Saturday, August 31, 2013

The confused case for action in Syria

A couple of days ago I wrote a post expressing my sense that there was a lack of clarity over the nature of the action we were being asked to support in Syria. I have now found an article that lays that confusion bare much more elegantly than I could.

It is by Charli Carpenter on Foreign Affairs:
There are two distinct conversations going on about the legitimacy of the West’s expected military campaign against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. 
The first has to do with whether military action is an appropriate response to the wanton violation of a near-universally held norm - in this case, the taboo against the use of chemical weapons, which the Assad regime allegedly violated last week. 
The second centers on whether military action is an appropriate means for protecting civilian populations from atrocities (of whatever kind) committed by their governments. 
These conversations, although often conflated, have very little to do with one another, since each policy goal suggests a very different form of intervention.
And the Liberal Democrat response to Syria has embodied this conflation.

We were told by Nick Clegg that "This is not about boots on the ground. This is not about regime change."

Yet it is hard to see how the laptop warriors who dominated my Twitter timeline after the Commons vote could achieve what they wanted without boots on the ground or regime change.

Why is Team Clegg spinning against Vince Cable?

We all, of course, love Nick Clegg, but is a long time since I saw a quote attributed to his "friends" that did not make them sound rather unpleasant.

Conservative Home kindly reprints the opening of an article from behind The Sun paywall:
Cable’s hopes of becoming Lib Dem leader have been scuppered by the economic recovery, allies of Nick Clegg have declared. The Business Secretary has made no secret of his wish to succeed Mr Clegg, despite turning 70 in May. But he was left “humiliated” after fellow ministers backed Government spending limits at a recent Lib Dem away day, sources have told The Sun. A source close to Mr Clegg said: “The good doctor has been well and truly put back in his box.”
That article was published morning. Mr Clegg, his friends and sources should have better things to do than brief against one of the more effective Liberal Democrat cabinet ministers.

And a note to those about to say we should not believe what we read in The Sun. If I were looking for a way to increase sales of a newspaper, inventing stories about the Liberal Democrats would not be high on the list.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Friday, August 30, 2013

Six of the Best 381

Toddler in a pedal car
A banker yesterday
Amy Davidson in The New Yorker is very good on David Cameron's Commons defeat and the lessons for President Obama: "Obama can’t win this the way that Cameron lost it: by talking as though he is the only one acting according to principle, and that those who disagree just haven’t seen enough pictures of the effects of chemical weapons. There are principles at work in wondering whether something that feels satisfying but causes more death and disorder is right, too. The real Cameron trap is thinking that a leader can go to war personally and apolitically, without having a good answer when asked what’s supposed to happen after the missiles are fired."

Tim Harford ("The Undercover Economist") says it is time for banking's petulant toddlers to grow up. And he's right.

Carl Minns offers a partial defence of Jamie Oliver. He's right too.

"We need to think big and work to make a natural childhood a reality for all under 12s in London," argues Judy Ling Wong on Outdoor Nation.

Bored Panda has some charming pictures of an abandoned house in the woods that has been taken over by animals.

A wonderful collection of Leicester pubs lost since 1980, courtesy of chrisdpyrah on Flickr.

Nick Clegg's Q&A session on Syria

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Garry Kasparov interviewed by David Frost on chess and Russian politics

What are we being asked to support in Syria?

Yesterday an email was sent over Nick Clegg's name to all Liberal Democrat members - something to be commended in itself.

In it Nick assures us that "this is not Iraq":
This is not about boots on the ground. This is not about regime change.
If that is what is not being proposed, what is it that is being proposed?

Nick says:
Deterring the use of chemical weapons to protect innocent people from being murdered in future by brutal dictators.
He also talks of "proportionate, targeted military action".

Having read this I am still not at all clear about what is being proposed. Who or what will be targeted? Assad's government machine? The Syrian army? Its chemical weapons?

And how realistic is it talk of "proportionate, targeted military action"? We have seen numerous civilian casualties in Afghanistan, for instance.

You may say that it is impossible to announce this in advance, but I wish I felt confident that this was the reason.

And even if the government has a clear idea of what military action it wishes to take against Syria, it is harder to believe that it has a clear picture of what happens next.

The desire to intervene prevent suffering is natural and hard to resist, but without that picture of what comes next I am afraid this may well be Iraq.

Suspected smoke over Colsterworth turns out to be a cloud

The Rutland Times wins my Headline of the Day Award:
Suspected smoke over Colsterworth turns out to be a cloud 
Firefighters were called to what was believed to be smoke from a fire but turned out to be a cloud. 
The low lying cloud was seen passing over the A1 near Colsterworth yesterday evening (Tuesday).
Thanks to RutlandNed on Twitter.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The North Eastern Goes Forward

The railways of the region seen in 1962.

The Legacy of Isaiah Berlin, Stuart Hampshire and Bernard Williams

On 22 June 2013 The New York Review held a free conference at Wadham College, Oxford, to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary and to honour the lives, work, and legacy of Isaiah Berlin, Stuart Hampshire and Bernard Williams.

Co-sponsored by The New York Review of Books Foundation, Fritt Ord, All Souls College, The Europaeum, Wadham College and Wolfson College, the event included remarks by Avishai Margalit, Alan Ryan, Mary Warnock, John Gray, Helena Kennedy, Mark Lilla, Naomi Eilan, Edward Skidelsky, Jerome Bruner, Samuel Scheffler, Jeremy Waldron, Timothy Garton Ash, and Marc Stears. The sessions were chaired by Robert Silvers, John Vickers, Hermione Lee, and Ken Macdonald.

You can listen to the proceedings on the The New York Review of Books website.

