Sunday, July 31, 2016

The derelict Riverside Inn, Oundle

What I have learnt in my travels is that ever you see a building described as an 'eyesore' you should go and photograph it. It will have an interesting story and one day some well-meaning person will pull it down.
That is what I wrote after visiting Tur Langton.

If you read the this paper on tourism from Oundle Town Council you will discover that the town's old Riverside Inn is another eyesore. In fact, many residents commenting on the document hold that its revival or demolition holds the key to the prosperity of the town.

So naturally I photographed it.

The Riverside Inn stands across the road from the town's former railway station. I can recall the latter standing alone and empty in the 1970s. Today it has been restored as a family home and has new houses around it.

What is new is the Nene Valley Brewery and the Tap & Kitchen on the other side of the river on the way back into Oundle,

Highly recommended.

Six of the Best 614

"Bewildered and infuriated by the BBC’s refusal to run hard-left soundbites as headlines, the paranoid left assume Auntie is involved in some sort of right-wing establishment plot." Martin Robbins on the paranoid style of the Corbynistas.

Rob Stickland says the Liberal Democrats are on the rise.

Anonymous writes: "I’m an NHS ambulance dispatcher. I am overworked and undervalued. I try to do my best for you, but I’m sorry my service often fails when you need it the most."

The peer review system is leading to good research going unpublished, argues David Matthews.

"Though it is now considered a classic, Stand By Me struggled to make it to screens. Financed outside the studio system after the cult success of “This is Spinal Tap,” after nearly every Hollywood player passed on the script, the film was nearly derailed after its funding collapsed right before filming." Brent Lang celebrates the film's 30th anniversary.

Backwatersman samples county Second XI cricket at Desborough.

Book Review: A Very British Scandal by John Preston

A Very British Scandal
John Preston
Penguin Books, 2016

John Preston breathes new life into the familiar story of how Jeremy Thorpe came to be tried for conspiracy to murder at the Old Bailey by making Peter Bessell his hero.

Bessell was Liberal MP for Bodmin between 1964 and 1970, as well as being a lay preacher and a dodgy businessman. He was a loyal friend to Thorpe, yet became the chief prosecution witness in the Liberal leader’s trial.

This was because he had already found what David Holmes, the best man at Thorpe’s first wedding and one of his co-accused in the dock of the Old Bailey, was to find during the trial: Thorpe would drop any friend in it if he thought it would save his own skin.

Preston is in little doubt that Thorpe was guilty as charged. Most readers will share that view when they have finished his entertaining and engrossing book.

In the course of it he confirms a favourite story from the affair: Andrew Newton, who shot Norman Scott’s dog Rinka and seems to have tried to shoot Scott himself, first went to look for his victim in Dunstable, only to discover that he should have gone to Barnstaple.

Preston also reminds us that Scott’s wife’s sister was married to the comic actor Terry-Thomas.

There is, however, no mention of the fact that another of Thorpe’s fellow defendants, George Deakin, was the uncle of the guitarist in Black Lace of ‘Agadoo’ fame.

Pony breaks into pub, gets drunk, is coaxed out with crisps

The Scotsman wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Chairlift: Bruises

Bruises was a minor hit in 2008, though its use in an Apple commercial makes it better known than its chart placing (no. 50 in the UK, no. 101 in the US) would suggest.

According to a Guardian profile, Chairlift have been trying to live it down ever since:
As they gazed out on billboards in oversized sweaters and faded denims, it was easy to dismiss them as just a fashion band with great cheekbones. But their new-found recognition was a misleading calling card for what the band was about.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Whyte-Melville's working men's club in Northampton

After I had lunch at the Whyte Melville in Boughton, I blogged about the Victorian novelist the pub is named after and the days when I used to play chess for a team that was sometimes named after him too.

Last time I was in Northampton I photographed the working men's club where we played. It is now a pub called The Fox and Quill.

Playing chess makes you good at... chess

Back in 2013 I blogged about a study being run by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF - prop. S. Tall).

Conducted on an impressive scale - involving 4009 pupils from 100 schools across 11 English local education authorities - it set out to test the notion that teaching children chess improves their performance at school.

