Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Duck of the Day

Seen beside the River Welland this evening.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: David Laws in the wars


Sad news from the West Country: David Laws has broken his elbow in a canvassing accident. I immediately consult the Revd Hughes and arrange for prayers to be said for him daily at St Asquith’s.

This intelligence is contained in a copy of the Western Gazette mailed to me by an old friend who has underlined the passage: “He said he is still able to carry out Department for Education duties in his role as schools minister, as he signs letters with his right hand.”

Whilst Laws’ determination to continue working is to be admired, I wonder if it is wise. Would not a prolonged period of rest and recuperation (perhaps in Herne Bay) be better advised? Carrying on as if nothing has happened often prove foolish in the long run: I can still feel my wound from the Great Torrington by-election when the wind is in the wrong direction.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

So farewell then Jeremy Paxman

Jeremy Paxman is leaving Newsnight and I am not sorry.

Paxman has always been at his best when interviewing members of the public. He was polite and gentle, drawing them out and encouraging them to tell their stories.

He is at his worst when interviewing politicians. As I wrote in Liberal Democrat News in 2010:
Wealthy, arrogant, members of powerful dynasties... It is not the politicians we should worry about these days so much as the interviewers. 
Take the biggest cheese of them all: Jeremy Paxman. Politicians are not brought before him to have their views examined: they are there to suffer a form of ritual contempt. Forget any ideas of a sustained line of questioning designed to probe and elucidate his interviewees’ views. What he offers is sneering, snarling and attempts to catch his victims off guard. 
Paxo acts as a channel for our hatred of the political class. It is all great fun, but contempt for democratically elected politicians is not the mark of a mature democracy. It is the stock in trade of fascists or, to be less melodramatic, of fruitcakes like UKIP in Britain or the Tea Party in America.
I went on to observe that Paxman was most famous for asking Michael Howard the same question 14 times - "And he still didn’t get an answer."

And that has always been his greatest weakness. Paxman is not a forensic interviewer like Andrew Neil. He does not develop a line of questioning that exposes the weaknesses or contradictions in a politicians case. He just throws out random barbs.

Most of all he can sneer. Jeremy Paxman could sneer for Britain.

But maybe we get the interviewers we deserve. Paxman's shtick is the embodiment of the outlook of a public that believes all politicians are corrupt and self-serving but reacts with outrage when government fails to solve their problems.

CPS considering evidence against Greville Janner

From BBC News:
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is considering evidence against Lord Janner as part of an inquiry into allegations of historical child abuse. 
The London home of the 85-year-old peer, who was a Labour MP in Leicester for 27 years, was searched in December. 
Police have said he has not been arrested and the BBC understands he has not even been interviewed. 
The investigation is linked to Frank Beck, who was found guilty of abusing children in the 1970s and 1980s.
Lord Janner's London home was searched by Leicestershire Police just before Christmas.

Later. The Jewish Chronicle quotes a statement from Leicestershire Police:
Leicestershire Police has been liaising with the Crown Prosecution Service over recent months, and the CPS has been advising on taking the investigation forward. 
"We have submitted the evidence gathered so far to the CPS and other enquiries are continuing. 
"“Support for victims or anyone else affected by child abuse is available 24 hours a day from the NSPCC."
Later still. The Daily Mirror says:
Police yesterday handed evidence to the CPS after interviewing a man allegedly abused as a teenager in the 1970s by Labour peer Lord Janner, now 85.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Lord Bonkers' Diary: A game of by-elections


Though the wheways have arrived and are eyeing the hamwees suspiciously as they select the best sites for nests, it prove necessary to cancel this afternoon’s natural ramble with the Well-Behaved Orphans. Industrial fumes from the Continent and the sand blown in from deserts in the arid south of Rutland make the air unpleasant to breathe, and Matron is quite adamant on the subject. Her remarks on my own oil rigs on Rutland Water, however, and both unkind and ill-founded.

Instead, I lead the little mites in a game of by-elections. In the most enjoyable of ways this entertainment of my own devising instructs the young in delivering, canvassing, good committee room practice and the efficient deployment of the Bonkers Patent Exploding Focus (for use in marginal wards). The winning team kidnaps the returning officer and forces him to sign a false declaration of result. Isn’t that enterprising?

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

Don Draper and the Spencer Davis Group

One of my favourite memories of New York is drinking in a bar high in a skyscraper just off Madison Avenue. It was just like being in Mad Men.

Talking of which, I hear that Don Draper enters the news series to the sound of the Spencer Davis Group.

It was this track that started me off on my enthusiasm for Steve Winwood. A coffee shop in Harborough used to play a 1960s compliation CD and I'm a Man was one of the tracks on it. I had always known the song, but this was the first time I had really listened to it.

Custard guru’s rural retreat up for sale

Our Headline of the Day contest sees another victory for the Shropshire Star.

York students to vote Liberal Democrat in 2015

An encouraging report from the student newspaper York Vision:
Students at the University will predominantly vote for the Lib Dems in 2015, Vision can reveal, after a poll showed that 35 per cent of students will vote for Nick Clegg’s party. 
Despite having one of the largest Conservative societies in the UK, only 13 per cent said that they would vote for the Conservatives, and 4 per cent said that they would vote for UKIP. 
Left-wing parties had more votes than right-wing parties, with 14 per cent saying they would vote Green whilst 24 per cent said that they would vote Labour.
And I am amused to see that left-wing student politicians have not changed at all in the 94 years since I was secretary of York Liberal Students:
Megan Ollerhead, ex-chair of the University of York Socialist Society said: “The fact that just over a third of students would vote Lib Dem is worrying and points to either a collective false consciousness about how bad they really are, or a lot of young people with very short memories.”