Children in public care: Has nothing changed in 68 years?

I have written before about Dennis O'Neill, a boy whose death scandalised the country in 1945. He was starved and beaten to death by the couple with whom he and his brother had been placed after being taken into public care.

One reason that their suffering was not identified was that the O'Neill brothers had been taken into care by Newport council in South Wales and placed with a couple in Shropshire. And Shropshire County Council did not seem to have much concern for the welfare of children for whom another authority was responsible.

You might have hoped that things had improved in 68 years, but what do we read in the Shropshire Star today?
Forty children were living in Shropshire care homes without the knowledge of the police, a report has found. 
Children in care were three times more likely to go missing than other children, it said. 
Yet those placed in the county’s private care homes by outside authorities were slipping under the radar, the in-depth review by Telford & Wrekin’s children and young people scrutiny committee found. 
The document said this happened because Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin councils have no statutory duties towards the youngsters.

The Return of the Shropshire Panther

From the Shropshire Star:
A large black panther-like creature has made a reappearance in Shropshire. 
Jack Humphrey, 20, was driving home from work at the William Withering pub in Wellington in the early hours when he says the creature leapt in front of his car. 
He said: “I was driving past the new houses in Trench Lock, where the roofing centre is, when it ran across the road. It was huge. 
“It must have been three times the size of a fox and it was jet black. “Its tail was thin and long, it was definitely a panther.”

Monday, August 26, 2013

Six of the Best 380

Will G.K. Chesterton become the first member of the Liberal Party to be made a saint? David Boyle on The Real Blog shares my admiration for the great paradoxmonger.

"The American Dream has become a nightmare of social stasis." Niall Ferguson writes for The Daily Beast on the decline of social mobility in America.

CampaignerKate wins a Buckinghamshire skirmish in the battle for our freedom to roam.

Boris Johnson’s plan to bulldoze a nature reserve in West London risks flouting a law that recognises its outstanding wildlife importance, says Lester Holloway.

"With lift bridges, flint mills, lime kilns, tunnels and aqueducts, the Caldon Canal has something for everyone – all crammed into an arm that is 17 miles long (with the Leek Arm adding an additional and equally interesting 3 miles)." Narrowboat Info is the guide to this charming Staffordshire waterway.

"There's something about ads from the 50s and 60s that seems almost innocent and appealing. I guess it's just that, generally speaking, the advertising industry hadn't quite spiraled into a pit of slime quite yet." Part 1 of a survey of English cricket ads from The Wasted Afternoons.

The Great Hall of Leicester Castle

Behind this modest brick facade stands the Great Hall of Leicester Castle, one of the most remarkable medieval buildings still standing in Britain. It was originally erected in the 11th or 12th century and the root timbers may date from the 14th century.

It was open to the public today as part of Leicester's Old Town Festival, one of several taking place in the city today.

You don't get a sense of the size of the medieval hall because the space was divided in the 19th century to form a civil and a criminal court with an entrance lobby between. Still, these are interesting enough and you can make your way down the steep steps from the dock to the cells beneath.

On the grass outside the Hall you could watch re-enactments of medieval combat and there were other stalls in the streets nearby.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Steam on the Settle and Carlisle

Save Semilong Post Office in Northampton

Semilong Post Office, Northampton

Sarah Uldall, Lib Dem County Councillor for the St George Division in Northamptonshire, has started a campaign to save Semilong Post Office from closure after news emerged that the current subpostmistress is retiring and a new owner is needed for the Post Office to stay open.

"The Semilong Road Post Office has been in existence for 50 years. Not only does it provide essential services, it is also a local landmark and a meeting place. It will be sorely missed." said Sarah.

Puzzled reader: I am sure this is an admirable campaign, but why are you blogging about it?

Liberal England replies: Because I am almost certainly the only Lib Dem blogger with a photo of Semilong Post Office in his files.

Lembit's sausage bitten by sausage dog

You may have heard of Harold Davidson, the Rector of Stiffkey (which, I had better add, is pronounced 'Stewkey').

Convicted on charges of immorality and defrocked by the Church, Davidson protested his innocence. To raise funds for his reinstatement campaign he exhibited himself in a barrel on the Blackpool seafront and performed in other sideshows of a similar nature. He died after being attacked by a lion in whose cage he was appearing in a seaside show in Skegness.

The parallels with the recent career of Lembit Opik - reality TV star, comedian, wrestler, pop impresario - are all too apparent.

And, reports the Mirror, he has recently had an experience similar to that of Davidson in Skegness:
Former MP Lembit Opik needed his sausage seeing to – after it was bitten by, erm, a sausage dog. 
The I’m a Celebrity star told how the dachshund left him feeling rough when it attacked him at a show in aid of Guide Dogs which he was judging. 
Mr Opik – who lost his Lib Dem seat in 2010 – nearly lost a lot more when the little dog leapt up and nipped his privates last week in Lambeth Park, South London. 
The 48-year-old, once engaged to Cheeky Girl Gabriela Irimia, said: “Nothing had prepared me for one frisky four-legged ‘friend’ which insisted on taking a bad-tempered munch on my meat and two veg.”
Let's hope Lembit treats this as an Awful Warning. The dog is believed to have made a full recovery.

Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings: Melody

This is one of the songs the Rhythm Kings played last night. It appears on the Rollings Stones album Black and Blue, where it is credited to Billy Preston, Jagger and Richards.

But George Fame was quite cutting about those last two getting a credit when he introduced the song, which makes you wonder how amicable Bill Wyman's departure from the Stones was.

This version of the band includes both Peter Frampton and Gary Brooker, who were not in Market Harborough yesterday, but it does show how good Bill Wyman's contacts in the business are.

