Saturday, January 31, 2015

Calling jihadis "wankers" is not original, Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson has received a lot of coverage for his suggestion that:
"If you look at all the psychological profiling about bombers, they typically will look at porn. They are literally wankers. Severe onanists.”
Yet the idea seems strangely familiar. And a little googling tells me where I first came across it.

In February 2006 Ian Buruma began a Guardian article as follows:
Does masturbation lead to suicide bombing? One would think not. There is no more direct link to suicide bombing than there is to blindness or schizophrenia. But there may be a connection between sexual inadequacy or frustration and the pull towards violent extremism.
Like anything by Buruma, it is worth reading.

Radio 4: David Boyle on the decline of the middle classes

Liberal Democrat blogger (and much else) David Boyle has a programme on Radio 4 on Tuesday evening at 8pm:
Clinging On: The Decline of the Middle Classes 
Is the middle class in terminal decline? Writer David Boyle, author of Broke: Who Killed the Middle Classes?, explores the split between a small rich elite and those who are argued to be clinging on to a deteriorating lifestyle and falling expectations. The salaries of financial service workers based in London are soaring away from those in more traditional professions. At the same time, house prices are rising and so-called 'cling-ons' are being forced out to the peripheries of London and beyond. Many of those who might have aspired to private education for their children find the fees are beyond them. 
But does it matter? According to the eminent American political scientist Francis Fukuyama, it definitely does – democracy is dependent on a healthy middle class and without it there is a real threat of instability, with demonstrators taking to the streets even in Britain and America. 
David Boyle also talks to the distinguished Oxford sociologist John Goldthorpe, who worries that there is no room at the top for today's aspiring young. Tatler's deputy editor Gavanndra Hodge explains why even they decided to print a guide to state schools. And the programme visits Liverpool College, the great Victorian public school, which decided to cross the great divide and become an academy within the state system. 
Middle class professionals describe problems buying a house on two doctors' salaries, finding a job as a solicitor and raising the money to pay school fees, and even how an architect's life can be a tough one. 
Are the professions themselves under threat from technology that undermines traditional ways of working? One GP worries that the discretion he once enjoyed is being destroyed by the computer.

David Cameron has given the Lib Dems their election slogan

Yesterday I suggested our general election slogan would be:
"Labour will screw the economy, the Tories will screw you."
But this effort from David Cameron may be even stronger.

Thanks, Dave.

Thanks to lots of Lib Dems on Twitter.

Friday, January 30, 2015

"Labour will screw the economy, the Tories will screw you."

In the course of an upbeat assessment of the Liberal Democrats' chances in the coming general election, Andrew Grice reveals what must surely be our campaign slogan:
"Labour will screw the economy, the Tories will screw you."
Grice attributes it to an "influential Liberal Democrat".

I have asked Lord Bonkers, but he assures me it did not come from him.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Rutland earthquake latest

Thanks to Tired Old Git on Twitter.

Ashby Castle

Ashby Castle in Leicestershire is well worth a visit.

Bring a torch, because it has a secret passage you can explore.

Six of the Best 490

"Russia is a declared hostile power that intends to weaken or destroy both the EU and NATO. Once this critical fact is understood, it becomes very clear that the West must answer the threat from this barbarian state or risk following Rome into a dark ages of similar criminality and violence." Strong stuff from Cicero's Songs, but I fear there is a lot in what he says.

Mark Valladares charts the rise and fall of Liberal Democrat blogging.

"I genuinely thought no one outside the Conservative party would have the nerve still to be using that line." Alex Marsh is not impressed by Nick Clegg's resuscitation of a Greek myth.

Joshua Rothman asks why academic writing is academic.

Diana J. Hale pays a New Year's Day visit to Ely.

"Perhaps the humble county of Leicestershire has (or certainly had until very recently!) more examples of the game of skittles as played at pubs and clubs than any other county in Britain." Shove it, Chuck it, Toss it... on another of our claims to fame.

£45m to improve the Midland main line at Market Harborough

The track through Market Harborough is to be straightened and the platforms at its station lengthened, the Leicester Mercury reports today.

The £45m scheme will partly be paid for from £20m recently made available by the government from projects in Leicestershire.

Beyond that, says the Mercury, it :
will be jointly funded by the county council, Network Rail, and also local enterprise partnerships in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire and Sheffield who will benefit from shorter journey times.
The role of local enterprise partnerships in infrastructure spending is a reminder of how long central government has preferred "businessmen" to elected councillors.

Announcing a project, of course, is not the same as starting work on it. Crossrail was announced at every Conservative conference while John Major was leader, but there was no sign of it being built.

So we shall have to see when the work at Harborough starts and also how radical the realignment will be.

There is also the question of the promised access improvements for platform 2. I suspect they will now have to wait for this work to be done.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

English football has learnt nothing in 62 years

In 1953 the great Hungarian team outclassed England in winning 6-3 at Wembley.

Note Kenneth Wolstenholme's reaction to this piece of skill from Pusk√°s:
"My goodness, if he can turn on tricks like this we ought to have him on the music hall."
Fast forward 62 years and here is Phil Neville reacting to a piece of skill from Tomas Rosicky:
“If that was a training session and somebody did that I’d be first over there and I’d probably look to two-foot him or take him out of the game. 
“If somebody did that in training to me, winding me up, I would be straight in there. I’d smash them.”
The idea that there is something funny, unmanly or unsporting about displaying skills at football lives on. Its persistence must surely be one reason that the England teams so often disappoints in major tournaments.