The results are now in. 

While a number of earlier studies carried out in other European countries have supported the idea that chess has wider educational benefits, but the EEF study failed to find any.

I have written too many press releases about scientific papers in my day job to expect any single study to be conclusive, but I have to say I find this one impressive.

Had it found wider benefits, no doubt chess enthusiasts like me would have seized on them. But what the EEF still did find was pleasing:
Pupils, headteachers and class teachers were generally very positive about the intervention. In particular, pupils liked playing games of chess with their friends, and class teachers welcomed the enthusiasm of the tutors for sharing their expertise.
So children like playing chess and it is good to bring adults from the outside world into the classroom. I'll settle for that.

What chess did for me as a teenager - though, looking back, I did not become a player until my twenties when I was playing in strong leagues two evenings a week while living in Birmingham and London - was give me confidence.

In fact, when I found I could beat those of my teachers who came along to the local chess club, it probably gave me too much confidence.

Besides, I wonder whether the idea that being good at chess automatically makes you good at mathematics is not a misunderstanding.

If I look at my games from the days when I was good, I do not understand them. But then I did not always understand them then.

In my case at least, being good at chess involved intuition and instinct as well as calculation. Sometimes I would sense the right move at once and then spend my thinking time trying to work out why it was the best move or plucking up the courage to play it.

But maybe maths is like that too when you get good at it.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Ryan Coetzee's barbecue at the Hall 2

And so another week in the company of Rutland's most popular fictional peer draws to its close.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Ryan Coetzee's barbecue at the Hall 2

You have no doubt read what happened next in the newspapers. So let me just pay tribute to the doctors and nurses of the Royal Rutland Infirmary for coping with so many cases of food poisoning, and I can honestly say that the Rutland Fire Brigade excelled itself.

Let me also praise the Well-Behaved Orphans: armed with buckets, they formed a human chain to bring water from my ornamental lake before the professionals arrived. Most of the water they brought was poured over Coetzee and Freddie and Fiona rather than the blaze, it has to be admitted, but I did not like to Say Anything. (Incidentally, the outside cuts of the wildebeest were rather good.)

Do not mourn the damage to the Hall too deeply, gentle reader. To be honest with you, I have never much liked that wing. As I sit here gazing out at the blue waters of the Mediterranean, I have my plans for its rebuilding laid out before me among the breakfast things.

I decided against employing the services of an architect – those fellows are full of the silliest ideas and do sting one terribly. Instead I have drawn up the design myself, with the help of a builder from the village. The busts of great Liberals (Mill, Masterman, Elizabeth Shields…) set amongst the castellations of the roof are, I flatter myself, a happy touch.

As to the barbecue: after deep refection I have convinced myself that poor Coetzee would have made no better a job of organising a piss up in a brewery.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

  • I'll be damned if I'll pull out of Europe
  • Beware of faragespawn
  • Liberal Democrat titans of the 2010 parliament
  • Lord Bonkers' Diary: Ryan Coetzee's barbecue at the Hall 1
  • Thursday, July 28, 2016

    Three songs by the Spencer Davis Group from French TV

    It's always a good day when you find a new archive recording of the Spencer Davis Group on Youtube.

    This one (it is not dated) comes from French television and contains three songs:
    • My Baby
    • Georgia On My Mind
    • Mean Woman Blues

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: Ryan Coetzee's barbecue at the Hall 1

    Lord Bonkers begins to give his account of a notorious evening.

    Ryan Coetzee's barbecue at the Hall 1

    Looking back on the affair, I should have entered a firm nolle prosequi when Freddie and Fiona telephoned me proposing a barbecue at the Hall as a thank you to everyone who worked on the side of the angels in the recent unpleasantness. However, I dithered and, sensing weakness, they put Ryan Coetzee on the line. I suggested various alternative ways of raising the morale of the troops, such as a party at the Smithson & Greaves Brewery, but he was adamant: “I’m telling you, man, there’s nothing like a brai.”

