Thursday, June 30, 2016

For the centenary of the Battle of the Somme

The Agnus Dei from Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, song by Ian Bostridge.

A tribute to Gordon Murray and Trumptonshire

Gordon Murray, the man behind the BBC children's series Camberwick Green, Trumpton and Chigley, has died at the age of 95.

His Guardian obituary suggests these three - the Trumptonshire trilogy - were set in Edwardian England. But to me as a small boy in the 1960s, they seemed thoroughly contemporary.

Nor, as the scenes in the video above show, were they always quite as innocent as the writer suggests. This is surely the England of the Kinks' Village Green Preservation Society.

Trumptonshire has been an inspiration to many. In 2014 Flipchart Rick showed us how the county was faring today. It was not good news - here is a little of what he found.
Camberwick Green
Windy Miller is long dead. His mill was bought by a property developer and converted into a sprawling residence, compete with gym and swimming pool. It is now the weekend retreat of Bradley Smythe-Hoover, MD of Capital Markets at MorganGoldensacks. 
The Miller family are still in the business, though. Nowadays, the flour is produced by United Mills on the Chigley industrial estate. Windy’s granddaughter, Cindy Miller, works there on a zero hours contract. 
The town of Trumpton lost much of its importance when it was subsumed into the Greater Chigley Unitary Authority in the local government reorganisation. It is now merely the traditional county town of a county that no longer exists. 
Locals complain that there has been no planning control and that the town’s development has been neglected by the council in Chigley. Like many small towns, Trumpton has a Jekyll and Hyde personality.  
By day, it is the quintessential market town. The old square with its farmers’ market and Georgian shops attracts busloads of pensioners and foreign tourists. At night, the town is given over to pubs, competing on price to attract the youngsters who flock into the centre. Fights between locals and migrant agricultural workers are frequent. 
There are no band concerts or dancing factory workers in Trumptonshire any more. Some people didn’t believe there ever were, until some photographs were found in Raggy Dan’s attic after the old rag and bone man had died. These showed the firemen’s band and the dances, as well as many other scenes from old Trumptonshire. 
The local history society reprinted them in a book published to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Trumpton clock in 2010. Leafing through the coffee table tome Trumptonshire Remembers, you can see just how much the place has changed.
And Half Man Half Biscuit chronicled The Trumpton Riots in 1986.

Will jumpers for goalposts revive England's fortunes?

Woeful. A dreadful lack of leadership. No idea of how to face the future.

No, I am not talking about the Tory Party, the Labour Party or Britain after Brexit: I am talking about the England football team.

Traditionally, after the shortcomings of our team are laid bare in yet another tournament, the cry goes up for more attention to youth. Find the best prospects at a tender age and give them the best of facilities and the best of coaching.

But this time there is a dissident voice. Jamie Carragher wrote in the Daily Mail:
Too soft. The more I think about England's humiliation against Iceland, the more those two words come into my mind. 
This is what England's players have become. The Academy Generation — for that is what they are — are soft physically and soft mentally. We saw the end result in all its gruesome detail in Nice on Monday when another major tournament ended in calamity and blame. ...
I call them the Academy Generation because they have come through in an era when footballers have never had more time being coached. At this point I want to make it clear I am not pointing the finger at academy coaches, as others will do. 
But they get ferried to football schools, they work on immaculate pitches, play in pristine training gear every day and everything is done to ensure all they have to do is focus on football. We think we are making them men but actually we are creating babies. 
Life has been too easy. They have been pampered from a young age, had money thrown at them and, when things have gone wrong, they have been told it is never their fault. Some 12- and 13-year-olds have agents now. Why?
I have a sneaking suspicion he is right. In fact I argued something similar in my essay in Graham Watson's 2006 collection Liberalism - Something to Shout About.

There I quoted an article by Hara Estroff Marano:
Kids are having a hard time even playing neighbourhood pick-up games because they’ve never done it, observes Barbara Carlson, president and cofounder of Putting Families First. “They’ve been told by their coaches where on the field to stand, told by their parents what colour socks to wear, told by the referees who’s won and what’s fair. Kids are losing leadership skills.”
And to show there was political impetus behind this trend, I quoted Tessa Jowell:
Here’s the truth – children don’t want to play sport on badly-drained 1950s scraps of land. They want showers, fences and floodlights. They want quality facilities.
You will say this is just jumpers-for-goalposts nostalgia. And you may well be right.

But it is interesting that the two outstanding players England have produced in the last 30 years - Paul Gascoigne and Wayne Rooney - did have an urchin quality about them. You could imagine them playing football in the street.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Jon Ashworth speaks out on the leadership - the Tory leadership

The other day I blogged about the mystery of the failure of Leicester South's Jon Ashworth to resign from the shadow cabinet.

Since then the mystery has only deepened. Jeremy Corbyn is down to 40 supporters in the parliamentary party, but Jon Ashworth has still not resigned. He sits their among the Cat Smiths and Richard Burgons.

Yet neither has he offered any public explanation of his decision.

It has been suggested to me locally that Ashworth has stayed put because he is on the hard left. But, as I said in my earlier post, he was an Ed Miliband loyalist. And people from that strand of Labour thinking have now resigned.