Billy Brooke proves the Lib Dems can confound the pollsters

Exciting news from Battersea Dogs & Cats Home: Annette Brooke's cat Billy has been voted Purr Minister 2015.

Annette told the Bournemouth Echo:
“I’m really thrilled that Billy has won, as I’m sure he will be, and he will be getting lots of extra treats. 
“It has been a pleasure to be involved in this opportunity to promote rescue centres such as Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, who do such good work. 
“We acquired Billy from a rescue centre in Dorset last July, and were so impressed with them. 
“My family stay in touch, letting them know how Billy is getting on, and I would really encourage anyone looking for a new pet to re-home from a rescue.”
What impresses me about Billy is that he cooperated in the taking of this winsome photograph, which must surely have played a part in his victory.

Faced with a camera, any other cat would have affected an expression of extreme indifference. I have still not forgiven Albany.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Battle for Berwick

Photo of Berwick-upon-Tweed © Richard West

The Journal has an amusing piece on the campaign in the Berwick-upon-Tweed constituency, where Sir Alan Beith is standing down after more than 41 years as an MP:
When it was announced in December that the A1 in Northumberland was to be upgraded, Prime Minister David Cameron made a rare trip to Northumberland to personally take a stroll by the side of the road. With him in the picture was Anne-Marie Trevelyan, a long-time campaigner for dualling of the A1 who just happens to be the Conservatives’ candidate for Berwick in the election. 
With him too was Sir Alan Beith, MP for Berwick for more than four decades and another long-term campaigner for A1 improvements. And with Sir Alan was Julie Porksen, the daughter of a Northumberland farmer who just happens to be the Lib Dems’ candidate for Berwick in the election.
Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceAnd they were not the only politicians to visit Berwick that week.

How the blues conquered Birmingham

The way that the blues entranced white youth in Britain, but not in America, is one of music's puzzles.

I wrote about it - or rather quoted Joe Boyd else about it - in a post in 2008:
Boyd describes a concert at the Hammersmith Odeon:
This was middle America's worst nightmare: white teenage girls screaming ecstatically at Chuck Berry.
 Boyd noticed a familiar figure looking on:
 I blurted out "That's John Lee Hooker." The girls around me started yelling, "John Lee? John Lee? Where? Where?" I pointed towards the wings. They started chanting, "We want John Lee, we want John Lee" and were quickly joined by half the hall - hundreds of kids. 
Boyd goes on: 
In that moment, I decided I would live in England and produce music for this audience. America seemed a desert in comparison. These weren't the privileged elite, they were just kids, Animals fans. And they knew who John Lee Hooker was! 
No white person in America in 1964 - with the exception of me and my friends, of course - knew who John Lee Hooker was.
A recent profile of Robert Plant gives another example of the extent to which the blues influenced some young Britons and also provides a pleasing vignette of Birmingham's musical history:
"My preoccupation as a very young early teenager was a music form that I might have missed. ... If I had missed it, I would never have sung," he says. "If I hadn't heard the Howlin' Wolf, Robert Johnson, Little Richard music, I wouldn't have been drawn to music. Most of the music we (in England) were surrounded by was slush, without any commitment. ... I was born again and saved and reincarnated by American music." 
Dave Pegg, long-time bassist for British folk-rock group Fairport Convention, well remembers Plant's youthful musical passion. Monday mornings often found Pegg, Plant and other teens — including future Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, and future Traffic members Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi — waiting for Birmingham record shop The Diskery to open so they could buy the latest records. 
"Robert and Jim Capaldi were kind of walking histories about blues and obscure soul albums," says Pegg.

Teacher with dyed purple hair expels pupil over his dyed red hair

Metro walks away with our prestigious Headline of the Day Award.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Cleaners From Venus: Illya Kuryakin Looked at me

A wonderful homage to the Sixties as they were or should have been. Rita Tushingham. Harold Wilson. David Hemmings. David Bailey. The Avengers. The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Cleaners from Venus are chiefly a vehicle for Martin Newell, "the wild man of Wivenhoe". It's discography is obscure, but as far as I can make out this track was released as a single in 1987 and can be found on the 2003 album Going to England.

Newell has moved in exalted circles. He has been produced by Andy Partridge from XTC and the guitarist here is Captain Sensible.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Churchill's funeral train leaves Waterloo

Winston Churchill died 50 years ago today. His funeral is one of my earliest memories: I thought that there was a funeral on television every time someone died.

This video shows his funeral train leaving London Waterloo en route for Hanborough in Oxfordshire. That is the station for Blenheim Palace and for the village of Bladon where he was to be buried.

The natural station from which to leave London for Bladon is Paddington. This apparent anomaly has given rise to the pleasing story that Churchill, who played an enthusiastic part in the arrangements for his own funeral, chose a different route so that Charles De Gaulle would be obliged to visit Waterloo.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceBeachcombing's Bizarre History Blog has looked at the evidence and judged that it is not true.

But when the legend becomes fact...

Market Harborough brickwork

I like these buildings in a yard off St Mary's Road, though I think I liked them better before the walls were painted.

Was this a practical solution to provide better clearance for traffic below, or was it a little piece of fantasy on the part of the builder?

