Friday, January 31, 2014

Northampton Past and Present 5

People who enjoyed part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4 are in for a treat.

Network Rail shelves improvements to Market Harborough station

Bad news in the Leicester Mercury:
Track improvements, which could shave five minutes off train times from Leicester to London, have been left out of Network Rail spending plans. 
Rail campaigners say the long-awaited scheme to straighten the Midland Main Line through Market Harborough station is not in the draft development programme for the next five years. 
Also missing are proposals to rebuild the platforms, which are too short, too low and do not meet modern access standards.
As an old school friend of mine is quoted as saying later in the report:
"It really is unacceptable that accessibility – especially to the southbound platform – remains so poor. Wheelchair users even have to be wheeled across the track of what is a busy inter-city main line."
I blogged about this problem myself a couple of months ago.

Former leader of Leicestershire Conservatives joins UKIP

A puzzling aspect of the demise of David Parsons, the former leader of the ruling Conservative group on Leicestershire County Council, was the way his party stood by him even after it became clear that his resignation over financial irregularities was inevitable.

Today he repaid the Tories for this loyalty with a kick in the teeth. He travelled down to London, met Nigel Farage and joined UKIP.

The Leicester Mercury reports:
Mr Parsons has been serving as an independent member of Blaby District, representing the Muxloe ward along with his wife, Liz, who has also today joined UKIP. 
The Mercury understands Mr Parsons hopes to stand as a UKIP candidate in the next year’s General Election in a Leicestershire seat as yet to be decided.
Parsons told the Mercury that only UKIP "truly represents the hopes and ambitions of the people in our country".

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Country Town (1943): Boston in the Second World War

Here is another film from the British Council Film Collection. I blogged about Western Isles and General Election a while ago.

Country Town dates from 1943 and paints a picture of Boston in that year. It is striking how collectivist agriculture was during World War II and how unproblematic the commentary finds this.

The producer Sydney Box and composer William Alwyn were both considerable figures in British films at the time, but I can find no record of Philip Robinson, who plays the newspaper editor.

The solution to this mystery may be that he really was a newspaper editor. The person who posted this on Youtube points out that the Robinson Family owned the Lincolnshire Standard.

And the reader who recommended this video to me particularly liked its version of modernity: "There aren't many kids around here over 10 who don't know how to use a telephone."

What is wrong with Ed Balls may not be what you think

We are frequently told that if Labour came to power and Ed Balls became chancellor he would borrow and spend too much and bankrupt the country.


The truth is that the chancellor, whoever he or she was, would have very little room for manoeuvre.

So the correct charge is against Ed Balls in not that he would be profligate but that he is promising policies he knows he would not be able to deliver.

Occasionally the truth seeps out from Labour.

Back in March 2010, at the start of the general election campaign, Alistair Darling admitted that
Labour's planned cuts in public spending will be "deeper and tougher" than Margaret Thatcher's in the 1980s, as the country's leading experts on tax and spending warned that Britain faces "two parliaments of pain" to repair the black hole in the state's finances.
And in October last year the Guardian told us this:
Labour will be tougher than the Tories when it comes to slashing the benefits bill, Rachel Reeves, the new shadow work and pensions secretary, has insisted in her first interview since winning promotion in Ed Miliband's frontbench reshuffle.
But for the most part it is easier for Labour to pretend that the constrains that have hobbled the Coalition would not apply to them. That way, they keep their activists and supporters in the press happy.

Nick Clegg is wrong to support the stripping of foreign-born terror suspects' citizenship

From the Guardian:
Nick Clegg has signed up to a plan drawn up by Theresa May to strip foreign-born terror suspects of British citizenship – a move that would render them stateless – if they are judged to present a threat to national security. 
In a last-ditch bid to reduce a damaging Tory rebellion in the Commons on Thursday, the home secretary rushed out the plan, which was branded by Liberty as "irresponsible and unjust".
Liberty is right, of course. And why is Nick going out of his way to aid David Cameron's doomed attempt to placate the fruitcakes and headbangers on his backbenches?

Caron Lindsay has been given the Liberal Democrat spin on this:
I have been doing a bit of digging this morning and found someone from deep within the Westminster Bubble to give me an idea of why the Liberal Democrats would agree to something as drastic as potentially making someone stateless. 
Well, actually, the Home Secretary already can do just that in two instances already. The first is if citizenship is acquired (including if you were born here) by fraudulent means or facts were concealed and the second is if the person is not conducive to the public good. It came about because of Al Jeddah who could have taken up Iraqi nationality after being deprived of his UK citizenship. 
The amendment today is described as a tweak to that to enable the Home Secretary to leave someone stateless, a power that they actually had up until 2003. It would be very unusual for that to happen, I’m told, because this will not apply to people who were born here, only to people who have acquired UK citizenship. They have the alternative of resuming their former citizenship so that they would not be made stateless. 
Although this amendment has been tabled at the last minute, there has been significant consultation within the Liberal Democrat parliamentary party, I’m told. They’ve looked at it very carefully and are satisfied that there are significant safeguards as this would only ever be done at the end of a legal process and would be open to judicial review. It would also only apply to a very small number of people. It also already applies to people who have dual nationality.
But she comes to the right conclusion:
or me it seems to cede too much ground to those who would scapegoat immigrants and it worries me to be associated with it.

David Cameron fails the Duke of Wellington test

Yesterday I blogged about Alan Massie's praise for Nick Clegg's political courage in entering a coalition with the Conservatives.

By chance, David Cameron was required to show political courage today and, put to the test, he flunked it. He funked it.

His backbenchers' amendment to stop foreign criminals using European human rights law to avoid deportation was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. The home secretary told the House of Commons that.

So what does Cameron do? Does he tell his backbenchers to vote to honour our treaty obligations? No, he tells them to abstain and lets it be known that he has sympathy for their views.

It was sheer cowardice. More and more, David Cameron's premiership looks like an exercise in vanity.

He is on record as saying that he wanted to be prime minister because he believed he would "be rather good at it". But what he stands for remains a mystery even though he has now led the Conservative party for more than eight years.

Cameron lacks the courage to take his party decisively to the right or to face down the rabble that his backbenchers have become and to lack the political skills to maintain a middle way with dignity.

What the Duke of Wellington would think of him, I hate to think.

Police launch appeal over mystery tea pot found near Cambridge

Our Headline of the Day Award goes to the Cambridge News - though isn't it usually written as 'teapot'?

Thank you to everyone who makes nominations. This one came from @RutlandNed on Twitter.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Ashby & Nuneaton Joint Railway

This video describes itself as a quick romp through the history of the line from the 1860s to the beginnings of its partial preservation as the Battlefield Line.

Nick Clegg's flagship free school meals policy runs aground

When Nick Clegg announced his policy of free school meals for all children in infant schools I was surprised.

