Sunday, January 31, 2016

How Nick Clegg was nearly toppled in 2014

The new Liberator is out, which means a limited amount of copy from it is available on the magazine's website.

From there you can download a PDF of an article by Seth Thévoz - "A Very Nearly Successful Coup."

It tells the story of the attempt to topple Nick Clegg as Liberal Democrat leader and argues that it came far nearer to succeeding that was generally realised at the time:
What destroyed the coup was when the second wave of MPs got ‘the wobbles’. A disciplined media grid had set out a detailed timetable of MPs who would go public in waves of two or three at a time, staggered with other parliamentarians, to build a sense of momentum. 
On day one, a members’-led open letter calling on Clegg to resign was released as per the plan. (This was never a petition as claimed – it was an open letter which envisioned 20 signatures. It accidentally secured over 400.) 
On day two, the first two MPs went ‘over the top’, publicly calling for Clegg’s resignation, and were joined by a third MP who wasn’t scheduled to declare until several days later, jumping the gun.
Then on day three, we were badly let down by one MP. The response of his colleagues was “If he’s not going, I’m out” – which spread like a chain reaction among MPs and peers. The activists roped in to do the MPs’ dirty work were left holding the baby.
Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceThe moral is clear. If you want to know what is going on in the Liberal Democrats you should subscribe to Liberator.

Disused railway stations in Bradford, Calderdale and Wakefield

A varied selection from this part of West Yorksshire.

I can remember Altofts being open - it closed in 1990.

There are lots more of these videos on this blog. Find them on the Disused Stations label.

Wellington Womble: Rainmaker

On I promised a Sunday music choice inspired by the great drought of 1976. And here it is.

The other day I was followed on Twitter by Mike Batt, the man behind The Wombles. They were the biggest selling British band of 1974 - and if you look at what else was in the charts that year, you can see why.

By 1976 drugs, Bungo's relationship with a Japanese conceptual artist and the inevitable differences over musical direction had caused the furry creatures to fall out with one another.

The result was that Wellington Womble tried a solo career with a song called Rainmaker. It turns out not be a cover of the Traffic song but a topical song inspired by the drought.

Sadly, it was not a hit.

But the exciting news is that The Wombles are coming back.

Lord Lucan, John Aspinall and George Osborne

A new theory about what happened Lord Lucan after he murdered Sandra Rivett in 1974 emerged this week.

According to the Daily Mail, he shot himself and was then fed to a tiger at John Aspinall's zoo in Kent.

I don't believe a word of it, but the Lucan story has always fascinated me.

The best picture of John Aspinall is to be found in John Pearson's The Gamblers, but a few quotes will suffice.

Here is the Daily Express from 2013:
"Aspinall was a total crook," says Sir Rupert [Mackeson] now. "He started in the days when gambling was illegal away from racecourses. His mother Lady Osborne was a real force behind the operation." 
Aspinall and his mother were charged with "keeping a common gaming house" but were acquitted on a technicality in 1958. ... 
Aspinall opened the Clermont in 1962 after gambling had been legalised and its founder members included five dukes, five marquesses and nearly 20 earls. 
Aspinall was determined to relieve the bluebloods of their money and use the funds to finance his private zoo where he bred tigers. 
"He employed crooked dealers and used a wide range of techniques for cheating," says Sir Rupert. "He encouraged rich people, young aristocrats and in particular rich divorcees, to come to his club. A lot of people were ruined. Lucan lost a fortune and so became a house player for Aspinall."
Some of the money Aspinall fleeced from the aristocracy went to fund his zoos and wildlife breeding projects. But lest you feel too warm to him about that, read this anonymous blog post:
Both Howletts and Port Lympne seemed to attract human disaster. Aspinall's daughter-in-law, Louise, was bitten by a tiger cub and needed 15 stitches. A boy of 10 had his arm ripped off by a chimpanzee at Port Lympne, and was awarded £132,000 in damages. Bindu, an English bull elephant, crushed a "bonding" keeper to death at Howletts and later Darren Cockrill, who was crushed by an elephant at Port Lympne in February 2001. 
In 1994, the local council banned the keepers from entering the tiger cages after one of their number, Trevor Smith, was killed at Howletts.
My reason for writing about Aspinall, beyond the Lucan and tiger story, is his mother. Because Lady Osborne is also the grandmother of George Osborne.

Her first husband was Dr Robert Aspinall and John was the child of that marriage (though John is said to have discovered in later life that he was not Robert's son and to have found and supported his real father).

Her second was Sir George Osborne. They had four children together, and George Osborne is the son of the third of them.

He was famously christened Gideon, but changed his name to George, in honour of his grandfather who was dead by then, at the age of 13.

So that is my Trivial Fact of the Day.

It also explains why you can find headlines like:

Lord Lucan 'told George Osborne's grandmother he was planning to kill his WIFE days before he murdered his nanny and then drowned himself days later'

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Karl Popper interviewed on Channel 4 in 1988 - part 3

We have reached the second Uncertain Truth programme.

This video is the first half of that programme. This time Popper is in conversation with John Eccles.

Watch part 1.

Watch part 2.

Big Brother in a Northamptonshire park

I came across this notice in a park in sunny Rothwell this morning. How long have the authorities felt themselves free to use such totalitarian imagery?

When I was a child I acquired the idea that not having to have an identity card was part of our reward for winning the war. As a teenager it seemed almost a moral duty to read Nineteen Eight-Four to learn about the sort of society Britain Was Not Like.

Today we have lost this instinct for defining ourselves by contrasting Britain with tyrannies. The Soviet Union has gone, while drawing parallels with Nazi Germany makes the cool kids laugh at you. Godwin's law and all that.

Note too the subject matter of this notice. Have a million Focus leaflets demanding that councils do something about minor nuisances brought us to this? Must Liberals and Liberal Democrats bear a share of the blame?

Whatever the reason, we have won the victory over ourselves. We love Big Brother

Row over the 'African grave' at Bishop's Castle

There are some remarkable graves in Bishop's Castle churchyard in Shropshire.

