Monday, November 30, 2015

John McDonnell: "Put that light out, Napoleon"

Thanks to whoever it was who pointed out the resemblance on Twitter a while back.

Recently lost railways 4

The final part of this video visits (among other places) Dover, King's Lynn and Birkenhead, before ending on an optimistic note with the reopening of a stretch of line as part of the Robin Hood service from Nottingham to Mansfield and Worksop.

Watch part 1, part 2 and part 3 on this blog.

Men in panda onesies carry out armed robbery in Lincolnshire

The Guardian wins our Headline of the Day Award.

But see the Louth Leader for all the latest updates.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Jeremy Thorpe and Des Wilson go shopping

A scene from the Hove by-election of 1973.

Des Wilson was already well known as a campaigner, particularly as the founding director of Shelter, and joined the Liberal Party in order to fight this election. He later became a significant figure in the party and in the Liberal Democrats in that party's early years.

The Liberals had not fought Hove in 1970 (though they did achieve 16 per cent there in the 1966 general election), when the Conservatives had won 69 per cent of the vote in a straight contest with Labour.

In what was seen as a brave by-election campaign in an unwinnable seat, Des Wilson came second with 37 per cent of the vote. He was less than 5000 votes behind the winning Tory.

Today Hove is a Labour/Tory marginal. Labour won it in 1997, held it until 2010 and then won it back in 2015.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
I guess the retired colonels and their ladies have died out, hitting the Conservative vote.

What does J.K. Rowling know about Harry Potter anyway?

This exchange turned up in my timeline. No doubt I was meant to laugh at Harry Potter Fans and praise Matthew Hankins for condemning mansplaining.

But I think the Harry Potter Fans tweet is fine.

Behind Hankins' contempt lie a number of connected and faulty aesthetic theories: that a work of art has one fixed meaning; that its meaning derives solely from the author's intentions; and that those intentions are somehow transferred from the author's mind to the book, which it then inhabits as a sort of ghostly substance.

The truth is different. As soon as a book is published the author loses control of it. There is no single correct reading of it that derives from her intentions. Readings multiply as its readership multiplies.

You could even argue that the better a book is, the more diverse the possible readings are, It this sort of fluidity of meaning that keeps the classics alive and makes us still want to read them.

Good criticism may reveal things the author was never conscious of. Here is G.K. Chesterton writing about Charles Dickens:
It seems almost as if these grisly figures, Mrs. Chadband and Mrs. Clennam, Miss Havisham, and Miss Flite, Nemo and Sally Brass, were keeping something back from the author as well as from the reader. When the book closes we do not know their real secret. They soothed the optimistic Dickens with something less terrible than the truth.
This is brilliant imaginative criticism - and it would be just as much if Chesterton were discussing a woman writer.

I will confess that I have read little by Rowling - because I found her a dull writer when I tried. But my prejudice is that everything in the Harry Potter world is that way because she says so. The stories failed to take on a life of their own that surprised their own author.

So it may be that Rowling's telling of the stories is the only possible one. But if that were true it would be a sign of her weakness as a writer not her strength.

Listening to the Long Mynd and Stiperstones shuttle

The Long Mynd and Stiperstones shuttle bus will start running again on Saturday 30 April 2016, running every weekend and bank holiday Mondays until the end of September.

While we wait for spring, we can enjoy the audio commentaries on the website devoted to this service. If you know these hills you need only close your eyes to see them.

There is even one that mentions Malcolm Saville.

Flaming Groovies: Shake Some Action

A 1976 track by an American band who were trying to sound like a 1960s British band and came to be seen as harbingers of Punk.

I think that is what Wikipedia is telling us.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Recently lost railways 3

There is some good news in connection with this section of the video.

The Nuneaton avoiding line was partly reopened when the town's station was remodelled. Trains from Leicester to Birmingham now use its bridge over the West Coast Main Line.

The Wensleydale branch is now run by volunteers as a heritage line: The Wensleydale Railway. Bedale signal box was one of three working British Rail signal boxes I was allowed into in my younger days.

Plans to reopen the Great Central came to nothing.

Watch part 1 and part 2 on this blog.

Why did the Conservatives tolerate Mark Clarke for so long?

Isabel Hardman explains:
The answer is that the Tory party was desperate for ground troops to fight Labour, and with a small and often elderly membership, this was hard to come by. It seems that their desperation stopped them asking the sorts of questions that an organisation with the luxury of many footsoldiers should have asked. They’d risk taking on someone like Mark Clarke because they considered it less of a risk to being utterly swamped by Labour activists in key seats. 
But it’s not just Mark Clarke, who denies bullying Johnson. Those involved in Tory youth politics say bullying was rife – and not limited to one man. Perhaps the party judged what was going on to be the sort of usual histrionics amongst student politicians, who believed they were acting like grown politicians with verbal thuggery and internet smears. 
Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceIn hindsight, of course, with one young activist dead, the oversights of the party machine have proved far more costly than anyone could have imagined.

Danny Alexander takes defeat philosophically

They are very good podcasts and you can find them on the Philosophy Bites website.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Colour film of York in 1963

Click on the still above to go this short silent film from the BFI's Britain on Film collection:
This is a lovely portrait of York in the, much less busy, early sixties, illustrating well the city’s great history and many cultural attractions. Among the highlights is footage of the 1963 production of the York Mystery Plays and the York Regatta. 
This film was made by York photographer and filmmaker May Webb, who, with her husband Frank, ran a photography business in York, as well running the York cine club, the Apollo Film Unit.