Not just surprised because this was not Liberal Democrat policy: surprised at the way my fellow party members took to their blogs and Twitter to enthuse about it.

To me it seemed an odd policy for a government whose existence is predicated on the need for austerity. It sounded like the sort of thing that came towards the end of the Blair/Brown years. Desirable, perhaps, but extraordinarily expensive.

Nick Harvey put it well - and colourfully - in an interview with Huffington Post back in November:
"It was absolutely astonishing. It came from nowhere," he exclaims. "It seemed to be part of some coalition deal where it was meant to make the Lib Dems feel better about allowing the Tories to progress their wretched married couples tax allowance. I am supposed to rejoice at this other policy that seems to me to be squandering a lot of money". 
It's not that Harvey is opposed to free school meals. Far from it. He has been campaigning on it from both within and from without government for some time. His problem is that, in a time of squeezed public spending, he wanted the free lunch to be given to poor children from when they started school at five to when they finished at 18. 
Instead, Clegg decided to give the money to the youngest children while doing nothing for those who were older but poorer. The idea is to gradually roll it out to all age groups. But Harvey suspects this may take such a long time as to never happen. 
"Suddenly bunny comes out of hat," Harvey mimes. "Someone, somewhere, has found £600m a year we didn’t know about down the back of a filing cabinet and has come up with the brilliant brainwave that the best way to spend it is to give a free school meal to all five, six and seven year olds - regardless of their income level. I am sitting there, gawping in open-mouthed astonishment," he says.
Now, not unsurprisingly with a policy over which there was no consultation, that the implementation of Nick's bright idea is running into all sorts of problems.

Oliver Wright itemises them on the Independent website:
The first sign of trouble came in last month’s Comprehensive Spending Review. When the scheme was announced, Mr Clegg said it would cost the Government £635m. But three months later, George Osborne admitted the cost had risen by 20 per cent to £785m. No one, it appeared, had taken into account the cost of upgrading kitchens and extending school dining rooms to cope with the extra demand. 
Since then, things have got even more problematic. The DfE has no idea which schools need money to upgrade their facilities. There are more than 16,000 primary schools in England – some big, some small, some with adequate facilities, some with none. But because free school meals need to be in place by September for the start of the academic year, there is not enough time to do an assessment of which schools and areas need money and which do not.
It's worse than that. It's not just that the pledge proving expensive and the money is being allocated in a worryingly random way: it turns out that honouring it is impractical in many schools:
Initially, the Government made a commitment that the free meal would be a hot one. A statement on the DfE website said: “The Government will fund schools in England to provide every child in reception, year 1 and year 2 with a hot, nutritious meal at lunchtime.” 
Now the Department says this is an aspiration rather than a commitment, because they’ve “discovered” that in many small schools the “dining room” doubles up as the gym and assembly hall, a space which is needed for lessons and activities. 
Hot meals take longer to prepare and serve. Small children eat slowly and many schools simply cannot fit an extended lunchtime into their school day. As a result, the Department has accepted that a packed lunch that can be eaten in classrooms will now count as a “nutritious meal at lunchtime”.
And by a not very pleasing irony, the policy threatens to undercut Nick's very favourite policy the Pupil Premium. How do you give extra funding to children who get free schools when all children get free school meals?

The root of these problems is the lack of consultation - something no Liberal should be guilty of. As Wright says:
The sad truth is that all these problems could – and should – have been foreseen. There are hundreds of policy officials in Whitehall whose job it is to work through problems, find solutions and devise policy that works. 
But in this case, they didn’t even know about it. The policy was put together on the back of an envelope to provide a catchy announcement for the Lib Dems to trumpet at their party conference.
Come to think of it, Nick could even have discussed the policy with his own party first.

Can the rest of the United Kingdom afford Scottish independence?

Discussing John Barrett's views on Scottish independence earlier this month I wrote:
were I Scottish, if anything could convince me to vote for independence it would be being told that I could not afford it. I would be strongly tempted to vote Yes just to spite such a foolish argument.
Malcolm Bruce, the new deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, does not think it is a foolish argument. He puts an unusually forceful version of it in his interview with Caron Lindsay for Liberal Democrat Voice:
The rest of the UK is not going to indulge a Scotland that’s decided to leave and it’s not going to allow Scotland to go off on a financial frolic on its own, underwritten by the rest of the UK, without any conditions or constraints. So in some ways Scotland would be in a weaker position in terms of its economic management if it was independent than it is in the UK. 
If you have a Plan B, which they don’t, but you’re forced into it because you cannot get the deal you want, therefore you know your promises are undeliverable, you try to relaunch the groat where you’ve got no central bank with any track record, or anybody in it, the currency’s new and you’ve started your arrangement with a default. Then try and raise bonds on the stock market. Scotland would be bankrupt within weeks.
Malcolm may be right, then nationalism has always had more to do with emotion than it has with reason.

What is interesting is his claim that the rest of the UK will not allow Scotland to go its own way while underwriting its debts.

So far the Bank of England has said it will be happy to underwrite Scotland's debt, but this surely cannot be a permanent answer. This would be recipe for irresponsibility on the part of the new Scottish state and you cannot ask the people of the rest of the UK to underwrite policies over which they have no say.

So the question becomes, not can Scotland afford Scottish Independence, but can the rest of the United Kingdom afford Scottish independence?

Getting a Yes vote in the referendum may prove to be only the beginning of the SNP's problems. It could all get very unpleasant, and how can these questions be settled in the absence of amicable relations between the two governments?

Police divers searching for 'body part' at Salford Quays find dead parrot

An easy win for the Manchester Evening News in our Headline of the Day contest.

Why Nick Clegg is like the Duke of Wellington

Could the political climate be changing? Because we are starting to see opinion pieces praising the Liberal Democrats in the newspapers again.

The other day it was Jane Merrick in the Independent. Today it was Allan Massie in The Scotsman.

Massie praises us for entering the Coalition in the first place - and makes an implicit comparison I that had not occurred to me:
In politics, the Duke of Wellington did not match his achievements in war, but he held to one sound and important principle: the Queen’s government must be carried on. This means that you must have an administration that commands a majority in the Commons and is capable of governing. 
In 2010, this was absolutely essential, given the dire state of both the British and the world economy. By agreeing to the coalition, Clegg and those around him acted in the interest of the country. They exchanged the pleasures of easy opposition for the responsibility of a share in the government. And they have had the courage to persist in government and not to run away from the duty they had assumed.
He also endorses the party in May's European elections:
If there was no other reason to vote Liberal Democrat, the party’s commitment to the EU, and to the principles of its founding fathers, would be an adequate one. Given the rise of Ukip, and the aims and character of that party, anyone who believes in the value of the European Union should certainly think of voting Liberal Democrat at the election for the European Parliament in May – and, indeed, do more than think about it.
I also like his observation on the strange alchemy of political popularity:
Jo Grimond once said he had supported two causes throughout his career: the EU and Home Rule for Scotland. Asked to vote on these matters in referendums, his constituents in Orkney and Shetland voted No to both – but they continued to return Jo to parliament.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Swann Song - a power ballad for England's great spinner

There was a lot to enjoy in last night's Not Just Cricket. We got an honest analysis of England's failure in Australia, while the bromance between Graeme Swann and Jimmy Anderson reminds us that there is a lot to like about this team if only the players are allowed to express themselves.