One of them, as this video from the Shropshire Star shows, is currently the cause of controversy:
A wood and perspex cover protecting the Grade II-listed “African grave” may have to be removed as it does not have permission to be there. 
But the locals who made the cover and put it there to save the 200-year-old monument say action needs to be taken now to stop it eroding further. 
The grave belongs to a man only identified as ID, who is said to be a native of Africa who died in Bishop’s Castle on September 9 1801.
Such monuments have to be looked after, but the locals say the cover is only temporary.

It is hard not to see this incident as a new Ealing Comedy. An inspector, perhaps played by Raymond Huntley, is dispatched to Shropshire to call the locals to heel.

Once there he is plied with beer from The Three Tuns, shown the wrong churchyard and sent back to Whitehall defeated.

And this part of Shropshire is one of the few places in England where you can still imagine this happening.

I recently saw an old episode of The Green, Green Grass of Home, which is set in the county. An American who had been stationed there as a serviceman decades before wanted to go round the village to see how it had changed.

"Oh it's not changed, sir," came the reply. "If anything it's more like it was now than it was then."

Friday, January 29, 2016

Phyllis Nicklin's photographs of Birmingham

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know the weakness I have for photographs of buildings and street scenes from the mid 20th century.

So the work of Phyllis Nicklin was bound to appeal to me.

She was the staff tutor in Geography in the University of Birmingham's former Department of Extra Mural Studies in the 1950s and 1960s.

She died in post in 1969, leaving behind thousands of slides she had taken for her classes.

The video above, made for a recent exhibition in Birmingham, celebrates her work.

The Saddleworth air crash of 1949

Earlier this week Newsnight reported on a mystery - you can see the report below.

On 11 December a man travelled from Ealing Broadway to Euston and then caught the train to Manchester. He then made his way to Saddleworth Moor, where his body was found the next day.

He has still not been identified, which is mysterious enough. But, as Newsnight reported, Greater Manchester Police have added to the mystery.

Perhaps fuelled by watching too many reruns of Lewis on ITV3, they have suggested that the man's death may be connected with an air crash that took place near where the body was found.

In 1949 a British European Airways Douglas DC-3 on a flight from Belfast Nutts Corner Airport to Manchester came down at Saddleworth. You can see some scraps of footage of the wreckage above.

The crew and 21 of the 29 passengers on board died. But among the survivors were two little boys. That is what interested the police. Could one of them be the mystery body, grown old and gone back for a final pilgrimage to the site of the crash?

The boy survivors were Stephen Evans (5) and Michael Prestwich (2).

Michael, the 2016 press agrees, died at the age of 12 in a railway accident. It sounds as though he did not have the misfortune to be caught up in two disasters but was hit by a train on the way home from school.

A search of The British Newspaper Archive does not reveal a report of his death, but does throw up headlines like 'Michael (2) gets family fortune' and 'Boy who survived air crash inherits £35,000,' because the rest of his family died at Saddleworth.

But could the body be Stephen Evans?

No. Because, as Newsnight revealed, he is now a distinguished professor and lives on the south coast.

The latest theory is that the mystery man is Hugh Toner from Armagh, who has not seen his family for 20 years.

The moral, as ever, is that the recent past is a stranger place than we think and that stories that once hogged the headlines are soon forgotten.

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Ed Miliband has an article on inequality in the London Review of Books.

"If you criticise the party of government, you become a pariah - all of a sudden, you're faced with a deluge of SNP warriors to defend yourself against. What is becoming of democracy in Scotland if this is the situation that we have been left in?" Jordan Daly on life in post-referendum Scotland.

David Brindle talks to Brian Rix, who was 92 this week, about his two careers: farceur and activist for people with learning disabilities.

Labour peer Lord Berkeley warns against a pause in Network Rail's work to protect and improve the route to the South West.

Roger Mills introduces us Lilian Bowes Lyon, the Queen Mother's rebel cousin.

The Liverbirds were Britain's first all-female rock band. Paul Fitzgerald describes how they found fame in Hamburg.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Shirley Williams retires from the Lords 62 years after fighting her first parliamentary election

From BBC News:
Baroness Williams has delivered her final speech to the House of Lords before retiring from the chamber. 
In her speech she talked of the UK's "special genius" for "great public sector imagination" and international leadership. 
The former education secretary said she hoped the UK would continue to play that leadership role by staying within the European Union.
You can watch a video of the speech below.

Above you can see a photo of her in 1954 when, as Shirley Catlin, she fought and lost a by-election in the Harwich constituency for Labour.

David Boyle on 'Scandal: How homosexuality became a crime'

We all know that homosexuality was largely decriminalised in  England and Wales by the Sexual Offences Act of 1967. (Scotland and Northern Ireland followed later.) But we know little about how it was criminalised in the first place.

That episode is the subject of Scandal: How homosexuality became a crime, a new book by David Boyle.

I recently spoke to David about the forgotten history he has uncovered.

Your book shows that homosexuality was criminalised suddenly, and rather unexpectedly, in the summer of 1885. How did that come about? 

 The story goes back to the Phoenix Park murders of 1882, when republican terrorists stabbed the Irish Secretary to death – accidentally, as it turned out: he happened to be walking with the intended victim.

The murders shocked the public on both sides of the Irish Sea, and to claw back the moral high ground, Irish Nationalist MPs launched a campaign to identify homosexuals in the Irish government, or part of the establishment in Dublin in some way – starting with the senior detective in charge of the Phoenix Park case, James Ellis French. The campaign led to huge torchlight processions and mass demonstrations, with bands, in many towns and cities of Ireland.

Most of the defendants were acquitted – the main issue at stake was whether it was physically possible to commit sodomy in a hansom cab (sodomy was the only charge that could be brought at that time, which had been illegal since Henry VIII but was, for obvious reasons, hard to prove).

The so-called ‘Dublin scandals’ barely ruffled feathers in London, except among campaigners linked to the Irish nationalist cause, or political friends of their parliamentary leader, Charles Stewart Parnell. Among these, the maverick Liberal radical MP Henry Labouchère, was particularly frustrated that sodomy had been so difficult to convict.