The other story I have been told makes more sense: he is under severe pressure from his constituency party. But then, as my source said, so are many Labour MPs and it didn't stop them resigning.

Still, Ashworth has spoken out. As Dan Martin, the Leicester Mercury's political correspondent tweeted earlier, he has written an article for Labour List on the Conservative leadership:
The Conservatives have revealed themselves as incapable of providing the answers we need and as ever, it is those most in need who will suffer the most at the hands of their failure. David Cameron might be losing his job, but he won’t be the hardest hit.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Paul Mason and what comes after even later capitalism

I once wrote in a column for the New Statesman website:
When I was in the habit of reading academic works, theorists talked of "late capitalism" - as though the Revolution were bound to come soon. If I were to open such books today, I expect I should find we are living under "even later capitalism".
Now Paul Mason has written a book called Postcapitalism. Well, it's good to dream, and we are short of imaginative thinking in economics, even if Mason's Twitter account these days is written from the barricades of an nonexistent revolution.

But I was amused by the assurance of the Guardian subeditor who introduced an article by Mason on the ideas in his book:
Without us noticing, we are entering the postcapitalist era.
So now we know what comes after even later capitalism.

Labour's problem is not just Corbyn: it's John McDonnell too

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn's leadership that threatens disaster for Labour at the next election. It is also the presence in a senior position of John McDonnell.

If you doubt me, imagine the use the Conservatives will make of this quotation on their leaflets:
"It's about time we started honouring those people involved in the armed struggle. It was the bombs and bullets and sacrifice made by the likes of Bobby Sands that brought Britain to the negotiating table. The peace we have now is due to the action of the IRA."
Those words were spoken by John McDonnell at In 2003, at a gathering in London to commemorate the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sand.

The New Statesman says that McDonnell later told the Sun:
The deaths of innocent civilians in IRA attacks is a real tragedy, but it was as a result of British occupation in Ireland. 
Because of the bravery of the IRA and people like Bobby Sands we now have a peace process.
It's true that, after McDonnell became shadow chancellor and these remarks received publicity, he apologised for them "from the bottom of my heart".

But I don't think the Tories will include that on their leaflets.

Besides, McDonnell defence that he said those words to encourage the Provisional IRA to participate in the peace process do not add up. It was securely in place by the time he said them.

And, as the Telegraph once laid bare, McDonnell had opposed that process:
Mr McDonnell told the IRA’s official newspaper that he opposed the peace process negotiations to create a power-sharing assembly in what became the Good Friday Agreement. 
He said: “An assembly is not what people have laid down their lives for over thirty years…the settlement must be for a united Ireland.”
Maybe the IRA bombing campaign on the mainland is too long ago to move voters. But I was working in London at the time shoppers and workers were being killed by it.

The very least I expect from the party of the workers is that it condemns those who murder them. That was too much to ask of Mr McDonnell.

Which is why I would put that quotation on every Liberal Democrat leaflet too.

Boris Johnson is the prisoner of Ukip and the Tory right wing

Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim believed that nice things are nicer than nasty ones.

Boris Johnson believes it too, As far as he has a political philosophy, that is it.

He wants nice things. Lots and lots of nice things. Lots of nice things all for Boris.

But he is not ungenerous. Providing he has far more than his share of the good things of life, he is quite happy for other people to have them too.

Hence the sunny tone of his column in the Telegraph on Sunday:
I cannot stress too much that Britain is part of Europe, and always will be. There will still be intense and intensifying European cooperation and partnership in a huge number of fields: the arts, the sciences, the universities, and on improving the environment. EU citizens living in this country will have their rights fully protected, and the same goes for British citizens living in the EU. 
British people will still be able to go and work in the EU; to live; to travel; to study; to buy homes and to settle down.
Boris likes having rights and travelling abroad, so why shouldn't other people have them too?

Trouble is, a lot of Boris's new-supporters are not sunny at all.

They like having nice things, but they are much more anxious that other people should not have them. If EU citizens in Britain have rights, then that must be at our expense.

Far better to remove everyone's rights. That way we can be sure that no one is enjoying nice things.

And if that makes the country poorer and less cultured, I am not sure that Ukip and the right-wing of the Conservative party will much care.

Those people are just the ones to whom Boris Johnson has sold his political soul.

He surely wanted to lead the Leave side and lose the referendum. But he won and will now be expected by them to deliver on Leave's promise to cut immigration. He is their prisoner.

Which must explain this tweet from Sam Coates:

Monday, June 27, 2016

Disused railway stations in Cheshire

Plenty more of these on my Disused Stations label.

Tim Farron: The Lib Dems are the voice of those who see a positive future in Europe

An article from Tim Farron has gone up on the Independent website this evening:
For a Liberal Democrat, this is visceral. I am an internationalist, who believes we must work across borders to face the great challenges such as the world’s largest ever movement of people, climate change, the rising power of multi-nationals and terrorism, along with the arrival in the international labour market of a billion Chinese workers which has depressed wages across the western world. 
A progressive political settlement needs international co-operation, and it has been the EU that has guaranteed worker rights, consumer protection and environmental safeguards.