    So it was that, a few days later, the great and good of the Remain campaign made their way up my drive. The Rutland weather, as it so often does, obliged with a warm, still evening. All in all, it was a glittering occasion.

    My doubts reawakened when I learnt that Coetzee proposed barbecuing a whole wildebeest to feed the growing throng. “Are you sure you will be able to cook the thing through?” I asked. “Of course I will, man,” he returned. “We just need to get a good blaze going.”

    That he certainly did, aided by a pallet of unsold copies of Ad Lib that I had arranged to be sent up from Great George Street. It’s just that, as I did point out at the time, he had sited that blaze Terribly Close to the Hall.

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

    Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary
  • I'll be damned if I'll pull out of Europe
  • Beware of faragespawn
  • Liberal Democrat titans of the 2010 parliament
  • Electoral Commission passes file on Northampton South to police

    Last November I blogged about David Mackintosh, the Conservative MP for Northampton South.

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

    Until this week.

    A story on the Northampton Chronicle & Echo website today quotes a spokeswoman for Northamptonshire Police:
    “Following an initial investigation into election fund donations made in the Northampton South constituency, the Electoral Commission has passed the information to Northamptonshire Police to continue the investigation. 
    “The information provided is currently being assessed by specialist investigators alongside thousands of documents obtained in the far-reaching and independent investigation into the lending of £10.25 million to Northampton Town Football Club.”
    The paper also reports that David Mackintosh has said on a number of occasons that he welcomes the inquiry into the Sixfields loan and has never considered any of the donations to have come from anyone other than the stated donors.

    Meanwhile a new story on BBC News makes things more complicated still:
    An MP has accused his former council colleagues of a cover up in a row over a missing £10.25m loan. Northampton Borough Council gave the cash to Northampton Town FC in 2013 to redevelop its Sixfields stadium. 
    David Mackintosh MP, who was council leader at the time, said the authority had "wrongly implied" he did not inform colleagues when a whistleblower raised concerns with him about the money. 
    The council said it was working with police and had initiated two reviews. 
    In June, it emerged Conservative MP Mr Mackintosh had been alerted by a whistleblower to concerns about the money in March 2015, but the council said it had no record that he had passed this on to them. 
    Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceHe said this was incorrect and that the emails were "immediately passed to senior officers".
    I will again risk the observation that this is a story to watch.

    Wednesday, July 27, 2016

    An Edwardian postcard of the fair at Boughton Green

    Last month I blogged about the fair that used to take place at Boughton Green in Northamptonshire. You'll find the site across the road from the ruined church of St John,

    Getty Images has this postcard of the fair, which it dates to c.1909. It looks to have been colourised to within an inch of its life, but I assume it was based on a photograph of the event.

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: Liberal Democrat titans of the 2010 parliament

    Liberal Democrat titans of the 2010 parliament

    Where are they now, those Liberal Democrat titans of the 2010 parliament? Bob Russell, as is well known, takes visitors on tours of his beloved Colchester. Before I left for the Riviera I travelled to that fine Essex town to join him on one I learnt a great deal about its history (who knew that the Plantagenets were around at the same time as the dinosaurs?) and the Suffolk Police were very good at putting us right when we got a little lost.

    Paul Burstow is now a professor of public health or polling day organisation or something like that, while Norman Baker has set his sights upon the hit parade. Nick Clegg, I learnt after some research, is still a member of parliament.

    I must also record that I ran into Steve Webb the other day. “You must have a lot on your plate,” I told him. “I am always reading of your having taken up some new job or other.” He confided in me: “The thing is, I need the money for my future. I know it’s silly, but I never got round to taking out a pension plan.”

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

    Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

  • I'll be damned if I'll pull out of Europe
  • Beware of faragespawn
  • Now Pokemon Go players are fighting crime

    Last week I suggested that this blog's hero Malcolm Saville would have approved of Pokemon Go because it gets young people out of doors.