So when the opportunity arose the following summer in 1885, as the Criminal Law Amendment Act - designed to raise the age of consent for women from 12 - crawled through Parliament, Labouchère seized his chance. His amendment was debated at night in a few minutes and only one MP queried whether it was relevant to the debate. But for the next eight decades, it put men – it only applied to men – in a perilous position if they loved anyone of their own gender.

And you found that you had a family connection with these events...

Well, I always knew my family was basically Irish, and I always knew the old story about how my banker great-great-grandfather escaped from Dublin wearing a false nose in 1884. Why he went, and what he had been afraid of, had been lost in the mists of time – except that his photo remains torn out of the family album.

But now that Victorian Irish newspapers can be read online, I was finally been able to uncover some clues – and following them was what led me to this strange story about the Labouchere amendment and what followed. I was looking for something else entirely when I absent-mindedly put the name ‘Richard Boyle’ into the search engine at the British Library, and read for the first time the phrase ‘Dublin Scandals’, which dominated the Irish press that summer.

It took me some time to track down what happened to him later, feeling reluctant to reveal what he had tried so hard to hide, but I couldn’t leave the trail alone. I tracked him to a new career as a stained glass artist, among the glass industry in Camberwell, and – among other revelations – living with a man who was with him when he died, during the terrible London smog of Christmas week 1900.

But I also found strong evidence that he fled a second time, in the spring of 1895.

Is it right to say the new law did not much have much effect until the trial of Oscar Wilde in 1895? 

There were prosecutions, but there was something about Wilde’s arrest that turned public concern on the issue into outright moral panic. The Dublin scandals were the first gay political scandal. Ten years later, something about the moral climate made it ripe for this kind of sexual witch-hunts. 

Contemporary letters imply that many others fled the night Wilde was arrested – maybe many hundreds of them: one correspondent reported that there were 600 passengers queuing for the Calais ferry. There were reports about well-known names seen in Paris or Nice or other parts of the continent for the rest of the year, and rumours of a major purge of the establishment. It was linked with the fall of Rosebery’s Liberal government a few months later.

It may be that this was an unprecedented moment of fear in modern UK history – one of the very few times people have fled (if they were wealthy enough) from London to Paris, rather than the other way around. It may even have been a unique moment of intolerance and fear in our history.

Do you see modern parallels with these events – say in the prevalence of accusations of the sexual abuse of children? 

I do. There are lessons today about the dangers of political witch-hunts about sexual behaviour, the stock-in-trade of politicians since time immemorial. Whatever the arguments for investigating child sex abuse by the establishment – and we do have to investigate – if it is used to drag down people for political reasons, these campaigns can take on a terrifying life of their own, as the events in Dublin showed.

The campaign by Irish nationalists in Dublin led directly to a bitterly illiberal law which ruined many tens of thousands of lives. We have to be careful.

I gather this is the first book from a new venture of yours – the Real Press.

I’ve been writing books for a couple of decades now and it isn’t easy to make a living that way, partly because nobody seems to have developed new ways of paying the poor authors. Well, it seems to me that it was up to people like me to develop one – and I have! I’m planning, if possible, to publish ebooks and print on demand paperbacks in line with the themes I’ve been writing about in my blog. That’s why I’ve launched (actually relaunched) The Real Press.

Scandal: Why Homosexuality Became a Crime is the first – I hope it will be one of many, fiction, non-fiction and self-help – and they won’t all be by me either!

NY rat dies in freak accident just as her Broadway career was flourishing

Thanks to a nomination from a reader, the Independent wins Headline of the Day.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Karl Popper interviewed on Channel 4 in 1988 - part 2

This is the second half of the first Uncertain Truth programme. The other participant is Ernst Gombrich.

Watch part 1.

Major upgrade of Market Harborough station to be announced

"Multi-million pound plans to upgrade a railway station to improve journey times from Leicester to London are to be unveiled on Monday," said the Leicester Mercury last week.

I can't find any announcement of these plans on the Network Rail or East Midlands trains website yet, but according to the Mercury:
The details will be outlined to Harborough District Council representatives at a closed meeting on Monday. 
The improvements, which are under wraps until after the meeting, will also include building longer platforms at Market Harborough station and building a lift to improve access for people with disabilities to the southbound platform. 
Work could start on the scheme next year.
Monday's meeting comes after the Government agreed to spend £3 million on the new lift two years ago.
The report also quotes an old friend of mine who knows about such things:
Rail users group spokesman Steve Jones said: "We have known the key elements of the scheme for some time. 
"But it is good that at last plans have been drawn up so we shall be able to see what is being proposed." 
He said: " There are two possible schemes. The big expensive one which could include building a new station beside the existing one and another smaller scheme which includes the key improvements on a pared down scale." 
Mr Jones said to straighten the bend through the station would require new tracks being laid through the existing car park. 
He added: "That would require new longer platforms to be built and the car park moved to the other side of the track."
These improvements have been in the air for a very long time. Forty years ago the new buildings on platform 1 were built at an angle to the line to allow for its later straightening. But if the scheme is really radical, they may be demolished as part of it.

The Mercury quotes a Network Rail spokesman as saying a public exhibition of the proposals for the station will be held in the town's market hall on 27 February.

Let us leave the last word to Phil Knowles, a Liberal Democrat councillor in whose ward the stations stands:
"At long last the plans to bring Harborough station into the 21st century are to be unveiled. 
"I would urge people to attend the public exhibition on February 27."

Centenary of Loughborough Zeppelin raid to be marked on Sunday

From the Loughborough Echo:
The momentous 100th anniversary of the Zeppelin raid on Loughborough, which saw 10 people killed, is being marked with a series of very special public events on the anniversary of the day the bombs were dropped - this Sunday, January 31.
I came across some of the existing commemorations of those raids last summer.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The drought of 1976

When I visited Pitsford Water last summer it looked like the picture below. But the picture above shows how it looked in the summer of 1976.

A BBC News page remembers the drought of 1976. My own strongest memory of that summer is of a coach trip to York.

The fields we passed were burnt up and there was fodder put out for the animals. And there were posters all across South Yorkshire trying to recruit men to the coal mining industry. (It was a long time ago.)