Monday, April 28, 2014

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The party of Rasputin


I was unable to stay for last night’s debate, having already agreed to give the after-dinner speech at a fundraiser for the Home for Distressed Canvassers in Herne Bay. When I finally catch up with the proceedings on the electric internet, I am somewhat disappointed. It is not just that my orchard doughty is nowhere to be seen: it is the way Clegg puts over one of my best lines.

Yesterday afternoon the 12-year-old PPE graduates were desperate for jokes, so I told them the one about Roy Jenkins and the lavatory brush that won me a standing ovation at three consecutive Liberal Assemblies during the Alliance Years. They didn’t like it, not even after I had told them who Roy Jenkins was, and I eventually fell to reminiscing about my successful campaign in 1906.

I recalled for them a public meeting at the Bonkers’ Arms where I contrasted our own rough conviviality and fellowship with the effete manners of my Conservative opponent, who was known to be a frequent visitor to the Tsar’s court in St Petersburg.

"We are the party of inn," I said, gesturing at the familiar beams and faces around me, "and they are the party of Rasputin." Clegg, as you will no doubt have seen for yourself, used my line, but I am afraid I am obliged to say that he foozled it.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

Happy birthday to BBC2

Inspired by Saturday's St George's Festival in Leicester and to celebrate BBC2's 50th birthday, here is my favourite station ident.

UKIP 'common sense' bus crashes into Portsmouth railway station

The Evening Standard wins Headline of the Day - and it has a photo too!

Six of the Best 434

All Saints Margaret Street
Cyril Smith would have been a loathsome human being even if he hadn't abused children, argues Matter of Facts.

Mark Pack has an extraordinary story from Labour Wigan. The police were called to evict an independent councillor from a meeting because he was tweeting it.

"The wonderfully named Excalibur Estate in South East London was one of many prefab estates built in 1945-6 after the Second World War by German and Italian prisoners of war to help provide homes for returning servicemen and their families. These were only intended to last ten years or so but survived much longer becoming much-loved by residents and forming established communities." Now it is to be demolished, reports dianajhale.

"Peeking out above the shops and offices just to the North of Oxford Street can be found one of the great hidden marvels of English church building." Ian Visits shows us the wonderfully restored interior of All Saints Margaret Street.

Dianne Tanner photographs the churchyard of St Pancras Old Church.

Treehugger presents photographs of 10 species that have become extinct.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Neon Trees: Everybody Talks

Neon Trees, a band from Provo, Utah, has been invading the timeline of my work Twitter account because their new LP is called Pop Psychology.

Everybody Talks is their biggest hit so far, It reached no. 6 in the US charts (and no. 192 in the UK charts) in 2011.

Wikipedia explains the video:
It features the band at a 1950s-esque drive-in watching a movie called "Zombie Bikers From Hell." 
In the film, band members are playing music to the song inside a cabin when they're attacked by a group of zombies who are leather-clad motorcycle riders. Tyler (the lead singer) is the only one to escape, while the other band members are slaughtered by the zombies, offscreen, to the horror of the audience members at the drive-in. 
Meanwhile, in "real life" (the drive-in) a girl wearing red sunglasses starts seducing various male patrons. Once she and the men are alone in a secluded area, she reveals herself to be a fire-breathing vampire and eats them. 
In the film, Tyler hitches a ride from a girl in red-sunglasses. As they drive off in a white van, Tyler's fate remains unknown. However, Tyler, and the girl are present at the drive-in. The girl who drove up in the van at the end of the movie is the same girl who the band drove up to the cabin in.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Behind the scenes at Clegg vs Farage


Last week’s debate with M. Farage, the Frenchman who leads the UKIP Party, went tolerably well for our own Nick Clegg, but I am called in this morning to help brief him for this evening’s second contest. I come armed with a particularly fine specimen of the orchard doughty – the sturdy, rugged staffs which I issue to my gamekeepers (for dealing with poachers) and tenant farmers (so that, red-faced and panting, they can wave them whist ineffectually chasing scrumpers).

“The very first time he tries to be clever,” I tell Clegg, “give him one across the snoot with this”. “Oh, I don’t think Nick should attack his opponent,” sneers one of the 12-year-old PPE graduates with whom our leader insists on surrounding himself these days. “I don’t mean Farage, you booby,” I return shortly, “I mean Dimbleby.”

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

David Cameron to make children illegal

I suppose this is the natural culmination of the last 20 years of social policy.

Now Ukip chooses David Parsons as a parliamentary candidate

Just when you thought the fruitcakes couldn't get any fruitier comes news that David Parsons is to fight North West Leicestershire for Ukip at the next general election.

Parsons, you may recall, was forced out of the leadership of the ruling Conservative group on the county council after what the Leicester Mercury rightly calls "an expenses scandal" - look at the David Parsons label on this blog for the gory details.

After the Tory group decided that it could no longer support his behaviour, Parsons naturally discovered important differences of principle with them and joined Ukip.