    A story in York's daily paper The Press suggests he would have approved of the game even more as it is causing them to fight crime:
    Police have launched an investigation into the theft of a memorial plaque in York - as a Pokemon Go player came forward to help pinpoint when it went missing. 
    The Press reported yesterday how the family of Richard Horrocks was distraught at the disappearance of the plaque from a balcony over the River Ouse, exactly five years after the 21-year-old bar tender drowned after jumping in at the end of his last shift ... 
    But now a Kay Garbett has contacted The Press to say she knew with certainty that it was there last Tuesday, as she was playing Pokemon Go that day and captured a picture showing a Pokemon across the river above his plaque. 
    Pokemon Go is the game in which people travel around the real world using their mobile phones to capture and train the creatures known as Pokemon. 
    Kay said: "I am pretty certain it was there on Saturday afternoon but cannot 100 per cent remember if I visited that pokestop that day as I was unwell and it’s all a bit of a blur, But I was in the area and likely that I did, and I would have noticed if it was gone."
    It's not quite up there with Saville's Lone Pine Club, who foiled criminals and discovered buried treasure on a regular basis, but every little helps.

    Man had cocaine under foreskin while naked in Homebase car park

    The Swindon Advertiser wins our Headline of the Day Award.

    Tuesday, July 26, 2016

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: Beware of faragespawn

    Beware of faragespawn

    Next spring, be sure to search your ponds and watercourses for faragespawn and rid them of it. Left undisturbed, it will metamorphose into full-grown farages. These froglike creatures hop about making a thorough nuisance of themselves in pubs and can frequently be heard expressing rude and reactionary opinions.

    Why, only the other day one turned up in the European Parliament! It was last seen being chased down the street by a posse of angry Belgians armed with butterfly nets.

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

    Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

    Member of Pussy Riot to appear in Leicester

    Maria Alyokhina, a member of the Russian group Pussy Riot, is to appear in a play in Leicester next month.

    The Belarus Free Theatre is to give Burning Doors its world premiere at the Curve on 23 August. It will run until 27 August.

    You can read about the play on the Journeys Festival site:
    Belarus Free Theatre is the foremost refugee-led theatre company in the UK and its founding member, co-Artistic Directors, Nicolai Khalezin and Natalia Kaliada, together with Associate Director Vladimir Shcherban were forced to leave Belarus due to political persecution. 
    They are now political refugees in the UK. Belarus Free Theatre is the first and only theatre company in Europe to be banned by its own government on political grounds.  ​ 
    Created in partnership with Journeys Festival International, Belarus Free Theatre in collaboration with Pussy Riot's Maria Alyokhina, are creating Burning Doors, continuing their campaign to stand up for artistic freedom and human rights across the globe and to prove, once again, that theatre can be a revolutionary art. 
    Burning Doors takes its name from the actions of Russian actionist and performance artist Petr Pavlensky, who in November 2015 set fire to the doors of the former KGB headquarters. 
    The play explores the persecution of three artists, including Pavlensky, and the personal experiences of cast member, Maria Alyokhina (Pussy Riot). The third artist Oleg Stensov, is an award-winning Ukrainian filmmaker currently imprisoned on charge of terrorist offences in Crimea.
    Nikolai Foster, artistic director at the Curve, told the Leicester Mercury
    "We are honoured to be hosting Belarus Free Theatre at Curve and the UK premiere of Burning Doors. 
    "All of us at Curve have nothing but the greatest respect for the work Belarus Free Theatre are doing, and we are proud to support them in their latest trail-blazing, boundary-busting and iconoclastic work."

    Monday, July 25, 2016

    Write a guest post for Liberal England

    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.

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: I'll be damned if I'll pull out of Europe

    The new issue of Liberator has arrived. We have had a snippet from Radical Bulletin. We have had my article on Charles Kennedy, Iraq and the Chilcot Report.

    Which means there is nothing else for it: we have to spend some time with the old brute.

    Close textual analysis suggests these pages from Lord Bonkers' Diary were written round about the 12th of July.

    As they say in Rutland, a fortnight is a long time in politics. 