And on Sunday we shall see that at least one pop song was inspired by the drought.

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In a thoughtful post, Mark Mills reminds us that there can be pessimistic liberals as well as optimistic ones.

Matthew d'Ancona puts his finger on Labour's problem: "It is New Labour, or what remains of it, that needs to admit its faults, dismantle itself and rebuild from scratch."

"By the Victorian era, however, the formality of cat funerals had increased substantially. Bereaved pet owners commissioned undertakers to build elaborate cat caskets. Clergymen performed cat burial services. And stone masons chiseled cat names on cat headstones." Mimi Matthews on a forgotten corner of social history.

London was once powered by a vast underground hydraulic system, explains Andy Emmerson.

Tess Reidy shows us what happens to night clubs after they close down.

Adam Covell explores the landscape of M.R. James' A Warning to the Curious.

Luciana Berger shows what it will take to survive in Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party

You may have seen the front page lead of today's Guardian: a deeply worrying story about a sudden spike in the number of mental health patients dying unexpectedly in NHS care.

It was based on figures obtained by the former health minister Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk.

The Guardian quoted Norman's comment on the figures:
"Significant numbers of unexpected deaths at the Mid Staffs NHS trust caused an outcry and these figures should cause the same because they show a dramatic increase in the number of people losing their lives,” Lamb said. 
“NHS England and the government should set up an investigation into the causes of this as these figures involve tragedies for families around the country and the human impact is intense.” 
Underfunding of sometimes threadbare mental health services which are struggling to cope with rising demand for care is to blame, Lamb claimed.
One of the best things about politics since 2010 has been the new importance given to questions of mental health. This was exemplified by the 2012 debate in which MPs from both sides of the Commons spoke about their own experience of mental health problems.

So how did Luciana Berger, Labour's shadow mental health minister, respond to Norman Lamb's comments?

Let me show you:

Why did Berger break from the cross-party approach to mental health?

It is certainly not because she is a wild left-winger.

Though, as the great niece of Manny Shinwell, she has some claim to come from the working-class aristocracy, she comes from an affluent background. She attended the private Haberdashers' Aske's School for Girls (current fees £15,516 per annum).

When she was parachuted into the Liverpool Wavertree constituency just before the 2010 election she soon became a controversial figure. She was seen as a Blairite, not least because of her friendship with Euan Blair.

But being a Blairite won't do her any favours now. Not with boundary changes in the air and threats of deselection coming from Corbyn loyalists. Certainly not on Merseyside.

Hence the stupid, partisan tweet we see above.

I am sure Berger is intelligent enough to realise that this approach will alienate the moderate voters Labour needs to win over to have any hope of winning the next election.

But she is trapped. And her fellow moderate Labour MPs are trapped too until they see the opportunity and summon the courage to depose Jeremy Corbyn and his strange inner circle of Trots and Stalinists.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Modernity, High Speed Trains and opening doors

As this video shows, British Rail introduced their new High Speed Trains on the Great Western mainline in October 1976.

They were a powerful symbol of modernity and I remember being regarded with envy when I travelled from Paddington to Swansea and back on them early the following year.

Now I commute on HSTs every day. I like them better than the other stock used on the Midland mainline as they are more spacious.

Time moves on, however.

This morning I got on an HST and walked the length of the carriage looking for a suitable seat.

At the end of the next was a young woman. "Please can you tell me how to get off?"

To get off an HST you have to open the window in the door and turn the outside handle. To a generation raised on pressing buttons, this must seem extraordinarily old fashioned.

Rochdale Liberal Democrats question Simon Danczuk's expenses

From Rochdale Online:
Rochdale Lib Dems have officially complained to Parliamentary Watchdog IPSA and Greater Manchester Police about the expenses claims of Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk.  
They have alleged a 'misuse of public funds' and called for a full investigation into Mr Danczuk claiming thousands of pounds under the Parliamentary living allowance scheme. 
Mr Danczuk claimed for four 'dependants', despite not seeing his two eldest children for years. 
Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceLib Dems have claimed this is an abuse of the system and asked Greater Manchester Police to investigate.
The website has the full text of the complaint.

Rod Duncan on steampunk and The Custodian of Marvels

"Originally it was a literary genre. But it has become something far broader. Go to a steampunk festival and you’ll see people who have taken the aesthetic and applied it to fashion, model making, tabletop gaming, visual arts, music, stage performance and more."

The Leicester novelist Rod Duncan is talking about steampunk, and he is an enthusiast for it.

"Lincoln’s Weekend at the Asylum festival describes itself as the biggest steampunk gathering in Europe. It is hard to describe, but joyful to witness. Thousands of people turn up, dressed in extraordinary costumes. It is definitely worth a visit."

Which surprises me a little, as he was originally known as a crime novelist. When we met I asked him how this shift to steampunk came about.

He told me: “There’s this ideal career concept that lots of writers start off with. You write a novel, which gets snapped up by a grateful publisher, who pays enough for you to live off while you write the next in the series in the same genre. Your audience builds and… well, there are movie deals."

"My career path was different. To start with, I wrote several novels before I got a publishing deal. The first one to get picked up was a crime story. So I wrote more in the same broad genre. But when my original publishing deal was over, I found myself once again writing and failing to sell. At which point I decided to give up writing novels. Forever.

"Sooner or later though, I was bound to be drawn back. It would have made more commercial sense for me to write another contemporary crime novel. But I think I’ve probably admitted by now that this was never a realistic commercial proposition.

"The story that grabbed me first was an adventure set in a Victorianesque alternate history. It was called The Bullet Catcher's Daughter. Happily people liked it. It got published and even found its way onto the shortlist for the Philip K. Dick award."

The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter turned out to be the first in a trilogy: The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire. The third in the series, The Custodian of Marvels, is published next month. So I asked Rod about the world these books are set in.

"The alternate history of the Gas-Lit Empire branched from our more familiar history some two centuries ago. The exact divergence point is a secret you’ll need to read the books to unravel. But it is clear from the start that there was a Luddite inspired revolution, which ended with the partition of Great Britain into the Anglo-Scottish Republic and the Kingdom of England and Southern Wales.