Jenny Willott to attend cabinet meetings

The Independent reports:
History will be made this week when Jenny Willott, the Business minister, becomes the first Liberal Democrat woman to sit at the cabinet table. 
In a significant step forward for gender equality in the party after the Lord Rennard scandal, Ms Willott has been given attending cabinet status. Although she does not have full cabinet minister rank, the 39-year-old will take her seat this Tuesday alongside the new women's minister, the Tory MP Nicky Morgan, to make a presentation on coalition efforts to close the gender pay gap. ...
In her new role secured by the Deputy Prime Minister, Ms Willott will promote more family-friendly workplaces and tackle issues around discrimination. She is to attend the Cabinet when issues related to shared parental leave and workplace rights are on the agenda.
Congratulations to Jenny, who is acting as maternity cover for Jo Swinson. Jo is expected to return to her post later it the year.

Because the Independent links Jenny's promotion to what it calls "the Lord Rennard scandal", Lib Dems tweeters have already been told off by a Prominent Liberal Democrat for retweeting it.

But the truth is that women had far too little prominence in the party long before Chris Rennard became news. It is a great shame, for instance, that we have not had a woman Lib Dem cabinet minister by now. So it is good to see something being done about this.

More generally, Nick Clegg needs to beware of the idea that his inner circle represents an elite cut off from the rest of the party gaining traction with members.

At the very least, we do not want the next leadership election to be a contest between two men who attended the same public school.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

St George's Festival, Leicester

Introducing its vintage picture of the day on 23 April, the Leicester Mercury said:
So. This was the plan. We'd dig out a spiffy old photo of St George's Day in Leicester, bash out a few bruised lines wondering why it isn't a bank holiday in England, then slink off early to the pub. Job's a good 'un. Well, a passable one, at least. 
But here's the thing. We couldn't find many old pics of St George's Day. And none that we muster much enthusiasm for showing you.
So instead they printed a picture of St George's Street in the days before most of the buildings were felled to build the newspaper's current headquarters.

I am not surprised the Mercury had trouble finding St George's Day photographs. I can recall it being a big deal when I was in the Cubs, and you might see a church flying St George's flag, but that was about it.

Things are different these days. I was in Leicester today, in part to see the city's St George's Festival.

With its morris dancers, knights and dragons, there was perhaps something contrived about the whole affair. But I was pleased to see it taking place for two reasons.

First, there is variety of left-wing multiculturalism that tends to celebrate every culture except its own. Culture becomes defined as something that whites, particularly the white working class, do not have.

So is good to see St George taking his place alongside Vaisakhi, Diwali and Hannukah in Leicester's roster of municipally recognised festivals.

And perhaps the idea that other people's festivals are authentic while yours are contrived is part of the same faulty view of multiculturalism. After all, every festival was invented if you go back far enough.

Second, if people of goodwill do not take up 23 April, then others will.

In 1979 the National Front staged a march of around 1000 people in Leicester on St George's Day. There were clashes with anti-fascist demonstrators, 40 injuries and 80 arrests.

Even if you don't care for morris dancing, you have to admit it preferable to a National Front march.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The disappearance of the 11:15 from Nottingham London Road Lower Level


The mysterious disappearance of that Malaysian jet has put me in my mind of a sad story from the 1920s.

One bright April morning the 11:15 for Northampton Castle left Nottingham London Road Lower Level as usual, but it never reached its destination. It was seen to call at Melton Mowbray North, and there were unconfirmed reports of it reaching Clipston and Oxendon, but one thing is sure: it never arrived in Northampton.

Extensive searches were undertaken and reports of sightings from as far afield as Bodmin Road and Leeming Bar were followed up, but not a trace of the train or its passengers was ever found.

It was because of this tragedy that the nation’s youth was encouraged to take up locospotting. The authorities reasoned that, in the event of a similar occurrence, the spotters’ notebooks could be called in and the mystery solved in short order. Happily, this has never proved necessary.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

Friday, April 25, 2014

A railway carriage print of Market Harborough

In the days when railway carriages had prints of British scenes - I think I just about remember them - you might have come across this one of Market Harborough by Frank Sherwin.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Floreat Estonia

The new issue of Liberator was waiting for me when I got home. Which means it is time for another week with Rutland's most celebrated fictional peer.


Lunch with a Conservative acquaintance who, being of a moderate bent, is not happy with the way things are going in his party.

“When Cameron came on the scene I had high hopes of him: all those huskies he kissed at the North Pole and that windmill on his roof. Now it’s all changed. Did you hear that he has asked five Estonians to write our next manifesto?”

I agree this does not sound a good idea, pointing out that we Liberal Democrats once entrusted the task to Lembit Opik – with the most unhappy of results.

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

All the best musicians comment on Liberal England

One of the pleasures of blogging is the comments, though these days people are as likely to comment on Twitter as on this blog.

Over the years I have received comments from three prominent musicians:
You will see that they were respectively: putting me right on the finer points of a Spencer Davis Group recording session; thanking me for choosing her video and praising Strathpeffer; and (in a comment left today) politely objecting to being used as a political exemplar.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

John Newton's grave in Olney churchyard

This is the grave of John Newton, the writer of Amazing Grace, and his wife in the churchyard at Olney. St Peter and St Paul stands beside the young Great Ouse.

For a few days you can learn more about him - and see the church and the Cowper and Newton Museum - by watching episode 3 of Rule Britannia! Music, Mischief and Morals in the 18th Century on the BBC iPlayer.