When Vince Cable showed the right attitude to the Saudi regime

In the autumn of 2009, while Nick Clegg was taking paternity leave, there was a state visit to Britain by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

The acting Liberal Democrat leader, Vince Cable,* showed the right attitude to the Saudi regime. As BBC News reported it at the time:
Liberal Democrat acting leader Vince Cable is boycotting the state visit to Britain of Saudi King Abdullah. 
Mr Cable says he will not attend any of the planned ceremonial events - as would be normal for the leader of one of the main opposition parties. 
Mr Cable told the BBC's Today programme that by any assessment of Saudi Arabia, "the human rights record is appalling". 
He also cited the regime's arms deal with the British firm BAE and the row over alleged corruption surrounding it. 
Mr Cable added: "I think it's quite wrong that as a country we should give the leader of Saudi Arabia this honour."
If you read the post I wrote at the time, you will find that Vince's stance was criticised by both Tory (Liam Fox)** and Labour (Kin Howells).***

Today we have Union Jacks**** flying at half mast in memory of King Abdullah and a Lib Dem deputy prime minister who remains silent.

True, Nick Clegg condemned the flogging sentence passed on the blogger Raif Badawi, but only after he had claimed to know nothing about the case.

I wonder how his silence this week strikes people who voted for us in 2010 because they admired the Lib Dems' strong stance on human rights?


* Presumably it would be Danny Alexander today.

** As in "whatever happened to Liam Fox?"

*** As in "Makes Neil Kinnock sound like a Trappist monk."

**** It is perfectly in order to call it the Union Jack. The idea that should call it the "Union Flag" is QIesque sophistry.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Richard Rorty on democracy and philosophy

When Richard Rorty died in 2007 I quoted a tribute by Christopher Hayes in the Nation:
Rorty had an uncanny ability to stare into the post-modern abyss, in which nothing is grounded in the divine or universal, and yet somehow, some way, find a kind of practical empathy that could serve as a beacon in the face of nihilism, authoritarianism and cruelty.
This interview, which he gave in 1997, is a good introduction to the appeal of Rorty's ideas.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Six of the Best 489

Stumbling and Mumbling is characteristically interesting in looking at the global onper cent: "If you want a picture of the global 1%, a bien-pensant 50-something in a house in north London might be more accurate than a billionaire hedge fund manager."

"Third-party surveillance tools have grown from a virtually nonexistent industry in 2001 to one raking in over $5 billion annually. It’s also enabled countries around the world to cheaply establish a crude surveillance state, one that manipulates citizens and threatens their privacy." Aaron Sankin on the unstoppable rise of the global surveillance profiteers.

"Do not imagine that the effects of any change in American standards will not ultimately affect you, wherever you are. Standards are increasingly international – what is decided in one jurisdiction pretty quickly affects others." Bernard Spiegal believes that TTIP and the harmonisation of standards pose a danger to play provision in Britain.

Flashbak has some wonderful photographs of the Home Front in the Second World War.

Just One More Ten Pence Piece ... on the practical and emotional work of clearing a house.

Limited-overs cricket is increasingly loaded in favour of the batsmen, argues former bowler Mike Selvey.

Gary Glitter believed Spike Milligan wanted to shoot him, court hears

The Leicester Mercury wins Headline of the Day.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Woman with a Fish, Northampton

The photograph above shows the unveiling of Sir Frank Dobson's sculpture ‘Woman with a Fish’ at St Katherine's Gardens in the centre of Northampton in the early 1950s. It was first exhibited at the 1951 Battersea Park sculpture exhibition.

Today, as my photograph below shows, you will find it in the gardens at Delapre Abbey.

George Smid to fight South Holland and the Deepings for the Liberal Democrats

Spalding Today has a short particle about the excellent George Smid, who has been selected to fight South Holland and the Deepings for the Liberal Democrats in May's general election:
"I have collected a number of experiences: communist Czechoslovakia, a stateless refugee, professional career, a night-shift dishwasher, working for a multinational corporation, running my own business – to name but few.”

Boycott supermarkets over milk prices, says Bishop's Castle councillor

Charlotte Barnes, the Liberal Democrat councillor for Bishop's Castle in Shropshire and also the party's candidate for the Ludlow constituency in May's general election, is encouraging people not to buy milk from stores that fail to pay a fair price to local farmers.

She told the Shropshire Star:
“The long term problem has been the supermarket’s strangle-hold on prices – this is what has pushed our dairy industry into long term decline. 
“It’s clear from the research that prices paid vary widely with some paying particularly low sums to farmers.” 
Interestingly, Charlotte has suggested using the Fairtrade Mark on British produce.

Some will simply welcome the lower prices, but I take this campaign (which echoes Farm Aid in America) as another sign that the Big Supermarket Economy, which has seemed unstoppable for 30 years or more, is running into trouble.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Cardigan Branch in 1958

Another film from the Railway Roundabout television programme.

The Whitland and Cardigan Railway closed to passengers in September 1962 and to freight traffic the following May.

Hear Brian Clemens talk about The Avengers

The writer and producer Brian Clemens died last week. As his Guardian obituary said, he was "responsible for hundreds of hours of escapist television entertainment, including such enduringly popular programmes as The Avengers and The Professionals".

In 2011 Clemens took part in a Night Waves discussion about The Avengers on BBC Radio 3. Also taking part were Matthew Sweet, Bea Campbell, Sarah Dunant and Dominic Sandbrook.

As Clemens says in the course of  it, he did not invent The Avengers but he did invent all the elements that make people remember it.

Liberal Democrat councillor joins Ukip

The Leicester Mercury carries the surprising news that Diane Horne, a Liberal Democrat town councillor from Shepshed, is to stand as a Ukip candidate for the authority in May.

Yes, she is only a town councillor, but she also hopes to be elected to Charnwood Borough Council for one of the town's wards at the same time.

Diane Horne explains her move:
"I'm not against Europe but I am for the British people having control of the country. 
"I am not against all immigration but I am against illegal immigration and I think that a person coming here should already have a job to and should be paying taxes. 
"UKIP seemed to make sense to me. I thought about not standing at all but I have been serving this community for more than nine years and I didn’t want that to go to waste."