"The new republics of France, America and Anglo-Scotland then came together to establish a treaty of mutual security and set up an International Patent Office to restrict the development of science and technology deemed ‘detrimental to the common man’.

"Two centuries have passed since then, but the progress of science and technology has been held back and distorted. That is the world in which the stories are set.”

And the Gas-Lit Empire turns out to have strong Leicester connections.

"The border between the Kingdom and the Republic is an east-west line across England. It bisects the city of Leicester, which has subsequently boomed as a haven for smugglers and ne'er-do-wells of all kinds.

"The stories are told by a refugee from the Kingdom, who lives in North Leicester, where she ekes out a living as a private investigator. The mysteries she investigates start small. But soon she finds herself caught up with the Patent Office and the secret history that sparked the creation of the Gas-Lit Empire."

Rod told me that the word ‘steampunk’ was first suggested by the American author K.W. Jeter in a letter published in Locus magazine in April 1987. Jeter offered it as a term to describe science-fiction stories set in worlds powered by steam technology.

I asked him if he saw any social or political significance in the movement that the term has given rise to.

"That’s a really interesting question. I’m not aware of a political ideology underpinning this diverse community. But some of the social features of steampunk culture are an unbridled outpouring of creativity and a willingness to project a flamboyant persona, even when others view it as eccentric. You can add to that a welcoming of diversity and an unusual spread of generations from the very young to the elderly.

"Some people have suggested that steampunk culture is problematic for its apparent glorification of the Victorian age without sufficient acknowledgement of factors like colonialism, class and sexual inequality.

"That seems unfair to me. The steampunk community is politically diverse, but it probably encompasses a greater understanding of the social and political problems of the Victorian age than is present in the general population. And it is certainly the case that the friction and dangers arising from social inequalities deliver a narrative drive to my own work."

One of the things that intrigues me about published authors these days is the use they make of the net and social media. Are they a threat or a further opportunity? So I asked Rod about this.

"My novels are published by Angry Robot Books - a small but dynamic and thoroughly modern company. Instead of being based in London or New York, their headquarters are here in the Midlands. But they operate internationally and their staff are spread across the globe. The Internet, social media and online networks of fans are central to this business model.

"As the name implies, Angry Robot specialises in science fiction and fantasy. They really understand those genres and their audiences. Everything about this company has impressed me. I can’t speak of them highly enough.

"I do use social media myself - primarily to make connections and build relationships. I’ve noticed some writers using Twitter and Facebook to spam adverts for their books. I’ve been told by some that this works, since books are sold as a result. But I don’t much like it.

"I like Twitter because it enables readers to easily get in touch. Somehow sending a tweet to a writer is less intimidating than finding their address and composing an email. I get lots of feedback in this way, which I really value. I guess, as a spin-off from that process of relationship building it may be that I’ll sell more books. But if that ever came to be my main motivation, I think my Twitter contacts would be able to sense it. Ironically, I’d probably sell fewer."

Rod’s Twitter handle is @RodDuncan and he asked me to encourage readers to send him a tweet.

"I use my Facebook page to share articles and news – things I couldn’t say in 140 characters. People who have opted to ‘like’ the page are in a different category from my contacts on Twitter. I assume they are more invested in the books, and I write the articles accordingly. The content will tend to be more directly about my work. But the same rule applies as with Twitter – I don’t see it as a platform for selling. I use it to generate a conversation about the process of writing, new developments, thoughts and ideas."

And what about being interviewed by blogs like Liberal England?

"I always try to be as candid as possible and to give away as much as I can. Yes, I want to raise awareness of my novels. And yes, I hope I’ll sell more copies as a result."

By the way, did you know I’ve a novel coming out next month?”

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Karl Popper interviewed on Channel 4 in 1988 - part 1

Karl Popper was one of the most important liberal thinkers of the 20th century, as much for his development of an evolutionary understanding of human knowledge as for his more overtly political books.

For an excellent short introduction to his work see the book by Bryan Mageee.

In 1988 Popper took part in  three programmes for Channel 4 under the title Uncertain Truth. In the first one he was interviewed by Ernst Gombrich, and by John Eccles and then Anthony Quinton in the next two.

Those programmes are on Youtube. Each is split in two, there are six videos.

This is the first.

Drive-by yoghurt attack on crochet teacher's haberdashery leaves her shaken

Well done to the Central Somerset Gazette, a now one on the judges, for winning Headline of the Day.

And thanks to reader who suggested it.

Mott the Hoople: Roll Away the Stone

When the deaths of Dale Griffin from Mott the Hoople and Glenn Frey from the Eagles followed that of David Bowie, people tweeted things like "I wonder if God is starting a band in Heaven, he's collecting awesome talent from us."

The truth is more mundane. Rock's Golden Age in the 1960s and 1970s was a long time ago and figures from that era have been dying off pretty regularly for a good while now.

My own favourites, the Spencer Davis Group, appear to be the only important British group of the Sixties where all the original members are still alive.

It's just that the extraordinary media attention given to Bowie's passing has made us notice these deaths in the past few weeks.

Anyway, today's choice was going to be a tribute to both Bowie and Dale Griffin - Mott the Hoople singing All the Young Dudes.

But after posting that song I  noticed that it had already appeared as a Sunday music video. So here is a different Mott the Hoople song

Liberal Democrats to leave Great George Street

That's what Guido Fawkes reveals in the Sun today:
You have to feel for the Lib Dems. Wiped out at the ballot box in May and now they are being evicted. 
Aides are preparing to leave their HQ at Great George Street after Westminster, one of England’s most Tory councils, gave the go-ahead for plans to turn it into flats. It’s the Tories telling the Lib Dems to pack their bags all over again.
It won't be the council who have given us notice, of course, but the owners of the block. You can read about their plans for this building on New London Development.

Since Liberal Democrat News ceased publication I have not had much reason to visit party headquarters, but Great George Street never appealed to me the way that Cowley Street did. Maybe it was the arms dealers upstairs.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
Where will we turn up next? Maybe it's time to reread the call from Simon McGrath for party HQ to be moved out of London.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Conservative councils protest against the scale of spending cuts

Leicestershire's Conservative MPs  were busy retweeting this photograph last week.