Demonstration at Glebe Road, Market Harborough

This morning local residents held a demonstration at Glebe Road, Little Bowden, about the continuing problems being caused by the new housing development there. I went along and also met the Liberal Democrat county councillor Dr Sarah Hill there.

The residents want the developers, Redrow Homes, to accept responsibility for the run off for the run off of water, mud and slurry from the site and make good any damage it has caused to their houses and gardens. They also want Redrow Homes to improve the drainage of the site (as was required by the original planning permission) and fund the increased insurance premiums that many residents are facing because of the risk of flooding that now exists in the area.

The site being developed is an old brick pit which was used for the dumping of domestic and industrial refuse for decades. Because of this, and the way that it can be seen from across the town, Harborough District Council went as far as a planning appeal in an attempt to prevent development on the site.

In his judgment the planning inspector said, in effect, that it was not a good site for housing, but as the district had not reached its target for new houses he was going to punish it by allowing development there.

If you want to know more about this affair, follow Glebe Road Farce on Twitter.

Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings, Market Harborough

I've just got back from a concert at Market Harborough Leisure Centre. The queue was not properly stewarded, there was a gap of several aeons between the opening act (Steve Gibbons) and the main attraction, and I am not sure we got everyone who was originally advertised.

But it was a great night and I would have paid just to see Georgie Fame.

Georgie Fame and Terry Taylor
Beverley Skeete
Steve Gibbons

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Bishop's Castle Town Hall clock makes the Daily Mail

I have been visiting Bishop's Castle in Shropshire for almost 25 years, but it has rarely made the national newspapers.

Today's Daily Mail, however, has picked up the story of Bishop's Castle Town Hall clock:
A hotelier has demanded an ancient clock stop chiming every 15 because it is keeping his customers awake. 
The town hall clock in Bishops Castle in Shropshire which has rung every 15 minutes since the 18th century is now causing a storm on Facebook after one hotelier complained about the noise. 
The small market town in Shropshire attracts thousands of tourists every year, but Henry Hunter, of The Castle Hotel, has requested the traditional tolls be halted after dark. 
He says guests have told him that however much they love the town they will never return to Bishops Castle because of the clock’s 24-hour chiming. 
He said: 'If anyone can come up with a genuine reason why the town clock should chime every 15 minutes throughout the night then I would like to hear it. Surly it would be beneficial to everyone living in close proximity to the clock to have it chime at most on the hour throughout the dead of night?'
The Castle Hotel has improved greatly under Mr Hunter's ownership: the food is good, the staff are young and keen, and it has always had one of the best beer gardens in England. On summer evenings you can sit above the rooftops of the town and watch the swallows feeding and admire the hills beyond.

But the place I have stayed more than any other in Bishop's Castle is Old Time. It is run by Jane Carroll, a former mayor of the town, and she is having none of it:
Jane Carroll, a town councillor who runs a bed and breakfast in the town, has described claims that the clock chimes are having a detrimental effect on the local economy as 'absolute rubbish'. 
She said: 'Bishops Castle has become increasingly popular as a holiday destination over the past 20 years and numbers continue to grow. Yet all this time the Town Hall clock has been donging away every 15 minutes, day and night. 
'Bishops Castle Tourism has worked hard on tourism development over the years and has always had a policy of attracting visitors for what the town and area have to offer rather than changing things to suit visitors specifically. Any initiatives, be it good public footpaths, better signage, an excellent town website, promotion of town events and festivals and, of course, the renovation of the Town Hall should benefit residents as much as visitors. 
'Altering the chiming of the Town Hall clock would go completely against this principle as most town centre residents want the clock chimes to stay as they are. They are a familiar and friendly background sound to our lives and, for many people, a very useful time keeper. Without the quarters, the chimes would be useless as the latter. 
'Instead of complaining about the chimes, the accommodation providers and residents should be celebrating our historic Town Hall clock. It is part of the character of Bishops Castle and appreciated by many.'
It is certainly appreciated by me. It's just the sort of thing I visit the place for.

As my photograph shows, Bishop's Castle Town Hall is currently undergoing restoration and you can read all about it (and the clock controversy) on its Facebook page. The question of the clock will be decided at a town council meeting on 10 September.

Charity shop terror pensioner jailed

The Halifax Courier wins our Headline of the Day Award with:

Charity shop terror pensioner, Jeanne Wilding, jailed

Thanks to Jennie Rigg.

Friday, August 23, 2013

This blog supports the Rutland Three

I have blogged several times about the Rutland Three - the councillors, now members of UKIP, threatened with legal action first by Rutland County Council and latterly by its chief executive (indemnified by the council).

From over the Leicestershire border it is hard to know the precise wrongs of this affair, and I have talked to a former employee of the council who said that one of the Three is not (how shall I put it?) always the easiest person to deal with.

But my doubts about the three paled after reading a report in the Rutland & Stamford Mercury. It quoted the council's chief executive Helen Briggs:
"You have given me a clear mandate to bring proceedings for defamation in my own name. 
"Before doing so I intend to allow these three councillors a short period of time to 
show whether they can moderate their recent behaviour, and operate as councillors would be expected to, but I shall not hesitate in commencing proceedings unless there is a marked improvement in their behaviour. 
"I will continue to deal firmly but fairly with these councillors, as I would with any other, and I hope that I can rely on your support to allow me to concentrate my efforts on pursuing the best interests of this council and the residents of Rutland ...
"I will not allow these three councillors, or anyone else for that matter, to continue to disrupt the effective operation of this council and me as its chief executive.”
This sounds exactly like a headmistress threatening a group of schoolboys, and that is wrong.

