up 3 and Round-up 4 on this blog.

Alex Marsh

The New Few: Or a Very British Oligarchy by Ferdinand Mount

One of the most interesting books I've read recently. Much of the critical commentary on the changing nature of British society originates with the political left. Mount is very clearly a man of the right, having been closely aligned with the Thatcher administration, and yet he expresses grave concerns about the way in which our political economy is being transformed.

He is as exercised by increasing income inequality and the rise of an increasingly unaccountable corporate elite as any member of the Occupy movement. He sees this as signifying a corrosion of capitalism – undermining the characteristics that made capitalism socially beneficial in the first place. He is similarly concerned about the erosion of democracy.

In particular he highlights the concentration of power at the centre. This leads to an increasingly detached and homogenous political class and an increasingly disengaged population who feel they have little influence over what happens to them.

Mount’s diagnosis of the maladies afflicting us could be seen as a counsel of despair, but there is a strand of optimism in his thinking. He argues that the move to oligarchy is not inevitable or irreversible. But we need to wake up and recognise that our social order is being challenged at a very profound level.

The Chill by Ross MacDonald

I am a great fan of American hard-boiled mysteries of the mid-twentieth century. The absolute master of the genre is Ross MacDonald. He moves beyond earlier writers like Raymond Chandler to develop more psychologically complicated characters and more sophisticated plots.

I’m currently reading The Chill from 1963. As is often the case with MacDonald, the story starts with a missing person and family breakdown, as a young newly-wed goes missing and MacDonald’s detective – Lew Archer – is hired by her distraught husband to find her. What follows is a gradual unpicking of a web of murderous events over the previous two decades.

One of the advantages of having read many of these classic American mysteries is that it helps appreciate the achievements of Malcolm Pryce in his ongoing series of Aberystwyth noir novels. Not only do they manage to capture key aspects of Welsh life and character with humour, but they also do a good job of pastiching the hard-boiled genre.

Alex Marsh blogs at Alex’s Archives. Follow him on Twitter.

Jennie Rigg

My political book is a classic: John Stuart Mill's The Subjection of Women - available free on Kindle so no excuses. Those in the know about Mill are familiar with the idea that he was a feminist, partly due to his respect for and collaborations with his wife Harriet, whose intellect he saw as equal to his own. Anyone who does not believe feminism is intrinsic to Liberalism should read this clear and and forensic deconstruction of the second-class status of women.

My non-political book is Terra by Mitch Benn, which is a quirky and warm-hearted sci-fi tale, and impressively well-written for a debut novel. The lead character is adorable and there is some wry observational stuff about how we run things on this little planet. If you want to sample the first chapter there's a bunch of famous people reading it here.

Bonus recommendation: if you like audio books and share my soft spot for horror, I run a spotify playlist called Christopher Lee reads stuff, which is full of genre classics and I find very soothing when I have a migraine, such as I have had today, and can't bear to have the light on but want a bit of fiction.

Jennie Rigg blogs at Automated Attack Monkeys, Scalpel Mines, & Acid. Follow her on Twitter.

Caron Lindsay

Just Russell: The collected speeches of Sir Russell Johnston MP, Leader of the Scottish Liberal Party, 1979-1986

This second collection of Russell’s conference speeches coincides with the time when I became politically aware, so it’s good to read as an adult the sort of things that fuelled the idealism and liberalism I embraced as a teenager. It’s rejuvenating and inspiring to hear his often poetic, emotional yet intellectually coherent and consistent. Much of what he says could still apply today, although perhaps Robert Mugabe may not be quoted so readily. There are also some messages for us about how we should conduct ourselves in political debate that I think might be useful for both leadership and critics to apply. Find out which journalist walked out during one speech  - and which can’t be fully reproduced because the hand-written draft was lost. It’s a must-read commentary on the politics of the 1980s covering Thatcherism, the Labour Party falling apart and, crucially, the fate of the Alliance.

Moranthology by Caitlin Moran

This is little more than a slightly augmented collection of her Times columns but well worth reading or re-reading. From tales from her holidays, to compelling arguments for maintaining libraries to outlining the effects of welfare reform to interviews with rock stars and visits to the sets of Sherlock and Doctor Who, there’s a diversity of quick-witted writing which will make you laugh, cry and, occasionally, want to chuck the book across the room – although, as mine was an e-book, I managed to resist that temptation.

Caron Lindsay blogs at Caron's Musings. Follow her on Twitter.

Lembit Opik has been cancelled

Thanks, as so often, to Martin Brookes.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Six of the Best 373

Photo of Charterhouse Square by
 Stuart Taylor
"What will happen at Glasgow is a series of votes where Ministers will tell Conference representatives that it would be politically damaging for the party to fight the 2015 election on positions different to those taken by the Coalition Government. Of course, the Conservatives will not be doing this on subjects such as equal marriage, Europe or renewable energy; but that appears to be of no concern to the strategists." Gareth Epps ponders Liberal Democrat identity on the Social Liberal Forum website.

"It’s not worth removing him unless there is a credible replacement with a coherent alternative strategy. Sadly, no such Liberal Democrat MP currently exists." Simon Titley on Liberator's blog argues that getting rid of Nick Clegg would not be an instant answer to the Liberal Democrat's problems.

Jennie Rigg says that a 'report abuse' button will not solve Twitter's misogyny problem.