It shows them and the Conservative leader of the county council Nick Rushton meeting the local government minister Marcus Jones to press the case for more generous funding for Leicestershire.

The Leicester Mercury quoted Sir Edward Garnier, MP for Harborough:
"The difficult financial situation for Leicestershire County Council means that unless we get an improved funding arrangement, the services that vulnerable people need the most will have to be cut. I know the Minister fully understands the case we made and took into account our concerns as Leicestershire MPs and those of Coun Rushton. We will wait to see what transpires over the next few weeks."
I would love to see a more generous settlement for Leicestershire, particularly if Rushton is right to say that we are the lowest funded county council.

But we are not the only Tory-run county asking for more.

Over to the Shropshire Star and the new leader of the council there:
Shropshire Council leaders today called for Government help to stave off the impact of multi-million pound budget cuts. 
Council leader Malcolm Pate and the authority’s chief executive Clive Wright warned that without assistance they face a considerable reduction in the county’s services. 
They have urged either an increase in the amount they can raise in council tax or an alteration of the formula by which councils receive central Government funding.
The formula cannot be unfair to everybody, so It looks as though Conservatives are really complaining that central government funding is not generous enough. Even David Cameron has been at it.

And they are right. It is not just the slightly quaint things this blog has a weakness for that will suffer - rural bus services, branch libraries - but central services like adult social care.

If there is a country vs court rebellion in the Conservative party, with their council leaders rebelling against the cuts they are being compelled to implement, all Liberal Democrats should welcome it.

For the time being, tax cuts should be off our agenda.

The Labour leadership is split between Kennites and Corbynites

The cool kids agree that this Labour Uncut article from the end of last year by Atul Hatwal got it about right:
At the heart of the split is a long-running tension between two factions of the hard left: Socialist Action and the Labour Representation Committee. 
In the corner on the left is Socialist Action – a Trotskyist group most closely associated with Ken Livingstone with several of his advisers from his time as Mayor, either members or supporters. 
As Livingstone himself said, “Almost all of my advisers had been involved in Socialist Action,” 
“It was the only rational left-wing group you could engage with. They used to produce my socialist economic policies. It was not a secret group.” ...
Prominent Livingstone City Hall alumni, Simon Fletcher and Neale Coleman, now occupy central roles in Jeremy Corbyn’s office as chief of staff and head of policy and rebuttal while the former Mayor is co-chair of Labour’s defence review.
And the other group?
In the corner even further to the left is the Labour Representation Committee. (LRC) Founded in 2004 (lifting the name of Labour’s original founding committee from 1900) by John McDonnell, the LRC has a more doctrinaire and unbending view of the path to socialism. 
Compromise is to be minimised – the frog needs to be dropped into boiling water with the lid clamped tightly shut to prevent escape. 
The majority of Jeremy Corbyn’s inner sanctum is drawn either from the LRC or sympathetic to its perspective. 
For example, John McDonnell MP remains the LRC chair, Corbyn adviser Andrew Fisher was until recently its Secretary, Jon Lansman, who runs Momentum, is on its national committee and Katy Clark, the former MP and now political secretary to Jeremy Corbyn is a long term supporter. 
Until his election as leader, Jeremy Corbyn was one of the most prominent MPs affiliated to the LRC.
The resignation of Neale Coleman suggests the Kennites are losing.

But whatever the truth of that, enjoy the picture of a young John McDonnell above.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Bishop’s Castle charter celebrations 1973

In 1573 Bishop's Castle was made a borough by a charter granted by Elizabeth I. This film shows the celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the charter in 1973.

This charter, and a later on granted by James I, were kept in a locked box at a local bank. For many years, as BBC News reported in 2011, they could not be consulted as the key to the box had been lost:
Town Clerk Diane Malley said: "In the 1970s we did have access to the charters because for a short time they were on display in the town hall, and sometime after that they were locked in the bank and the keys mislaid." 
Mrs Malley found an envelope marked "unknown keys" in a cupboard and decided to see if one of them would unlock the charter box.

Six of the Best 568

"There is only one conclusion that we can possibly draw ... if nothing changes radically between now and 2020, Labour is headed for disaster." Public Policy and the Past tells it like it is.

Zaid Jilani argues that our celebration of Martin Luther King today is based on a simplistic view of him that passes over his more challenging views.

"David Litvinoff was, by nature and temperament, a wanderer between worlds: between the Chelsea set and hardcore criminals, between Soho and the East End, between the Scene and Esmeralda’s Barn, between Lucian Freud, George Melly, Peter Rachman, the Krays, John Bindon, Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger." Jon Savage reviews a biography of a central but elusive Sixties figure.

What makes music sad? Ben Ratliff tells us, with particular reference to the songs of Nick Drake.

Lynne About Loughborough selflessly investigates the Leicestershire town's pubs.

"Not far from London’s Euston station is a slightly spooky old derelict building. The former London Temperance Hospital on Hampstead Road." Flickering Lamps takes us there.

Valuable sculpture sold off for a song by my old school

Thursday's Front Row on Radio 4 had an item on Historic England's forthcoming exhibition Out There: Our Post-War Public Art, which opens at Somerset House on 3 February.

The item runs from 7:38 to 12:32, though the opening one on how Elton John now fits in touring around the school run makes good listening too.

Sarah Gaventa, the curator of the exhibition, talks about some of the lost works she would like to locate (if they have not already been melted down).

I blogged about Historic England and its quest for these lost public artworks in December.

One of the works Sarah mentions in her interview is the sculpture Astonia by Bryan Kneale, which she said was housed at "a Leicestershire school" between 1973 and 2014.

That school was my alma mater - now the Robert Smyth Academy. I remember the sculpture clearly, though I am afraid we never thought much of it.

It was sold two years ago by Gilding's of Market Harborough (frequent stars of TV's Flog It!) from whose website I have borrowed this image.

Astonia fetched £360 but should have made something like £30,000. Its whereabouts are now a mystery.

Leicestershire County Council had acquired it at the end of a mid 20th century era when the authorities believed the people, and children in particular, needed good public art. The wonderful School Prints come from that era too.