When I was a councillor I was very clear that I was the representative of the people of my ward and that they were the employers of the council's offices - the chief executive included.

Sometimes employers can be unreasonable: that is the nature of employers. But I would not have put up with being addressed like this for a moment.

This blog supports the Rutland Three.

Nick Clegg found alive!

At last the Liberal Democrat leader has spoken out on David Miranda's detention and the destruction of the Guardian's computers.

An article by him has appeared on the Guardian website and will be in tomorrow's paper:
So a balance must be struck between a libertarian "anything goes" approach, which sees new technology as a way to escape from the reach of the law, and an authoritarian view that sees technology as a new opportunity to intrude into our lives. Technology will continue to evolve and governments worldwide will try to evolve with it. As long as Liberal Democrats are in government, I will ensure that our individual rights are not cast aside in the name of collective security.
He does not sound much like the Lib Dem leader who once vowed to go to prison rather than carry an ID card, but at least he has realised the importance of speaking out on these issues.

Six of the Best 379

Richard Kemp looks at the problems of being a young councillor - and of being Jake Morrison in particular.

As Armenia moves closer to the EU, Russia is taking advantage of the country’s economic and geopolitical vulnerabilities to maintain its influence says Hayk Hovhannisyan on LSE EUROPP.

Freaky Trigger looks at some of the wonderful books of the disgraced children's writer William Mayne.

"There's a telling scene in one of Graeme Swann's entertaining video diaries from the 2010-11 Ashes tour when on Christmas Day the single members of the side sit around a table for their festive turkey. Swann's wife isn't present so he's forced to slum it with the singletons. “Tell us a joke, Monty!” he implores, a response met with a mumbled, embarrassed excuse by Panesar that he doesn't know any." Pavilion Opinions on the travails of Monty Panesar.

You can find some paintings of the London Docks 1939-45 on Isle of Dogs Life.

Elsewhere in London, Richly Evocative visits Islington's unexpected Eden.

Write a guest post for Liberal England

This is a reminder that I welcome guest posts on Liberal England. So far 33 have appeared.

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

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

  • Spelling out the reason to vote Liberal Democrat - Andrew Brown
  • Tommie Smith - The man behind the image - Matt Roebuck
  • Don’t make the dull middle class go to university - Dr Anonymous
  • House of Lords reform in a 1950s whodunnit - Charles Beaumont
  • The difficulty of getting started in farming - Joshua Metcalfe
  • Why the British say no to new builds - Amy Fowler
  • The uncertain politics of railway preservation - Joseph Boughey
  • How Liberal Democrats can help fight for privacy rights in Europe - Peter Bradwell
  • Political defections: Storms of protest or signs of political climate change? - Alan Wyburn-Powell
  • Transition Town Market Harborough - Darren Woodiwiss
  • Thursday, August 22, 2013

    From The All New Alexei Sayle Show (1994)

    Liberal Democrats, goldfish and my part in their downfall

    Mark Pack has written an article today looking at the charge that "the Liberal Democrats have a policy on goldfish". He argues - correctly - that, as far as the party did have a policy on goldfish, it formed part of a policy on animal welfare in general. And much of it has since been passed into law and is now never questioned:
    What Lib Dem conference really agreed on goldfish 
    In autumn 2003 the Liberal Democrats passed an animal welfare motion at the federal conference in Brighton. The accompanying policy paper Respecting All Animals, which following the passage of the motion became party policy, said: 
    Liberal Democrats will … prohibit the giving of live animals as prizes. 
    The logic was an extension on the RSPCA’s concerns over goldfish – animals won as prizes are animals that are not well looked after.
    David Laws complains 
    In 2004 David Laws took up public cudgels against the party’s attitude towards goldfish, complaining in The Orange Book that, 
    If freedom means anything it must surely include the freedom to engage in activities which others may consider unwise. This includes smoking, overeating, not exercising, driving “off road” cars in cities, even winning goldfish. A Liberal society is one where people should be free to “make their own mistakes”. 
    He wasn’t the first senior Liberal Democrat to knock the policy. Charles Kennedy, when party leader, also did so. His was a rather curious as he had chaired the Federal Policy Committee during the period when the policy paper was drawn up, agreed and signed-off by the FPC.
    There is one piece of history here that Mark omits.

    This policy was passed in the days when I was a member of the party's Federal Policy Committee. And when the animal welfare working party's report came to it, a few of us staged a libertarian rebellion - using arguments much like those David Laws was later to make. We picked out half a dozen of the most nannyish clauses and voted them out of the report before we passed it.

    Don't worry: Conference voted them all back in.

    This episode crystallised for me some of the problems the Liberal Democrats face - or faced in those days. We tended to buy in our policy from experts or campaign groups rather than make it ourselves. I can remember the working party chair saying, aghast, that the RSPCA would condemn us if our libertarian amendment became party policy.

    And, while we said we put liberty first, when push came to shove we were unwilling to go against what you might call 'the Guardian line'.

    One of my reasons, incidentally, for joining this rebellion was an impatience with the RSPCA. They campaigned on fox hunting: they campaigned to curb pet owners. But on the biggest animal welfare issue of all - factory farming - they had little to say.

    Hear 'Jeremy Thorpe is Innocent' live

    Last year I posted a video of that punk classic Jeremy Thorpe is Innocent by The Surprises.

    Today a member of the group (Chickenbone John) left a comment on that post, giving the exciting news that the band is to play together in Birmingham on 5 September:
    Re-union gig for The Surprises..supporting our old mates Dangerous Girls. Personally I'm amazed that we are all still alive..let alone talking to one another..but thanks to the miracle of's happening. I know, it's all a bit sad, a bunch of 50 year old punks..but what the hell!!
    There are not a lot of details, but keep an eye on Chickenbone John's website. You can contact him through it too.