I also like the way that my teenage hero Mike Brearley has become an almost mythic figure for modern players. As another BBC page reports it:
Swann also gave his backing to captain Alastair Cook, saying not even legendary skipper Mike Brearley could have turned around a failing team.
But perhaps best of all is this eighties power ballad composed in honour of Swann.

He has earned it. When will we next see an England spinner who can win tests and makes the game exciting?

The unfortunate re-emergence of Irfan Ahmed

My older readers may remember Irfan Ahmed, a Liberal Democrat whose kamikaze style of blogging led to disaster in 2009.

He gave up blogging - and deleted his blog - after making some particularly distasteful comments. As the Burnley Citizen reported it at the time:
Controversial Pendle blogger Irfan Ahmed has apologised for comments in which he appeared to criticise the families of dead soldiers. 
Mr Ahmed, of Pendle LibDems, said in his political online blog: “The parents of the lost children have enjoyed the nice salaries that their children have been earning from the army.”
At the time I wrote:
I hope we will see an older, wiser Irfan return to blogging one day.
Well, he has returned. He may well be older, but sadly he is no wiser.

Because if you visit Sack Maajid Nawaz, you will find this piece of rambling nonsense:
Dear Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats, 
I write to you today on a final note to ask you to take action against Maajid Nawaz for his tweets which have insulted the Muslim community across the world. Maajid Nawaz posted a cartoon of Prophets’ Jesus and Muhammad on twitter which is against Islam. Islam is against any depictions of Prophets and for a man to do so is an insult to the Prophet Muhammad PBUH and to Muslims in general. 
I believe as a liberal it is important to allow debate and healthy debate, but what I don’t believe in practicing [sic] is attack or the mockery of a Prophet of any religion. Religion alongside ethnicity must always be respected and not mocked or attacked with petty cartoons. 
I ask you to look back in recent history, can you remember when a Danish newspaper published a cartoon about the Prophet Muhammad? There was international uproar and a boycott of Danish products. By not suspending Maajid Nawaz and investigating this matter, does the party want voters to boycott the Lib Dems as they boycotted Danish products? 
Can we as a party really afford to have over 2 Million people boycott us at the local elections this May? 
I ask you to take action immediately against Maajid Nawaz or I will have no choice but to suspend my membership of the Liberal Democrats. I will give the party until the Spring Conference to suspend Maajid Nawaz, if you fail to do so, I will personally resign as a member of the Liberal Democrats. 
Yours Sincerely, 
Irfan Ahmed
Executive Member, Pendle Liberal Democrats
Freedom of thought and expression is at the heart of Liberalism, so we must support Maajid Nawaz. If you want to sign a petition to that effect, there is one here.

As to Irfan Ahmed's threat to resign from the party, we shall just have to choke back our tears and soldier on without him.

Thanks to Left Foot Forward and to @Heresy_Corner on Twitter.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Melton Mowbray is the most dangerous town in England

A shocking report from today's Independent:
The borough in Leicestershire, where Melton Mowbray pies have been produced since the 19th century, has the highest concentration of accidental death, according to figures out today. ... 
Melton ... had the highest rate of accidental deaths in 2010/11, 29 per 100,000 people. The authority with the lowest rate was Runnymede, Surrey, with 5.5 deaths per 100,000. 
Melton also had the most number of years of life lost annually, at 95.6 per 10,000 people compared with 10 per 10,000 in Surrey Heath.
The paper asked for reaction from local residents:
"Nothing much really goes on here apart from pork pies and Stilton cheese," said Malise Graham, a Conservative councillor in Melton.

Charles Dickens stops at Market Harborough

The Leicester Mercury looked back to January 1867 today:
The 9.35 from Leicester to London had barely made it past Kibworth, but the passengers were already in a state of open revolt. 
When the train pulled in to Harborough station, windows were angrily yanked down and red-faced travellers bellowed their indignation at the guard, station master and porters alike. 
Their mood would surely have turned uglier still had they set eyes upon the driver and fireman, the cause of their ire. The express was going too fast, the passengers protested: it was intolerable.
We know about this incident because Charles Dickens was on board and later wrote an indignant letter to The Times about it.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Norfolk Uncovered: The Lost Railways Of Cromer

The first video from this series that I posted looked at the remains of the line from Norwich to Melton Constable.

This one covers the seaside town of Cromer and its fascinating history of lost lines, viaducts and the only standard-gauge railway tunnel in Norfolk.

Six of the Best 416

"Is Liberal Democrat blogging dying, becoming more 'concentrated', or simply less fashionable?" asks The View from Creeting St Peter.

A Scottish Liberal mourns the death of John Farquhar Munro: "A keen sailor, a fisherman and a Gaelic speaker, he was an ideal Highland MSP. A passion for such issues as land reform, crofting, ending tolls on the Skye bridge made him an authentic voice for Highland interests in Holyrood."

Mark Pack has been reading some old copies of Liberator. His reflections on them for Liberal Democrat Voice have led to a spirited debate.

Over 100,000 high resolution images including manuscripts, paintings, etchings, early photography and advertisements have been made freely available by the Wellcome Library.

Spitalfields Life visits Bancroft Road Jewish Cemetery in Mile End: "Neglected for over a century now, this was the cemetery for the congregation of Maiden Lane Synagogue in Covent Garden from 1811, where more than five hundred souls rest peacefully."

A1 on the Jukebox remembers seeing Dr Feelgood on Canvey Island in January 1994 - Lee Brilleaux's last show.

Charles Kennedy "too weak" to challenge Mike Hancock

Last week I blogged about Mike Hancock's worrying attitude to human rights in Eastern Europe. A little research has shown that concern at this goes back a long way.