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Manic Street Preachers: A Design for Life

When choosing a Neil Young track five years I reminisced about the 1996 Phoenix Festival.

As I said then, Manic Street Preachers sounded great live. So here is another track from the day - I'm not sure where those strings are coming from though- with me out in the crowd somewhere.

Why Nicky Morgan upsets Tory campaign chiefs

James Forsyth writes in the Mail on Sunday:
In recent weeks, there have been whispers at Westminster that Tory campaign chiefs have been disappointed by her performance and irritated by her view that the party's electoral message needed more hope and positivity.
Hope and positivity? Doesn't sound their kind of thing at all.

Al Murray on Russell Brand

The Pub Landlord is interviewed by the Independent:
"What you have to admire about Russell is ... [that] what he might lack in serious argument he makes up for with adjectives."

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Six of the Best 488

Confessions of a Skeptic looks at the terms of reference for the government's historical child abuse inquiry: "There are one or two good points in the Terms of Reference, but the overall impression is that it is a half-thought through mess. It is self-contradictory concerning the range of information the inquiry can access, there are redundant phrases within it, there are phrases whose meaning is very unclear. It has the air of having been hurriedly scribbled on the back of an envelope in response to a 30-minute deadline."

Making choice work for the poorest families does not undermine good schools, argues Emran Mian.

"Bleak House does not merely embody the vast scope of his vision of contemporary London, but offers unparalleled richness in every aspect of his art – from the slums of Tom-All-Alone's to the 'houses of high connection' in the fashionable world; from comedy to psychological drama to social commentary and pure storytelling." Lynn Shepherd celebrates Charles Dickens' greatest novel.

Mark Cole watches Ronnie O'Sullivan make snooker history.

"Ye olde" is fake Old English and we don't even pronounce it properly, explains Lauren Davis.

Unofficial Britain visits Cleethorpes and Southport on a quest to find what Sooty and Sweep are doing now.

A kingfisher on the Welland in Market Harborough

There were no signs of the otters this morning, but I did another welcome new resident of this stretch of the Welland.

Northamptonshire TV star Spinach the llama celebrates his 20th birthday today

Happy birthday to Spinach and congratulations to the Northants Herald & Post for winning Headline of the Day,

Friday, January 16, 2015

Harborough Otter Spotter

Otter hunting in the urban environment part 1 from James Burman on Vimeo.

Fans of Market Harborough's latest wildlife sensation will be pleased to know that there is a Harborough Otter Spotter Facebook page with photos and videos of the beasts.

One of the contributors is James Burman, who shot the footage above.


Jonathan Meades on how writers invent places not describe them

Jonathan Meades reviews Nairn's London for the Literary Review and in the course of doing so says something profound about topographical writing:
Do not feel tempted to go and see for yourself. He did his work at a desk, not when he was shuffling about, all eyes and raw antennae, in his slept-in suit. The description - a distillation of a specific perception - is invariably superior to the place which it evokes, which it invents
The compact is, or ought to be, between writer and reader, not between place and tourist. Only if we suffer a profoundly defective misunderstanding of places as subject or as catalysts of mood or as topographical correlatives do we hurry to the Teme Valley when we read Housman or to the Marshwood Vale when we read Household.
My own Shropshire is made up from scraps of Malcolm Saville and other writers, my own visits over 25 years, friendships and much else.

And I once heard one of Saville's sons way that when he wrote Seven White Gates, in some ways the most Shropshire of all his books, he had not visited the Stiperstones. He took all that books remarkable atmosphere from Mary Webb.

So, though I have dragged a surprising number of people up from Snailbeach to see Lords Hill Chapel, you cannot visit my Shropshire.

It is true that I photograph it for you, but the ones I use here are carefully selected. The one above shows the old engine house at White Grit with the unmistakable crest of Bromlow Callow behind it.

Shirley Williams on Testament of Youth

Jasper Rees has interviewed Shirley Williams about the film of her mother Vera Brittain's autobiographical book Testament of Youth:
What Williams really admires about the film is the friendships ("brilliantly done") and the sense of a young woman’s pioneering struggle for gender equality, plus the later glimpse of her internationalism. Brittain took the story of Testament of Youth deep into the Twenties to portray her growing conviction that the Great War must also be the last war.
Williams is aware that her mother’s pacifism is not fashionable, and indeed some columnists have given Brittain’s stance towards the Third Reich a kicking as her story returns to national attention
"I didn’t agree with my mother about that. I concluded that Hitler was so evil that you couldn’t stop him even with the most dedicated pacifism — he would have shot Gandhi."
Shirley pays a remarkable tribute to Cheryl Campbell, who played Brittain in the 1979 television adaptation - you will find it all on Youtube:
"She was so like my mother in many ways. You couldn’t get a cigarette paper between the two."
And interview concludes:
The hope is that the film will send new readers to the book for a bracing dose of Brittain’s candour, unrivalled among female chroniclers of the war.
"That's the thing I most respect," says Williams. "She was an incredibly honest woman. She never softened the truth. Nor did she exaggerate it. Don’t forget we’re talking about the Edwardian age. People were not candid, especially women."
This is Shirley's family history, so she should know. But I believe that the awful English "respectability", which is so often blamed on the Victorians, is more typical of the early decades of the 20th century. Particularly of the years following the First World War,

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Roger Lloyd Pack on Leicester Market

THE GOOD MEN OF LEICESTER from Al Mackay on Vimeo.