The Mystery of Jon Ashworth's failure to resign

With so many shadow cabinet ministers having resigned over the last two days, it is worth taking a look at those who have not resigned.

And among them you will find the name of the Leicester South MP Jon Ashworth, who retained his position as shadow minister without portfolio in the rump cabinet of loyalists announced by Jeremy Corbyn this afternoon.

Why hasn't Ashworth resigned like so many of his colleagues?

He is not of the far left: he was an Ed Miliband loyalist parachuted into Leicester South for the 2011 by-election,

One theory is that the anti-Corbyn forces want him to stay in the shadow cabinet so he keeps his seat on the party's national executive. But then Angela Eagle was also on the executive and that didn't stop her resigning.

Demonstrators in Leicester today were demanding that Ashworth support Corbyn. The Leicester Mercury just wants to talk to him.

The tweet above suggests that Ashworth is far from being a Corbyn supporter, but until he explains himself the mystery will remain.

Later. The mystery deepens. That tweet has now been deleted.

Liberal England welcomes guest posts

This is a reminder that I welcome guest posts on Liberal England.

And as you can see from the list of the 10 most recent guest posts below, I am happy to consider a wide range of subjects.

If you would like to write a guest post yourself, please send me an email so we can discuss your idea.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Yes Prime Minister on Britain's attitude to Europe

As so often with this series and its predecessor Yes Minister, there is a lot of truth in this clip.

It reminds us that it was the Conservatives who promoted the expansion of the European Union after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In part this was out of a wholly creditable desire to embed democratic institutions in the newly liberated nations of Eastern Europe.

And in part it was due, if not to cynical motives laid out by Sir Humphrey, then to a hope that a wider Europe would prove shallower and there would be less of a desire for direction from the centre.

In the event this hope was dashed. It turned out in those heady, optimistic days that Eastern nations would accept any amount of direction if membership of the EU was the prize.

The other night I was listening to an interview with Derek Fowlds (Bernard in the clip above) - as you do when you can't sleep.

Fowlds, a working-class lad, was daunted by the prospect of playing a Civil Service high flyer and turned up for the first rehearsal with a posh accent and a pair of spectacles.

Paul Eddington had little time for these gimmicks and advised him: "Just talk to me the way you did to Basil Brush."

How Seumas Milne undermined the Labour Remain campaign

From Laura Kuenssberg on BBC News this morning:
Documents passed to the BBC suggest Jeremy Corbyn's office sought to delay and water down the Labour Remain campaign. Sources suggest that they are evidence of "deliberate sabotage". One email from the leader's office suggests that Mr Corbyn's director of strategy and communications, Seumas Milne, was behind Mr Corbyn's reluctance to take a prominent role in Labour's campaign to keep the UK in the EU. 
One email, discussing one of the leader's speeches, said it was because of the "hand of Seumas. If he can't kill it, he will water it down so much to hope nobody notices it". 
A series of messages dating back to December seen by the BBC shows correspondence between the party leader's office, the Labour Remain campaign and Labour HQ, discussing the European campaign. It shows how a sentence talking about immigration was removed on one occasion and how Mr Milne refused to sign off a letter signed by 200 MPs after it had already been approved. 
The documents show concern in Labour HQ and the Labour Remain campaign about Mr Corbyn's commitment to the campaign - one email says "what is going on here?". Another email from Labour Remain sources to the leader's office complains "there is no EU content here - we agreed to have Europe content in it". Sources say they show the leader's office was reluctant to give full support to the EU campaign and how difficult it was to get Mr Corbyn to take a prominent role.
Given Milne's sympathy for authoritarian leaders like Stalin and Putin, we should not expect him to be a supporter of liberal democratic institutions like the European Union.

Ska-Boom: What Did I Do?

As The Monograph, an East Midlands music magazine says, Ska-Boom were legends on the local music scene in the 1990s.

I recall that one of their songs, 'Traffic Warden', caused controversy in the national press because it was seen as being less than supportive of that fine group of public servants.

Anyway, here they are in 1990.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Leicester Oral History Trail 12: Il Rondo

This is the 12th and final audio in this series. I have a feeling that, unlike the rest of them, it has appeared on this blog before.

Il Rondo, the brick building to the left in the still above, was Leicester's most vital pop venue in the 1960s. Oh to have been there!

Today it is a chain Italian restaurant.

Thorpe Langton this afternoon: In Time of ‘The Breaking of Nations’

Only a man harrowing clods
In a slow silent walk
With an old horse that stumbles and nods
Half asleep as they stalk. 
Only thin smoke without flame
From the heaps of couch-grass;
Yet this will go onward the same
Though Dynasties pass. 
Yonder a maid and her wight
Come whispering by:
War’s annals will cloud into night
Ere their story die.

England complete 3-0 series win over Australia

This morning England completed a 3-0 whitewash over Australia in the rugby union series.

This is an extraordinary achievement. So much so that I cannot think of a parallel.

Even the great British Lions sides of the early 1970s did not manage a whitewash (though they did play four-test series).