Nick Clegg in Oldham

Up for the by-election, Nick Clegg has been interviewed by the Oldham Evening Chronicle:
“I think Jane’s getting a really positive response on the doorstep and I am very confident that she is going to do a lot better than we did in the General Election. 
“We have got to rebuild like any party, like any individual that takes a hard knock. You have got to lick your wounds a bit but move on and dust yourself down. 
“The party’s finding its zeal and fighting spirit again. In a constituency like this where we haven’t traditionally been competing at Westminster level we still have scores and scores of activists coming into our HQ and knocking on people’s doors."

Greville Janner's alleged victims may claim £2.5m in damages

From the Leicester Mercury:
Six men who say they were sexually abused by former Leicester MP Greville Janner are expected to submit a claim for up to £2.5 million in damages. 
Lawyers acting for the men, who claim the 87-year-old committed the offences against them decades ago, indicated the scale of their potential damages claim at the High Court in London on Tuesday. 
Details of the claim are to be formally served on Lord Janner's legal team, which must happen before the end of November. 
Lord Janner, who was MP for Leicester West for 27 years from 1970, is accused of 15 counts of indecent assault and seven counts of other sexual offences against a total of nine complainants.
The report also reminds us of the current state of play in the Crown prosecution of Lord Janner:
A judge ruled in September that Lord Janner would be put on trial next year for alleged historical child sexual abuse. 
That hearing is scheduled to take place on Monday, February 22. 
The peer is said to suffer from severe dementia and the early symptoms of Parkinson's disease. 
A hearing to assess whether he is fit to stand trial is due to take place on Monday, December 7. 
If that hearing decides he is unfit to stand trial, a court might conduct a "trial of the facts". 
That would mean a jury would hear evidence from alleged victims and decide whether he committed the abuse, although there would be no finding of guilt or a conviction. 
In total, the peer faces 22 allegations of sexual offences against nine boys and men between 1963 and 1988. 
He has not entered pleas to any of the allegations.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

In which I draw with a man who once came second in the British chess championship

Derren Brown came to Leicester in 2010:
We stayed at a terrific boutique hotel ‘Maiyango’, which was just lovely, and has a great restaurant attached. Worth seeking out. And pop into Alfred Lenton’s next door: an odd gem of a downtrodden second hand bookstore that has been there for 40 years.
In my experience he did well to find Alfred Lenton's open, but I am glad he enjoyed himself.

Alfred died in 2004 and these days the shop is run by his son.

Alfred Lenton was a strong chess player. His obituary on the Leicestershire & Rutland Chess Association website begins:
Alf Lenton was a notable player immediately before WW2, playing in the first three Anglo-Dutch internationals and the last four pre-war British Championship tournaments. 
He made his debut in the British Championship in Great Yarmouth in 1935, when he finished 3rd= (with Golombek, Michell and Tylor) behind Winter and Sir George Thomas. 
In 1936 he improved to 2nd= with Ritson Morry, once again behind Winter. Had he taken a good chance to beat Winter he might have won the championship that year.
Lenton played chess for Thurnby in the Leicestershire league until a few months before his death.

I played him in a match in the late 1990s when he must have been pushing 90 (and I was pushing 40).

I remember the game was a short, violent King's Indian Defence that soon burned out into a draw, but I cannot remember if I was White or Black. (I may still have the game score somewhere.)

So as well as having beaten someone who played top board for two different countries in the Olympiad, I can say I have drawn with someone who finished second in the British championship.

Later. You can find my draw with Alf Lenton in a post by Richard James.

David Mackintosh MP and the finances of Northampton Town

Over the summer the finances of Northampton Town have been in the news.

David Conn wrote a good summary of this byzantine affair in the Guardian at the start of the month:
Put bluntly, there is a huge, grim question over where £10.25m has gone, which was lent to the club by Northampton borough council between September 2013 and August 2014, specifically to pay for improvements to its Sixfields stadium, including a new East Stand.
All that exists in return for so much money are minor works on the west stand, floodlights understood to have cost a little over £100,000, and a shell of a new East Stand for which the developer, Buckingham Group, says it was paid only £442,000, before it downed tools.
Since then the club has been sold to the former Oxford United chairman Kelvin Thomas.

Now it appears that David Mackintosh, Conservative MP for Northampton South and a former leader of the borough council, has been drawn into the mess.

BBC News reports:
A Conservative MP's local party was given undeclared payments linked to a businessman involved in a stalled stadium development, it has emerged. 
David Mackintosh's party received a £6,195 payment for tickets from Howard Grossman, the director of a company overseeing work at Northampton Town FC. 
Mr Mackintosh was leader of the borough council when it approved a £10.25m loan for the plans. Millions of pounds of the money is currently unaccounted for. 
He declined to comment on the payments. 
Three individuals with links to Mr Grossman also paid £10,000 into Mr Mackintosh's general election fighting fund, a BBC investigation found. 
The payment to Mr Mackintosh's party from Mr Grossman and one of the donations for £10,000 were not declared to the Electoral Commission.
The BBC goes on to report a Conservative spokesman as saying "we are looking into the matter".

I suspect this is a story to watch. Already there is a petition in circulation calling on Mackintosh to resign as MP for Northampton South.

Dog gets stick wedged in its ‘manhood’ in million-to-one accident

The Rutland & Stamford Mercury wins our Headline of the Day Award by a distance.

However, I have two observations to make.

First, shouldn't that be 'doghood'?

Second, what excuse did the dog give to the vet? "I was doing some carpentry in the nude when I slipped...?"