West Country councillor round up

In Devon:
A councillor was allegedly kneed in the groin by a colleague during an altercation over a parking space. 
Police were called to Church Hill, Fremington, Devon, following reports of a common assault. 
North Devon and Devon County councillor Frank Biederman confirmed he was involved and an investigation was "in the hands of the police". 
The second councillor has not been identified, however the BBC understands he is from North Devon Council
In Cornwall:
A Cornwall councillor who claimed to have been appointed an MBE was never awarded the honour and has now apologised unreservedly, saying he was the victim of an “elaborate and malicious hoax”. 
Terry Wilkins, Conservative councillor for Illogan, appears on Cornwall Council’s register and in all correspondence as Terry Wilkins, MBE. 
But the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood, which oversees the honours system, said it had no record of Mr Wilkins holding an honour. ... 
It was only after being contacted by the newspaper recently that he said he looked into the issue and discovered he had been deceived by an “aggrieved ex-colleague”. ... 
The councillor has also told constituents he holds an Open University degree in social science, but that institution says it has no record of anyone by that name having enrolled on a course. His LinkedIn profile page says he has a 2:1 (pending) in Health and Wellness. ...
An Open University spokesman said: “Due to rare mistakes from our computer records we cannot 100% confirm that Terry Wilkins has never been awarded a degree at the Open University. 
“However, our records do indicate that nobody with his name has ever enrolled on a course at the university.”

If we want to like our MPs again, change the system

I have contributed another opinion column to the Leicester Mercury.

I was asked to write something on MPs' expenses in the wake of the Maria Miller case. But, as you will see, I ended up arguing that expenses are not at the root of our problems with our politicians these days:
There is a terrible lack of big ideas in British politics today. 
Voters sense this and that politics is now just one more career. And a very exclusive career it is, because knowing the right people is paramount. 
The typical path to becoming an MP these days is an Oxbridge degree followed by working for one of the parties or as a special adviser at Westminster. 
The troop of children of ministers in Tony Blair's government getting themselves selected for safe Labour seats at the moment represent the logical culmination of this trend.
There is a good Bagehot piece on a similar theme in The Economist this week.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

QUIZ: Name the 11 Liberal MPs in this 1967 photograph

Twelve Liberal MPs were elected at the 1966 general election. This photograph shows 11 of them.

Can you name them (saying where they appear in the line up, please) and the missing 12th man?

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceOver to you in the comments, readers.

A Thorn in Their Side by Robert Green

A Thorn in Their Side
Robert Green
John Blake, 2013, £7.99

A mystery set in Shropshire? A mystery in which new developments occur through articles in the Shropshire Star?

A Thorn in Their Side is a book for me. I even talked to a BBC Radio Shropshire journalist who gets a mention in the days when I acted as a press office for the Malcolm Saville Society.

Older readers will remember the story of Hilda Murrell. In 1984 she was abducted from her Shrewsbury home and later found dead in a field outside the town.

All sorts of theories surrounded her death at the time. She was a notable campaigner against nuclear power and her nephew Robert Green, the author of this book, had worked for naval intelligence during the Falklands War.

The mystery was apparently solved in 2005 when Andrew George was convicted through DNA evidence.

However, Green argues that his conviction does not provide a complete answer to the questions surrounding his aunt’s death. In 1984 George was a 16-year-old who could not drive.

I do not buy all his theories, but he convinces me that his aunt’s body could not have lain undiscovered where it was found for the length of time the official account maintains. He also convinces me that neighbours saw a lot of comings and goings at her house during the time she was missing.

Today Green, who has received help in his efforts to find the truth about his aunt's death from Paddy Ashdown, lives in New Zealand with his partner. Their mail is routinely opened before it reaches them.

It is common to dismiss people like Green as conspiracy theory, but in the 21st century we know it is governments who are paranoid, not the people.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Hares in William Cowper's garden

Another photo from Olney.

David Cameron's constituency office calls out police to deal with the Bishop of Oxford

From the Independent:
David Cameron’s constituency office has come under fire for calling the police on the Bishop of Oxford and Reverend Hebden as they attempted to present him with an open letter on food poverty. 
Their letter, part of the End Hunger Fast campaign, was signed by 42 Anglican bishops and more than 600 clerics and called on the three party leaders to work with the parliamentary inquiry into food poverty to implement its recommendations. 
However, despite David Cameron’s Witney office expecting their visit, they were barred from presenting the letter and instead greeted by three police officers.
I guess this 'Christian country' thing must be a work in progress.

Monday, April 21, 2014

An angel in ivy

Photographed in Olney churchyard on Saturday.

Six of the Best 433

Mark Pack has made a great find among the British Pathé videos newly available on Youtube: a campaign report on the 1969 Islington North by-election.

Jesse Norman MP writes about the Conservative philosopher Michael Oakeshott for the New Statesman.

"If there was an age of human autonomy, it seems to me that it probably is behind us. It is certainly not ahead of us, or not for a very long time; not unless we change course, which we show no sign of wanting to do." Dark thoughts from Paul Kingsnorth in Orion Magazine.

Ken Early on Slate asks if David Moyes is to blame for the collapse of Manchester United. Or is it all Sir Alex Ferguson’s fault?

Pavilion Opinions says that being a defender of Kevin Pietersen is like being a teenage Smiths fan.

In Search of Space has been to the only town in Britain with an exclamation mark - Westward Ho!

Dolphin chosen to fight Torridge and West Devon

Paula Dolphin has been selected to fight Torridge and West Devon for the Liberal Democrats at the next general election.