    I'll be damned if I am going to pull out of Europe 

    I write these words on the terrace of the Hotel Splendide, Antibes. The British people, egged on by liars, charlatans and a buffoon in an ill-fitting Donald Trump fright wig, may have voted to pull out of Europe, but I ‘ll be damned if I am going to. Judging by last Tuesday’s Manchester Guardian, which a fellow guest kindly passed on to me yesterday evening, the old country has not yet returned to its senses. In particular, a woman whom I swear I remember as a clerk at one of the Bank of Rutland’s less important branches looks set to be elected leader of the Conservative Party and thus our prime minister.

    Meanwhile, the entire shadow cabinet (with the exception of ‘Semtex’ McDonnell and a fellow from Leicester called Ashworth) has resigned, only to find it cannot agree about who should be its unity candidate. The corridors of Westminster ring with their scuffles, curses and brawling, but no winner emerges. I have been known to say harsh things about the Scottish Nationalists, but I am forced to admit that they now appear a beacon of good sense in a naughty world. They are talking of holding a second referendum north of the border, and who can blame them? We are thinking of having one in Rutland ourselves.

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

    Sunday, July 24, 2016

    Six of the Best 613

    "Just look at them. Professional bloggers, Lords, media historians, 'social tech entrepreneurs'. People who have their own columns in the Guardian. These aren’t ordinary voters. They’re people who have never even *met* an ordinary voter, except the one behind the counter serving them their overpriced lattes." I think it's fair to conclude that Andrew Hickey is not impressed by MoreUnited.

    Garry Kasparov finds that Donald Trump reminds him of Vladimir Putin - "and that is terrifying".

    A shocking miscarriage of justice reveals the fallacy that we can always spot a liar, says Matthew Scott.

    "As Hilaire Belloc wrote, 'When you have lost your Inns, drown your empty selves, for you will have lost the last of England.'" Gavin Stamp mourns the loss of Britain's pubs.

    Cinephilia & Beyond celebrates Wim Wenders' wonderful  film 'Paris, Texas'.

    "Behind the cladding is an art deco cinema frontage that has not seen the light of day since the late 1960s. The former Dominion remains one of London’s hidden gems — one that is crying out to be restored," Londonist takes us to Harrow and an unexpected gem.

    Charles Kennedy, Iraq and the Chilcot Report

    The new issue of Liberator contains this article by me on Iraq and the Chilcot Report. It was written in haste  and owes an indecent amount to Peter Oborne and James Graham, but I wanted to have my say n an event that continues to haunt British politics.

    Disgraced in the Desert

    “We want you to get up the arse of the White House and stay there.” Tony Blair put it more elegantly when assuring George W. Bush that “I will be with you, whatever,” but this order, given to Christopher Meyer when he became Britain’s ambassador in Washington by Blair’s chief of staff Jonathan Powell, conveyed the essence of the relationship that led to disaster in Iraq.

    It was entirely reasonable of Tony Blair to associate himself closely with President Clinton when he first became prime minister. Here was a popular and successful politician with views notably similar to Blair’s own.

    But the Blair inner circle’s insistence that Meyer became so unhealthily close to the US had its roots in Labour’s long years in opposition to Margaret Thatcher and John Major. With the Thatcher years dominated by the Cold War and arguments over the British deterrent and the deployment of American weapon systems on British soil, Labour struggled not to be painted as unpatriotic.

    Blair overturned all that, and it drove the Conservative Party mad. You can see this in their reaction to Charles Kennedy’s brave speech in the Commons before action in Iraq began. Their outrage was surely a mask for their anger that Labour had usurped their role as America’s staunchest ally. Somewhere there too was the jealously of a younger boy who fears he has lost the friendship of an older, cooler boy because the latter has allowed someone else into their gang.

    Ill-suppressed excitement

    Blair, the new boy in the gang, certainly saw it that way. In his book DC Confidential, Christopher Meyer records that the new prime minister “pulsed with ill-suppressed excitement” during his first official visit to the US. That excitement continued when George W. Bush was elected, no matter how crass his views and actions.