"Just on the edge of the City of London sits a little known collection of Elizabethan era buildings." IanVisits shows us around Charterhouse Square.

"Wild land protection offers some degree of protection against those who see Scotland wildest land as nothing more than a vast goldmine to be plundered for profit. Protection is not the be-all and the end-all – and there’s a still debate underway about what it might mean in practice. But it would least make a clear statement that wild land belongs to the nation of Scotland and not just to those who happen to currently hold the title deeds." Bella Caledonia makes the case for protecting the Scottish wilderness.

Spitalfields Life shows us to Andrew Coram's antique shop and the wonderful old china he is selling from his own collection.

Market Harborough floods: The aftermath

There were not many signs of last night's dramas in town this morning beyond some silty pavements. The great exception was this shop, which was being pumped out by the fire brigade.

Elsewhere a coffee shop had clearly suffered from leaking windows and a charity shop was taking no chances.

See pictures of last night's floods.

Gary Shearston: I Get a Kick Out of You

At the end of September 1974 I contracted bronchitis and was off school for a couple of weeks. This period coincided with the second general election campaign of that year, and I got into the habit of staying up to watch the late night election programmes.

I was already interested in politics, partly as a result of the Liberal Party's recent by-election successes - Alan Wyburn-Powell reminded us that Friday was the 40th anniversary of our double triumph at Ripon and the Isle of Ely. But those two weeks were certainly a factor in making me far more interested.

Who knows? If I had kept healthy as a 14-year-old there might have been no Lord Bonkers.

The record that reminds me of lying in bed, feeling ill and listening to Radio 1 in those weeks is this one. Gary Shearston, it turns out, had a considerable reputation as a folk singer in his native Australia and was later ordained as an Anglican priest.

Is it any good? Nor really, though it is hard to dislike and it is at least a version great Cole Porter song. Perhaps its success (it reached no. 7 in the singles charts) was a sign of the coming of that strange period, between the height of glam rock and the coming of punk and disco, when the charts seemed unusually full of novelty hits.

Something made me think of this song the other day and look Shearston up. I found he had died on the first of this month, aged 74.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Latest on the Market Harborough floods

Well done to the Harborough Mail on getting the news of tonight's floods on its website already - particularly as its own offices seem to be among the buildings worst affected.

Thanks to @wendyaspland on Twitter for the picture. There is another one of the floods in an earlier post here.

Later. The morning after the night before.

Flooding in Market Harborough

This is the town centre tonight.

Later. More news here. Even later. Clearing up the next day.

Thanks to @jewelsbyjayne on Twitter for the photo.

In which I fail to get a cup of tea at a Buddhist cafe

I have long felt warm towards Buddhism. That may at first have been the result of coming across the lama in Kim, but there are other reasons. Even if recent events do not wholly bear this out, I suspect that religions with no god or many gods are inherently less aggressive than monotheistic ones.

So the sign in Kelmarsh, a few miles south of Market Harborough, pointing to a Buddhist centre only a quarter of a mile away and promising refreshments intrigues me every time I pass it.

Today I tried to visit the Nagarjuna Kadampa Meditation Centre, but found its cafe closed. 

I was ready to reconsider my view of the Buddhist faith - at least you get a cup of tea from time to time with the Church of England - until I got home and found that the closure was clearly mentioned on the centre's website (even if a different reason is given).

Besides, I found plenty of points of interest in Kelmarsh even though the Hall was closed to the public for a wedding. No doubt I shall share them with you in coming days.

I shall go back to the Buddhist cafe one day when it is open. It is housed in a modern outbuilding close to the village's rather elephantine old rectory, which is now home to the centre.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Look at Life: London cafeterias

Six of the Best 372

Ian Ridley suggests nine questions to ask would-be Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidates.

"The Archbishop of Canterbury shows more sign of thinking about how to abolish capitalism than many on the left," argues Stumbling and Mumbling.

Michael Skey, writing on the LSE's Euro Crisis in the Press blog, finds UKIP are the English Tea Party: "Notwithstanding these important caveats, recent research on both sides of the Atlantic points to some interesting similarities between the two parties, both, in terms of their supporters’ attitudes and experiences and the impact they may be having on the wider political system, as a whole. Of particular interest, here, are anxieties around generational change and the extent to which debates about entitlement are often tied to questions of (national) belonging."

Cats walk the line between familiar and strange, says David Wood on aeon.

missivesfromdoktorb tries to make sense of the lost railway lines of Preston

"One of Scotland’s more infamous and unusual ruins can be found in beautiful woodlands behind the village of Cardross and overlooking the river Clyde. St Peters Seminary is a hulking, concrete behemoth, a brutalist spaceship launched on the principles of Le Corbusier that crash-landed in an alien world of curving farmland hills when it should have docked in London’s Barbican estate." adcochrane explores a remarkable site.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Summer Reading Round-Up 4

I have invited some bloggers to nominate a couple of books they have enjoyed recently and write a few sentences about each. 

You are welcome to send me your own choices. I suggest you nominate one political and one non-political book, but I don’t insist on that.

You can read Round-up 1Round-up 2 and Round-up 3 on this blog.

Mary Reid

People Power: A User’s Guide to Democracy by Dan Jellinek (Bantam)

A few weeks ago Dan Jellinek sent me a proof copy of his book. I intend to review it for Lib Dem Voice, but real democracy, in the form of a challenging by-election, has erupted in my patch, so I need to finish reading it very soon.