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Recently lost railways 2

The second part of this film covers many lines, including a colliery branch at Moira filmed in the days when Leicestershire still had coal mines.

Two of the more substantial lines covered this time are Aberdeen to Fraserburgh and March to Spalding, I travelled on the latter line in 1979 of 1980.

Watch Part 1 (which includes the Woodhead route) on this blog.

A Box of Delights on the radio in the 1960s

Christmas is coming and a lot of people are preparing for it by watching their Box of Delights DVD.

This time last year I wrote:
my heart was lost to A Box of Delights some time in the 1960s, when I heard a radio adaptation.
Since then BBC Genome has been invented and I can work out when exactly that was.

It must have been on 29 December 1968 or 28 December 1969.

Looking for the cast list (it was the same production for both broadcasts) it is noticeable that Kay Harker and Peter Jones were played by women. In Kay's case by the well known actress Patricia Hayes.

It was once common practice for women to play boys in BBC radio drama. I remember Jock Gallagher telling me that Judy Bennett, who played Shula in The Archers, was widely fancied by the production crew. So it was rather disconcerting when she put on her gruff small boy's voice and became the young Adam.

Today Kay and Peter would be played by boys. Interestingly, if you go back to a Children's Hour radio dramatisation of The Box of Delights from 1948 and you find that boys played those parts then too.

Harborough Tories: £7 off council tax, £40 on bin tax

Tomorrow evening a special meeting of Harborough District Council will consider a proposal to impose an annual charge of £40 for collecting garden waste - the authority's 'green bin' service.

Over to the Harborough Mail and my old friend Phil Knowles:
Lib Dem group leader Cllr Phil Knowles said the plan by the Conservative majority on the district council was “nothing short of a Conservative Bin Tax”. 
“Before the May elections we were treated to the Conservative election gimmick of a £7 per annum cut in Council Tax” he said. “Now they are proposing to charge £40 a year to empty green bins on a part-year service. 
“And if it’s £40 a year at first, who’s to say it won’t soon be £50 a year or more?”

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Restoring the Grantham Canal

The Grantham Canal ran for 33 miles from Grantham to the Trent at West Bridgford. It was abandoned in 1936.

In recent years a lot of restoration work has been done. For details see the Grantham Canal Society website.

I have walked part of the canal myself through the Stilton country of the Vale of Belvoir.

Alan Johnson shows the good and bad sides of mainstream Labour

There is no doubt about the bust up of the day. It is Alan Johnson's pummelling of Simon Hardy from what is laughing called 'Left Unity' on the Daily Politics this lunchtime.

Johnson was absolutely right to question Hardy's blithe assumption that only his groupuscule of the left stands against racism, austerity and war.

He was right to defend the record of the Labour governments of which he was a part:
we introduced the minimum wage, when we introduced the education maintenance allowance, when we introduced sure start children’s centres, when we reduced child poverty, when we attacked pensioner poverty, when we gave trade unionists the right to be represented, the right not to be sacked for going on strike.
Part of Labour's problem is that it has made so little effort to defend the Blair and Brown years. Blair, like Harold Wilson before him, has become a nonperson despite winning multiple elections for the party.

Where Johnson was completely wrong was where he complained that Hardy is "a middle-class intellectual".

Of course he is. Labour needs middle-class intellectuals. Labour wins when it manages to persuade both the working class and middle-class intellectuals to vote for it.

Yes, it must be galling for someone like Johnson to be lectured on the meaning of socialism, but his attitude does remind you of stories about how moderate Labourites used to behave when they were in the ascendancy back in the Fifties and Sixties.

Then, if someone applied to join the party, the local membership secretary would call. If he saw books in the house the candidate would be told that the party was full.

Still, if Labour is to return to sanity, let alone government, then the party's mainstream will have to emulate Johnson's fighting spirit.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Jeremy Corbyn's New Politics

Another visit to Bonkers Hall draws to a close. Thank you for listening.

Jeremy Corbyn's New Politics

Tense scenes in the House this evening as we debate Osborne’s proposed cuts to tax credits. The motions before us arrange from total rejection, put forward by us Liberal Democrats, to the bishops’ proposal for loud tutting.

I spy an old Socialist of my acquaintance – when I first knew him he was generally to be found on picket lines with Mary Berry and I would have offered long odds against his taking the ermine, but you know what Socialists are. “I expect you will be voting with us this time,” I say brightly. “Oh no,” he replies, “We are all going to abstain. It’s Jeremy Corbyn’s New Politics.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary
  • We are not downhearted
  • How the Lib Dems won Loch Ness
  • Freddie, Fiona and four-cornered liberalism
  • Mary Berry is unmasked
  • "I'm a Jihadi, Daddy"
  • Jeremy Corbyn alone on the opposition front bench

    This is what it looks like if you defy your party whip 500 times and then become its leader.
    Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

    Monday, November 23, 2015

    Recently lost railways 1

    The first of four parts (I spoil you. I know) of a video that looks at lines that were closed in the decade between the late 1970s and late 1980s.

    This first part looks at the Woodhead route, the lost electrified line between Sheffield and Manchester.

    I travelled on this line several times when it was used for Sunday diversions between the two cities while I was a student in York, and part of it was used by the Sheffield to Huddersfield service.

    The video looks at a number of other lines, including the remarkable branch along the seafront to Weymouth Harbour.

    Six of the Best 553

    Richard Kemp has little time for the mayor of Liverpool.

    Raymond Smith speaks up for the Green Belt: "The Green Belt may not have turned out quite as it was planned, but it is increasingly used for urban recreation and, if protected, could be of ever greater environmental value.