In January 2010 the Leicester Mercury wrote:
Shoppers might have thought their mince pies were playing tricks on them when Only Fools and Horses star Roger Lloyd Pack dropped into a market. 
The actor, who played Trigger in the 80s sitcom, was on location in the city centre to star in a short drama about Leicester Market's traders. 
Screenwriters Neale Craston, 30, and Al Mackay, 29, from Leicester, won cash to make the movie after entering the script in a regional arts competition. 
Shooting for their film, called The Good Old Men of Leicester, started on Sunday and finished yesterday.
This is the whole film. Roger Lloyd Pack died a year ago today.

Globalisation and the death of Pigling Bland

The sun rose while they were crossing the moor, a dazzle of light over the tops of the hills. The sunshine crept down the slopes into the peaceful green valleys, where little white cottages nestled in gardens and orchards. 
That’s Westmorland,” said Pig-wig. She dropped Pigling’s hand and commenced to dance.
Beatrix Potter, The Tale of Pigling Bland

Under a headline beginning "No, we haven't banned books of pigs...", Jane Harley from the Oxford University Press has an article on the Guardian website that shows they pretty much have banned new books on pigs:
What we do ... is consider avoiding references to a range of topics that could be considered sensitive – in a way that does not compromise quality, or negatively impact learning. So, for example, if animals are depicted shown in a background illustration, we would think carefully about which animals to choose. In doing so we are able to ensure children remain focused purely on their learning, rather than cultural characteristics.
All of which shows that, if Beatrix Potter were writing today, she would not have much chance of placing The Tale of Pigling Bland with the OUP.

But the villain here is not Islam or Western fears of offending Muslims, it is globalisation,

If your goal is to produce a book that is inoffensive in every culture, it is not surprising if you come up with something rather anaemic.

Back in the 1970s, good Liberals wanted a greater role for the market as a counterweight to centralised power. We wanted choice and innovation.

Today, however, things are more complicated than that. What the market often gives us is homogenisation - for more on this debate see George Ritzer's The McDonaldization of Society, which I have blogged about before.

The same tension can be found in attitudes to the European Union. Do those of us who support continued British membership because we want to extend the global market or because we hope the EU will act as something of a bulwark against it?

It often seemed that Liberal Democrat MEPs took the former view when voting in Brussels and the rest of us tended to the latter when campaigning locally.

Let us end with the side words of Winston Churchill, as quoted by a Guardian commenter:
"I am fond of pigs, Dogs look up to us, Cats look down on us, Pigs treat us as equals."

Vote, vote, vote for Billy Brooke

For some years the Kennel Club and Dogs Trust have run a Westminster Dog of the Year contest to find the top dog owned by an MP or peer. Apparently the judges look for "the dogs' good deeds and devotion to their owner".

Now comes news that Battersea Dogs & Cats Home is staging Purr Minister 2015. And one of the cats taking part is Annette Brooke's Billy.

So hurry over to the contest's website to vote for him!

You may also, writes Liberal England's Cat Correspondent, be interested in the news that Battersea's cattery has been given Grade II listed building status.

Whittington Lodge was designed around 1907 by Clough Williams-Ellis, better known as the architect of Portmeirion.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Stewart Lee mocks Islam and ridicules individual Muslims

Stewart Lee demonstrates his peculiar genius.

Much of this, of course, is aimed at Michael McIntyre, but we can all agree that he is more of a threat to Western values than any jihadi terrorist.

The Black Beast of Harborough returns

Yesterday I blogged about sightings of big cats in Shropshire. Tonight the phenomenon seems much closer to home.

You see, the Black Beast of Harborough has been sighted again.

The Leicester Mercury has the story:
A black panther has been sighted in broad daylight on a country road in the south of the county. 
Callum Blair was driving to play rugby on Saturday when the animal leapt across the road in front of him. 
Callum, 22, said: “At first I thought it was a labrador. But as I got nearer I realised it was moving far too fast and was much too big. 
“I think it was in pursuit of a rabbit or something like that. 
“I just could not believe what I saw.” 
Callum, who works in recruitment, was driving between the villages of Laughton and Lubenham near Market Harborough. 
He said: “I mentioned it to the lads at rugby and some said they had known of other sightings.” 
Saturday’s encounter comes four months after petrol station worker James Voyce saw a black panther on the same road.
Discussing this Black Beast hotspot, the Mercury goes on to say:
There is a disused railway line and a canal towpath nearby which panther watchers say are used as routes between habitats.
It seems I had a narrow escape. As the photograph above proves, I was at this spot only two or three years ago.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Fully Fitted Freight (1957)

A documentary on how the railways moved freight in the 1950s, complete with period touches of "Women: Know your place" in the commentary.

As the BFI page on the film says:
At the time, the film would have been seen as a triumphant demonstration of the efficiency and efficacy of British Railways' freight services, and the commentary implies that the system was so vital to the running of the economy that it would probably need to expand indefinitely to keep up with consumer demand. 
However, hindsight reveals that the freight express's days were numbered even then. Many services were axed following the 1963 Beeching Report, and Bristol's huge Midland Road goods depot, where the early part of the film was shot, was closed in 1967.

Will the general election results be more boring than people expect?

Iain Dale has been doing sterling work predicting the result in May's general election for each constituency.

When it came to Scotland, I thought his forecasts showed some distinctly fanciful SNP gains.

And yet Iain writes:
Others are projecting that the SNP could win upwards of 40 of Scotland’s 59 seats. I regard that as completely fanciful and it shows why making any sensible prediction has to be done on a seat by seat basis. 
In truth, when I did my Scottish predictions I had the SNP on 13 seats. I went back and looked at some of their other target seats and bumped them up to 18. How on earth they could win much beyond that is beyond me.
On Conservative Home Stephen Tall somehow gets the SNP total up to 22, but he makes another prediction that suggests the 2015 general election will be less of a political earthquake than many expect.