    As Peter Oborne reminds us in his book Not the Chilcot Report, in January 2002 Bush startled his allies by naming Iraq, Iran and North Korea as "an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world":
    Iraq, he claimed, had been plotting for more than a decade to develop anthrax, nerve gas and nuclear weapons. As a supporter of "terror", it might well provide these to terrorists. 
    In fact, there was no evidence to support this last claim: not only was Saddam Hussein ideologically opposed to al-Qaeda, but he wouldn’t allow it to operate in his territory. 
    Regardless, the United States now set about seeking allies for an attack on Iraq. Thus, Bush invited Blair and his family to visit him at his family ranch in Crawford, Texas that April – nearly a full year before the invasion. 
    Most unusually, there were no advisers present and no notes were taken. 
    Oborne goes on to piece together what he thinks was said at Crawford.

    Bush, he argues, told Blair he was committed to regime change in Iraq. Blair expressed strong support for this, but said he would need to find cover under international law by seeking support from the United Nations. Well-placed observers, claims Oborne, also believe that he also made a private pledge to commit Britain to war.

    The real Chilcot Report sets out the background to this meeting. On 12 March 2002, just weeks before the Crawford summit, Blair’s chief foreign policy adviser David Manning had a conversation with Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s national security adviser. The prime minister, Manning told her, “would not budge in [his] support for regime change”.

    Five days later, Meyer met the US Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Meyer told him that Britain "backed regime change, but the plan had to be clever and failure was not an option". And on 25 March, just before Blair’s meeting with Bush, the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw sent him a memo.

    To provide legal cover and a plausible pretext for war, said Straw, Blair needed to present his objective as the elimination of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, rather than regime change. On this analysis, Hans Blix and his weapons inspectors were dispatched to Iraq in the hope that Saddam would deny them entry and provide a pretext for war.

    Oborne concludes that Blair committed himself to regime change – and agreed to support US military action – during that secret meeting at Crompton.

    Blair’s response to this widely made charge is strange. On the one hand he maintains that war in Iraq really was caused by fear of Saddam’s chemical and biological weapons, yet whenever he makes the moral case for that war, he does so entirely in terms of regime change. So the end he denies seeking before the war was fought is not the one he uses to justify it.

    To listen to Blair now you would imagine that, in those febrile weeks before war began, he argued that we must take action in Iraq to overthrow Saddam’s dictatorship. I love to see tyrants overthrown, their statues torn down and their prisons broken open to public gaze. If you are not a pacifist, such action must sometimes be an option if the tyranny is extreme enough and the prospects of success are strong enough.

    But that was not the case Blair made. The first bombs fell on Iraq on 20 March 2003, buy as late as 25 February he told the Commons:
    "I detest his regime but even now he can save it by complying with the UN's demand. Even now we are prepared to go the extra step to achieve disarmament peacefully." 
    Blair frequently implies that there was no middle position between doing nothing about Saddam and invasion. The truth is there were many things we could and did do against Saddam before we went to war in 2003. There had been two separate no-fly zones in Iraq since the first war in 1992.

    Tony Blair today cuts a tortured, Christ-like figure, albeit one with a peculiar orange hue and multi-million pound annual earnings . It is hard to resist the conclusion of the Guardian journalist Mike Carter:
    A colleague just said to me: “if Blair hadn't toppled Saddam, he'd be doing his PR for him now.” Scary thing is, that's probably true 
    The war was a disaster for the people of Iraq, not least because the victors had no plans for running the country after it was over beyond disbanding the Iraqi army and civil service.

    Imperialist nostalgia

    Though British participation was buoyed by imperialist nostalgia – we flattered ourselves that we understood the Arab world in a way the Americans never could – we were not prepared even to count the number of Iraqis who died under our rule. As a result the independent website Iraq Body Count was set up. It now estimates there have been more than 250,000 deaths from the war and the violence that engulfed the country afterwards.

    Besides the Iraqi people and Blair’s reputation, progressive politics in Britain have suffered because of the dishonest way the country was led into war in Iraq. Look at the disputes between the Corbynistas and the rest of the Labour Party today. The former use the cry of “Iraq”” as a means of silencing their opponents in the way that previous generations of far-leftists used “Fascist!” So it is that, because of her support for war in Iraq, a mainstream Labour figure like Angela Eagle is branded a “Tory”.