    "During the latter half of the 1930s, a surprising number of Nazi-themed summer camps sprouted across the United States. Organized locally and without the support of Germany, these summer outings bore a startling resemblance to the Hitler Youth." George Dvorsky on a forgotten slice of American history.

    Yes you should drag your children round museums, says John Lanchester.

    Lynne About Loughborough is pleased by the opening up of the town's Old Bleach Yard.

    Wales Online has some fascinating photographs of lost towns, villages and neighbourhoods in Wales - some of them "dismantled for English gain," as it puts it.

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: "I'm a Jihadi, Daddy"

    Another diary entry from Rutland's most popular fictional peer, first published in Liberator magazine. This one proved scarily prophetic.

    "I'm a jihadi, Daddy"

    This evening I attend a viewing of a sparkling new print of one of my favourite Oakham Studios films.

    Set amid the trad jazz boom of the early 1960s, it is nevertheless the hard-hitting story of a schoolgirl (played by the young Helen Shapiro) who is radicalised by a penfriend and eventually travels to Syria to take part in the armed conflict there.

    I feel sure that ‘I’m a Jihadi, Daddy’ will win itself a whole new generation of viewers.

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

    Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary<
    • We are not downhearted
    • How the Lib Dems won Loch Ness
    • Freddie, Fiona and four-cornered liberalism
    • Mary Berry is unmasked
    • Sunday, November 22, 2015

      Vanished Leicester: St Nicholas Street

      Copyright © Dennis Calow
      Writing of the Leicester parish of St Nicholas in 1958, the Victoria County History for Leicestershire said:
      The main thoroughfare of the parish is St. Nicholas Street, which joins High Street and Applegate Street and leads to the West Bridge.
      The photograph above show St Nicholas Street in 1962.

      Today it has vanished, lost somewhere under the road system of St Nicholas Circle.

      Tim Farron sounds the right note on economics

      Tim Farron gave a major speech on economics at the Institute for Public Policy Research in London on Thursday.

      He set out three principles which he said will govern Liberal Democrat economic policy for the next five years:
      • Invest now in infrastructure 
      • Back enterprise 
      • Take the long view
      His take on the second principle is particularly good:
      The fact is that the Tories aren’t really pro-free market capitalism at all. They are pro-corporate capitalism. 
      They are there to fight not for entrepreneurs, not for innovators who oil the wheels of the market, but for the status quo. 
      Don’t believe me? Look, not at what they say, but what they do. 
      An opportunity to cut taxes on business? Go for corporation tax to benefit the very largest of companies, not help small start-ups to grow. 
      An opportunity to diversify the energy sector? Withdraw the subsidies for renewables that would give small start-ups the opportunity to challenge the big six energy companies. 
      An opportunity to change banking as the major shareholder in RBS? 
      Rather than use the chance to create a real, diverse, regional banking sector, sell the stake at a loss and keep the bank intact as yet another too-big-to-fail institution, ill-equipped to finance small businesses.
      This manages to sound anti-Conservative without sounding soggy or socialist or corporatist.

      At the same time, it poses a challenge to economic liberals in our party.

      For economic liberalism should be a radical creed. It should involve the breaking up of monopolies and the introduction of competition of markets that are dominated by a few big players.

      Too often, however, they make it sound like a slightly exasperated defence of the status quo. They give the impression that they resent any questioning existing concentrations of power in the economy.

      Tim's speech points a way forward for all Liberal Democrats. I hope the party will unite around it.

      Lord Bonkers' Diary: Mary Berry is unmasked

      Marry Berry is unmasked

      There was outrage at the identity of the finalists of the Great British Bake Off and, though it was an ugly affair, I am pleased that Mary Berry was finally unmasked as the left-wing troublemaker she has always been.

      For, I can exclusively reveal, ‘Red Mary’ has been behind every politically motivated strike, every violent demonstration and every act of industrial sabotage in Britain for decades. And who do people imagine baked the macaroons for the Angry Brigade?

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

      Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

      Simon Dupree and the Big Sound: Like the Sun Like the Fire

      I have written before about the first single I ever bought: Kites by Simon Dupree and the Big Sound. It seems my preference for Mellotrons and psychedelia was present from the start.

      There is a good entry on the band on All Music:
      "Simon Dupree" was vocalist Derek Shulman, one of a trio of brothers (Ray and Phil being the other two) from Portsmouth, England, who started out in music as R&B fanatics and first formed a group in 1964. 
      Their musical interests can be glimpsed by the choices that the Shulman brothers made between 1964 and 1965 in naming their bands, which included the Howling Wolves and the Road Runners. 
      Those names aside, their repertoire was focused a lot more on the songs of Wilson Pickett, Don Covay, and Otis Redding than on the Wolf or Bo Diddley. "Simon Dupree & the Big Sound" came about in the course of their search for a flashy name.
      And it explains how an R&B outfit came to record Kites:
      Then, in October of 1967, the group's management and record label decided to try moving Simon Dupree & the Big Sound in the direction of psychedelia. It's entirely possible that they were looking at the huge sales and international recognition suddenly accruing to the Moody Blues, an R&B-turned-psychedelic outfit who had gone from near-oblivion to scoring a pair of hit albums and singles with their new sound. 
      The result was "Kites," a song recorded in the early fall of 1967 at Abbey Road. The bandmembers were unhappy with the new song and the sound they were being asked to create, but they tried to make the best of it - they experimented with a Mellotron for the first time, and used it pretty much as impressively as the Moody Blues did. The melody was Asian-sounding, and the presence of actress Jackie Chan reciting some poetry over the music didn't detract from the single's "Eastern" sound. 
      "Kites" wasn't R&B, but it was the right song at the right time, and it made the British Top Ten, a major commercial breakthrough for the group.
      The Shulman brothers later formed the prog rock band Gentle Giant.