I mourn that era's passing, even if Astonia does not appeal to me today either.

Thanks to @RutlandNed for the tip.

Later. @Stephen25367746 tells me Astonia was originally displayed outside Southampton Art Gallery.

York man banned from having sex unless he gives police 24 hours' notice

Not for the first time, The Press wins Headline of the Day.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Watford West station in 1990

Watford West stood on the branch from Watford Junction to Croxley Green. It closed along with the rest of the line in 1996.

This video shows it one evening in 1990 when it was already semi-derelict. For some photographs of it in happier days see the pages for Watford West on Disused Stations.

The line through Watford West is due to reopen as part of the Croxley Rail Link. The station itself will not be revived, as one will be built nearby to serve the local hospital and Vicarage Road stadium.

In 2012 I visited Watford Metropolitan which will also close under these plans.

Dame Janet Smith on Jimmy Savile and the BBC

If the subject matter of Dame Janet Smith's report into Jimmy Savile and the BBC were not so serious, he conclusions would be funny.

Exaro, which has a leaked draft copy of her report, tells us:
In this second package of pieces, Exaro today reveals how Smith's report:
  • reveals that Savile carried out far more sexual assaults on BBC premises than previously realised; 
  • says that the BBC continued to use Savile to present Jim'll Fix It, a BBC1 programme aimed at children, despite "danger signals" about him; 
  • exposes a failure by BBC bosses to notice even public warning signs about Savile's dark side; 
  • recounts the damning private views of Savile from several well-known BBC colleagues; 
  • shows how a BBC programme by Louis Theroux in 2000 exposed Savile as "deeply unattractive" and even raised the issue of his paedophilia. 
We also publish the key extracts from the Smith report's chapters of perceptions of Savile in the BBC, his sexual activities linked to the broadcaster, awareness within Jim'll Fix It of Savile's predatory behaviour, and the public warning signs that went unheeded.
And what does Dame Janet conclude?

Over to the Guardian:
In her final afterword, Smith insists no senior staff could have been made aware of Savile’s misconduct. 
“There is no evidence that any report of physical sexual misconduct or inappropriate behaviour ever reached the ears or the desk of a senior producer or an executive producer let alone a head of department or other senior executive.”
Many will find that inpossible to believe. But if this is true, it reinforces something I blogged about in October 2012.

Large organsations are too complex and too centralised for the people at the top of the hierarchy to have any idea what is really going on.

And it all those highly paid managers at the BBC have no idea what is going, how much would they be missed?

Do not, incidentally, fall for the argument that Savile was a long time ago and things have changed since then.

Nick Cohen reminds us of what happened to the people who exposed finally Savile on Panorama:
Liz MacKean: Resigned. ‘When the Savile scandal broke,’ she told me, ‘the BBC tried to smear my reputation. They said they had banned the film because Meirion and I had produced shoddy journalism. I stayed to fight them, but I knew they would make me leave in the end. Managers would look through me as if I wasn’t there. I went because I knew I was never going to appear on screen again.’ 
Meirion Jones: Took redundancy after his job on Newsnight mysteriously vanished. ‘People said they won’t sack you after Savile but they will make your life hell,’ he told Press Gazette. ‘Everyone involved on the right side of the Savile argument has been forced out of the BBC.’ 
Panorama: After its admirably rigorous documentary on the BBC’s failings, which did so much to restore the BBC’s reputation, BBC managers shifted Tom Giles, the editor of Panorama, out of news. Peter Horrocks, an executive who insisted throughout the scandal that the BBC must behave ethically, resigned to ‘find new challenges’. Clive Edwards, who as commissioning editor for current affairs oversaw the Panorama documentary, was demoted. 
As for Peter Rippon and all the other managers who parroted the corporate line, well, naturally, not one of them has suffered.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Sheila Sim 1922-2016

The actress Sheila Sim died yesterday at the age of 93.

As long as there are awkwardly romantic Englishmen she will be remembered as the star of A Canterbury Tale.

The photograph above shows her wedding to Richard Attenborough in 1945.

Sir Peter Soulsby on Keith Vaz

Leicester Labour's internal politics can be hard for outsiders to fathom, but one thing at least is clear. Keith Vaz (MP for Leicester East) and Sir Peter Soulsby (the city's elected mayor) do not get on.

In 2011 I quoted a Leicester Mercury article on the funding of Soulsby's first mayoral campaign:
Sir Peter's was funded by the three city constituency Labour parties. Leicester South and West branches gave £3,100 and £2,100 respectively. Leicester East's branch gave just £80.
What I didn't know then is that the Vaz/Soulsby enmity had reached Westminster.

In February 2001 the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee investigated a number of allegations against Vaz. Some were upheld and some were not - you can find the committee's report on the investigation on the Parliament website.

One of the witnesses who gave evidence to the inquiry was Sir Peter Soulsby. Here are a few extracts from his evidence:
397 ... There have been a number of occasions when members of the community in Leicester, particularly members of the Asian community, have been critical of Keith and have made statements criticising Keith and subsequently changed the position they have taken in public. Indeed, there were a number of occasions around this time I am talking about when people changed their positions. How the trick is achieved, I do not know, but it has happened on a number of occasions.
406 ... I think there have been a number of occasions in the past when I have felt Keith's attitude to the truth is different from the attitude I feel appropriate for a person in public life. It ranges from a whole range of issues: from telling one group in the community that he is in support of a road scheme, while telling another that he is opposed to it; through to rather more national or even international issues, such us his message of support to Salman Rushdie followed by taking part in a march with a group of Muslims wanting to burn the Satanic Verses; through to the difficulties he is having with his attitude towards Kashmir, telling different communities different attitudes, which has caused a number of problems, not just in Leicester but at a national level.
449 ... I am sure he would suggest to you I have a vendetta against him. I think the reality is, as I described earlier, we have a very different view about what is proper in public life, and how one ought to behave, and a different attitude as to what is true and what is not. That has inevitably led to us falling out a number of times over the years. That is not a vendetta; that is a difference in personality and attitude.
I cannot vouch for the truth of what Sir Peter said, but it  is the evidence he gave to the committee.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Nottingham Castle and Gordon's Wharf in 1865

On New Year's Day I visited Nottingham and in particular Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, which sits beneath the rock surmounted by Nottingham Castle.