    Nor have the Liberal Democrats escaped the baleful legacy of Iraq. Because the party lacks strong intellectual foundations, often seeming to be shored up by a combination of support for Guardian editorials, leaflet distribution and general benevolence, we find it hard to explain how it is that we differ from moderate Labourites. We have a tendency so seize upon policy questions where we are in the right, such as Iraq or identity cards, and elevate these into insurmountable peaks of principle.

    You would never guess from all the praise for Charles Kennedy and his courage in the face of that heckling from the Conservative benches that he had originally been wary of opposing the war in Iraq and was rather bounced into opposition by the wider party.

    Writing five years after the event, the Liberal Democrat blogger James Graham recalled the opposition from the party’s big-wigs after a motion he and Susan Kramer took to the Federal Executive, calling on the party to oppose the war and on members to join the Stop the War demonstration, was passed:
    Senior figures in the party did everything they could to stop any aspect of this motion from being implemented. They point blank refused to put anything up on the party website … They wouldn’t link to my site. 
    Then: with less than a week to go before the demo itself, Kennedy was asked a direct question by David Frost on live television and, bottling it, turned volte face and said he would be “very happy” to go on [the demonstration]. 
    Suddenly we got our link on the front page of the party website, publicity in Lib Dem News (which until that point had been relegated to the letters pages) and the full weight of the party’s campaigns and press departments behind us. 
    Yet even then Kennedy remained obsessed with having it both ways. Notoriously, his Hyde Park speech argued meekly that he was “not persuaded” of the case for war and demanding that Parliament be allowed a vote (it was; the troops went in). 
    In my experience those party big-wigs were never much interested in Liberal Democrat News, but that was how James saw it.

    Our finest hour

    Charles Kennedy’s opposition to war in Iraq is now established in the popular mind and the party’s own mind, as our finest hour. But we do need to be sure what lessons we draw from that.

    We are not a pacifist party, so in what circumstances would we support military actions abroad? Must there be United Nations support for it. Must we be part of a wide international coalition? Must we be sure of success? We need to decide.

    And those who oppose such action need to be clear why they do so. I did detect a conscious rerunning of the debate on Iraq by those Lib Dems who opposed what turned out to be near token action against ISIL forces in Syria.

     It is too late for the people of Iraq or for Tony Blair’s reputation, but the rest of us need to learn from the wretched affair and be clear about which lessons we need to learn.

    Pew! Andrew Bridgen and the potato factory

    Residents of the Leicestershire village of Measham are complaining about a foul smell that has plagued the village for years.

    One of them, Peter Yates, is quoted by the Leicester Mercury:
    "Here we are again, another warm spell when one likes to enjoy the outdoors and have the house windows open. 
    "But here in Measham, for yet another year, we can't." 
    He added: "Despite all the rhetoric and assurances from the offenders, A B Produce, with their annual fobbing off to both the local council and Environment Agency, the stench is actually worse than ever, to the point of being nauseating."
    The A B Produce plant, which residents blame for the smell, is run by a company founded by Measham's MP Andrew Bridgen.

    At one time, judging by this BBC report, Mr Bridgen derived a substantial income from the company that runs the factory. Today he just declares a shareholding in the House of Commons Register of Members' Financial Interests.

    You can read about past litigation over the Measham Stink, and the company's insistence that it is about to resolve the problem, in the Mercury report.

    Traffic: Sometimes I Feel So Uninspired

    A 10-minute version of this song from the band's live 1973 album On the Road.

    Too much noodling? Maybe, but I like sad songs that let you enjoy a wallow in your misery and then lift you.

    And you get two Steve Winwood guitar solos for your money,

    Saturday, July 23, 2016

    IPCC takes action against 11 over Greville Janner case

    This was posted on the Independent Police Complaints Commission website on Thursday:
    The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has served criminal and gross misconduct notices on 11 individuals as it continues to investigate Leicestershire Police’s handling of child sexual abuse allegations made against the late Greville Janner. 
    The IPCC has decided not to name any subjects to ensure that the ongoing criminal investigation is not compromised.