The North Devon Gazette quotes the chair of the Lib Dem constituency branch Trevor Johns:
“We are delighted to have selected Paula Dolphin as our candidate. 
“She has a record of delivery in her area and will make an excellent MP for this area. We all look forward to campaigning with her.”
The seat was held by the Liberal Democrats between 1995 (when Emma Nicholson changed parties) and 2005.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

British Pathé films on Youtube: HMP Gartree opens in 1966

I have long been a fan of the British Pathé site and have sometimes sent you off to watch films there.

The good news is that 85,000 of its films are now available on Youtube, which means I can embed them on this blog.

This one shows HMP Gartree, which is situated a couple of miles from Market Harborough on a World War II airfield, at its opening in 1966. Note the hopeful tone of the commentary and that nowhere does the argument that the chief purpose of prison is to protect society appear.

Patrick Mercer MP resigns the Conservative whip

From Sky News this evening:
Former Tory frontbencher Patrick Mercer has announced he is quitting Parliament amid allegations he broke rules on lobbying. 
The MP for Newark said he was resigning the Tory whip immediately "to save my party embarrassment". 
He also made clear he will not stand at the next general election, due in 2015. 
The move comes after a joint investigation by The Telegraph and the BBC's Panorama programme into an alleged lobbying scandal. 
It is believed the allegations about Mr Mercer relate to "cash-for-questions" about Fiji and its suspension from the Commonwealth. 
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Nirvana: The Man Who Sold the World

The Man Who Sold the World is a David Bowie song which, a little improbably, was brought to the British singles chart in 1974 by Lulu.

I like this Nirvana version, which I heard playing in the little shop at Market Harborough station the other day while I waited for my coffee. Grunge did for American rock what punk did for British rock in its day: purged it of bombast for a little while.

Former whip quits Leicester's ruling Labour group

Last week Barbara Potter, until recently the whip of the ruling Labour group on Leicester City Council, resigned from the party.

The Leicester Mercury reported that she announced her resignation in a letter to the East Midlands Labour Party and will seek re-election as an independent next year:
In her letter, Coun Potter, who will now sit as an independent member, wrote: 
"I regret this action but feel I have been given little choice. "I have been a staunch Labour Party supporter for all my adult life."
She said she had never felt prouder than when she won her seat for the party in 2007, but added: "It is not me who has changed, it is the party, and not for the better.
"I hope that the Labour Party will change but I feel that it is losing its direction."
It is fair to say that Potter has been a controversial figure for some while. She had previously stepped aside from the Labour group because she faces a charge of perverting the course of justice arising with a dispute with a former partner - a charge which she denies.

She has also been banned from a primary school in her ward and in November 2011 she announced her support for the death penalty:
"Bring it on. Give these murderers the option of the noose, the electric chair or lethal injection."
Leicester's Labour establishment has reacted to her resignation with characteristic generosity:
A Labour group source told the Mercury: "Coun Potter is abrasive and I'm glad she is going. 
"She thinks everything is about her and she has an overinflated opinion of how popular she is.
"She thinks she'll win as an independent. She's not got a chance."

Saturday, April 19, 2014

William Cowper's summerhouse and pet hares

The home of the poet William Cowper in the centre of Olney is now a museum devoted to him and is friend John Newton, who wrote the words to "Amazing Grace".

In the garden you will find the summerhouse where Cowper did much of his writing. And across the road in the town square you will find a wicker sculpture inspired by Cowper and his three pet hares.

Over to John Stuart Mill, recalling his famous education:
Cowper’s short poems I read with some pleasure, but never got into the longer ones; and nothing in the two volumes interested me like the prose account of his three hares.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Humber Stone, Leicester

This is the Humber Stone, which stands beside a roundabout on Leicester's ring road.

Some say the village of Humberstone got its name from the stone, but it may be that the stone's modern name comes from the village as it has had other names - Hell Stone, Holy Stone, Hoston and Holston.

This Was Leicestershire will give you the Humber Stone's geology and history:
So what is the Humber Stone, speaking geologically? It is probably an “erratic”; a large block of rock transported by the action of glaciers and plonked down, now out of place, when the ice retreated. This would have happened about 440,000 years ago, during the Anglian Ice Age, when Leicester was traversed by swathes of thick ice. The rock is syenite granite, the nearest source of which is Mountsorrel, five-and-a-half miles away.
A modern visitor to the Humber Stone will only see the top of the nine feet-high stone. The Humber Stone was fully exposed in 1881, for a geologist’s report, and the findings were documented by the British Association for the Advancement of Science. The Stone was described as being pentagonal in shape, with a heavily grooved top and vertical sides. The report states that the grooves were created after the block was deposited – by artificial as well as natural causes.
With names like the Hell Stone and the Holy Stone in the air, we could be in one of those 1970s supernatural children' TV series. So it is not a surprise that the website goes on to say:
“Boy drew creature that stood beside his bed” was a Leicester Mercury headline as recently as 1980, when a 10-year-old boy, living close to the Humber Stone, had constant “visits” from a devilish entity. It was, apparently, a creature with a goat’s head and long curving horns, a man’s body and cloven hoofs. After drawing it at school, the boy’s teacher asked what it was. “I don’t know, miss”, he said. “It’s the thing I sometimes see at the end of my bed”.
Getting from Humberstone to the Humber Stone proved harder than I had expected. There was no safe path beside the ring road and a couple of attempts to get there across the fields had to be aborted.