I also like this front page from Australia's Sunday Mail.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Six of the Best 607

"The first real sign of trouble began as early as October 2010 when there was a mini-rebellion by 37 Tory MPs on the UK’s financial contribution to the EU, and things just went downhill from then on." Tim Bale on David Cameron's doomed attempt to keep his party from banging on about Europe.

Adam Ramsay suggests Scotland could remain a member of the EU even without independence.

"The distrust of specialist, professional intelligence, abstracted from the 'real' world of tradition and experience, has a long tradition in British political culture, especially within what John Stuart Mill called ‘the stupid party’." Joe Moran looks at our scepticism about experts.

Ronnie Hughes goes for a walk through lost Liverpool with Stephen Roberts (whom I think I knew at university in an earlier life).

Unofficial Britain interviews Nina Lyon about her new book 'Uprooted: On the Trail of the Green Man'.

Curious British Telly watches The Changes, a children's serial from 1975.

Bob Russell's tours of Colchester

The story that Sir Bob Russell, former Lib Dem MP for Colchester, is now offering guided tours of the town is true.

The Facebook page devoted to the tours says:
Enjoy an entertaining and fact-filled walk around the country's oldest recorded town, in the company of former Colchester MP and celebrated town champion High Steward Sir Bob Russell ... 
The thing is, there's just so much history in Colchester - far too much to fit in to one walk. So there is now two different versions - A and B - both starting at Colchester Arts Centre ... They will run alternately - so if you enjoyed one, why not try the other?!
The suggested fee of £5 per person, but you need only pay what you can afford

The proceeds will go towards Bob's campaign to erect a statue of the sisters Jane and Ann Taylor, who lived in the town. In 1806 they wrote the nursery rhyme Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.

David Cameron lasted barely a year without the Liberal Democrats

Back in 2006, when blogging was cool and Tony Blair was still prime minister, I wrote of David Cameron:
If he is to become prime minister, it is overwhelmingly likely that it will take him two elections to get there. 
The really hard thing for him will be to avoid being knifed by his party after he loses the first of those elections.
I was right to the extent that it took Cameron two elections to win a majority, but he found a way to avoid being knifed by the Tory right. He formed a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

For a time it looked as though this was deep strategy on the part of Cameron. He had grasped, the argument went, that the near disappearance of the liberal wing of his party made it less electable. So he had co-opted the Liberal Democrats to rebalance the Conservatives,

That proved a severe overestimation of Cameron's abilities. His destruction of the Liberal Democrats at the last election left him at the mercy of his own right wing. Now, after little more than a year, they have done for him.

Could Cameron have continued the coalition after the 2015 election?

The sort of formal deal with candidates standing down that George Osborne offered would never have been accepted by the Liberal Democrats.

But he would surely have lasted long if he had explored the possibility of a non-aggression pact in which the two parties did not try too hard in certain seats. Such an arrangement - more or less formal - existed between Labour and the Liberal Democrats in 1997.

Tim Farron: Nigel Farage’s vision for Britain has won this vote, but it is not a vision I share

This is Tim Farron's statement this morning following the referendum result.

You can join the Liberal Democrats via the party website:
I’m devastated and I am angry. Today we wake to a deeply divided country. 
Nigel Farage’s vision for Britain has won this vote, but it is not a vision I share. 
Young people voted to remain by a considerable margin, but were out voted. They were voting for their future, yet it has been taken from them. 
Even though the result was close, there is no doubt that the majority of British people want us to leave. 
Our fight for an open, optimistic, hopeful, diverse and tolerant Britain is needed now more than ever. 
Together we can still make the case for Britain’s future with Europe, as millions of people voted for it. Together we cannot afford to let that vision to die. 
This self-inflicted wound will be Cameron’s legacy. This is his failing. And when the call went out to Jeremy Corbyn, he refused to answer. Their self-interested political manoeuvring has taken our country to the brink, and we are toppling over the edge. 
The Prime Minister must now act quickly to steady the economy, reassure the markets, and immediately set a new course. If he cannot do this immediately, there is no possible way he can remain in office. 
The Liberal Democrats will continue to stand and fight for a better kind of Britain than the one painted by the leave campaign - tolerant, openhearted, optimistic and outward looking. If you are as angry and heartbroken as I am, I need you to join us today.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Tomorrow I shall vote Remain and I hope you will too

It will come as no surprise that a Liberal Democrat member is going to vote Remain.

Though I have never been an instinctive federalist, I have always believed that membership of the European Union and and embracing of our European identity are good for Britain.

The referendum campaign has only strengthened me in that belief.

The Remain campaign has lacked sparkle, but the sheer weight of informed opinion from economists and business against leaving the European Union is compelling.

So much so that Michael Gove, who has long presented himself as the champion of rigour in education, has been reduced to telling us that "people in this country have had enough of experts".

But I am now even more worried about what Leave would do to British society that what it would do to our economy.