Dan is one of the movers and shakers in online democracy, although he carefully treads a non-partisan path in all his activities. His book is an ambitious everyman’s guide to democratic systems in the UK, comprehensively researched and written in an engaging style. He did interview me about policy making in the Lib Dems, but if you doze for a moment while reading the book you will probably miss it.

A Small Town Affair by Rosie Wallace (Headline)

I headed up to Orkney for a holiday earlier this year, so it seemed appropriate to take with me the first novel written by the wife of the former MP for Orkney and Shetland. Perhaps not surprisingly, the plot centres on the wife of a new Lib Dem MP, as she becomes the focus of gossip on the town’s grapevine, through a series of beautifully written comic scenes that made me laugh out loud.

This is perfect light holiday reading, especially for Lib Dem activists, who are gently but affectionately caricatured within. I’m sure you all have a Minty Oliver in your local party – an elderly and eccentric activist who manages to untangle all the complicated situations that the rest get themselves into.

The question is: which of these two books is my political choice?

Mary Reid writes a blog.

Andrew Hickey

My political choice is Conrad Russell's An Intelligent Person's Guide To Liberalism, which I recently read at the prodding of Alex Wilcock, and wished I'd read years earlier. A wonderful, insightful book, it manages to express in its 122 pages everything that distinguishes Liberalism both as a set of principles and as a specifically historical movement linked to the Liberal and Liberal Democrat parties in the UK. It's absolutely essential for all Liberals, in and out of the party. It's out of print, but second-hand copies can be picked up for ten pounds or so.

Favourite quote: "I can still remember, when I was five, looking at William Lord Russell’s portrait on the wall, and asking my father what he did. My father replied; “Oh, he was a very good man. The King cut his head off." The distrust of unfettered power implicit in that remark is very deep in the Liberal inheritance, and very deep in the current Liberal Democrat concern with constitutional reform."

As for my other choice, I think readers of this blog would be likely to enjoy Shell-Shocked, the autobiography of Howard Kaylan. While it concentrates too much on the sex and drugs and not enough on the rock and roll, there are still plenty of wonderful details about recording music in the 1960s and 70s. Kaylan started out as the lead singer of The Turtles, but has performed in some capacity or other with almost every great musical figure of the 60s and 70s, whether by having Ray Davies produce a Turtles album, being lead singer for Frank Zappa for three years, backing John Lennon at an impromptu appearance, singing backing vocals on all T-Rex's hits or singing on Springsteen's Hungry Heart.

And where else are you going to find out Tom Jones' pet name for his penis?

Andrew Hickey blogs at Sci-Ence! Justice Leak! Follow him on Twitter.

Paul Walter

A Swim-on Part in the Goldfish Bowl by Carol Thatcher

A very absorbing book. It didn't make me feel all that enamoured of Carol Thatcher but I enjoyed reading all the little anecdotes. The book appears to be largely (and rather outrageously) the basis for the Oscar winning film The Iron Lady. So it is worth reading for that reason alone.

Crying with Laughter: My life story by Bob Monkhouse

A bit of an old one, but a fascinating story of an extraordinary man. Worth reading alone for the amusing story of the early days of The Golden Shot. Little known trivia fact: Bob Monkhouse bequeathed the largest known collection of Butlin's whisky glasses. He did shedloads of stand-up for Butlin's in the 70s and 80s. Before each performance they would give him a glass of whisky. Once drunk he put the glass in his brief case and took it home. Then he kept them all along with his vast collection of (annotated) TV Times and TV programmes recorded on video. He owned the UK's first privately owned video recorder. It cost him almost as much as house cost at the time.

Paul Walter blogs at Liberal Burblings. Follow him on Twitter.

Church of England credit unions to take on Wonga

A bold initiative from the Church of England? Perhaps there is a God after all.

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, mentioned his plan for C of E credit unions in an interview with Total Politics:
A plan for the church to develop credit unions has been floated, with Welby proud that the church is “putting our money where our mouth is” in developing an alternative to payday money-lenders. The plan, he says, is to create “credit unions that are both engaged in their communities and are much more professional – and people have got to know about them.” 
It will, he adds, be a “decade-long process”, but Welby is ready for the battle with the payday giants. “I’ve met the head of Wonga and I’ve had a very good conversation and I said to him quite bluntly we’re not in the business of trying to legislate you out of existence, we’re trying to compete you out of existence.” He flashes that smile again. “He’s a businessman; he took that well.”
To an extent the archbishop is banging is crook against an open door. The government announced a year ago, in the face of concerns about payday lenders, that credit unions were to receive up to £38m to help them expand. And those lenders were recently warned of tougher rules and a possible ban on advertising if they do not start to act more responsibly.

But it is good to see the C of E taking up its social responsibility in this way. In many communities the church is now the only public building left.

And if nothing else, it may stop it talking about sex all the time.

Vince Cable has already backed the plan, and I am pleased to see support for it on Twitter from our party's self-styled 'economic liberals'. Sometimes it can be hard to see how their views go beyond support for the interests of the big corporations.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Manchester's lost canal and tunnel

If you find this interesting you may want to visit the Dark Arches under Leeds station.