For in forecasting the share of the vote and number of seats each of the party's will win, he suggests that the Liberal Democrats will poll 12 per cent and Ukip 11 per cent.

Looking at recent opinion polls, I too have been wondering whether the Lib Dems might not outpoll Ukip. It has to be said, though, that this has more to do with the steady slippage of Ukip support than any great surge for us.

But then, as Stephen points out, "election results are usually a lot more dull than the speculation which precedes them". So it is not out of the question that there will be a huge fall in Ukip support when measured against the last European elections. That is what happened at the 2010 general election

Add to this what you might call the Fruitcake Factor - and here is today's piece of Ukip flakery - and it is quite possible that the Lib Dems will storm to third place.

And the Greens? They have put up some impressive opinion poll figures recently, but as everyone has been pointing out on Twitter today, there support is concentrated among the youngest voters. They very people, as we Lib Dems discovered last time round, who tend not to vote.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
So it is quite possible that the results of the 2015 general election will be a lot less interesting than many people expect.

Big cats in Shropshire?

From the Shropshire Star:
They’ve been seen all over Shropshire and Mid Wales. There have been photographic images, shadowy CCTV images, and a whole host of convincing sightings by reliable witnesses which might give you the impression that the countryside is crawling with panthers, pumas, lynxes and other exotic big cats. 
But the question still hangs in the air. Where is the absolute proof that they exist?
The accompanying illustrations suggest it can be hard to tell the difference between a photograph of an ordinary domestic cat close to the camera and one of a big cat further away.

Six of the Best 487

It seems that David Cameron’s enthusiasm for mass surveillance comes from watching TV dramas, says Paul Bernal.

Nick Tyrone asks a question that has long puzzled me: Why is Scottish nationalism somehow "nicer" than English nationalism?

"Thirty-three children have died in custody since 1990, 31 of which were self-inflicted. After each death, the state, in the guise of the Ministry of Justice, claims to have learned lessons from the fatality and assures the public that steps have been taken to prevent further young deaths. And that is it, until the next death, when these tired, weasel words are dragged out again." Eric Allison and Simon Hattenstone on a strange media silence.

Jeffrey Richards reviews Steven Fielding's "A State of Play: British Politics on Screen, Stage and Page, from Anthony Trollope to The Thick of It".

Words of wisdom from Bryan Appleyard: "The more I think about it, the more it is clear that very little of importance can be found online. Sure, there is a lot of information, but there always was. It just took more time to find. The internet is useful, fun, exciting, quick. But if you want the real thing, get a human."

In Their Shoes uncovers the history of Lambeth Walk. Oy!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Jonathan Meades on Birmingham

Steve Emerson, the soi-disant terrorism expert who told Fox News that Birmingham is a "Muslim-only city" where non-Muslims "don't go", has apologised for his "terrible error".

That is to his credit, but Emerson will be a busy man if he is going to apologise for all his terrible errors.

Andy McSmith (in the last item in this diary column) explains:
I see that in 1995, he declared that the Oklahoma bombing was the work of Arab terrorists. Actually, the culprit was a white supremacist. In 1998, he announced that Pakistan was planning a nuclear strike against India. Hasn't happened yet. In April 2013, he claimed to have inside knowledge that the bombing of the Boston Marathon had been carried out by a Saudi, who was about to be deported. Actually, the bombers were Chechen.
As Political Scrapbook has revealed, it is worse than that. Emerson has given expert evidence on terrorism to half a dozen Senate and Congressional committees,

So for a more nuanced view of Birmingham - a city of which I am very fond - let's turn to Jonathan Meades.

The video above is the first of three parts of his "Heart by-pass: Jonathan Meades motors through Birmingham" from 1998. Note the use of Traffic's Paper Sun in part 2 and part 3.

And for further reading, Chris Eckerlsey has a short essay on the city by Meades.

100 years of Ladybird Books?

Today is being celebrated as the centenary of Ladybird Books.

The blog Old Ladybird Books sounds a sceptical note:
So what happened in 1915 that gives the excuse for a centenary this year? Simply that the brand name 'Ladybird' was first registered by the company then known as Wills and Hepworth in that year. But in no real sense could Wills & Hepworth be called a publisher of children's books back then. ... 
The first 'real', small-size Ladybird Books (Bunnikins Picnic Party, Ginger's Adventures and The First Day of the Holidays) seem to have emerged blinking into the world in 1940 like cuckoos from the Wills & Hepworth nest - with no visible antecedence. And even then (and for over a decade later) the company saw itself as a commercial printing business with a minor sideline in publishing.
Let's leave that sticking to the wall, because Ladybird Books are worth celebrating.

On a personal note, I learnt to read with the Ladybird 'Key Words' scheme - in fact my mother taught me before I went to school.

The current Ladybird website explains how it worked:
‘Key Words’ are the most frequently occurring words in the English language. Research has shown that very few of these key English words form a very high proportion of those in everyday use. 
The Key Words with Peter and Jane books are so successful because each of the key words is introduced gradually and repeated frequently. This builds confidence in children when they recognise these key words on sight (also known as the ‘look and say’ method of learning).
There was, you will note, no nonsense about phonics.

And more widely, Ladybird books - like all children's books - are a wonderful resource for social history.

Years ago I quoted an article from a Ladybird collectors' site. That link no longer works, so I apologise to the author for doing so again without proper attribution.