In 2010 the Guardian reported the reaction of fellow ALDE members Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly (PACE):
Mágyás Eörsi, the former chairman of the parliamentary assembly's liberal group to which Nick Clegg's Lib Dems belong, said he and his colleagues were frequently "stunned" by the pro-Kremlin stance taken by Hancock during parliamentary assembly debates and amendments ... "I don't say that Michael is a spy," Eörsi said. "But I'm very sure that the Russians use Michael quite deliberately. He is the most pro-Russian MP from among all of the countries of western Europe. You just have to read his speeches. 
"When it came to debates on Putin, freedom of the media or the war with Georgia, Michael always defended Russia. Among the liberal bloc in Strasbourg we were all stunned by his position. According to him, Russia really is a fully fledged democracy."
Later the report says:
Eörsi, a Hungarian MP who led the assembly's liberal ALDE group between 2001 and 2009, said he grew so alarmed about Hancock's record on Russia that he raised the matter with Kennedy. "I warned Charles in 2006 there could be a scandal for the Lib Dems," he told the Guardian. "But he was too weak to intervene."
There were other odd things about Hancock's relations with the Russian government. In another Guardian report Eörsi recalled ALDE dinners in a Strasbourg restaurant:
Among their number was Mike Hancock, the flamboyant rebel Liberal Democrat MP from Portsmouth South. But while other delegates from the council's parliamentary assembly turned up alone, Hancock typically appeared with a glamorous young Russian woman, colleagues said. Sometimes he even brought two. 
"They were all the same type: long-legged, good-looking blondes, never older than 25, fluent in French, English and often German, and with a higher education." ... 
Former colleagues said they had raised serious concerns about the activities of Hancock's young Russian companions. They said they witnessed the alleged assistants using the computers of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (Alde), the liberal group secretariat, which were supposed to be protected by a password. 
"They knew the password. We had no idea what they were doing with the information. Perhaps nothing. Perhaps something," Eörsi said, adding: "I saw this myself." The computers allowed access to everything on the Council of Europe's central server.
Another concern about Hancock has been his continued support for Azerbaijan's continued membership of PACE, despite the growing evidence that its government is a tyranny.

As Caviar Diplomacy, a report by the European Stability Initiative, records, some had doubts about Azerbaijan being allowed to join in the first place:
Malcolm Bruce, a British Liberal Democrat, noted that PACE had usually withheld membership until a candidate state demonstrated its commitment to democracy by holding free and fair elections (which Azerbaijan had never done). He worried that Azerbaijan, if admitted prematurely, could roll back the limited progress it had made in previous years.
But Azerbaijan was granted membership, subsequently holding its first elections in November 2000. These were found to be unsatisfactory by a number of outside observers, including those from PACE itself.

Things have only got worse in Azerbaijan - read the Human Rights Watch page on the country to get a flavour of the regime. But, in recent years, every time that regime has been criticised in PACE it has been Mike Hancock who has got to his feet to defend it.

Caviar Diplomacy goes on:
Hancock did not leave it at making speeches in the assembly. He also played a leading role in trying to change the Council’s approach to election monitoring in Azerbaijan. During a PACE debate in September 2008, shortly before presidential elections in Azerbaijan, Hancock again turned against Andres Herkel [head of PAVE's monitoring team for the country's 2008 elections]. He accused him of being prejudiced and of “looking for excuses to rubbish the elections in Azerbaijan.” 
He then focused on the ODIHR, which was responsible for long-term election monitoring: “ODIHR was saying even before it got to Azerbaijan a month ago that the election would be full of problems. How can it know that – does it have some sort of telepathic power?” 
Hancock disregarded the fact that Azerbaijan had repeatedly ignored concerns by PACE rapporteurs and the Venice Commission about the unequal composition of election commissions. Instead, he recommended “testing the water to make sure that ODIHR was doing a good job and not simply going through the motions of pre-judging.”
It also reports on Hancock's politicking to get people who were more sympathetic to the Azerbaijani regime appointed to observe its elections.

Given his interest in this part of the world, it would be interesting to know how often Hancock has visited it. Unfortunately that is not possible.

In 2010 he explained the situation to the Guardian:
"All my trips were of an official nature," he said. He said he "hadn't a clue" about the precise number of his trips to Moscow because: "My passport fell in the sea. It got wet. It was in the early part of the year. "I'm getting a new one," he explained.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Roxy Music: Jealous Guy

On 7 March 1981 Vienna by Ultravox peaked at number 2 in the UK singles chart, kept from the top sport by Joe Dolce's Shaddup You Face.

It is customary to mourn this as the greatest injustice in the history of British pop, but I am not so sure. Vienna verged on the pretentious and I belong to a generation who could never take Midge Ure seriously because be began in Slik - the poor girl's Bay City Rollers.

This is the record that was at number 3 that week: Roxy Music's Jealous Guy was the best tribute to John Lennon, who had been shot in December 1980. Maybe better than Lennon's own songs that did well as a result.

I was in Derwent College bar at the University of York with some fellow Liberal students the night we heard of his death. Everyone who came into the bar thought it was a really good idea to put on Imagine as the first of the three records you got for 10p - or whatever a jukebox cost in those days.

The result was that, all evening, every third record that came on was Imagine. Before very long we were booing it every time it came on.

Justice was done and Jealous Guy made number 1 on 14 March - the version above is a slightly inflated live performance.

I would like to hear what Joe Dolce could do with Vienna though.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

My fan-dabi-dozi column for the Leicester Mercury

On 9 January I had the following column published in the Leicester Mercury.

Run-of-the-mill stuff, you will say, but it appeared on the same spread as The Krankies.

Multi-party politics here for the long haul

I’ve got some bad news for people who don’t like the Coalition: it’s going to continue throughout 2014. And when I say “people who don’t like the Coalition,” I am thinking chiefly of Conservative activists and backbench MPs.

Because ever since their party failed to win the 2010 general election those backbenchers and activists have taken out their anger, not on David Cameron, but on the Liberal Democrats. If it weren’t for Nick Clegg, they tell us, we could do all sorts of wonderful things.

Which is odd, because the Coalition has chalked up some solid achievements. Tax cuts for low-paid workers; scrapping Labour’s plans for compulsory national identity cards; maintaining the overseas aid budget; providing more funding to schools to help children from poor families.

It’s even odder when you look at what those backbenchers and activists think a Conservative government would do if it weren’t reined in by the Liberal Democrats. Cuts in inheritance tax for millionaires; allowing employers to fire people at will; a database to record everyone’s emails and text messages; abolishing Natural England, the public body that conserves our natural environment.

That does not sound like a programme to enthuse anyone beyond the Conservative Party. So one effect of the Coalition may have been to make David Cameron more popular than he would have been if he were leading a one-party government.

But let’s leave the party politics aside and look at the deeper picture. Back in 1951 the Conservatives and Labour between them received 96.8 per cent of the votes cast. By the time of the last general election that figure had fallen to 65.1 per cent.

The Liberal revival, the rise of the Nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales, and the arrival of the Greens and UKIP mean that multi-party politics is here to stay. And that, despite the near lottery of our current electoral system, means that coalitions are much more likely in future.