      If they were in Abbey Road in the autumn of 1967 then they may well have coincided with the Zombies as they made Odessey and Oracle. And the Mellotron on Kites may be the one John Lennon left at the studios after recording Sergeant Pepper, which the Zombies made such good use of.

      Listening to Kites today, it isn't very good. In fact I prefer the B side.

      Saturday, November 21, 2015

      Hatfield to St Albans in 1968

      This silent video shows the Hatfield to St Albans in line in 1968, the last year that goods trains operated along it. Passenger services had ended back in 1951.

      Remember kids: Don't trespass on the railway, even if you are sure Dr Beeching has closed it.

      Jim Slater and British chess

      The financier Jim Slater, whose rise and fall were once the talk of the City, died on Wednesday.

      His Telegraph obituary says:
      Slater remained a chess enthusiast all his life, and counted his sponsorship of British chess as one of his proudest achievements.
      There is more about that sponsorship on Slater's own website, which began in the aftermath of the Fischer vs Spassky world title match when the game was on the front page of every newspaper.

      In fact Slater played an important part in ensuring that the match took place at all:
      While preparations were being made for the World Championship in Iceland, Fischer began complaining about the prize money which he thought should be doubled. 
      “I was driving into London early one Monday morning in mid-July feeling disappointed that after all this build-up Fischer might not be taking on Spassky, when it suddenly occurred to me that I could easily afford the extra prize money personally. As well as providing me with a fascinating spectacle for the next few weeks it would give chess players throughout the world enormous pleasure for the match to proceed."
      Chess players should thank Slater for that if nothing else.

      He then turned his attention to promoting the game in Britain:
      A few months later, in an endeavour to help our young players, Jim Slater offered on behalf of The Slater Foundation to give a prize of £5,000 (over £50,000 in today’s money) to the first British Grandmaster and £2,500 to each of the next four. Over the next few years Great Britain progressed from having no Grandmasters to twenty with one of the strongest teams of young chess players in the world.
      When that time was offered the idea of a British grandmaster seemed fanciful, but Tony Miles claimed the £5000 in 1976. Soon there were dozens of British GMs - two from Leicester alone.

      Since then, chess in Britain has been in serious decline. I once discussed the reasons for that decline on this blog.

      Yesterday Stephen Moss examined the problem in the Guardian. His one firm conclusion is that there is no longer any money in the British game.

      Which brings us back to Jim Slater.

      Lord Bonkers' Diary: Freddie, Fiona and four-cornered liberalism

      Freddie, Fiona and four-cornered liberalism

      To Westminster, where I run into Freddie and Fiona, who worked in the leader’s office before the general election. They tell me they are now running a think-tank “to promote four-cornered liberalism”.

      Not recalling anything about them in the conversation of my old friend L.T. Hobhouse, I ask what these four corners are.

      “Well,” replies Freddie, “there’s economic liberalism and… and… er…” “…the other three,” Fiona finishes triumphantly.

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

      Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

      Friday, November 20, 2015

      The Zombies talk about Odessey and Oracle

      The other day I posted a video of the remarkable Zombies concert in which they played the whole of their great LP Odessey and Oracle 40 years after it was released to an unappreciative world.

      In 2012 Rod Argent, Colin Blunstone and Chris White recorded a two-part interview with the BBC.

      In part 1 they were interviewed by John Wilson.

      In part 2 they fielded questions from the audience, which included a Mr Paul Weller from Woking,

      Ambitious Liberal Democrats circle our most promising seats

      Back in September I blogged about Liberator's take on the row between Tony Greaves and Liberal Democrat Voice.

      Members of the Lib Dem Voice queued up to comment, but it was all a bit gnomic and I am not sure we were much better informed when they had.

      The good news is that peace has broken out and Tony Greaves is writing for Lib Dem Voice - on an almost daily basis.

      I imagine him and the editorial team running through flower-filled meadows hand in hand.

      The best gossip in the new Liberator concerns the people who have their eyes on some of the more promising seats for ambitious Lib Dems:
      Richmond may soon be the scene of a by-election if Tory incumbent Zac Goldsmith is either elected mayor of London or sticks to his pledge to resign if a third Heathrow runway is permitted. 
      With last May's candidate Robin Meltzer having decided not to stand again, flocks of Lib Dems are circling, some from as far afield as Guildford. 
      Next door in Twickenham, which Vince Cable almost held, a similar effect can be seen.
      Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceAnd then there are Yeovil and Sheffield Hallam... But to find out who has their eyes on those you will have to buy the magazine.

      You can subscribe to Liberator via its website.

      Lord Bonkers' Diary: How the Lib Dems won Loch Ness

      How the Lib Dems won Loch Ness

      A rare ray of light in the darkness for us Liberal Democrats was our capture of Loch Ness from the Scottish National Party. It would be remiss of me at this point not to pay tribute to the sterling efforts of my old friend Ruttie, the Rutland Water Monster. Her canvassing of the postal vote, I am told by those on the ground, proved particularly effective.

      As far as I can gather, what happened was this. If a local has settled down to cast his or, indeed, her postal vote, Ruttie would crane her long neck in through the window. The voter would hover his biro above the box next to the SNP candidate, at which Ruttle would give a distinct curl of the lip. Alarmed, the voter would next try the box next to our candidate, whereupon Ruttie would nod vigorously. I gather she was also extremely helpful in saving the voter the need to take the completed vote to the nearest pillar box.