He or she commented in particular on the way that the books I learnt to read from in the 1960s were issued with updated illustrations in the 1970s:
I wonder if the original target audience were aware of the nostalgic, retrospective feel to them when they first came out? Perhaps there was an awareness even then that these idyllic domestic tableaux were unreal and presented a world that had never existed. (Yes, I was part of that early audience, but at the age of 5, I don't think my powers of analysis were up to the job). Or is it that those years, between the mid-sixties and early seventies saw exceptionally dramatic social change for families. Is this dramatic period of change encapsulated by the 2 versions of the books? 
Because if you flip through the pages of a 1970s revised edition, it will still feel pretty modern today - which the first version absolutely does not - although produced nearly 35 years ago. No mobile phones, designer trainers or computer games - but the children have scruffy hair, wear jeans and T-shirt and don't tidy up after themselves. ... 
The first thing you notice is that Jane gets to wear jeans and is seen playing with roller-skates where once she played with dolls. The scenes portrayed look less ordered and serene. Play time is messier and the children appear to bicker more. 
However, if, like me, you are happy to spend a few evenings browsing through the two different versions, you'll find that the biggest changes in the first few books are all to do with sweet consumption. Whereas the Peter and Jane of the 1960s would visit the sweet shop, the 1970s Peter and Jane go to buy apples instead.
Deep down, you see, I am a child of the 1960s not the 1970s.

Norman Baker tries to let some fresh air in

Civil Service World has an interview with the former Liberal Democrat minister Norman Baker about his experience of working with Whitehall.

Generally, Norman is positive about it:
Did your views of the civil service change during your time in office? 
Yes, my opinion of the civil service went up while I was in office. Most came across as professional, caring, properly politically neutral, and friendly. I do think however they are generally a bit risk averse, and the creative ideas tended to come from ministers rather than officials. However they were generally keen to please and responded well to initiatives.
What challenges did you face in working with civil servants? 
I thought the machine was a bit sluggish and plodding on occasions, and it was difficult always to move it up a gear, or bypass the blockages. In addition, there was sometimes, unintentionally I think, a bit of coalition insensitivity. 
If you were Cabinet Office minister, how would you change the civil service? 
I would not change very much, although I do think there is a need to promote and stretch those with real ability more quickly and creatively than happens at present.
However, when he is asked to tell a story that reveals something about the civil service, Norman's reply sounds heartfelt:
At the Department for Transport, I found it relatively easy to get millions allocated for projects I was enthusiastic about, but almost impossible to get the windows opened in my office. Despite the fact that the ambient temperature was clearly wrong, I was repeatedly told it would ruin the air conditioning, and then when I finally sourced a key myself, was told I shouldn’t use it. Why? I might fall out!

"Beith be not proud though some have called thee mighty"

One of the most attractive things about Paddy Ashdown is that - in Denis Healey's famous formulation - he has a hinterland. That is, a whole range of interests beyond politics.

Today I came across an old Independent article in which he wrote of love for the poetry of John Donne:
Since the age of 16, I have had a copy of the complete poems of John Donne somewhere close at hand. For me, that was a watershed year. I had not been a good student – at best strugglingly average, to the despair of my father. In truth the classroom interested me far less at this age than the rugby pitch, the athletics field and the girls at the local Bedford high school. 
One evening a friend I admired but thought quite weird persuaded me, against my strong inclination, to go with him to the school poetry society run by one of the masters, whom I regarded as equally weird, John Eyre. The evening changed my life – quite literally. For that night I walked through a door opened by Donne into a world of poetry and literature I had never even known existed and have spent a lifetime joyously exploring ever since. The moment may have been life changing for me. ... 
After school, as a young Royal Marines officer involved in the war in Borneo, I took a leather-bound copy of Donne's poems which my wife had given me everywhere I went, until the ravages of jungle damp and termites dismantled it into a collection of mouldy pages. It has been replaced many times since.
Lord Bonkers writes exclusively for Liberal England:

I recall that Paddy Ashplant put his love for Donne to good use during the contest to elect the first leader of whatever name our party had in those days.

Many though Alan Beith was the frontrunner, but Ashplant began his speech to the first hustings by looking his opponent in the eye and declaiming:
Beith be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so.
This was widely counted as something of a zinger, and poor Beith's campaign never recovered from the blow.

The collapse of the Conservative vote in Sheffield Hallam

A couple of months before the last general election, Jack Scott, the Labour PPC for Sheffield Hallam, announced that he was "fairly sure" that he could win the seat.

As a result, this blog elected him its Cockeyed Optimist of the Week and, sure enough, he finished a distant third when the election came.

Now the Guardian is getting excited by the prospect of Scott's successor Oliver Coppard winning the seat.

I don't believe Nick Clegg will lose his seat - and Neil Monnery certainly doesn't believe he will lose it - though Lord Ashcroft's constituency poll in Hallam shows Labour only a little way behind the Liberal Democrats.

But there is a big political story here. Sheffield Hallam used to be a safe Conservative seat - they won it even in 1906 and 1945, and polled over 60 per cent of the vote in 1970.

If, as Ashcroft's poll suggests, they are now in third place, that is a remarkable decline. It is of a piece with their inability to return a single councillor in most Northern cities and, even more startlingly, in Oxford or Cambridge.

David Cameron once understood that the Conservatives needed to win back liberal suburbia. But his insistence on putting short-term tactics above long-term strategy means that his party has less and less appeal outside its Southern heartlands.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
So perhaps the Conservatives should worry about Sheffield Hallam more than Nick Clegg does?