And why assume that is a bad thing? Ask the public what they think of politics and they say they hate petty squabbling and want to see people from different parties working together. That is what coalitions give you.

Maybe they make radical change less likely, but it’s not as if the major parties are far apart these days. I would like to see this government doing more to help the poor, but I remember that Labour’s rising star Rachel Reeves has promised to be tougher on benefits than the Coalition.

So not only will the Coalition last throughout 2014: coalition governments may well be here to stay.

David Jack and Credit Card Killer revisited

In January 2010 David Jack was forced to resign as Liberal Democrat PPC for Stoke-on-Trent North after claims were made that he had sent racist emails.

He was later exonerated by Bradford police after a 10-month investigation during which his computers were seized and his servers searched. (The investigation was carried out by Bradford police because the formal complaint against him was made from that city.)

At the time David Jack was involved in exposing a number of dodgy finance companies who claimed to be able to get people's debts paid off by exploiting vaguely defined "loopholes" in credit law. However, those people were first asked to make a payment...

Foremost among those companies was Credit Card Killer, so it is interesting to read this BBC News story from September 2012:
A Staffordshire man has been jailed for four years after fraudulently claiming he could clear people's debts. 
Basil Rankine, 46, and his wife Amanda, 36, were convicted of a total of 14 offences, including fraud and providing misleading information. 
The couple, of Somerset Avenue, Rugeley, made more than £1m in fees through their firm Credit Card Killer by promising to buy up debt. 
Amanda Rankine was given a two-year jail sentence suspended for 18 months. 
The couple were also banned from being directors of a company for seven years.

Trivial Fact of the Day with Rihanna

The rule at the moment is that the less time a cricketer has spent with the England coaches, the better he performs. So much so that Steve Finn has been sent somewhere thousands of miles from them in the hope that his game will recover.

Another example of this phenomenon is the Sussex opening bowler Chris Jordan, who has been brought into the squad for the one-day internationals and performed well.

Jordan has another claim to fame, as the Daily Mail explained:
England certainly need to discover some star quality during the one-day series against Australia - although the nearest they have come so far is Sussex all-rounder Chris Jordan being in the same class at Combermere High School in Barbados as pop royalty Rihanna. 
Jordan left the school and Robyn Fenty, as Rihanna was then, at the age of 16 when he won a sports scholarship to Dulwich College.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Birmingham Snow Hill to Shrewsbury in the 1960s

This video show parts of the former Great Western mainline from Birmingham Snow Hill to Shrewsbury.
It gives the modern viewer a feel for what the last years of steam, with their grubby, fading grandeur, must have been like.

Today the trackbed from Snow Hill to Priestfield is used by the Midland Metro.

Mike Hancock's admiration for Benny Hill

In May of last year Mike Hancock put down an early day motion in support of Portsmouth and Southampton's joint bid to be the UK City of Culture for 2017. He remained its only signatory.

That motion ran as follows:
That this House welcomes the decision by Portsmouth and Southampton City Councils to run a joint bid for the UK City of Culture for 2017; recognises the remarkable heritage and enormous contribution to international development given by both cities; acknowledges their wide ranging historical links as well as outstanding maritime traditions; notes that such individuals as Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan-Doyle, Peter Sellers, Jane Austen and Benny Hill have all resided in Portsmouth or Southampton; and believes the joint bid is worthy of national recognition and support.

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"Running a car is expensive, buses are scarce, to put it mildly, but Rachel Reeves wants to place an obligation upon unemployed villagers to travel, potentially quite some way, to study." The View from Creeting St Peter on the nonsense of Labour's new proposals for the unemployed.

Middle-sized is beautiful, says David Boyle on The Real Blog.

OurKingdom investigates the GEO Group - the American private prison operator that runs Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre.

Philip Larkin claimed that sexual intercourse was invented in 1963. Blake Backlash on Mostly Film looks at some British films released that year to see how they coped with this new invention.

PastHorizons examines the Oswestry Hillfort Pegasus Stone and opposes the building of 200 houses "within a stone’s throw of the ramparts of Old Oswestry," which is "acknowledged as one of Britain’s finest Iron Age hillforts".

The Imperial War Museum presents 15 photographs of London during the First World War.

Fear and groping in the Conservative Party

Yes, the Tories have them too.

Here is Alex Wickham writing in the new Spectator:
As I walked out of the bar, I noticed a Conservative MP following me. It had been an evening for young political activists, mostly teenage boys, and it was drawing to an end. I pretended to be engrossed in my phone, but the MP - well-liked, universally respected - lurched towards me, placing his arm around my waist and leaning in close. I could smell the whisky and cigars on his breath.
‘I’m just going to the toilet,’ he slurred, winking and gesturing at the gents. I had only worked in and around Parliament for a year, but had been on the receiving end of enough unwanted advances from male Tory MPs to know exactly what he was proposing.

Anti-fracking protesters glue themselves to wrong petrol station

What with the paper being up for sale, the Independent will be pleased to win today's Headline of the Day Award.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Lib Dem sex scandals: Clegg takes decisive action

The worst thing about Mike Hancock

A year ago I quoted Mike Hancock's immortal words: "Why this obsession with political prisoners in Azerbaijan?"

A post by Daniel Hamilton on Trending Central shows that Hancock's attitude to human rights in Eastern Europe is far, far worse than that:
Through thick and thin, he has been an outspoken supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The former Hungarian MP Mátyás Eörsi who had the indignity of sitting beside Hancock in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe said, “he is the most pro-Russian MP from among all of the countries of western Europe. When it came to debates on Putin [and] freedom of the media… Michael always defended Russia… According to him, Russia really is a fully-fledged democracy”. The travails of his former researcher-come-lover Ekaterina Zatuliveter, which involved allegations of involvement in Russian espionage at the very heart of Westminster, are well known. 
During the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia, which saw tanks move within miles of the country’s capital city Tbilisi, Hancock was an outspoken supporter of the Kremlin. As bombs rained down on Georgia, Hancock rather astonishingly delivered a speech thanking the Russian government for preventing the “genocide of the peaceful South Ossetia population”, while simultaneously ignoring the charred Georgian villages following Russian air strikes. Following the conflict, he wrote an article endorsing the de facto independence of South Ossetia and calling for the breakaway region’s “boundaries and borders to be respected”, despite the displacement of more than 30,000 ethnic Georgians from the region.
And so on and on, crowned with a reference by Hancock to "the so-called Armenian genocide".

All of which makes we wish I had done more than poke fun from the sidelines. I should have done more research and publicised Hancock's views long before now.

Where is the Lyubov Orlova? Ghost ship ‘crewed by cannibal rats heading to Britain’

The Metro fights off the challenge from Rutland to win our Headline of the Day contest.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Northampton Past and Present 4

If you enjoyed this, hurry over to part 1part 2 and part 3.