Lembit Opik, pop impresario

A story in The Packet begins:
It was a case of being in the right 'plaice' at the right time for the daughter of Porthleven fish and chip shop owner Roland Lowery when she bumped into former MP turned ex Mr Cheeky Girl Lembit Obik.
It turns out that  the former MP for Montgomeryshire is promoting "Southampton starlet" Rosie Anne Storer, soon (she and Lembit hope) to be better known as Rozii Chaos.

And Lembit liked the image of Rosie Lowery, the daughter of the Porthleven chip magnate, so he has recruited her to help style Ms Chaos.

What could possibly go wrong?

A paperweight from Mr Logan's desk

Readers of this blog will be familiar with the career of J.W. Logan, railway contractor, Liberal MP for Harborough 1891-1904 and 1910-16, and instigator of a mass brawl on the floor of the House of Commons.

A few weeks ago someone bought this simple paperweight, cut from marble in the shape of a book, in an antique shop in Cornwall. He looked up J.W, Logan on the web and, inevitably, found this blog. He sent me a photograph of his find and we swapped a couple of emails.

Then one day a heavy little parcel came through my door and I found that, in an act of great kindness, the paperweight had been sent to me.

Its original finder was Roger Street, an expert on the prehistory of the bicycle. The very least I can do is thank him here and commend his website to all my readers.

Matthew Oakeshott is right to criticise the government's Help to Buy scheme

I have always struggled to see the point of the government's 'Help to Buy' scheme. Yes, young people face a huge problem in affording their first home now, but the answer to that is allow prices to fall. Putting more money into the housing market will ultimately force prices up and make matters worse.

So I was pleased to see Matthew Oakeshott making just this point in the Independent today:
Help to Buy could soon become “Help to Boom and Bust”.
Indeed he extends it by questioning the wisdom of years of near-zero interest rates:
UK house prices remain way above their long-term ratio to average earnings, which are flat as a pancake. But artificially low mortgage interest rates are ticking time bombs under house price affordability and will give millions of home buyers serious grief when the Bank of England phases out quantitative easing, as it eventually must.
Note that the person pursuing these harmful interventions is the free-marketeer George Osborne and the person rightly calling for the market to be allowed to operate is the social democrat Lord Oakeshott.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Glasgow in the 1970s

If you like this then you may also enjoy St Mungo's Medals from last week.

The music here is "Sing" by Travis.

King of the UK uncut?

Working as a press office in my day job, I well know the desperation of journalists faced with the problem of coming up with a new angle on a story that has been running for days.

So well done, I think, to the Evening Standard for this take on the royal baby story:
Forget about the name of our future king. There is another delicate question that hasn’t been answered. Will the young Prince of Cambridge be circumcised?
This reminds me of a story I read the other day on Castle News - "Independent news for Bishop's Castle, Shropshire" - about Antony Lempert, a doctor who lives in the town and campaigns against the circumcision of baby boys for religious reasons.

He told the website:
“Research from Birmingham for example found that last year eleven baby boys under one were admitted to the paediatric intensive care unit of Birmingham Children’s Hospital with life-threatening complications such as infection or bleeding as a direct result of circumcision.”
I am pleased that the campaign against female genital mutilation now has such prominence, but it seems we should be concerned about the circumcision of boys too.

Six of the Best 371

Alex's Archives is not impressed by market fundamentalist talk of a "takeover" of the Liberal Democrats: "One of the great virtues of liberalism is tolerance. Many within the Liberal Democrats value the fact that the party has been a broad church, encompassing a broad range of perspectives across the left-right axis. However, it would seem increasingly evident that that view is not shared by all."

"The Home Office’s “Go Home” poster is the kind of divisive stunt I would have expected if the BNP were in government," says Lester Holloway.

panGloss demonstrates the fatuousness of David Cameron's war on porn.

"Since he was chosen to open the batting in the 2009 Ashes he averages almost 40 with the bat and under 30 with the ball. If you discount the greats in this field, Kallis and Sobers, there isn’t an all rounder who wouldn’t be proud of that record." The Armchair Selector comes to the defence of Shane Watson.

Has the craft beer bubble burst? asks Perfect Pint.

On the RSPB Community blog, Andre Farrar visits the Dearne Valley in South Yorkshire - King Coal's green heart.

The surprising history of walking in cricket

Though it wasn't the only incident of its type in the first test, Stuart Broad's decision not to walk after edging a catch and being given not out by the umpire gave rise to a lot of outraged comment.

A good example was Charles Crawford on The Commentator - which has nothing to do with cricket, but is a blog of right-wing opinion.

Crawford wrote:
In earlier years it was part of the moral code of cricket that a batsman ‘walked’ (ie left the field without waiting for any formal umpire decision) when he knew that he had been caught out. He would not want to take unfair advantage by continuing to bat.
...the spirit of our times is being redefined and dumbed down before our very eyes. Stuart Broad yesterday joined that swinish charge. It’s not about what is right or decent or fair or reasonable. It’s what you can get away with.
Yet the history of walking in cricket is more nuanced than Crawford believes.

The other day Backwatersman who a) writes Go Litel Blog, Go…, which all cricket lovers should read, and b) lives across the road from me, turned up a 1966 article by E.W. Swanton on just this subject.