Lembit Opik, Nelson Mandela and Jodie Marsh

Thanks to Nick Barlow for drawing this important development to our attention.

Wales Online reports:
Former Welsh MP Lembit Opik says he is backing bodybuilding glamour girl Jodie Marsh to enter politics. 
Opik, 49, says Marsh, who has made documentaries on plastic surgery, steroids, virginity, cheating men and mail order brides, would be a "breathe [sic] of fresh air" and a "sensible, alternative, important" voice in politics. 
Marsh announced she planned to become an MP in October 2013, saying: "If I ran the country it would be a lot better."
Ex Liberal Democrat MP for Montgomeryshire Opik, who met Marsh on Channel 4’s Celebrity Come Dine With Me, said: "She speaks her mind, has strong views, a campaigning instinct and can’t be bullied. 
"Those are four very valuable assets at a time when a lot of politicians just want to keep their heads down. She’d be very busy making noise for the things she believes in."
Eighteen months ago Lembit fancied himself as a pop impresario, announcing that he was to promote the Southampton starlet Rozii Chaos.

I can find nothing recent about her online. Let us hope Jodie Marsh gains more from his support.

But what of Lembit's own career? He tells Wales Online:
"Every major statesman needs the wilderness years. Nelson Mandela had them and I suppose that’s my lot, too, so I’m ruling nothing out at this stage."
Later. I suspect this is not the first time Lembit has drawn this parallel. Certainly, he said the same thing to Lord Bonkers in 2011.

Upon which his lordship remarked:
I may have been a little short with him after that, but who can blame me? 
My old friend Nelson Mandela spent his wilderness years imprisoned on Arjen Robben Island; he did not spend them appearing on "Celebrity Coach Trip" alongside Michael Barrymore, John McCririck and someone called ‘Wagner’ from something called "The X Factor".

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Martin Horwood draws a cartoon rather than write a column

Martin Horwood, the Liberal Democrat MP for Cheltenham, writes a regular column for the Gloucestershire Echo.

This week, however, he has sent the newspaper a cartoon instead. You can find it on the Gloucestershire Echo website.

Mark Ronson (featuring Bruno Mars): Uptown Funk

This blog is down with the kids, So here is the groovy platter that is currently top of the the hit parade.

To be honest, I cannot remember the last time I knew what the number one single was, let alone liked it. Perhaps if the current talk of bringing back Top of the Pops comes to something, it may happen more often.

Anyway, I think this is a really good record.

Alexis Petridis interviewed Mark Ronson the other day:
As I’m leaving, he starts talking again about the guitar part on Uptown Funk that made him faint. He played it to his stepfather, Mick Jones, of AOR titans Foreigner. "And he said: 'Oh, that’s good, is that Nile Rodgers?'
"That’s what I've done," he says, a little heavily. "I've made something so good that people don’t actually think it’s me."

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Beerhouse, Market Harborough

This afternoon I finally made it to Market Harborough's newest pub, the Beerhouse. You will find it just off St Mary's Road.

The building, it has to be admitted, is not a thing of beauty, but inside you will find a pleasant atmosphere and an impressive selection of good beer, perry and cider.

I had a chat with Jon Pollard, whose project the Beerhouse is and who once wrote a guest post - "The perfect Christmas gift for a carer" - for this blog.

There is more about micropubs on the Micropub Association website. And more about Jon's plans in the Harborough Mail.

How some Western liberals respond to Islamist terrorism

Artie Fufkin with one of Britain's loudest bands.

Lord Bonkers advised Labour against having Gordon Brown as leader

If I am unable to sleep, I turn to the diaries of Lord Bonkers - they usually do the job quite quickly.

Every now and then, however, I come across something that brings me up short. Like this from 2006.
It is hard not to sympathise with the New Party’s MPs: Blair has clearly gone barking mad – his public protestations of love for a chimpanzee, all those foreign wars, his plans to send children to the Jack Straw Memorial Reform School, Dungeness, before they are born – but their constitution makes it impossible to get rid of him. 
We Liberal Democrats recently had leadership problems of our own, but Kennedy’s fondness for drink never put the country in peril. Yes, he might fall asleep in meetings, sing raucous Highland ballads or try to kiss Alan Beith, but life was still more restful than under his predecessor, Paddy Ashplant, and – dash it all – I am rather fond of old Beith myself. 
A word of advice to the New Party: if you do succeed in tipping Blair out of the window, don’t replace him with that dour Brown fellow. Try someone younger and fresher like Tony Benn’s charming daughter Hilary or one of the Millipede brothers.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Church of England announces inquiry into Kendall House

BBC News reports:
The Church of England is to carry out a review of one of its former homes in Gravesend, where it is claimed children were forcibly drugged,
I blogged about Kendall House as long ago as 2009. Reading that post, I find that the Church of England took a very different view and that I was in rather a cutting mood:
I have just been watching the Newsnight report on the drugging of girls at Kendall House, a children's home in Gravesend, between the 1960s and 1980s. The story was also covered on the Today programme this morning. 
The home was run by the Church of England. And what is the response of the Diocese of Rochester? 
A statement quoted by the BBC says: 
It would be inappropriate for the diocese to initiate any internal inquiries since we are not qualified to do this. In any event, it would be essential for any investigation to be conducted both professionally and impartially. 
So they are perfectly qualified to lock children up and drug them, but not qualified to consider whether they were right to do this? This is simply nonsensical.
A few days later I found that an account of the regime at Kendall House had been published in a book in 1980 and that extracts from it could be found on the no 2 abuse site.

One of the depressing things about the current concern over historical child abuse is that so much of the evidence now being sought was easily available decades ago.