      I shall do all I can to encourage the old girl to help in future by-elections, but I fear there are few wards where she has such a close family connection.

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

      Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

      Why Alastair Cook is the new Anton du Beke

      Characteristically wise words from Vic Marks, the Sage of Middle Chinnock:
      Alastair Cook ... in recent years has had almost as many partners of various shapes and sizes as Anton du Beke. Too many of them have displayed the same sense of timing as Ann Widdecombe.

      Beach declared safe in Cornwall after 'mystery substance' discovered to be seaweed

      Congratulations to the Western Morning News for winning our Headline of the Day Award (and thanks to a reader for nominating it).

      Thursday, November 19, 2015

      The last train from Skipton to Colne

      This video shows trains passing through Earby between Skipton and Colne, then the last train on this line and the track being lifted in 1970.

      The good news is that the Skipton and East Lancs Rail Action Partnership is campaigning to have the line reopened.

      Nick Harvey says the Lib Dems fell for their own propaganda

      Photo by Amanda Reynolds, Ministry of Defence
      Groupthink, says Wikipedia, is
      a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints, by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.
      After the Liberal Democrats were turned to chutney at the May 2015 general election, a number of people who had left the party in the days after the Coaliton was formed asked we had not seen the inevitable coming.

      The answer, I suspect, is groupthink.

      That is certainly the conclusion Nick Harvey comes to in an article in the new issue of Liberator:
      Somehow, though stuck at 8% in national polls, we clung to the idea that incumbency would save MPs (even though it hadn’t saved excellent councillors and MEPs). 
      Our biggest mistake in responding to that finding was to offer up a diet of backward-looking selfcongratulation on what we had achieved in coalition. There were indeed many Lib Dem achievements in office of which we should be proud, and no one else would blow the trumpet for them. But many were in the earlier years so no longer news, and all were by definition done with Tory consent so they had shared credit in some cases. 
      Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceAbove all, voters simply aren’t motivated by gratitude, as Paddy regularly acknowledged. Yet on and on we warbled like a cracked record.
      You can subscribe to Liberator via the magazine's website.

      Lord Bonkers' Diary: We are not downhearted

      It is time again to visit Rutland's most celebrated fictional peer.

      We are not downhearted

      All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey; if the weather carries on like this, the Well-Behaved Orphans will soon be needing shoes. I sit by the Library fire as Meadowcroft dibbles and hoes outside – or whatever it is he does at this time of year. Flocks of hamwees are massing before leaving to winter in Africa, unless they have just arrived to winter here. Or are they wheways? I never can tell the difference.

      Let us be honest: 2015 was not a good year for the Liberal Democrats, much as 1883 was not a good year for the island of Krakatoa. We are not, however, downhearted. The darkest hour is just before dawn, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step (as Mr Mao who ran the takeaway in Melton Mowbray used to put it) and God moves in a mysterious way and all that.

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

      The cat as author

      This may well be the greatest tweet ever.

      Wednesday, November 18, 2015

      The original Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

      This remarkable pile is the original Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. Built in the 1870s, it burnt down in March 1926.

      Some of its structure survives and now forms part of the Swan Theatre, which stands next to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

      Six of the Best 552

      Cicero's Songs explains what nationalism is doing to Scotland: "The centralisation of the police force and emergency services was done, not to deliver better or safer services, but to reinforce the power of nationalist politicians in Edinburgh against the perceived threat of London."

      Councils are powerless to stop housing development yet everyone says we need more houses built. Shaun Spiers offers an explanation of this paradox.

      "When Andrew was 15, the medications caught up with him and he suffered a rare complication from one of them, Seroquel. One Friday he was well enough to go to school; on Sunday he was brain-dead." Nicholas Kristof on drugs, greed and a dead boy.

      Norbert Schürer surveys the state of Tolkien criticism today.

      There was a lot more to Warren Mitchell than Alf Garnett, says Terence Towles Canote.

      Peter Ashley appreciates Lyveden New Bield in Northamptonshire.

      Jim Wallace to give first Charles Kennedy Memorial Lecture

      Tomorrow in Fort William Jim Wallace, leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, will give the inaugural Charles Kennedy Memorial Lecture as part of Lochaber Ideas Week.

      The title of his lecture is "A Highland Style of Politics: How Charles Kennedy’s Highland heritage shaped him, his politics and his life".

      More on

      Tuesday, November 17, 2015

      The Zombies: Odessey and Oracle 40th Anniversary Concert

      The Zombies' album Odessey and Oracle was released in 1968 to critical indifference. When Time of the Season became a sleeper hit in America 18 months later, it was too late: the band had already split up.

      Today it is regarded as one of the great albums of the Sixties and modern musicians queue up to pay tribute to it.

      And then something wonderful happened. As Wikipedia tells it:
      In March 2008, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the album's release, the four surviving members performed Odessey and Oracle in its entirety for three shows at the Shepherds Bush Empire in London. 
      They were joined by Keith Airey, Darian Sahanaja and various friends. The Zombies were insistent on recreating the sound as authentically as possible, hence the extra singers, Sahanaja filling in keyboard and mellotron parts via use of a Memotron, and Argent himself playing an original mellotron on a couple of numbers. 
      Argent also tracked down a Victorian pump organ dating from 1896 so they could recreate White's "Butcher's Tale", the original organ having long since been given away or sold by White.
      Today I found a video of this concert and it is every bit as good as people said at the time. And you can sense the love coming from the audience too. Enjoy it as a midweek musical bonus.