Backwatersman calls Swanton the "Pope of Cricket", and if you doubt the status he held in the game, here is Matthew Engel contributing to Swanton's Guardian obituary in January 2000:
It is hard now to convey the influence he wielded in his prime. Perhaps only a thundering Times leader in the mid-19th century carried as much weight at Westminster as Swanton's pronouncements did at Lord's. But he was doubly influential; he was so deeply involved in the inner counsels of the MCC that what he said in private mattered as much as what he said in print.
In his post, Backwatersman quotes Swanton's views on walking - from 1966, remember:
Yet this is a new thing, and old cricketers in the Press-box out here such as J.H. Fingleton, W.J. O’Reilly, A.R. Gover and others fortify my own conviction that before the war the batsman waited almost invariably for the decision. Jack Hobbs, for instance, regarded as the beau ideal of a sportsman, always waited: so did a man of an equally highly considered integrity in the other camp, Charlie Macartney.
Not only that, Swanton goes on to cite four reasons why the practice of walking may not be good for the game. Behind them is the suspicion that some batsmen were careful to cultivate a reputation for walking when it did not matter so that they good fool the umpire by staying put when it did matter.

As so often, the appeal to a Golden Age proves problematic when you look at the evidence more closely.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Summer Reading Round-up 3

I have invited some bloggers to nominate a couple of books they have enjoyed recently and write a few sentences about each. 

You are welcome to send me your own choices. I suggest you nominate one political and one non-political book, but I don’t insist on that.

You can read Round-up 1 and Round-up 2 on this blog.

Nick Barlow

1688: The First Modern Revolution by Steve Pincus

I've always thought that the Glorious Revolution and all the events that surrounded it are one of the most fascinating parts of British and world history, yet it's a period of history that's consistently ignored in our culture. There are plenty of novels, TV series and films covering the numerous Plantagenets and Tudors, but the struggle for the throne after the death of Charles II is relatively ignored.

Pincus's book is an attempt to place the events of 1688 in their proper context as a true revolution, comparable in scale to the events of the Civil Wars half a century earlier, or the tumultuous events in America and France that followed a century later. The traditional interpretation of 1688 is as an orderly event, where the nation chose one monarch over another, but Pincus explains not just how unlikely and unpredictable the chain of events that set William and Mary on the throne were, but how what happened in Britain and Ireland was intimately linked to the greater struggle for power in Europe, as an array of nations set out to check the power of Louis XIV.

It's a reminder that British history isn't the sedate progression of monarchs and battles that some like to present it as, but something much looser, wilder and part of a wider history, whose outcomes weren't inevitable. It's not just a good introduction to the history of the period, but a book that will make you look on our history differently.

Halting State and Rule 34 by Charles Stross

Some of the most interesting takes on our contemporary society are coming from modern British science fiction, and Stross has become one of the leading writers in that genre. These two books are near-future crime thrillers, sharing a setting and some characters, extrapolating some of our current technological and social trends a decade or so into the future. Stross looks at what it would be like to investigate a crime in a society where surveillance has become all pervasive, and everything a police office does is recorded through Google Glass-like technology. More importantly, he speculates on just what crime will become in a world that's increasingly globalised and virtual - how does a local police force investigate a crime that's taken place in a game world?

Stross' future is one that feels both plausible and strange, where elements recognisable to us sit alongside technologies that are currently bleeding edge, but have become commonplace by the time the books are set. He's a writer who loves to speculate - see his blog for much more - but knows how to place that speculation within the lives of real characters.

Both books use the interesting technique of being narrated in the second person across multiple characters, but Stross has the talent to make it work and the style works perfectly with the subject of the books. Computer games are often narrated in the same tone, so why shouldn't a book in which they're central to the plot be narrated the same way? Stross creates novels that entertain you with their plot, but also make you think about just where we're heading and whether we can do anything about it.

Nick Barlow blogs at What You Can Get Away With. Follow him on Twitter.

Iain Brodie Browne

A note has arrived from Bonkers Hall: what am I reading this summer?

Our Victorian forebears marketed Southport as being on the Lancashire Rivera and for once it is living up to their billing. It is hot. If I were off to Birkdale beach cycling along Snuttering Lane what would be stuffed into my saddlebag today? In truth there would be nothing too demanding. Jonathan suggested I choose two books one political and one not.

First up is David Erdal's "Beyond the Corporation: Humanity Working". This book is a passionate, committed work advocating workers' ownership. It challenges traditional models of ownership and lays out the experience of those who, like Erdal himself, took the road less travelled by. His own family firm -a paper mill in Fife-was transferred to employee ownership and it has flourished in contrast to a similar company which  took the usual route recommended by banks and business advisers and was sold off to venture capitalists. Erdal takes a hard look at those who insist, in the teeth of the evidence, that shared ownership will never work - a sorry tale, he argues, of prejudice masquerading as economic thinking. Here are other case studies of firms familiar to Liberals: Scott Bader, John Lewis and the mighty Mondargon co-ops.

Jo Grimond visited Mondargon along with journalist, and sometime Liberal candidate, Robert Oakeshott . On their return they established, what is today, the Employee Ownership Association. Jo was particularly enamoured with the local workers mutual bank that the co-ops established. It attracted savings from the region and has financed a network of worker owned enterprises which now have 100,00 employees. As one reviewer observed that the greatest success of this approach was ' the sheer happiness employees experience in working together in businesses that they own together, sharing the wealth that they create'. 
You can hear an audio clip of Erdal talking about the book online.