As Professor Simon Wren-Lewis writes on his blog mainly macro:
When Brexit fails to improve our public services or our economy there will be other scapegoats. Maybe migrants already here, or nasty foreigners who failed to give the beneficial trade deals the Leave campaign pretend we will get. In the US right now it is already happening, and this Brexit campaign shows that the UK has no inbuilt immunity to it. This is how it goes, as it has gone in the past.
These are the reasons why I shall vote Remain tomorrow. I hope you will too.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Lost film of Amy Johnson piloting a glider over the Long Mynd

A remarkable and rare lost film of "aviatrix" Amy Johnson in Shropshire has come to light after more than 75 years, dug out of a cupboard in Bishop's Castle and clearly showing her piloting a glider on the Long Mynd.
reports the Shropshire Star.

You see why I like Bishop's Castle?

The gliding station on top of the Mynd features prominently in Malcolm Saville's Wings Over Witchend. Could Amy Johnson be the model for the villainous Primrose Wentworth?

GUEST POST Save the University of Leicester's Vaughan Centre for Lifelong Learning

Sally Birch is leading the campaign to save Leicester's Vaughan College.

Last week, I received an email. An email from the University Of Leicester, the University that I currently attend, informing me that they had proposed to close the Vaughan Centre for Lifelong Learning (VCLL).

The VCLL is a unique centre that since 1925 has been part of the University of Leicester. It was formed in 1862 and went by the name of Vaughan College. Vaughan College was created by Rev. David Vaughan to provide access to education for the working people of Leicester, many of whom had left school to work, and who had received little or no education at all. The College was a forerunner for adult education in Britain, and predates the famous Ruskin College in Oxford. Since 1862,

Vaughan College has seen some transformations, but has successfully delivered adult education to the citizens of Leicester and Leicestershire ever since. Three years ago, the University acquired Vaughan College, renamed it the VCLL, and moved it onto the main University campus. This enabled the University to sell the purpose built building next to Jewry Wall in the city centre.

At this time there were many concerns raised, as it was felt that there may be an ulterior motive behind the move to main campus, and many people including lecturers and students were concerned that the ‘ grass roots’ ethos within the VCLL would be lost if they were to move onto the main campus.

A campaign was launched for VCLL to keep its independence, and remain an accessible establishment off the main campus. The Vice Chancellor at the time publicly gave his assurances, and the Pro Vice-Chancellor Mark Thompson was featured in the Leicester Mercury underlining the University’s commitment to adult learning.

However three years down the line, here we are. I am a 33-year-old woman, mother, employee and a student. My path to education is being terminated by the University of Leicester. I have been told that the degree I was hoping to complete, the BA Hons in Arts and Humanities, will no longer be possible. I will no longer be able to continue my studies as they are ‘proposing’ to close down the department.

The university has said that it is in a consultation period, but at the same time, I have received an email from the pro-vice chancellor Julie Coleman informing me that, “I understand that the decision is a disappointing one, but it should not mark the end of your educational aspirations.”

Is this proposal really in a period of consultation? The University have issued statements saying the centre is running at a loss, but figures show that the profits were up 24 per cent last year. Officially the students haven’t been given a direct reason for this closure.

We haven’t been consulted, we haven’t been invited in for a meeting. From senior bodies within the University there has been a distinct lack of communication. Staff within VCLL, have been supportive, but there is a general feeling that they aren’t able to say very much at this time as they are in a period of consulting.

So as a first-year student, an adult learner, I have been told that the plans that I have made - my pursuit of a higher education - are no longer viable. My hopes of gaining a degree, then progressing on to become a teacher one day, are no longer important to the University of Leicester.

It seems that they have no place for mature students in their manifesto, that we do not fit into the required category, we do not tick the box… we are past our sell by date. We are being written off.

As a mother, a person who works, a person who has a mortgage to pay and all the responsibilities that go with being an adult, I was also prepared to take on a student loan and put myself in debt to gain an education. I wanted to gain an education in the institute that, for the last 150 years or more, has been providing adults with access to higher education from an institute that has existed in Leicester before the University itself.

I think of all those who have gone before me, I think all of the 350 students currently on role and I think of the potential for all the students of the future and the catastrophic mistake that the university is making. The university is quite simply denying a whole sector of people of the right to become educated

I have set up a petition to save the VCLL, and currently we have nearly 2000 signatures. We have a Facebook page and a Twitter account..

I will do everything possible to fight for my right to be educated. I will speak for all of my fellow students, all of whom have a story, all of whom want more than anything to continue their studies. I speak for all of those who have gained an education through VCLL in it various forms and I will speak for all of the future generations of adult students who should have the right to access higher education, regardless of their background.

Please help support me and my fellow students in our campaign, by signing our petition.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Leicester Oral History Trail 11: Opera House

The city's Opera House opened in 1877 and closed in 1960. It was demolished the same year.

You can read all about Leicester opera house on the Arthur Lloyd music hall and theatre history website.

What you will find there calls into question the prejudice that provincial cities were cultural deserts for much of the 20th century.

Six of the Best 606

Photo by Keith Evans
Rhetoric has consequences and we cannot stand by and do nothing, says Ceri Phillips.

"I’m sick of people saying, “gosh, you must have thick skin". That’s not the way it should work." Daisy Benson on the threats political activists face today.