In 1831 the Castle, by then the residence of the Dukes of Newcastle, was burnt down in pro-Reform riots. In the 1870s it was rebuilt and became the city's art gallery.

When this photograph was taken around 1865 it was still derelict. Note too the long vanished canal basin, Gordon's Wharf, in the foreground.

Report on the handling of allegations against Greville Janner

The independent inquiry into the handling of allegations made against Greville Janner which was commissioned last year by the Director of Public Prosecutions issued its report today.

That inquiry was conducted by the retired High Court Judge Sir Richard Henriques.

You can download the full report from the Crown Prosecution Service website, and the Guardian has a summary of his its findings:
The report found:
  • The decision not to charge Janner in 1991 was wrong because there was enough evidence against him to provide a realistic prospect of conviction for offences of indecent assault and buggery. In addition, the police investigation was inadequate and no charging decision should have been taken by the CPS until the police had undertaken further inquiries. 
  • In 2002, allegations against Janner were not supplied by the police to the CPS and so no prosecution was possible. This merits investigation by the IPCC. 
  • There was sufficient evidence to prosecute Janner in 2007 for indecent assault and buggery. He should have been arrested and interviewed and his home searched.
The evidence of the first complainant against Janner, who gave evidence in the trial of Frank Beck in 1991, is particularly strong.

The Guardian says:
These allegations related to 1975 when, it was alleged, the young boy from a children’s home met Janner after the then MP performed magic tricks. 
The alleged victim, known as Complainant One, said he was quickly befriended by Janner and was sexually abused and raped repeatedly. The complainant went to a wedding with the peer’s family, it was alleged, and it was only two decades later in 2014 that a subsequent police investigation found there was film footage of Complainant One at the event. 
According to the report, the prosecuting authorities discussed the possibility of arresting and interviewing the complainant in relation to charges of perverting the course of justice.
ITV News interviewed Bernard Greaves, who was part of Beck's defence team, about the case this evening.

Where is the Liberal Democrat equivalent of the Beckett Report?

Margaret Beckett's report on what she believes to be the reasons for its defeat in last year's general election has been published by the Labour Party. BBC News has a summary.

There is an article about it on Liberal Democrat Voice, which gives in passing a dispiriting glimpse of the tactics we used to hold on to Sheffield Hallam.

It also has a noteworthy comment from Liberator's Mark Smulian:
At least Labour has published its report. I understand the equivalent Lib Dem one was released only to Federal Executive members on paper, which they were obliged to return at the end of their meeting, and has otherwise remained secret.
Let's hope the Lib Dem equivalent of the Beckett Report will be published soon.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Vanished Leicester: Sir Colin Campbell Inn, Havelock Street

Copyright © Dennis Calow

Havelock Street runs beside Leicester Royal Infirmary. This photograph was taken in 1969 just before the pub disappeared to allow the expansion of the hospital.

BBC Inside Out East Midlands on Lord Janner

The first segment of this evening's Inside Out for the East Midlands concerned the allegations against Lord Janner.

I don't think it told us anything new, but it did remind us how longstanding the concerns about him were and how many chances to prosecute him were missed.

Anyway, well done to the BBC for showing it.

The other segments include dirty food outlets in Leicester and the threat to the historic mills at Belper.

Alan Rickman's brother is a member of Harborough District Council

Alan Rickman's sad death last week revealed that his brother Michael is a member of Harborough District Council.

The Leicester Mercury has published a short article, quoting his tweets, where he thanks fans for their kind messages and says simply and movingly "I am broken."

Michael Rickman is the Conservative member for the Nevill ward, which includes the villages around Hallaton and Medbourne.

It is named after Nevill Holt, which most literary theorists now believe to be the inspiration for Bonkers Hall.

Back in the 1980s the SDP's only county councillor in Leicestershire was the brother of the film director Stephen Frears.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

When the Jorvik Centre was a hole in the ground

This evening York Mix posted 12 vintage films of the city.

One caught my eye straight away, because it comes from August 1979 and so falls during my time as a student in the city.

Watching it today does confirm one memory of mine - and I don't mean the gruesomely distorted sound, which reminds me of film shows at primary school.

No, that memory is of a time before the Jorvik Centre opened. In my student days there was a large archaeological dig on the site. You can see it on the film from 2:27.

As I recall, there was no charge for going round and you were given a Viking oyster shell when you left.

The latest news from the Jorvik Centre is rather grim. It was badly affected by the recent floods and the government has rejected a plea for extra funds to allow a swift reopening.

A report in the Yorkshire Post quotes the former North Yorkshire councillor and Liberal Democrat peer Angie Harris:
"When I visited the Jorvik Viking Centre in York last week it was a scene of utter devastation. 
"It's a world renowned tourist attraction and educational centre, provided by the excellent York Archaeological Trust, of which I am a member, and which depends largely on its funding from the viking centre. The Trust could be destroyed by this enormous loss of revenue."

Six of the Best 567

Are you sure about this? Ed.
Gareth Epps reports that Liberal Democrat Conference has lost a day.

"Contemporary advocates of No-Platforming have so far failed to provide any convincing, rigorous definition of ‘harm’ to justify their practice." Monica Richter argues that only the most noxious of speakers should be banned from university campuses.

Robbie Simpson has been to Tbilisi to visit our liberal colleagues, the Republican Party of Georgia.

"Imagine if Neil Young needed Simon Cowell’s approval in order to get the label backing necessary to become a known musician." POWERevolution thinks many millenials are uncool and think it knows why.

Cal Flyn writes on afforestation and clearance in the Flow Country in the far North of Scotland.

Teenagerdom was a result of jobs and trades requiring training and education, which cast UK society into a bit of uncertainty. Hence the title; the first generation where this phase of ambiguity – no longer a child, yet not quite an adult – existed." Kyle Turner has been watching Absolute Beginners - an unsuccessful Eighties film about the Fifties with a Bowie theme song.