    Boris’s bonking bus boss bedded broke brass

    There can be only one winner of our Headline of the Day Award: The Sun.

    Wednesday, August 21, 2013

    Harborough District Council under wraps

    The scaffolding has come down now, but for much of the summer the former corset factory that houses Harborough District Council's offices and Market Harborough's library looked like this.

    Building evacuated after burlesque dancer sets off fire alarm with burning nipple tassels

    Metro wins our Headline of the Day Award.

    Well done, Metro.

    Badger cull will start on 26 August

    Or so the Guardian says.

    Read the guest post that The Badger Protection League wrote for me last year to see why this is a bad idea.

    Tuesday, August 20, 2013

    Vintage film of Leicester trams

    The quality is not great (it does improve later on) and scenes are repeated, but this is the only footage I have seen of trams in Leicester. I believe it was shot in the 1930s.

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: Goodnight, good knight

    And so another week at Bonkers Hall draws to its close. Perhaps that is just as well,


    Sir Nicholas Harvey rings at last with some news.

    “Good knight…” I begin, entering into the spirit of things.

    “Goodnight” he replies and puts the phone down.

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

    Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary

    The monstrous silence of Nick Clegg

    Britain in 2013.

    The police detain a journalist's partner under anti-terrorism legislation in what look likes an attempt at intimidation. The police supervise the destruction of computers on the premises of a national newspaper.

    And what does Nick Clegg have to say about it?


    The longer his silence continues, the harder it becomes not to share the conclusion of Liberator's blog: Nick is abandoning the party's traditional concern for civil liberties in order to make it easier for him to continue his coalition with the Conservatives after the election.

    But, I hear you protest, Nick once vowed to go to prison rather than carry a compulsory ID card.

    The trouble is, as I pointed out in April when writing about his failure to support libel reform, Nick has previous:
    This pattern seems all too well established. Nick courts an interest group with almost exaggerated language - think students or civil libertarians who oppose secret courts - only to let them down when he gets the chance to do something about it in government. 
    I do not think people would mind being let down quite so much if Nick had not originally been so good at convincing them of his support for their cause.
    Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

    Monday, August 19, 2013

    Michael Tippett at Leicester Cathedral

    Film from the inaugural service for the Leicestershire Schools Festival of Music in May 1965.

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: "Go out and look at Uranus"


    The morning’s post is brought to me on the usual salver. News comes from Peking that Cumbrian lanterns are to be banned – an up and coming you member of the State Council called Tim Fal Lon had been making a terrible fuss about them and has finally got his way. I am invited to the Oakham gala opening of “Beware of Mr Baker” – a documentary about the career of the controversial transport minister and MP for Lewes. A boxing journalist wishes to interview me about my memories of that plucky welterweight, Sugar Ray Michie. I am asked to contribute a foreword to a life of Raymond Baxter who, in 1953, blasted off from Woomera to become the first Briton and space and, along with Sir Patrick Moore (who urged schoolboys to “go out and look at Uranus”), did most to fix our gaze upon the stars. The Home for Distressed Canvassers in Herne Bay is seeking tombola prizes.

    But of the quest there is not a word.

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

    Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary

    Six of the Best 378

    The Dish addresses David Cameron: "Thank you for clearing the air on these matters of surveillance. You have now demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that these anti-terror provisions are capable of rank abuse. Unless some other facts emerge, there is really no difference in kind between you and Vladimir Putin. You have used police powers granted for anti-terrorism and deployed them to target and intimidate journalists deemed enemies of the state."

    Why is the membership of political parties declining? Jennie Rigg explains.

    Rigged looks at the work of Ivan Illich.

    "Efforts to re-engineer the young-male imagination are doomed to fail, but they will succeed spectacularly in at least one way. They will send a clear and unmistakable message to millions of schoolboys: You are not welcome in school." On Time Ideas, Christina Hoff Summers argues that school has become too hostile to boys.

    The Virtual Victorian pays tribute to Alice Guy-Blache - "an astonishingly talented film-maker who influenced the earliest days of the art".

    "The District's a very branchy sort of line, with trains shuttling off in all sorts of directions. But until 1959 there was another branch line, a stumpy little curve heading less than a mile through Acton. Whatever were they thinking?" Diamond Geezer traces the line from Acton Town to South Acton.

    East Midlands Lib Dems Autumn Conference and AGM, Oundle, 2 November

    Baroness Barker will be the keynote speaker at the region's Autumn 2013 conference and Annual General Meting on Saturday 2 November. The event takes place at Queen Victoria Hall, West Street, Oundle PE8 4EJ.

    Liz Barker has been a peer since 1999 and has championed the cause of equal opportunities for years. In the past she has been President of Liberal Youth & Students, Chair of the party's Federal Conference Committee and a member of the Liberator collective.

    You can book a place via the East Midlands Lib Dems website, which promises some innovative ideas for your participation.

    Sunday, August 18, 2013

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: In support of equal marriage


    I cannot understand this fuss about allowing equal marriage. A friend of mine was once serving as best man at a wedding in a neighbouring parish when, having dallied with Bacchus at the stag night the evening before, spoke out in the wrong place and found himself married to the vicar.

    The Church of Rutland being strict on matters of doctrine (it held to the back-foot no ball rule even after the Eastern Orthodox chaps had given it up), divorce was out of the question; so my friend determined to make the best of things and did sterling work baking cakes for sales and running the church ladies’ group. All in all, it was one of the happiest marriages I have ever known.