So I took a slight detour through the suburb of new Hamilton, which is named after a lost medieval village but was built over the last 20 years. It was pleasant enough, but there was no one about and, in particular, no children playing out. That was spooky too.

Incidentally, the construction of the ring road may have revealed and destroyed something significant. A comment on This Was Leicestershire recalls:
My late uncle who lived in the village told me that during the work for the new road and roundabout quite a few other large stones were simply tossed aside by the JCBs so we will never know if the Humber stone was actually part of a stone circle.

On the Record: The best opening titles for a political programme ever

On the Record was broadcast at Sunday lunchtime between 1988 and 2002.

You cannot beat Big Ben* turning into a crocodile and laying waste the country as a symbol of the political process.

The only thing wrong with these titles is that a member of the Dimbleby family turns up when they are over. And On the Record replaced an earlier programme in this slot, This Week, Next Week, which was introduced by the other brother.

Lord Bonkers writes exclusively for Liberal England: Long ago, the negatives of certain incriminating photographs of Lord Reith fell into the hands of Richard Dimbleby. We are still paying the price for his indiscretions almost 80 years later.

* I know, I know.

John Harris: London has become a citadel, sealed off from the rest of Britain

This John Harris article from earlier in the week is worth a read:
What is Nigel Farage's entire act if not a huge raspberry blown at the values and privileges of the more elevated parts of the capital, and most loudly heard from counties such as Sussex, Kent, Norfolk, Hampshire and Lincolnshire? 
Plenty of numbers suggest that people there are right to be angry. In Ukip's heartland of the east of England, for instance, people talk endlessly about the state of the roads and railways and how difficult it is to get around. At the last count annual transport spending there was put at £30 per head; in London it was £2,600. 
Think about all this and you begin to arrive at a political theory of everything. In Peter Oborne's prescient book The Triumph of the Political Class (2007), he nailed the cliques that have taken over the three main political parties as follows: 
"Their outlook is often metropolitan and London-based. They perceive life through the eyes of an affluent member of London's middle and upper-middle classes. This converts them into a separate, privileged elite, isolated from the aspirations and problems of provincial, rural and suburban Britain." 
Quite so, and if its insane cost of living makes London a closed shop to all but the most privileged, this will only get worse.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Leicestershire signpost

Taken at Laughton last May.

Austin Mitchell, Europe and Brian Clough

Austin Mitchell has announced that he will retire as MP for Great Grimsby at next year's general election.

The BBC describes him as a "veteran" MP, but I remember when he was first elected to parliament.

It was April 1977 and Margaret Thatcher's Conservatives were carrying all before them. On the same day, 28 April, they won a by-election in Ashfield, a seat which Labour had won with a majority of 22,915 at the previous election.

But Austin Mitchell managed to retain Grimsby for Labour, though the majority he was defending only 6,982.

One reason for this was the different reasons for the by-elections. Grimsby was called because of the death of Tony Crosland, who was the foreign secretary and a respected constituency MP. Ashfield was called because the sitting MP, David Marquand, had gone off to work for Roy Jenkins in Brussels.

Mitchell was also helped by his fame as a local television presenter, but the chief reason for his victory against the odds was the campaign he ran.

In a town that has been badly affected by the common fisheries policy, he ran an impassioned campaign against Britain's membership of the European Economic Community.

Not that this was less than two years after the British people had voted 2:1 to remain in the EEC in a national referendum.

It is a lesson to those who argue that a referendum would settle the question of Britain's membership of the European Union "once and for all". And it also supports the idea that UKIP's natural supporters today are Labour voters who have seen no benefit from globalisation.

Though his man of the people act was part of Mitchell's appeal in the by-election, he had spent eight years in New Zealand lecturing in History and Sociology.

In the late 1960s he joined Yorkshire Television were his finest hour was this confrontation between Don Revie and Brian Clough.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Thomas Tertius Paget in Laughton and Humberstone

A couple of years ago I visited Laughton, a village a few miles to the west of Market Harborough:
A large house across the road turns out to have been a Wesleyan chapel for a couple of decades in the 19th century. And I am pleased that my guess that the initials "T.T.P." in the brickwork meant that it had once belonged to Thomas Tertius Paget, Liberal MP for South Leicestershire (1867-8, 1880-5) and Harborough (1885-6), turned out to be correct.
Sadly, it turns out that I did not photograph the old chapel - just the initials.

I found two more instances of T.T.P. on Saturday. The first was on a cottage at the entrance to Humberstone Park: the second was in a cottage in the middle of Humberstone, next to its dismal 1960s pub.

More striking were the initials I found on some cottages on the other side of the ring road - they would once have been in fields beyond the edge of the village.

The Paget family had sold the Hall by 1926, but maybe they had retained ownership of the farms on the estate and G.W.P. was a descendant of T.T.P.

Later. If the letters are C.W.P. rather than G.W.P., then I suspect they stand for Sir Cecil Walter Paget. He is not a direct descendant of Thomas Tertius, but he is from the same Paget family.

The Discreet Charm of Cyril Smith

Thanks to Spotlight on Abuse for reproducing this letter from Social Work Today (10 May 1977).

The biggest fruitcake in the East Midlands?

This title is held by Roger Helmer - try his views on rape and the age of consent if you doubt me.

But a powerful challenger has emerged in the shape of one of his fellow candidates on the UKIP list for the East Midlands at next month's Euro elections,

Step forward Nigel Wickens...