 It is Sunday, the shadows are lengthening, and the evening has come, the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over, and our work done. The worshipers at St Asquith's are hurrying home after Evensong. Revd Hughes has detained them far too long preaching on Martha and Mary and the systemic effects of patriarchal stereotyping (in a sermon he pinched off the internet).  The strains of King Charles I's Evening hymn  linger more lastingly in their memory. Why do they rush home? It is because Sunday is the day that the next instalment of Acts and Omissions comes online.

Let me explain. Catherine Fox has been blogging a novel, one chapter a week, rather like Dickens or Wilkie Collins, since the turn of the year, and believe me the cliff hangers at the end of some chapters rival the fate of Little Nell. Every Sunday night they enter the diocese of Lindchester, a world as completely imagined as Bonkers Hall. There they meet the outrageous Freddie May with his gorgeous tenor voice who is unsettling the conscience of the evangelical Bishop Paul -and not just because of what he has painted above Father Wendy's new curate, Miss Virginia Farrow-Ball’s bed…. Bishop Paul will be please to see Freddie take up his choral scholarship at Barchester Cathedral, although I'm not so sure the elderly spinster Miss Barbara Blatherwick will be so relieved. This is a place where clerics drank champagne to celebrate the passing of the Equal Marriage Act but where Gene, the Dean's husband, is not prepared to deviate from the law that you don’t waste vintage champagne on evangelicals. 

It is a glorious, exuberant romp of a novel. Whether you identify with the militantly lapsed Dr Jane Rossiter or the tortured soul of Father Dominic, by the time chapter 52 arrives and Freddie has takes his last scandalous risk the recollection of the heat wave will have faded and I shall be most likely be cycling along Snuttering Lane in the snow.

Iain Brodie Browne blogs at Birkdale Focus. Follow him on Twitter.

Tim Holyoake

Nick Hornby's protagonist in "High Fidelity" is asked by a reporter to name his five favourite records of all time and then spends days agonising about his choices. As I appear to have many of the same personality quirks, I've found it just as difficult to pick out just two books from my summer reading list. I've also been worrying that the ones I've chosen might somehow be the wrong ones!

Anyway, neatly straddling my interest in politics and psychology is Steve Reicher and Cliff Stott's e-book "Mad Mobs and Englishmen?" This examines the 2011 riots and questions many of instant explanations provided by politicians of all parties at the time. Reicher and Stott argue that the only way to prevent future riots is to go beyond the easy consensus of the cause being feral youth out of control. It’s a challenging read and has, unusually for an academic work of this type, been dramatised by the Worklight Theatre Company.

 My second choice is J.G. Farrell’s "A Girl in the Head". The action unfolds around a rather dismal English seaside town over an August Bank Holiday weekend, which sees anti-hero Boris Slattery wondering whether his life has just been “a meaningless detail rapidly receding into a mass of other meaningless details”. It’s a funny, touching and ultimately tragic novel which shows glimpses of the genius Farrell was becoming prior to writing his Booker Prize winning novel "The Siege of Krishnapur".

Tim Holyoake blogs at Just One More Ten Pence Piece. Follow him on Twitter.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Artwoods: If I Ever Get My Hands on You

The Artwoods were a sixties band formed by Arthur Wood, the older brother of Ronnie Wood.

"If I Ever Get My Hands on You" appears on their 1966 EP "I Take What I Want" and features keyboard player Jon Lord, later of Deep Purple, prominently.

Rutland County Council to take legal action against its UKIP members?

Martin Brookes alerts us the fact that Rutland County Council is holding a special meeting on 29 July. It is being held to take forward the idea that the council taking legal action against three of its own members.

I blogged about this back in January when the idea was first discussed. And a few days later, speaking in the House of Lords,  Tom McNally went out of his way to say that the idea of a local authority suing for defamation was a non starter.

Looking at the report going to the meeting, it seems the council is trying to get round this:
That the Council grants an indemnity to, and support to the Chief Executive and/or officers, to take legal action in her/their own name(s) for defamation by Councillors Gale, Richardson and Wainwright of the Rutland Group of the United Kingdom Independence Party
I am not aware of the finer points of this case, but the danger of councils acting in this way to stifle legitimate criticism is clear.

And the danger of Rutland County Council running up huge debts is even clearer. It would be a good idea if the meeting on 29 July denied to drop this whole misbegotten idea.

Since the affair began, the three councillors being threatened have disbanded their Rutland Anti-Corruption Group and joined UKIP.

I note Martin's comment:
UKIP say they are not racist I have not yet met a Rutland UKIP supporter who is not.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Summer Reading Round-up 2

This is the second of these round-ups - no.1 is here. I have invited some bloggers to nominate a couple of books they have enjoyed recently and write a few sentences about each. You are welcome to send me your own choices. I suggest you nominate one political and one non-political book, but I don’t insist on that.

Iain Dale

Dominion by C.J. Sansom

If you are a fan of counterfactual history and you wonder what might have happened in May 1940 had Lord Halifax become prime minister rather than Winston Churchill, you will love this book. The author, C J Sansom, is a strange cove. He rose to prominence with a highly successful series of novels set in the reign of Henry VIII, all about the life of a lawyer, Matthew Shardlake. He then wrote a spy novel, 'Winter in Madrid', and hit the headlines recently when he donated £160,000 to the Better Together campaign. He literally hates the SNP, which is evident at various points in the plot of 'Dominion'. This is his first counterfactual novel, but I suspect it won’t be his last. It's long at 592 pages, which include a long explanatory note at the end justifying the approach he took to the book. It's all quite convincing, because had Halifax put up a fight, there's little doubt that he would indeed have become prime minister and I suspect sued for peace with Germany within a very short time.