A guide to Liberal scandals

The last time the Liberal Democrats were consumed by scandal was during the leadership election that followed Charles Kennedy's defenestration.

At the time, as a service to the readers of Liberal Democrat News, I devoted a House Points column to a guide to Liberal scandals of the past:
Take Sir Charles Dilke, once the great hope of the Radicals and a possible successor to Gladstone. In 1885 Dilke was cited in a divorce case. He protested his innocence, but when he produced his diary in court it had holes cut in many of the pages. He claimed this was his usual practice after completing an engagement. It did not save his career. 
Then there is Horatio Bottomley, financier and publisher – the Edwardian Robert Maxwell. This Liberal MP served five years for his swindles. Found working on mailbags by a visitor, he was asked, “Sewing, Bottomley?” “No, reaping,” he famously replied. 
A more exotic figure is Trebitsch Lincoln. Parris sums him up: “Fraudster, spy, Anglican curate, German revolutionary, journalist, secret agent, international outlaw, Chinese cult leader and – in 1910 – Liberal MP for Darlington.” 
Passing rapidly over Loulou Harcourt, who had amassed Europe’s largest collection of child pornography by the time of his suicide in 1922, we come to Mr Gladstone himself.
You can read the whole column on this blog.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Slaves freed from political collective

And so our week with Rutland's most celebrated fictional peer draws to a close.


The wireless news tells me that a number of slaves have escaped after living for 30 years in a collective they joined “through a shared political ideology”. If this turns out to be the final issue of Liberator – those envelopes take a lot of stuffing, you know – I  should like to thank you for reading me over the past century.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Monday, January 20, 2014

Secrets of the Northern Line

We have already done the District, the Central and the Jubilee.

A Liberal Democrat approach to reforming our banks

Ed Miliband was right to raise the issue of the dominance of British banking by a small number of companies.

A Liberal Democrat solutions to this problem is supplied by Re-banking the UK: How to create a diverse lending infrastructure. This is a report written for the independent New Weather Institute by David Boyle. The work behind it was funded by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust and carried out with Susan Kramer before she became a minister.

As the institute says, this is important unfinished business for rebalancing the economy, because:
  • The big banks bad at assessing and pricing the risk of lending to small businesses, and are consequently no longer geared up to do so.
  • Competitor countries have small banks. In the UK, just 3 per cent of banks are local, 34 per cent in the USA, 33 per cent in Germany and 44 per cent in Japan (and they all have better SME [small and medium enterprise] track record).
  • Co-operative and savings banks reduce the drain of capital from urban centres and foster regional equality because of their ability to lend to SMEs. See the recent report on stakeholder banks.
  • Our lack of local banks means that our recessions are likely to be deeper than theirs, and our SMEs are at a disadvantage.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Dr Harris on Dr Crippen


Noticing that our own Evan Harris had fallen out with the press, and reasoning that this was an unfortunate state of affairs for someone who still has political ambitions, I decided to take action. Last week I offered him the chance to write for my own newspaper, the High Leicestershire Radical. “Why not write about famous murders cases?” I advised. “People always like reading about That Sort of Thing.”

This morning his first contribution arrived at the rag’s offices. It begins: “A doctor always acts on his or her judgement of the clinical best interests of the patient. Therefore it is impossible for Crippen to have committed murder.” After a hurried conference with the editor, I drop Harris a line politely declining his offer of a piece on Bodkin Adams for next week.

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Swan blocks A6003 between Caldecott and Uppingham

After some consideration of the theory that the paper is now doing it on purpose, the judges awarded the Rutland Times our Headline of the Day Award.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

My book chapter on "Histories of Abuse"

Back in 2005 I contributed a chapter - "Histories of Abuse" - to the book Making and Breaking Children's Lives.

The other day, as you do, I had a look in Google Books to see if anyone had referenced it and found three instances:

The New Early Years Professional: Dilemmas and Debates edited by Angela D. Nurse

Sex Offenders and the Internet by Dennis Howitt & Kerry Sheldon

Understanding Women and Child Sexual Abuse: Feminist revolutions in theory, research and practice by Sam Warner

I even found that Angela Nurse had quoted a short passage that gives the argument of my chapter:
the chastening truth is that child abuse has always been known about and talked about, that the willingness amongst the public and professionals to do something about it has waxed and waned through the years, and it is by no means clear that professionals have always been on the more admirable side of the argument.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The ALDE Congress at Canary Wharf


To Canary Wharf – a visible reminder of how central coal once was to our economy. For it was here that the unfortunate birds bound for the mines were landed after their long voyage from the balmy Atlantic isles after which they were named. The warehouses have long since been converted into offices and it is here that the ALDE Congress is being held.

I trust my opening address hits the right note:
“It gives me great pleasure to welcome over 900 Liberals from across the EU and beyond here to Canary Wharf. The European Liberal family includes three current prime ministers, while over a quarter of European Commissioners are Liberals. Liberal parties are in government in 16 different European countries, as well as being the third largest political group in the European Parliament. This family is a truly formidable fighting force – and we British Liberal Democrats benefit massively from being part of it. A word to the wise. Don’t fall asleep outside the building or Clegg will have you deported.”
Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10.

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Leo Sayer: The Show Must Go On

Leo Sayer has long been seen as the quintessence of naffness - that Kevin Keegan perm did not help - but for a few years in the mid 1970s he enjoyed enormous success on both sides of the Atlantic.

I can still remember the impact this strange figure in full clown costume and make up had on me when I first saw him on Top of the Pops. If, as I suspect,  it was the show on 3 January 1974, then that tape has been wiped.

Nor can I find what other acts were on the show, but I like to think of Sayer as offering something new and intriguing to the 13-year-old me when set against Suzi Quatro, the Rubettes and other Chinn & Chapman dreck that the charts had to offer in those days. It was up there with I Know What I Like in Your Wardrobe.

These days Leo Sayer is an Australian citizen and very opposed to fracking.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

A Market Harborough doorway

Symington's corset factory was built in 1889 and closed in 1974. It was later converted into the town's library and the offices of Harborough District Council.

The building is about to reopen after a major refurbishment.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: “Free-ee Me-ee-ee-ee-ee”


When Nelson Mandela was banged up I sent him a cake with a file in it, but I had not great confidence that the South African authorities would be sportsmen enough to give it him. So I decided to raise public awareness of his plight here in Britain by writing a song. I called it “Free Me”, but as fitting the words and music together proved harder than I had expected, it came out more like “Free-ee Me-ee-ee-ee-ee”.

The idea, you see, was that someone should sing the song while in the character of Mandela himself, and I wrote to both Harry Belafonte and Nat King Cole proposing the idea. When they failed to reply I had hopes of persuading a popular actor or entertainer of the day – say Bryan Forbes, Tommy Trinder or Dickie Henderson – to black up and sing it, but their people never rang my people back.