Peter Watts explains why Battersea power station is down to one chimney and asks if it could now be facing demolition.

"As things stand, English cricket is in danger of becoming a sporting version of the Church of England, with an ageing demographic who attend because they always attend, and believe because they have always believed. Meanwhile younger generations will barely notice its slow and graceful slide into irrelevance." Roy Greenslade quotes Sean Ingle while arguing that newspapers' retreat from cricket coverage reflects the game's demise.

Cara Buckley celebrates Garrison Keillor as he announces his retirement.

The Australian grandmaster Ian Rogers pays tribute to Viktor Korchnoi

Bryan Ferry: A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall

This Bob Dylan song comes from Ferry's 1973 album of covers These Foolish Things. As his first solo single, it reached no. 10 in the UK charts the following year.

I have always assumed the hard rain was nuclear fallout, but in a 1963 interview (says Wikipedia) Dylan told Studs Terkel:
"No, it's not atomic rain, it's just a hard rain. It isn't the fallout rain. I mean some sort of end that's just gotta happen ... In the last verse, when I say, 'the pellets of poison are flooding the waters,' that means all the lies that people get told on their radios and in their newspapers."

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Some Indian restaurants are so short of chefs they are employing Liberal Democrat MPs

Was violence against England fans organised by the Russian government?

The Guardian says "Whitehall experts" think so:
Senior government officials fear the violence unleashed by Russian hooligans at Euro 2016 was sanctioned by the Kremlin and are investigating links with Vladimir Putin’s regime.
It is understood that a significant number of those involved in savage and highly coordinated attacks on England fans and others in Marseille and Lille have been identified as being in the “uniformed services” in Russia. 
The theory is that the sanctioning of hooliganism by Putin is a continuation of what has been described as Russia’s campaign of “hybrid warfare”. Whitehall experts fear the tactic is a ploy to demonstrate Russian strength while building on a narrative inside the country that the rest of the world is lining up against it. 
Following the violence in Marseille, fake Twitter accounts were reportedly set up to spread the view that Russian fans had been provoked. A senior Russian parliamentarian tweeted, “Well done lads, keep it up!” 
Two England fans, Andrew Bache, 51, from Portsmouth, and Stewart Gray, from Hinckley, Leicestershire, were left in comas fighting for their lives after being attacked with hammers and iron bars by Russian hooligans.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Liberals hold Harborough (112 years ago)

Thanks to Liberal History for pointing out on Twitter that today is the 112th anniversary of a by-election in the Harborough constituency:
17th June 1904 
The Liberals hold the Harborough by-election 
The Hon. Philip Stanhope, the younger son of the 5th Earl, wins the Harborough by-election in Leicestershire following the resignation of the sitting Liberal MP, J.W. Logan, increasing the Liberal majority by over 400 votes. Stanhope had previously been Liberal MP for Wednesbury (1886-92) and Burnley (1893-1900). 
He was strongly anti war, opposing British participation in the Boer War and was sometime president of the National Peace League. He was also vocally against woman’s suffrage and in 1914 was attacked by a suffragette at Euston Station who mistook him for Asquith. He was raised to the peerage in 1906 as Baron Weardale.
The fact that Harborough chose a candidate who had lost his previous seat because of his opposition to the Boer War suggests the local Liberals were good radicals in those days, even if Stanhope was not sound on women's suffrage.

J.W. Logan was to return as MP for Harborough at the general election of December 1910 and represent the seat until he resigned for a second time in 1916.

Scribbling on the constitution: A referendum on Europe was always a bad idea

Margaret Thatcher, quoting Clement Attlee, once described referendums "a device of dictators and demagogues".

She was right.

A referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union was always a bad idea and it has had an unlovely effect on our politics - or at least revealed a side of it that is usually well buried.

For a discussion of that effect I recommend articles by Alex Massie and the great Neal Ascherson.

Reader's voice: Come off it! You are only saying this because you are afraid your side is going to lose.

Not so.

I have been saying the same thing for many years. Most substantially, as far as I can recall, in this article for the much-missed Liberal Democrat News in 2011:
For years the main parties have engaged in something close to a conspiracy. The issue of Europe has been taken out of general elections, with the promise that it will be decided through a referendum. Those referendums never take place. The result has been an infantilisation of debate on Europe, as politicians are allowed to take up self-indulgent, extreme positions they know they will never have to defend to the electorate. 
This process has been bad for us Liberal Democrats, encouraging the idea that all we need do to prosper is not offend anybody and deliver lots and lots of leaflets. And it has been bad for democracy as a whole. Why should voters feel enthusiastic about Westminster when their representatives avoid talking about one of the most important issues facing the country?
But don't take my word for it: read a guest post by Paul Evans on Slugger O'Toole, the best blog on Northern Ireland politics.

In 2010 he gave 14 reasons why the move to introduce referendums to British politics should be resisted, The European referendum campaign has proved he was right in every case.

Here are a couple of examples:
  • They drive out the deliberative element in policymaking. The referendum question is an appeal to reflexes rather than an attempt to get a thoughtful response from the public. 
  • They hand enormous powers to newspaper proprietors and people with the finances to take one side of the argument. It also hands the reins of government over to unelected and well-heeled pressure groups.
I am a believer in representative government - what George Watson called The English Ideology. It is the cornerstone of our constitution.