That's right: he believes that Putin's attempt to reassemble Russia's crumbling empire is somehow the EU's fault.

Perhaps it something to do with being christened "Nigel"?

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Cat of the Day

Today's winner is Teddy from Leicester, who makes good use of a bird table.

Nick Clegg on Cyril Smith: "It was like that when I got here"

Asked at his press conference yesterday about the allegations of serial child abuse against Cyril Smith, Nick Clegg said he had known nothing of them when he paid tribute to Smith on his 80th birthday as a "beacon" and an "inspiration" on his 80th birthday in 2008:
"Cyril Smith stood down as an MP 13 years before I became an MP. Many of the actions, the repugnant actions, which we now learn about took place well before the party I now lead even existed – in fact, took place before I even existed.
"Given those facts and that chronology, it is – as my party has made quite clear – not surprising that the Liberal Democrats, who were founded in 1989, two or three years before Cyril Smith stood down, were not aware."
Personally, I have known about the allegations against Smith since a considerably milder version of them appeared in Private Eye in 1979. As I once wrote, I have always assumed they were true.

Nick says he never heard them, and we must believe him. But the fact that there was no one in his inner circle to mention it to him does support the view (held by old farts like me) that he has surrounded himself with a group of bright young things with no great knowledge of the party.

I don't think Nick's response on Cyril Smith is successful, and the reason it doesn't tells us a lot about the problems he now faces.

During the television debates in the last general election campaign he could present himself as a young outsider without political baggage. He tries to do it here, but it does not work.

Nick Clegg is seen as a politician like any other who makes compromises and does not always tell the truth. The mishandling of tuition fees - I could never quite work out whether he was apologising for making that promise or for breaking it - hastened the process, but it was inevitable that it would take place.

And those of us who still like Nick now expect a bit more from him. He is a longstanding party leader and deputy prime minister. Answering with a touch of the petulance he is prone too and modelling your reply on Homer Simpson - "It was like that when I got here" - won't do any more.

Nick's failure to come to terms with this change in the way he is seen by the public was one of the reasons he did not do better in his debates with Nigel Farage. And unless he does come to terms with it, he will struggle if there are televised debates at the next election too.

As to Cyril Smith, it is not Nick Clegg who has hard questions to answer but David Steel, who was both chief whip and leader of the Liberal Party.

Over to you, Dave.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Police appeal after naked man browses in charity shop

Headline of the Day goes to This is Wiltshire.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Humberstone Park tram shelter, Leicester

You can find several of these large shelters scattered across the city. They were built at the far ends of Leicester's various tram routes.

There is even one, says Leicester Trams, that was put up to serve a line that was never built.

Six of the Best 432

The next Liberal Democrat leader must come from the party's left, says Leicestershire's own Mathew Hulbert on The Staggers, the New Statesman's rolling politics blog.

"Given that one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s stated reasons for invading Crimea was to prevent 'Nazis' from coming to power in Ukraine, it is perhaps surprising that his regime is growing closer by the month to extreme right-wing parties across Europe." Mitchell A. Orenstein writes for Foreign Affairs on the close links between Putin and the far-right in Europe.

The Needle has a guest post by Richard Scorer on his book on the English Catholic Church and child abuse.

Meanwhile in Shropshire, reports Andy Boddington, the funding for Ludlow's proposed Buttercross Museum is under threat.

Declaration Game visits the Cotswold Cricket Museum in Stow-on-the-Wold.

28DaysLater has some extraordinary photos from its exploration of the tunnel that takes the Willowbrook under the Midland Mainline north of Leicester station.

Konrad Adenauer invented the vegetarian sausage

My Trivial Fact of the Day comes from a BBC News feature on "10 inventions that owe their success to World War One".

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sensational Alex Harvey Band: Next

Alex Harvey was once voted Scotland's answer to Tommy Steele and his band opened for an early version of the Beatles, but he found fame as the front man of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band in the 1970s before his early death. The band is still going today without him.

Next is a Jacques Brel song - see him perform it here. It is best known to British audiences through the version by Scott Walker, but as Walker sounds like a god rather than a skinny recruit, you suspect he had nothing to worry about in the showers.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Michael Ignatieff: Academic philosophy and practical politics

Michael Ignatieff, a kinsman of Nick Clegg, is in the unusual position of having seen both philosophy and politics from the inside. He had a career as an academic and as a writer and presenter (in British arts broadcasting) before entering politics and going on to become leader of Canada's opposition. He lost heavily in the 2011 Prime Ministerial election.

In a Philosophy Bites podcast interview with Nigel Warburton he discusses the relationship between theory and practice in politics, the moral ambiguities, and the necessity of having dirty hands to be effective.

The giant redwoods of Humberstone

Pine Tree Avenue in Humberstone, a village that has become a suburb of Leicester, is not lined with pines. It is lined with sequoia gigantea - giant redwoods.

Some are currently under threat of replacement with a smaller species by the city council because of the damage they are said to be causing to houses and drives. Some residents welcome the plan and some do not. You can read about the controversy in the Leicester Mercury.

This remarkable avenue exists because Pine Tree Avenue used to be the drive to Humberstone Hall. The estate was sold as housing land by the Paget family after World War I, when they moved to Lubenham near Market Harborough.

Back in the 1970s, Humberstone chess club used to meet at the clubhouse of a tennis club around here and I remember playing some of my early league games for Harborough here. But when I looked for it today I found it had been replaced by a gated housing development.