The good news is that the song was eventually taken up by some jolly young fellows from Coventry who made the bold decision to recast the lyrics so they referred to Nelson Mandela in the third person. I questioned the wisdom of this, but It turned out that they fitted the tune much better after this and the record became something of a hit. Perhaps you have heard it?

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Tom Winsor is a lot more worrying than David Silvester

There has, rightly, been widespread derision, for the UKIP town councillor David Silvester and his suggestion that the recent floods have been sent by God because parliament has brought in equal marriage.

But his are not the silliest or the most worrying words I have read today.

Step forward Tom Winsor, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary.

Here he is speaking to The Times (and quoted in the Guardian):
"There are cities in the Midlands where the police never go because they are never called. They never hear of any trouble because the community deals with that on its own ... They just have their own form of community justice."
There are cities in the Midlands where the police never go because they are never called? Really?

The Guardian goes to quote a more limited claim that could conceivably be true:
Winsor said some chief constables receive "close to zero" calls from some areas, and that police are not afraid to go to such areas, but that they do not know what is going on as communities do not tell them. 
He said: "They don't know what injustices are being perpetrated ... It's almost a closed book because we can't go there so don't know. It could be anything from low-level crime right up to murder."
However, the Guardian goes on to quote the chief constable of the West Midlands as flatly denying this.

Still, let Winsor have his say. Where are these communities?

Winsor says:
"There are some communities born under other skies who will not involve police at all," he told the Times. "I am reluctant to name the communities in question but there are communities from other cultures who would prefer to police themselves.
Leave aside the silly, saloon bar racism of "communities born under other skies": what worries me about Winsor is simple competence. How can someone with such an absurd view of the world cope with an important job?

Let's appoint someone sensible in his place and allow Winsor to find a post more suited to his talents.

My first thought is that he could be a UKIP town councillor.

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Karen Wilkinson on Liberal Democrat Voice updates us on the campaign against the government's enthusiasm for fining or jailing parents who take their children on holiday in term time.

Moderate Labourite Hopi Sen is bemused by the way his party's high command has suddenly become keen on cooperation with the Lib Dems: "Labour moderates, already suspect due to their liberal deviations, would face ... agonies in any Lib-Lab coalition.  Centrist ministers would be tarred at PLP meetings,  be accused of a lack of backbone at policy commissions, be berated at conference for secretly agreeing with Nick Clegg."

Why did Friedrich Hayek support a basic income? Matt Zwolinski explains on

"Eliot wrote to a bereaved friend. 'I try to delight in the sunshine that will be when I shall never see it any more. And I think it is possible for this sort of ­impersonal life to attain great intensity,—possible for us to gain much more ­independence, than is usually believed, of the small bundle of acts that make our own personality.'" Kathryn Schulz writes for Vulture on the greatness of Middlemarch and the goodness of George Eliot.

Unmitigated England discovers the monuments in the church at Warkton, just outside Kettering.

StyleIte has 23 vintage advertisements that remind of the days when, for women, 'skinny' meant unattractive.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Norfolk Uncovered: Norwich to Melton Constable

Norfolk Uncovered is a series of short documentaries about the less-known and less-obvious relics and ruins of the county of Norfolk, in the United Kingdom.

This episode focuses on the former railway line between the once bustling terminus of Norwich City Station and the railway town of Melton Constable, once dubbed 'the Crewe of Norfolk'.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Oh, those Russians!


In my younger day I spent more time at my London residence – Bonkers House in Belgrave Square. In those days the more affluent parts of London were home to many Russian aristocrats who had (very wisely) fled the Bolshevik revolution. Trouble was, they adopt the ways of their hosts and would be up till all hours playing the balalaika, boiling their samovars and slicing the corks from champagne bottles with their sabres.

As I recall telling them one evening after a nasty incident involving a peasant and a knout: “If you are in Britain and you are coming to live in Britain and you are bringing up a family here, you have got to be sensitive to the way that life is lived in this country." My words must have hit home, for today the leader of our own party is sprung from just this stock.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers's Diary

GUEST POST Memories of Snailbeach in the 1950s

Christina Samson has kindly sent me her recollections of life in this village in Shropshire's lead-mining country more than 50 years ago.

This is an area for which I have a very deep affection having spent many extremely happy holidays with my Mum's cousin and family, who lived at 14 Snailbeach.

When I first visited around 1956, the cottage didn't have running water and the loo was located outside the house and up a steep little bank. It was an Elsan. My Aunty (although technically my second cousin) claimed the view from the loo took in several counties!

Our water was collected by turning right out of the front door, down the steep path, crossing the lane up to Lordshill and into the cottage opposite's garden where there was a well. The water was very soft and I remember frogs in the well which Aunty said kept it pure.

Ablutions were carried out in the bedroom from an ( even then) old fashioned ceramic jug and bowl. Baths from a tin bath. Rainwater was collected in an old wooden barrel. This was used for hair washing and it beat any modern conditioner. Very happy times.

Saturday mornings we took the elderly Minsterley Motors bus into "town" (Shrewsbury) and back in time for lunch. It sometimes seemed that we would never make the hill from Plox Green as the little old bus chugged and wheezed its way up. But I was always glad to get back to the cottage.

I can never remember feeling bored whilst there and apart from the odd visit to Mollie Wardman's funny little shop, didn't spend a ha'penny. I made friends with the local kids and we roamed the Stiperstones, playing and 'wimberrying'. Aunty Jo would make a pie. The white hillocks presented endless scope for playing. Can't have been very healthy when you think about it!

We once attended a service at Lordshill Chapel. I remember we walked up in procession at Eastertime. It was lit with oil lamps and the service was interminable. The minister gave a sermon denouncing just about everything that would make life worth living. Eventually we were given a really nice tea.

My Aunty's adult children also lived at Snailbeach. I remember velvet black darkness walking up after visiting Jackie and Mollie. No lighting at all. The clear night skies were wonderful to star gaze.We often stood and watched for shooting stars. And saw plenty.

515th anniversary of marmalade arriving in Exeter

Thanks to a nomination from a reader of this blog, the city's Express & Echo wins Headline of the Day.

My 10,000th blog post

Alarming, isn't it?

To celebrate, here is a photograph, taken a couple of summers ago, of the real-life model for Malcolm Saville's Witchend.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

More film of the Market Harborough otters

Those with strong stomachs can also watch them eating a rat and a squirrel.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: David Grace vs the drones

Another day with Rutland's most celebrated fictional peer. These days, of course, David Grace looks more like a Rear Admiral than a Wing Commander.