      Andrew Hickey reviewed the reunion concert in Manchester, and I saw the usual modern incarnation of the band in Harborough in 2011.

      And this is what the band looked like in 1965.

      Help needed for Market Harborough by-election

      A by-election will take place in Market Harborough Logan ward on Thursday 10 December. If follows the recent death of the Liberal Democrat councillor Pete Callis.

      The Lib Dem candidate in the by-election will be Barbara Johnson, a former councillor with a long history of campaigning in the community.

      We are keen to hold this seat, and it also forms part of a marginal county council ward which we just lost last time round.

      If you can give an hour or two to deliver or canvass in Logan ward your help will be well used. Please ring Barbara on 07854 029855 for directions and to let her know you are coming.

      Logan ward is named after this blog's hero J.W. Logan, who once started a fight in the House of Commons (or at least after the street that was named after him).

      And pubs? There is an unspoilt backstreet local, the Admiral Nelson, in the ward and you can visit the mighty Beerhouse on the way back to the station.  

      Keith Vaz floats the idea of a new blasphemy law

      From the National Secular Society website:
      Labour MP Keith Vaz has expressed his support for the reintroduction of UK blasphemy laws – provided they "apply equally to everybody." 
      His comments were reportedly made at an event organised by the Muslim Council of Britain to explore responses to terrorism and extremism, held in London on 12 November.
      The report goes on to say:
      Vaz went on to give contradictory answers about his views, saying that there should not be blasphemy laws in the UK, before adding, "If somebody brings it forward in parliament I'll vote for it… Obviously it depends what's in the bill. But I have no objection to it being brought before parliament and having a debate about it."
      It should be remembered that Mr Vaz has a talent for saying what he thinks a particular audience wants to hear. Take his contributions to the debate on Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses.

      Monday, November 16, 2015

      Disused railway stations in Buckinghamshire

      And then there's...

      Devon, Bedfordshire, North LincolnshireEast Sussex, Leicestershire, Herefordshire, Hampshire, Cumbria, Cambridgeshire, Kent, Lincolnshire, Cornwall, Rutland. Northumberland, Shropshire, SuffolkEast Riding of Yorkshire, Norfolk, Wiltshire, Hertfordshire, Northamptonshire, DurhamGlasgowStaffordshireDerbyshire and Edinburgh.

      Why is the Sun trying to make us panic over Paris?

      The answer, I suppose, is that they think it will sell more newspapers.

      A Sun report on what turned out to be two unfounded bomb scares in Birmingham is headed:

      Britain gripped by fear with TWO bomb scares in Birmingham 

      Britain is not gripped by fear and it is irresponsible, even unpatriotic, to say we are.

      This seems a good time to repeat what I wrote in the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings in London:
      I lived in London for a couple of years in the 1980s, working for some of the time in the big department stores at the height of an IRA bombing campaign. When there was a bomb warning - and they were almost daily events - we each searched our own little part of the building and then carried on with business as usual. 
      This gave me some modest understanding of what London must have been like in the Second World War, and I am sure it is the spirit that the city will show after the terrorist outrages yesterday.

      Sunday, November 15, 2015

      Second Thoughts: Combating juvenile delinquency in Market Harborough in 1961

      A precious find in the British Film Institute's Britain on Film collection. It is pinned to Melton Mowbray on their map, which is why I have only just found it.

      As the BFI's blurb for Second Thoughts says:
      Two teenagers are in a cafe in Market Harborough feeding the juke box with coins as the clientele dance energetically (it's a silent film so we'll have to imagine the music). Their funds run out, so they help themselves to the collection from a nearby church.
      Making their escape, they take refuge in the local Methodist youth club. Can these juvenile delinquents be saved by healthy outdoor activities and plenty of table tennis? An amateur fable with an age-old message.
      The church is the town's Methodist church. This run-of-the-mill piece of Victorian gothic was demolished in the 1980s so a more modest church could be built on the same site.

      It would also be interesting to know where the cafe was, and the later scenes in the film with in the film must have been shot in Harborough too.

      Anyway, click on the still above to be taken to this silent gem. Think of it as Market Harborough's answer to Ray Brooks and David Hemmings in Some People. It was made by the town's Methodist youth club.

      Jailed: Farmer who told police dead neighbour was driving

      The Shropshire Star wins Headline of the Day.

      I can believe the dead drive cars around Ludlow, but the Devon and Cornwall Police were never going to buy this excuse.

      Some background to the row over Chris Rennard, Liberal Democrat peers and the Federal Executive

      I have to declare an interest, in that I have known Chris Rennard for more than 30 years, but I agree with Mark Pack's view that the last thing we should be doing is distancing Liberal Democrat peers from the rest of the party.

      I also believe it is a misbegotten idea to change the party constitution just because you don't like the successful candidate in a particular contest.

      But a post on this blog from February of last year may give some useful background to the current row. As the BBC documentary is still online I am reproducing it in full.
      I have just listened to the second part of Steve Richards' Radio 4 documentary Nick Clegg: The Liberal Who Came to Power.

      The press coverage beforehand concentrated on Jeremy Browne's opposition to the idea of selling ourselves as the party of the centre and on Shirley Williams observation that Nick likes to surround himself with young people, not all of whom are particularly competent - Simon Titley's belligerent youths.

      I agree with both, but Shirley Williams said something else important that the pre-broadcast coverage missed.

      She said that Nick Clegg has a low opinion of the House of Lords.