The plot of 'Dominion' involves a slightly quixotic scientist who learns that America has developed the atom bomb. The year is 1952. Queen Elizabeth is on the throne (still unmarried) and Lord Beaverbrook is the Nazi sympathising prime minister. Somewhat bizarrely Enoch Powell is in the Quisling-esque Cabinet as Secretary of State for India. Powell’s wife Pam was understandably furious with Sansom for portraying her late husband in this manner, and I suspect Jonathan Aitken is none too pleased at the portrayal of Beaverbrook. Churchill is the renegade leader of the resistance, but doesn't feature much in the book until the end, when Hitler’s death is announced. I really enjoyed the book as a whole and wanted more. It's a good holiday read and I can’t imagine anyone would get to the end and wish they hadn't bothered.

Gaffer by Neil Warnock

I am a great devourer of football biographies and autobiographies. When I saw Neil Warnock had written his autobiography I thought it would be a sure fire winner. And it is. Sort of. It’s not a conventional autobiography in that it doesn't tell Warnock’s story chronologically. The book is themed around different aspects of football management and although at first I wasn't very sure that this approach worked, by the end I thought it had been a thoroughly good idea. The book concentrates quite heavily on Warnock's time at QPR and Leeds and very entertaining it is too. But I found it very odd that the whole Carlos Tevez saga was dismissed in little more than a page. Being a West Ham fan I am supposed to dislike Warnock, but I have always had a sneaking admiration for him. He is a mould breaker. He fights the establishment, and that’s what has led to him never really being given a chance with one of the top teams. Warnock knows how to put together a proper team. He’s got a reputation as a long ball merchant, but that is unfair. Given the right players he is capable of producing a very entertaining team. He says he has now retired. I am not convinced. I suspect he will be back on the managerial merry-go-round before too long.

Iain Dale writes a blog. Follow him on Twitter.

Mark Pack

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

For much of the book the picture it paints of Steve Jobs is of such a flawed, rude, wasteful, divisive figure that it's easy to forget this is the biography of an amazing success, not a dreadful failure. That makes the story it tells all the more interesting, and emphasises the value of having a simple, clear idea (in Jobs's case, high quality design for mass market products). Jobs's obsessive focus on that idea led him to all sorts of absurdities - and also to his greatness.

The Alamut Ambush by Anthony Price

Winner of many awards for his espionage novels, Anthony Price never quite made it as a really famous author thanks to the TV adaptation of several of his books in the early 1980s having only modest success. However, the books are still in print and have recently started appearing in audio book too. I love the way Price deals with the artificial conventions of novels in plausible ways. This book is particularly fine at using the sort of plot coincidences that are so useful to generating tension and intrigue - yet giving them a plausible explanation within a carefully crafted plot. [You can find a longer review by Mark online.]

Mark Pack writes a blog. Follow him on Twitter.

Iain Sharpe

When God Took Sides: Religion and Identity in Ireland by Marianne Elliott

This is the best political book I have read recently. It is based on Professor Marianne Elliott's 2005 Ford lectures, and while the title may sound dry and academic it is a wise, humane and highly readable book. Often drawing on personal experience and anecdotes, Professor Elliott dissects the reasons behind historic enmities between Protestant and Catholic communities in Ireland. These include such things as Protestant stereotypes of Catholics being dictated to by priests rather than thinking for themselves and Catholics doubting whether Protestants could be properly Irish. As Liberals we can often find it difficult to deal with the dynamics of religious/national conflict and anyone reading this book will emerge with a much greater understanding. An honourable mention should go to Alvin Jackson's 'The Two Unions' a comparative study of Scottish and Irish experience of Union within the United Kingdom.

The Laidlaw Trilogy by William McIlvanney

I welcome Alex Salmond's recent praise of this trilogy: Laidlaw, The Papers of Tony Veitch and Strange Loyalties. For me these knock spots off the better-known Ian Rankin, whose novels always seem to me formulaic and unconvincing. By contrast McIlvanney's Laidlaw books genuinely read like novels about a detective rather than detective fiction. There are no far-fetched solutions, or bizarre conspiracies, but there is genuine suspense and a real warm humanity suffusing the narrative. McIlvanney deserves to be better known
than he is. I disagree with the Scottish first minister's politics but I'm happy to endorse his taste in fiction.

Iain Sharpe used to blog at Eaten by Missionaries

Six of the Best 370

Birkdale Focus looks at the historical battle against market fundamentalism in the Liberal Party and introduces us, via a letter from William Wallace, to Edward Rushworth, candidate in Harborough at several general elections: "He made little distinction between being a Liberal and being a teetotal nonconformist; his instincts were anti authoritarian and socially egalitarian."

We need a few more, but not too many, Steve Webbs, says Mark Pack.

"At the start of the 19th century some 2,000 miles of turbulent Central Asian territory – deserts, mountains and unstable Muslim khanates – separated Britain’s Indian territories from the edge of the Russian Empire; a hundred years later these same frontiers were just a few miles apart." History in an Hour on some modern echoes of the Great Game.