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

    Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary

    Bruce Springsteen: The Ghost of Tom Joad

    This is the title track from Springsteen's 1995 album. Tom Joad, of course, is a character from Steinbeck's The Grapes for Wrath and the final verse is a paraphrase of Joad's final speech in the novel.

    But there are contemporary resonances too:
    Highway patrol choppers comin' up over the ridge,
    Hot soup on a campfire under the bridge,
    Shelter line stretchin' round the corner,
    Welcome to the new world order.
    Rather surprisingly, this reached no. 26 in the UK. It was not released as a single in America.

    Saturday, August 17, 2013

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: Why isn't Sarah Teather a knight?


    Do you know Sarah Teather? She is a charming young woman, even though I had some sharp things to say about her reaction to the Ofsted report on the Bonkers’ Home for Well-Behaved Orphans.

    Like many of the knights I saw off yesterday, she is a former minister, yet she received no gong when given the bum’s rush by Clegg and his 12-year-old advisers.

    I am racking my brains to work out why this should be the case.

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

    Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary

    Marianne Faithfull and Patrick Leigh Fermor

    Marianne Faithfull is recovering after breaking a bone in her back - I wish her a swift recovery.

    We saw in March that her grandfather Theodore was the inventor of the libido-liberating Frigidity Machine. It turns out that Major Faithfull (he was commissioned in the Veterinary Corps) was also briefly Patrick Leigh Fermor's headmaster.

    Artemis Cooper's biography records that at one point the young Fermor was sent to Walsham Hall, a school for 'difficult children', presided over by the same Major Faithfull. It also says that nude country dancing formed part of the curriculum.

    Whether this made the children any less difficult she does not say.

    Now read about Patrick Leigh Fermor at Weedon and how his father-in-law gave his name to a Leicester suburb.

    Friday, August 16, 2013

    Six of the Best 377

    Linda Jack on Liberal Democrat Voice argues that it's time for the Lib Dems to restate who we are and what we stand for. Read the comments too.

    "It is hard to characterise the ban on "gay propaganda" that the Putin regime has decreed as being anything except a witch hunt against a small, unpopular and vulnerable minority in Russian society," says Cicero's Songs.

    Next New Deal shows that Franklin D. Roosevelt was a late convert to Keynesian economics.

    "Women may have actually invented overarm bowling and could be the first cricketers to use a non-red cricket ball, long before the men's game sampled the white balls that we now see in one-day and twenty20 cricket." On the Lord's website, Zoe English looks at women's role in the history of the game.

    Jerome K. Jerome spends much of his childhood in Poplar, finds Isle of Dogs Life.

    This Charming Charlie pairs Peanuts cartoons with Smiths lyrics.

    Police drop dead bats investigation at Shrewsbury bridge

    The Shropshire Star returns to form and wins my Headline of the Day Award:

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: On the knight bus


    The morning finds me in a clearing in Rockingham Forest. I am surrounded by Liberal Democrat knights and their horses. Here is Sir Bob Russell, though if I am honest I think his brother Earl should have received a knighthood for his services to jazz. Here is Sir Robert Smith, about whom little is known, except that he is a knight. Here are Sir Alan Beith, Sir Malcolm Bruce and Sir Menzies Campbell – Sound men all. And here are Sir Nicholas Harvey and Sir Andrew Stunnell, who are among our newer knights. Indeed, they are so new that I have to ask to see their credentials.

    “Gentlemen,” I begin, “it is many years since I last saw the Spirit of Liberalism. I believe I last caught site of it in Ashplant’s day, though I have to admit his elderflower champagne was pretty powerful stuff. Who knows where it has got to today? That is why I am sending you on this quest.”

    Sir Alan Beith, who is sitting the wrong way round on his horse and polishing his glasses on its tail, speaks up.

    “A quest is a wonderful idea, but some of us aren’t very used to horseback.”

    “I have thought of that,” I assure him, “and have laid on mechanised transport for those who prefer it. Think of it as a knight bus.”

    Before they set off, however, I lead them to the village green at a smart trot. The judges of the Rutland Best Kept Village competition are due any day and those lances look just the job for picking up litter.

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

    Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary

    Thursday, August 15, 2013

    Kenneth Williams: Go on, have a feel of my calves

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: Escape from Liberal Youth


    Meadowcroft finds a youth, dishevelled and wet through, sleeping in his potting shed and hales him before me for judgment.

    “Please don’t send me back,” sobs the accused, “I have escaped from the Liberal Youth Activate weekend. I thought it would be fun, but all we got was endless canvassing drill and lectures on the perils of self-abuse.”

    I give him a hot bath, square meal, suit of clothes and ten bob for the train, but am left troubled. “What has happened to the Spirit of Liberalism, which was first brought to these shores by Joseph of Arimathea?” I ask.

    Meadowcroft puts on his thoughtful face.

    “You say Westminster is befangled with knights?”

    “That’s right,” I return.

    “And the Spirit of Liberalism is missing?”


    “Then send them aquesting for it!”

    “Meadowcroft, you are a genius.”

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

    Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary

    How Eyres Monsell got its name

    When Patrick Leigh Fermor died I mentioned that the Leicester suburb of Eyres Monsell is named after his father-in-law.

    Artemis Cooper's biography of him, which I quoted from about Weedon the other day, says of Fermor's wife Joan:
    Her mother, Sybil Eyres, had inherited a fortune in woollen manufacturing. On marriage, her husband Bolton Monsell added her name to his, becoming Bolton Eyres Monsell. He pursued a successful career in politics, holding the posts of Chief Whip for the Conservatives and First Lord of the Admiralty; he was created the 1st Viscount Monsell in 1935.
    The land for Eyres Monsell was acquired by the corporation of Leicester for housing development by compulsory purchase order in the early 1950s.