I sometimes think if that it were not for sales of my own works – I run a scheme whereby estate workers can have the cost of them deducted from their wage packets – the bookshop in the village would have closed long ago. For these days the skies over it are black with squadrons of drones delivering books from a warehouse near Bletchley direct to their purchasers.

Last night we held a meeting in the village hall and passed a resolution that Something Must Be Done nem con. I know just the man to turn to: someone who saw off squadrons of social democrats in some of the most fiercely contested by-elections of the Alliance years will not be afraid of these flimsy craft without pilots.

So here I am at the aerodrome talking to Wing Commander David “Gracie” Graceworth as he sits at the control of his Bonkers Liberator – a fighter designed by the great Barnes Common himself. I helpfully remark that the best way of dealing with doodlebugs was to flip them over with the tip of your wing, but Gracie replies that he will “give the blighters a squirt and prang them in the custard”. I take this to mean he intends to shoot them down over Rutland Water, but it can be hard to tell with these RAF wallahs.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers's Diary

The different treatment of Chris Rennard and Jenny Tonge

Have I got this right? The Liberal Democrats asked Alistair Webster to decide whether there was a better than even chance that an inquiry would find beyond reasonable doubt that Chris Rennard had intended to harass women in the party.

So we didn't hold an inquiry: we asked a QC to guess what would happen if we did.

If it were not so damaging to the party's reputation, our adoption of this byzantine approach would be comic.

This is a difficult issue for me to write about, because I have known Chris Rennard for almost 30 years. When I first heard of the allegations against him my reaction was to hope they were not true. I make no comment on them now beyond what is contained in Alistair Webster's statement.

But I am struck by the difference between his treatment and that of someone I first met even before I met Chris.

When Jenny Tonge suggested that Israel would not last for ever in its present form, she was given an ultimatum by Nick Clegg: apologise or resign.

When she failed to apologise, Nick told the Guardian:
"I asked Baroness Tonge to withdraw her remarks and apologise for the offence she has caused. She has refused to do so and will now be leaving the party."
If Nick has the power to force someone out of the party like this, why is he not exercising it now?

The kindest explanation I can think of is that Nick is scared of Alex Carlile.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Northampton Past and Present 3

If you enjoyed this you may also enjoy part 1 and part 2.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: I am the Lib Dems' new pastoral care office

The new Liberator is out - or so Liberator's blog tells us - so it is time to spend another week with Rutland's most celebrated fictional peer. Lord Bonkers' Diary appears in each issue of the magazine, as it has done since 1990.

Looking at the subject of today's diary entry, I am struck once again by his ability to identify the most important issue of the day.


A busy day in my new capacity as Pastoral Care Officer of the Liberal Democrats. Reading from my early volume Frank Chats for Young Canvassers, I say: “Now that you are growing up, I expect you find yourselves doing things like cutting out photographs of Megan Lloyd George from the News Chronicle.

Let me reassure you: there is nothing wrong with such feelings. However, it is important that we do not allow them to get in the way of our Liberal activism. So rise early, take a cold tub, exercise with Indian clubs and then, if you still find yourself troubled by impure thoughts, ask your branch secretary for an extra Focus round to deliver. I assure you that, after that, you will have no energy left for beastliness of any sort.”

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

Chuckle Brother 'thwarted DLT sex attack'

The Metro wins our Headline of the Day Award.

I have no wish to prejudice Dave Lee Travis's trial, but I do like the idea of the Chuckle Brothers as a crime-fighting force. There must be a television series in it.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Trainspotting at King's Cross and Euston in the 1950s

Small boys on the platform. Jumpers for goalposts. Isn't it?

Labour sounds the retreat over its list of target seats

Labour Uncut reports a "reprioritisation" of the party's list of 106 key seats:
Underpinning this reappraisal are two broader developments: first, the increasing effort Labour is having to devote to retaining marginal seats it already holds and second, the party’s flagging performance in the south. 
At the last election Labour won 17 seats where the majority was only in three figures. Although Labour’s vote in these seats will undoubtedly be bolstered by defections from the Lib Dems, there is a real danger that anti-Labour supporters of the coalition parties will switch their votes to maximise the chances for a Labour defeat – after all, both the Tories and the Lib Dems will be standing on the same economic record. 
In 2011, when Debbie Abrahams won the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election, it was notable that the Lib Dem vote held up, sustained largely by massive switching from the Tories. 
If this type of behaviour were replicated at the next election then Labour could face losing large numbers of seats, with shadow cabinet members like Gloria De Piero, who had a majority at the last election of 192, under threat.
Labour Uncut goes on to name Dover, Crawley and Battersea as examples of Southern seats where the party is struggling to make progress.

It quotes a party source as saying that Labour’s realistic target list is nearer 60 than 106, and concludes:
In effect, Labour is now targeting a coalition with the Lib Dems following the next election.
This would certainly explain Ed Balls' wooing of Nick Clegg, though perhaps not Ed Miliband's new-found wish to save the middle class.

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"There is some evidence that the emergence of this fantasy space has actually made the real world slightly safer for women: studies have shown correlations between access to online pornography and lower rates of sexual assault. But the flip side is that many men who might have successfully regulated their darker impulses now have what seems like a green light to be 'virtually' abusive ... because they’re just trying out a role, or because the woman on the receiving end seems no more real to them than a character in a pornographic film." Ross Douthat writes about online misogyny for the New York Times.

But young women should stop trying to ban what offends them, and focus on engaging their opponents in intellectual debate, says Claire Fox in the TES.

"In days gone by, boys had the freedom to roam unsupervised on adventures that allowed them to be massively engaged in pursuits that helped them to learn and grow using life’s greatest teacher – experience." Maggie Dent on Essential Kids argues that boys need a boyhood if they are to grow into good men - in fact I suspect that girls need boyhood too.

One & Other on the York law students who are helping the local community.

Londonist visits the city's best ruins.

"As a child, I was completely enamoured with the Lone Pine series of books written by the late Malcolm Saville, about the adventures of a group of post-wartime children, mostly set in Shropshire or Kent. I was so taken that I felt compelled to write to the author. I’ve no idea what I wrote, but the publishing house must have forwarded it to Mr Saville who took the time to write a short letter back to me, in his own handwriting using a fountain pen. Here is the letter, one of the very few things I have kept from my own childhood. That’s how much it meant to me." Ian Sutherland had the same childhood literary hero as me.

Monday, January 13, 2014

John Lewis building, Leicester

It resembles a casino that's been shipped in from Vegas, or a building that has somehow dropped acid and gone off on a psychedelic trip. Sitting right there at the side of Leicester's roaring Vaughan Way, it also happens to look like a giant rectangular box that's been covered it in an equally giant pair of tights - those fancy patterned ones that were big in the 1980s - Jonathan Glancey.