But I cheered up when I found two cottages that look as though they are surviving outbuildings from the Hall.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Secrets of the Victoria Line

If you like This Sort of Thing then you may also enjoy the District, the Central, the Jubilee, the Northern, the Bakerloo and the Piccadilly.

Term-time holiday for head and fines for parents

The Leicester Mercury story about the head of a primary school who has been granted nearly one month off during term time to get married has hit the national press.

I don't feel outraged myself, but I do think, given the length of the school holidays, that she could have arranged her marriage to avoid the need for this.

But it seems some parents are outraged, and you can see why.

Take this Mercury story from November 2011:
More than 600 parents have been fined since September for failing to make sure their children go to school. 
All but seven of the 612 penalty notices handed out this school year relate to parents taking their children on holiday during term-time.
Add to this the feeling that schools now close at the first sign of bad weather, leaving parent to make childcare arrangements at short notice, and you can see why people are angry.

Labour brought in these fines because they felt there was little they could do about the economy and therefore preferred to concentrate on education. They also have an instinctive feeling that those who work in the public sector are morally superior and so entitled to mete out justice to the rest of us.

The Coalition has extended these powers - from the same lack of radical ideas on the economy and from the Conservative party's authoritarianism, which generally trumps their rhetoric about freedom.

I share the views of Karen Wilson, who wrote articles arguing against these fines for Liberal Democrat Voice in July 2013 and January 2014.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

"I. Harrison": A Leicester acrostic

The land behind what became The Empire in Leicester was developed by Issac Harrison.

And don't we know it!

Have a look at the initial letters of the names of the terraced streets in the map above. Their initial letters spell out "I. Harrison".

In which I am mentioned in Hansard three times

This morning Charlotte Henry tweeted that she would "officially give up" if Gareth Epps gets into Hansard. We can only hope that, however Gareth fares, she does not do so.

But her tweet did remind me that I was mentioned in the House of Commons three times in June 2003.

The first mention was by Angela Browning on 5 June. She asked John Reid, as Leader of the House:
Can we have a debate next week on the middle classes? I am sure that the Leader of the House will have noted that in Liberal Democrat News of 30 May, Jonathan Calder, who is a member of the party's federal policy committee, wrote an article about the Conservative policy of scrapping tuition fees. He says that it "has a lot to be said for it", but goes on to say:
"If the Conservatives do not speak for the stupid middle classes, who do they speak for?"
We should like to debate that rather old-fashioned concept with them.
And then on 23 June it was Tim Boswell in a debate on student finance said:
As my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford said, Liberal Democrat News provided a ringing endorsement of our policies in the shape of Jonathan Calder's article, which explained that my hon. Friend's idea of 
"getting rid of tuition fees, and financing the move by scrapping plans to extend the number of students even further, has a lot to be said for it." 
I agree. It is useful to have allies on occasion.
The member for Ashford was Damian Green, who had already intervened on Phil Willis, then our shadow education secretary, to say:
I feel that I should draw his attention to Liberal Democrat News of 30 May 2003. It is a publication that I read sporadically. This edition is particularly interesting because it makes the following thoughtful point: 
"Damian Green's idea of getting rid of tuition fees, and financing the move by scrapping plans to extend the number of students even further, has a lot to be said for it." 
I always welcome support from Liberal Democrat News, and I hope to get it from the Liberal Democrat Front-Bench spokesmen, as well.
Phil, characteristically, was unfazed by this.

How long ago it all seems! In those days the Labour government's policy was to have 50 per cent of young people going to university. That always seemed unrealistic to me, and I even heard someone at the last Lib Dem Conference applauded with reasonable enthusiasm for saying so.

Today, of course, we have less than half of young people going to university and tuition fees, but that is austerity for you.

I imagine that my column appeared in a briefing for Conservative MPs and that Angela Browning seized on the wrong phrase. I doubt the bright young things at Tory head office included it because of my joke about the stupid middle classes, but it obviously enraged her.

June 2003, towards the end of Iain Duncan Smith's leadership, was about the nadir of Conservative fortunes. The fact that three of their MPs thought they could help their party by quoting me, confirms that judgement.

Police hunt man who ate bus seat in Paignton

Thanks to a sharp-eyed follower on Twitter, the Torquay Herald Express wins Headline of the Day.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

London River (1940)

Thanks to Landscapism for tweeting the link to this short film the other day.

Six of the Best 431

Liberal Democrat MPs have tabled an early day motion in parliament lodging their protest against the ban on sending books to prisoners, reports Ian Dunt on

On the LSE's British Politics and Policy blog, Peter Sloman asks whether the Lib Dems' recent history should be seen as a revival of classical liberalism, a reflection of neoliberal influences or simply a recalibration of the party’s existing thought.

"The British government is making it easier for those in power to break the law – and it’s using a fantasy about left-wing pressure groups to justify it." Alex Stevenson dissects the coalition's move to curb people's access to judicial review for Index of Censorship.

Peter Golds, leader of the Conservative group on Tower Hamlets Council, writes on the media empire operated by the borough's mayor, Lutfur Rahman, for Conservative Home.

Self-Styled Siren pays tribute to Mickey Rooney.

The new Wisden is a stunningly inclusive affair that takes a strong line on cricket politics and reflects both the game's global diversity and England's woes, says Michael Billington in the Guardian.