    Wednesday, August 14, 2013

    Sky Sports News reporter Nick Collins falls over live at Wembley

    A Canterbury Tale: The locations

    Xan Brooks travels to Kent to visit the key locations from A Canterbury Tale - one of my favourite films.

    Shop alcohol licence bid turned down over drinking fears

    The Leicester Mercury wins my Headline of the Day Award with:

    Shop alcohol licence bid turned down over drinking fears

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: Too many knights

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


    “Is it true,” one of my companions asks over the Smithson & Greaves Northern Bitter, “that there are as many knights among Liberal Democrat MPs as there are women?”

    “I am afraid so,” I reply. “Their spurs and lances keep striking sparks from the stone and the Serjeant-at-Arms says they are a fire hazard.”

    There are those who regard women as the weaker sex and hold that they have no place in the rough and tumble of Westminster: I suspect they have never met the barmaid at the Bonkers’ Arms. For myself, I believe we should have more women in the Commons, though I have suggested to Jenny Willott and Tessa Munt that it would be more picturesque if they more those pointy hats with the veils as an interim measure.

    As to this practice of giving every unlucky or incompetent former minister a knighthood… isn’t that what life peerages are for?

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

    David Watts came from Rutland

    If you watch the episodes of Top of the Pops from 1978 that BBC4 is showing, your enjoyment can only be enhanced by following Top of the Pops Fax on Twitter. He tweets relevant facts and trivia about the musicians while the show is on each week.

    There was a terrific fact this week - it easily wins my Trivial Fact of the Day Award. And it is that David Watts from the Kinks' song was a real person and came from Rutland.

    Really this should not have been such a surprise to me. Andrew Hickey reported it when reviewing the LP Something Else by the Kinks:
    While it’s ostensibly about a schoolboy, David Watts was in fact a real person — a concert promoter in Rutland, who had once tried to buy Dave Davies from his brother for his own sexual uses. 
    Once one knows that, lines like “And all the girls in the neighbourhood/Try to go out with David Watts/They try their best but can’t succeed” and “He is so gay and fancy-free” become not so much a gay subtext as outright gay text.
    And having watched the Jam's version of David Watts on this evening's Top of the Pops gives me a chance to pay tribute to my mum, who has not been very well of late.

    I remember watching this show with her when it was first broadcast in 1978. With all the authority of someone who had just got his A level results and was off to university, I explained that the Jam were a "new wave" band.

    My mum watched them for a little while and said: "I see, it's a cross between punk and the mods." How cool was that?

    Tuesday, August 13, 2013

    Ladar Levison on why he shut down Lavabit

    From the Democracy Now page for this video:
    Lavabit, an encrypted email service believed to have been used by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, has abruptly shut down. The move came amidst a legal fight that appeared to involve U.S. government attempts to win access to customer information. In a Democracy Now! broadcast exclusive, we are joined by Lavabit owner Ladar Levison and his lawyer, Jesse Binnall. 
    "Unfortunately, I can’t talk about it. I would like to, believe me," Levison says. "I think if the American public knew what our government was doing, they wouldn’t be allowed to do it anymore." 
    In a message to his customers last week, Levison said: "I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people, or walk away from nearly 10 years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit." Levison said he was barred from discussing the events over the past six weeks that led to his decision. 
    Soon after, another secure email provider called Silent Circle also announced it was shutting down.

    Six of the Best 376

    "This is the problem with the Labour tradition. It forgets that there is anything else beyond meeting needs. It sums up human beings as bundles of needs. It represents the apotheosis of need." David Boyle on The Real Blog, in a terrific post, gets to the heart of why we need a Liberal party.

    Kiron Reid discusses the right to protest at Westminster writes in Law, Crime and History.

    Byrne Tofferings has a sensible take on the debate on depression: "What has been adopted is the idea that depression is some kind of disease. We man the barricades against those we feel might contribute to any stigmatisation of sufferers at all. In the name of protecting the “victims” from perceived slights, we have decided to shut down discourse altogether."

    Bim Adewunmi celebrates BBC4 on the New Statesman site.

    Twitter is becoming cooler than Facebook, says Kevin Drum on Mother Jones.

    "On the day the riots began, Martha Reeves was in the midst of what was supposed to be a ten-day engagement in downtown Detroit’s Fox Theatre. By strange coincidence, she was actually in the middle of performing “Dancing in the Street” when the stage manager interrupted to tell her that the city was on fire." Rollo Romig writes for the New Yorker on Detroit, music and riots.

    Monday, August 12, 2013

    Patrick Leigh Fermor at Weedon Bec

    While in Shropshire I read Artemis Cooper's Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure. Cooper has clearly succumbed to the Paddy Fermor legend, but the biography is so good that it provides ample material for readers to form a less favourable view.

    Because of one of my recent days out, I was struck by the opening sentences:
    The village of Weedon Bec in Northamptonshire was an unlikely setting for paradise, but for Patrick Leigh Fermor the years he spent there as a small child were among the happiest in his life. The people he lived with were not his family. While surrounding him with love and warmth, they imposed no constraints and made no demands.
    This is typical of the strange arrangements that Empire required of children and parents - often with less happy results. Artemis Cooper is unable to establish the relationship between the young Paddy's parents in India and the Martin family in Weedon with whom he stayed.