"Why on earth would anyone choose to live or work there? Today it’s been hot, smelly, noisy, bad-tempered and overcrowded everywhere I've been." Just One More Ten Pence Piece ... finds London is a miserable place.

My Tonight from Shrewsbury visits Pengwern Books, the town's independent bookshop.

Discover a secret tunnel under Whitehall with IanVisits.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Mike Brearley on cricket captaincy

I once wrote:
When Brearley became England's captain in 1977 it was almost as though Jonathan Miller or Michael Frayn had been put in charge. Brearley was a representative of liberal North London in an age when cricket was still run by the Establishment. He was part of a more enlightened tendency within the game which embraced such figures as John Arlott and the Revd David Sheppard and had its finest hour when South Africa objected to the selection of Basil D'Oliveira for England's 1968-9 tour.
That was in 2007, when it was announced that Mike Brearley was to be the next President of the MCC.

He was at Lord's again today in a different capacity - ringing the bell five minutes before play started - the ground's website took the chance to record this short interview with him.

This is a chance for me to recommend Brearley's cricket books. The Art of Captaincy is the best known, but it is will worth seeking out his books on individual series too.

Still, it is shock to discover that one of my youthful sporting heroes is 71.

Summer Reading Round-up 1

I have invited some bloggers to nominate a couple of books they have enjoyed recently and write a few sentences about each. Readers are welcome to send me their own choices. I suggested one political and one non-political book, but (as you will see) I don’t insist on that. Just send me an email with your choices.

Alan Wyburn-Powell

Bringing the House Down by David Profumo (John Murray)

Before I read this book, I thought that it had a lot going against it. The son of a famous politician trying to cash in on a scandal which happened 50 years ago and which has been discussed so many times that everyone thinks they know all about it already.  How wrong I was. David Profumo manages a delicate balancing act and comes across as very fair to his father, Jack Profumo. That David emerged as a rounded individual, able to undertake the task of writing this book, is further testament to Jack Profumo’s character and that of his wife, Valerie Hobson. This book is very engagingly written and really does give new insights into the events around the Profumo scandal and its aftermath. The words of Jack Profumo, who lived into his 90s, ‘You know, I have enjoyed my life’, should give encouragement to us all, if things do not always go according to plan.

The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal (Vintage Books)

I enjoyed this book from the start, but initially it was difficult to work out what was so good about it. In many ways it is to writing what David Gower was to cricket or Miranda Hart is to comedy – just a very elegantly executed version of something which other practitioners do with much greater fuss. As an historian, I enjoyed the insights into the research process which led to the book. It is well worth reading for the pleasure of the prose and as a painless way of sipping on European and Japanese history and the world of ceramics without really noticing you are imbibing. We can also thank Edmund de Waal for introducing the concept of the flaneur to otherwise-idle British saunterers.

Dr Alun Wyburn-Powell writes a blog on Liberal history. Follow him on Twitter.

Linda Jack

My political book has to be 'The Political Brain' by Drew Western - it is so absorbing it unusually, for a political book, makes great summer reading! In fact, if there was a reading list for Lib Dem activists it would be compulsory for me.

Understanding how we respond to political messaging, the fact that while the electorate say they hate dirty campaigning they actually love it. The advice that we have to respond to attacks immediately and that ignoring an issue is political suicide. Best example is how the NRA in the States progressed because gun regulation became a shield issue for the Democrats and they shied away from talking about it.

My usual summer reading has to be pretty light stuff. Would recommend anything by Barbara Pym if like me you are a bit nostalgic for the 50's and like reading about anthropologists and vicars.... Also anything by Maggie O'Farrell if you love jigsaw puzzles. I am currently reading 'Instructions for a Heatwave' (appropriately enough!) set in London in 1976 about an Irish family whose father suddenly disappears for no apparent reason, as the story unfolds so do the secrets - perhaps leading to the whereabouts of Dad, perhaps not? I can't tell you because I'm still only two-thirds of the way through.

But if you like to laugh while lounging on the beach - Lucy Kellaway's 'Who Moved my Blackberry' is a must, especially if you own, or have ever owned one. The book is a series emails between Martin Lukes, his wife and colleagues - but you really only get to read his emails and the odd one from his life coach get the picture. Not only is it hilarious it also has a nifty sting in the tail.

Linda Jack blogs at Lindylooz Muze. Follow her on Twitter.

Gareth Epps

I have finally almost got around to finishing 'Bread of Heaven' by Jasper Rees.  A story of a Welshman born and bred the wrong side of the border, but brought up supporting that great rugby team of Edwards, Bennett, JPR, the Pontypool Front Row and the rest, it rings uncannily true.  It has also made me consider joining a male voice choir, though I'm not sure about birthing a sheep.

The other book I've been reading is the excellent biography of lost music legend Arthur Lee, 'Forever Changes' by John Einarsson. Phenomenally influential with the band Love in the 1960s and the albums Da Capo and Forever Changes before a long, slow slide, the real story of Lee was never really covered, even after his renaissance after several lost decades culminating in a 1990s jail stint.  This book shows the very human contradictions of a flawed genius.

Next off is an expedition into the writings of 'Rory the Tory' - as one of constituents described him to me recently: Rory Stewart.

Gareth Epps writes a blog. He does not like Twitter.