The Conservative Party used to be united by its belief in upholding that constitution. Today, most of its members, and many of its MPs, would rather scribble on it.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The murder of Jo Cox: I want my country back

I wanted to write something about the murder of Jo Cox, but it is hard to say anything beyond how desperately sad it is.

For a good tribute from a slightly unexpected source, read Andrew Mitchell:
What was so striking about that was that here was a newly-elected Labour MP who had so little time for the petty aspects of party-political life of Westminster. 
At the time, her party leadership was against military intervention in Syria and mine was in favour, which meant the atmosphere around the issue was quite heated. But she was completely uninterested in any of that. She just wanted to do the right thing. 
A lot people in her situation would have been very reluctant to work with a wicked old Tory like me, but Jo never minded. During Commons debates about Syria, we would sit across the chamber exchanging text messages. 
When we set up the All Party Parliamentary Group on Syria, she and I chaired it together, taking evidence from military commanders, diplomats and officials from the region. She might have been new to Westminster, but she led the way.
Some have blamed her death on the poisonous political climate engendered by the referendum on Europe,

Given how little we know about her death so far, there is a danger that anything written today will look foolish in a few days.

But Alex Massie writes powerfully and I feel he is right:
So, no, Nigel Farage isn’t responsible for Jo Cox’s murder. And nor is the Leave campaign. But they are responsible for the manner in which they have pressed their argument. They weren’t to know something like this was going to happen, of course, and they will be just as shocked and horrified by it as anyone else. 
But, still. Look. When you encourage rage you cannot then feign surprise when people become enraged. You cannot turn around and say, ‘Mate, you weren’t supposed to take it so seriously. It’s just a game, just a ploy, a strategy for winning votes.
Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceAs more than one person has tweeted tonight, I want my country back.

Woodland Trust reports drastic decline in tree planting

From BBC News:
Official figures released today by the Forestry Commission show that the government is falling far short of its own tree-planting targets. 
The Woodland Trust says that the "drastic decline" in new woodland planting is "appalling" and could have serious environmental consequences. 
It accused government of missing its target in England by 86%.
The report goes on to quote Austin Brady from the Woodland Trust:
"These figures are all the more shocking against the backdrop of the growing evidence of the importance of trees and woods in tackling air pollution, improving water quality and offering scope to deliver natural flood management. 
"Something is drastically wrong with the way woodland planting is being supported across the various government departments that share responsibility for trees and woods."

William Henry Bragg's home now marked with a plaque

Market Harborough's Nobel laureate William Henry Bragg now has a monument in the town. His early home on The Square has been given a plaque.

Called Catherwood House in Bragg's day, it was for many years occupied by Lloyd's Bank and is now home to our branch of Caffé Nero.

I am pleased to see this, though I do think the plaque would have looked better somewhere higher up the building. Perhaps they couldn't find a ladder?

You can learn all about Bragg in one of Melvyn Bragg's (no relation) In Our Time programmes.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

When Kate Hoey was a Trotskyist

This seems a good day to explore Kate Hoey's long-lost Trotskyist past.

Brian Deer wrote in 1993:
Although she admits the details only under protest, before she joined the Labour Party in 1972, she had been a member of a Trotskyite outfit called the Spartacus League - at the time perhaps the most loony of British extremists. 
The league followed the Russian revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg in expecting a spontaneous workers revolt, and was so notoriously penetrated by MI5, people joked that if security service agents raised their hands en bloc they could win every vote at meetings.

Avocado shortage triggers crime wave in New Zealand

An avocado yesterday

The Evening Standard wins Headline of the Day.

Clement Freud documentary is on ITV tonight at 11.05

The ITV documentary that gave rise to the revelations about Clement Freud is on ITV tonight at 11.05.

You can find a full preview on the Radio Times site:
The programme is being broadcast in the Exposure strand, the ITV documentary series that first exposed the seriousness of the crimes of Jimmy Savile.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Clement Freud exposed as a child abuser

A shocking story has appeared on the Telegraph site this evening:
Sir Clement Freud, the former broadcaster and politician, was exposed last night as a paedophile who sexually abused girls as young as 10 for decades. 
Freud, who died in 2009, spent years abusing a girl who he brought up as a daughter, and violently raped a teenager while he was an MP. 
His widow, Lady Freud, has apologised to his victims, saying she is “shocked, deeply saddened and profoundly sorry” for what her husband of 58 years did to them.
It goes on to say:
Freud was unmasked as a child sex abuser after one of his victims contacted ITV’s Exposure documentary team, who also broke the story of Jimmy Savile’s paedophilia four years ago. 
Sylvia Woosley said Freud befriended her family in 1948, when he was working at a hotel in the South of France, and started abusing her when she was 10. 
Four years later, following a family crisis, her mother asked Freud and his wife Jill if they would look after Mrs Woosley, and she found herself living under the same roof as her abuser, being brought up as a daughter. The abuse continued until she managed to move away when she was 19. 
Another woman told ITV that Freud started abusing her in the 1970s, when she was 11, and eventually raped her when she was 18.
The story also makes links with the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. I have read before that he befriended her parents in the aftermath, but in following these celebrity abuse stories I have formed the view that a reference to the McCann case is a reliable sign that the author is a member of tinfoil hat brigade.