      I was talking to a peer in London the other week - as one does - and was told that relations between Nick and the Lib Dem group in the Lords are not good. The peers feel they are required to do a lot of hard work to improve the poor (and often illiberal) legislation the Commons sends to them and do not get the recognition from Nick that they deserve. 
      This poor feeling between Nick and the Lords, I was told, in part explains the poisonous progress of the Rennard affair. Many Lib Dem peers are inclined to stand by one of their own because of it.
      Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceNote, too, Caron's second comment: "And, actually, one other person who has been very critical of the Lords is Mr Farron. There is no love lost."

      The day I told Petula Clark how much I like Downtown

      Today is Petula Clark's birthday. Many happy returns.

      This gives me the excuse to repeat an anecdote that appeared on this blog in July 2008:
      It must have been about 10 years ago, when I was acting as press officer for the Malcolm Saville Society. The Society was planning a visit to West End Farm at Wheathampstead, because that was where the film Trouble at Townsend, based on a book by Saville and starring a very young Petula Clark, was made in 1946. Thanks to the Society, incidentally, you can now buy a DVD of the film. 
      Anyway, before the visit I drafted a release about it for the local papers and decided it would look better with a quote from Petula Clark. So I found an e-mail address for her agent and dropped him a line. 
      A couple of weeks later my mobile went at work and a voice said "Hello, this is Petula Clark." 
      I can therefore boast that I have told Petula Clark what a great record I think "Downtown" is - surely one of the things everyone should do before they die? It may not have been the most tactful thing to say - her reply was "I have made other records, you know" - but I am glad I did it.
      What I should have added was that she gave me a good quote for the release.

       Take it away, Pet...

      Average White Band: Pick Up the Pieces

      In Against the Grain Norman Baker remembers an unsuccessful gig by his band The Reform Club:
      As well as members of the band, we had roped in Archy Kirkwood, the Lib Dem MP for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, on guitar, and Chris Berry, our Eastbourne candidate, on keyboards. 
      Archy was a competent rhythm guitarist and had been in a Scottish band in the 1960s, half of which went on to be the Average White Band, though not Archy's half.
      In 1974 the Average White Band reached no. 1 in America with this single.

      That was a rare feat for a British band in that era, perhaps because our charts were dominated by trashy glam rock.

      The funky Pick Up the Pieces is a class above all that. Here is the AWB playing it a few years later at the Montreux Jazz Festival.

      Saturday, November 14, 2015

      Carol White played the young Sibella in Kind Hearts and Coronets

      Carol White was a significant actress in the 1960s, appearing in the television play Cathy Come Home* and films like Poor Cow. Sadly she experienced problems with drink and drugs and died in 1991 aged only 48.

      She began acting as a child and made a brief appearance as the young Sibella in Kind Hearts and Coronets. Thanks to Aveleyman for the screen capture.

      Now read about the former Liberal MP who appeared in the same film.

      * Thus inspiring Tim Farron to enter politics.

      Sandi Thom should walk to Market Harborough

      From The Herald:
      Scots singer Sandi Thom has claimed that Radio 2 will not play her new record because the BBC is anti-Scottish. 
      Thom posted an emotional, expletive-ridden rant on Facebook that went viral on Wednesday after the station refused to play her new single Earthquake. 
      The Banff singer songwriter has now claimed that the BBC does not represent Scottish artists. 
      She told STV’s Scotland Tonight: “This week on the Radio 2 playlist, there are no Scottish artists. This is not due to a lack of talent coming from Scotland. There is a massive bias in the BBC network, not just Radio 2, against Scottish artists.”
      It happens that there is a well-established procedure for Scottish artists who think themselves undervalued. I gave an example of it from 1963 in a post here a few years ago:
      The Mark Five, featuring Manny Charlton who later plays in Nazareth, walk from Edinburgh to London, hitching a ride whenever photographers were not present. The walk is a publicity stunt to protest about the lack of record companies coming to Scotland to see Scottish bands, and a ploy to demand a record deal. 
      They are met in Market Harborough by a record company executive and offered a contract.
      So the answer is clear, Sandi. Get your walking boots on and we'll see you in Harborough.

      Crickhowell goes offshore to stage a tax protest

      From Friday's Independent:
      Over the past few months, a handful of Crickhowell business owners visited Amsterdam and the Isle of Man, where some large companies base themselves for tax reasons. They have set up two offshore holding companies in preparation for the launch of the scheme, which is currently being scrutinised by HMRC, the video reveals. 
      Their journey will be detailed in a forthcoming BBC documentary called The Town That Went Offshore. 
      "Crickhowell has become the country’s first Fair Tax Town – a little piece of offshore in the heart of the Welsh countryside,” the video’s narrator says, adding that their campaign is based around the simple philosophy that “either we all pay tax, or none of us do".
      There is more in the Financial Times:
      Many tax experts say it is the traders’ own scheme that is unworkable. The most outspoken critic is Richard Murphy, a prominent campaigner against tax avoidance, who advised Jeremy Corbyn on his Labour leadership campaign. He compares it with "protesting about street crime by going out to do some street crime: irresponsible". 
      Samantha Devos of Number Eighteen café says the criticism misses the point. Citing the example of Facebook, which paid less than £5,000 in corporate tax last year, she insists that spending cuts would not be needed if big companies paid their tax. The offshore project is about raising awareness, she says. "We are trying to create a level playing field."
      It is somehow typical that Labour should find itself on the wrong side of the debate when small shopkeepers - call them Middle Wales - come over all radical.