    But she does provide a good picture of the complicated geography of Weedon Bec:
    It was a big village divided into three parts. The cottages and smallholdings of Upper Weedon were sunk in green fields. The church and village school were in Lower Weedon, whilst busiest of all was Road Weedon, which straddled the old turnpike between Northampton and Daventy. This was where the Martins lived, on the main road ... with shops and pubs on either side.
    And she writes about the Royal Ordnance Depot:
    Road Weedon was dominated by Weedon Barracks and the huge complex of the Royal Ordnance Depot. Set up for the storage of arms and ammunition during the Napoleonic wars far from possible landing sites on the coast, t had its own well-defended branch of the Grand Union Canal to secure safe delivery of its stores. ... 
    When the First World War ended in November 1918 Paddy-Mike was almost four and Margaret almost twelve. They stood in the road and saw the German prisoners in carts on their way back to Germany - they wore rough grey uniforms with big red diamonds on their backs, so they would be easily identified if they tried to escape.
    And her (and Fermor's) last word on the village is this:
    His memories of Weedon became greener and more rural as they receded into the past. The Royal Ordnance Stores faded, as did the parade ground and the shops, the pubs and traffic of the High Street. 
    What was left was "a background of barns, ricks and teazles, clouded with spinneys and the undulation of ridge and furrow ... I spent these important years, which are said to be such formative ones, more or less as a small farmer's child run wild: they have left a memory of pure and unalloyed bliss."

    Roger Helmer, underage girls and consent

    Thanks to Scott Collins on Twitter for posting a link to a Hope Not Hate item about Roger Helmer (a UKIP MEP for the East Midlands) and his interview about underage sex and consent on with Stephen Nolan.

    The page that hosts the interview gives a choice quote:
    "Suppose a 15-year-old girl is at a club with a pop star, and he says 'how about it, dear'? and she says 'yes please, I was hoping you'd ask'. In most people's book, that constitutes consent. Legally, she cannot consent, but in real terms, she can."
    but you really have to listen to the whole thing.

    This is not the first time that Helmer has given us the benefit of his views on sexual crime. Back in 2011, when he was still a Conservative MEP, he announced that there are two kinds of rape:
    While in the first case, the blame is squarely on the perpetrator and does not attach to the victim, in the second case the victim surely shares a part of the responsibility, if only for establishing reasonable expectations in her boyfriend’s mind.
    The problem, I suspect, is that Helmer is not very bright and inordinately fond of the sound of his own voice. The result is that he has convinced himself that his bizarre and distasteful views are what most voters believe too.

    You would think it is impossible to be thrown out of UKIP for your views - when I challenged Nigel Farage on Twitter over Helmer's views on rape, he replied that members were free to believe what they wanted - but Helmer seems determined to test that belief to destruction.

    Meanwhile, my post "Don't blame the decade for sexual abuse" from last year turns out to provide a good reply to Helmer.

    Sunday, August 11, 2013

    Brampton Bryan: Aardvark Books and the English Civil War Society

    Brampton Bryan is the home of Aardvark Books. This afternoon it also played host to a re-enactment by the English Civil War Society.

    Which led to scenes like this.

    Python Lee Jackson: In a Broken Dream

    Usually I have these Sunday music videos planned a week or two in advance, but sometimes I decide to just let it happen and plan on using something I have heard in the week before the posting is due.

    This was going to be one of those weeks. And the reason for this choice is that the husband in the couple running my bed and breakfast here in Bishop's Castle played on this track.

    Python Lee Jackson were an Australian band, but the singer on this is Rod Stewart. He originally recorded it in 1970, when it was not a hit. But after the success of Maggie May it was re-released and reached no. 3.

    Where does my landlord come in? He was working for Young Blood Records, whose owner Miki Dallon was not happy with the outcome of the original session. So he paid my landlord to overdub some Hammond organ on it.

    He was paid a flat fee for this (and part of that may have been for moving the organ) and does not know how much of his work was used on the final record.

    You hear stories like this all the time, and In a Broken Dream is a song that seems to attract myths. But I was shown the acetate of the original session at breakfast this morning, so I know this one is true.

    I once met a very nice musician in the Long Mynd Hotel at Church Stretton who told me he had played the drums for Vanity Fare when Hitchin' a Ride was on Top of the Pops. I hope that was true too.

    Saturday, August 10, 2013

    Former adviser accuses David Cameron of cowardice

    From tomorrow's Observer:
    David Cameron's vision of a compassionate Conservatism has been lost in a lurch to the right, according to the prime minister's former adviser who coined the "hug a hoodie" line.
    Danny Kruger, Cameron's former speechwriter, said the prime minister had allowed his ambitions to be hijacked by a rhetoric centred on "bashing burglars and sending immigrants home", instead of an optimistic agenda that would benefit communities. 
    Kruger said Cameron had lost his pre-election drive and energy and that his reforming programme, including the "big society" ethos, had fallen victim to cowardice in the face of criticism from the media and his own backbenchers.
    Speaking as someone who had great hopes of the coalition, I agree with every word.

    David Cameron's unwillingness to stand up for what he once claimed to believe is one of the principal causes of the widespread disenchantment with the Coalition among Liberal Democrat activists.

    Cat of the Day visits Pontesbury

    Two years ago, almost to the day, a rather fetching grey and white job with a distinctive tip to its tail won Bishop's Castle Cat of the Day.

    That cat was in the old market square again today, so I went to photograph it again - only to find the battery was not in my camera. As I hurried back to my B&B to collect it, I reasoned that the cat must have decided to help me by posing, thus leading me to discover the missing battery, because it remembered winning the award. Think Androcles and the lion.

    However, that was not enough to win it my Cat of the Day Award. (I know that seems harsh, but I don't make the rules.)

    For reasons I may explain one day, I was in Pontesbury photographing its former police station and magistrates court. In the car park behind it was a black and white cat with a rodent it had just caught and killed.

    Though I had never met it before, when the cat saw me it began to make that odd chirruping "come and see what I've got" noise they make in such circumstances - and never at any other time.

    A clear winner.