The 1970s and the Liberal Party of that era seem an even stranger, sicker place tonight.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceLater. This story is also on the front page of the Daily Mail.

Later still. Exposure: Abused and Betrayed – A Life Sentence airs on ITV at 11:05pm on tomorrow.

Six of the Best 605

David Boyle gets to grips with Southern Railways.

"Children in the United States from the very earliest days of the Republic ... were raised with practices conceived in direct opposition to Old World notions of authoritarian power and natural hierarchy." Judith Warner reviews a history of American parenting from life on the frontier to the 'managed child'.

David Crystal says reports of the death of the full stop are exaggerated

Wilko Johnson discusses death, depression, cancer and Canvey Island with Every record tells a story.

"The interiors of Leighton House Museum in Holland Park are not only some of the most spectacularly beautiful in London; they are also the most completely unexpected." Let Nigel Andrew take you there.

David Runciman thinks England's reliance on Spurs players is a weakness: "The biggest reason Leicester finished ahead of Spurs is that their players spent a lot less time on the pitch (since the team had fewer commitments in other competitions) and so were able to hold their form to the very end. It’s not romantic, but it’s the truth: by the time you get to April and May, miles on the clock count for just as much as tactics and talent. And by the time you get to June and July, maybe for even more."

An open-air service at St John's, Boughton

I thought I had finished with the old village green at Boughton.

But Getty Images has this picture of an open-air service held amid the ruins of St John's some time in the 1930s.

No doubt there are ghosts looking on if you study it closely.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The University of Leicester turns its back on adult education

I am proud to be a graduate of the University of Leicester (a part-time Masters in Victorian Studies many years ago, since you ask), but I think it has made a profoundly wrong move.

As the Leicester Mercury reported a few days ago:
Education bosses at the University of Leicester are proposing to close the Vaughan Centre for Lifelong Learning. 
It's believed the closure will result in the loss of several teaching and administration jobs.
Around 30 staff were issued with redundancy notices on Monday and a 90 day consultation period is now underway. Some 348 students currently study there.
There is a perception that universities are now keener on making money than discharging wider social responsibilities.

The University of Leicester spokesman quoted by the Mercury does nothing to dispel this. He said
the proposal came at a time when it was "committed to focusing on its world-class strengths, and to being financially sustainable." He added that the courses offered by the Vaughan Centre had operated at a loss for many years.
Admittedly, part-time degrees now seem hugely expensive next to MOOCs (massive online open courses) and the like, but there is still a social need for them.

Adult education is a great engine of social mobility and personal liberation. As Professor Sue Wheeler told the Mercury:
"The higher education and degree courses provided give those people who might not have succeeded at education the first time around, the chance to gain qualifications. They can study part-time for a fraction of the cost. It provides a real community service and that's what Vaughan College was originally set up to do back in 1862 when it first opened."
Another lecturer, who (tellingly) didn't wish to be named, told the paper she had seen first hand the: "wonderful ways in which it enriched the lives of local people through access to Higher Education".

Offering adult education to the local community should be a condition of an institution being allowed to confer degrees, At present they are too focused on serving dull middle-class children, not just from Britain, but from around the world.

However much money we pour into schools, there are those who will be too poor, too unhappy or too antagonistic to benefit from it. We need to make it possible for such people to come to further and higher education later in life.

There is a petition to Save the Vaughan Centre for Lifelong Learning. I have signed it and hope you will too.

Vaughan College was originally housed in a building on Holy Bones. Until 2013 it was housed in the building on the right of the photograph above. (The one directly opposite, seen across the Roman remains, is the Jewry Wall Museum.)

Alison Moyet: Dido's Lament

From Henry Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas - and Alison Moyet's 2004 album Voice.

Huge if true... Boris Johnson is a bottle-enhanced blond

It's hidden behind the Sunday Times paywall and buried in the article, but Tim Shipman's profile of Boris Johnson contains this bombshell:
I think back to the photoshoot, when Boris runs his hand through that bird's nest of platinum hair. "This is the real thing," says Boris. "It's all natural." But you do die it, don't you Boris? I say. "Yes," he admits. Real but enhanced, a little like the public personality.
I had hoped we would learn one day that it is a wig, but I will settle for this as a reminder of how carefully managed Johnson's unmanaged image is.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Leicester Oral History Trail 10: Radio Leicester

The latest of these recordings deals with the site now occupied by BBC Radio Leicester.

Now the radio station's building is a shadow of what it used to be. The cafe and internet cafe (where I sometimes wrote this blog in its early days) are long gone, and now the BBC shop mentioned here has closed too.

Eric Dier features in Trivial Fact of the Day

Eric Dier, who scored England's opening goal against Russia this evening, is the grandson of Ted Croker, the former secretary of the Football Association.