    St Mary in Arden, Market Harborough

    Want to visit a ruined church? There is one next to Market Harborough station.

    St Mary in Arden, says the Victoria County History, was first mentioned in 1220, when it was a chapel of the nearby village of Great Bowden.

    That gave it the same status at St Dionysius in the centre of Harborough, and St Mary in Arden was built on the same scale and seems to have been rather more important.

    In the book of his television series The Story of England, Michael Wood depicts St Mary in Arden as a place of pilgrimage:
    Below the church the graveyard stretched down the hillside to the Welland, where there was an ancient sacred well known as Lady Well. The pilgrimage probably required prayers at the shrine before its image of Mary, and then bathing and drinking at the sacred well. especially for the sick and infirm, who were born along by the villagers.
    The church was a ruin by the end of  the 17th century, when it was rebuilt on a more modest scale using some of the existing stones.

    St Mary's churchyard remained the town's burial ground until the cemetery opened in Northampton Road in 1878.

    After that the church fell into disuse. The board outside says it lost its roof in the 1950s and was almost pulled down in 1971, but is now a scheduled ancient monument and maintained by the council.

    Though it prevented further deterioration, I have always found the preservation measures taken in the early 1970s unsympathetic: all that toughened glass puts me in mind of a bathroom.

    Many of the gravestones were removed then too, but the best examples now surround the remains of the church. You can read about them in an article by J.C. Davies.

    The church's very existence still puzzles me: why a large church just outside the town? Could it have served a lost settlement called Arden?

    Those Shakespearean echoes are tempting, but maybe it was built to serve the shrine by the Welland.

    And its churchyard does contain the best seat in Market Harborough.

    Penis photo posters seized by police in Lewes

    Ladies and gentlemen: Thanks to BBC News, we have our Headline of the Day.

    Liberator on Liberal Democrat candidate selections

    The new Liberator arrived this morning, so I am able to give you a snippet from the well-informed Radical Bulletin section.

    Looking at the fast-track selections the Liberal Democrats have used in some seats in case there is an early general election, it says:
    In addition to most seats held until 2015, or in some cases 2010, there were some deeply puzzling choices. 
    These included: Leyton & Wanstead (5th place with 5.7% of the vote), Poplar & Limehouse (5th 4.2%), Esher & Walton (4th, 9.4%), Birmingham Edgbaston (5th, 9.2%) and Canterbury (4th, 11.6%). 
    Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceThe list did not include Maidstone, at which ludicrous levels of resources were hurled to no great effect last year, or some surviving second places such as Newton Abbot and Romsey.
    The moral is clear: you should subscribe to Liberator.

    Friday, July 22, 2016

    A journey round Leicester's central ring road

    This video follows the ring road in both directions and features stories about its history and the places it passes through.

    Eat your heart out, Iain Sinclair.

    Six of the Best 612

    In an open memo to David Cameron, former Canadian high commissioner to the UK, Jeremy Kinsman, sets out the scale of Remain's failure.

    James Ball and Marie Le Conte take us inside the complex snarl of companies that control Momentum.

    Pension raids and contribution holidays, together with some bad planning and short-sighted tax policy, have left pension funds with a massive gap. Companies are now trying to cover this using money that might otherwise go towards pay rises. Those they employ are working to cover the cost of benefits they are unlikely to see themselves while seeing their own pay stagnate." Flip Chart Rick lays bare the great pensions cock up.

    Greener cities are healthier cites, says Pascal Mittermaier.

    Glen Wright offers a short history of cats in academia: "When cats aren’t contributing to academic life, they are themselves the subject of much interesting research, including a much-publicised study suggesting that your cat may wish to kill you."

    Flickering Lamps on the church tower that was moved from the City to Twickenham between 1938 and 1940.

    Thursday, July 21, 2016

    Richard Jefferies Halt to open on 31 July

    From the Total Swindon site:
    Swindon 175 cordially invite you to the grand opening of Richard Jefferies Halt and The New Coate Water Railway Loop Extension - Swindon's brand new railway station! 
    Please arrive early as the first train will be stopping at Richard Jefferies Halt at 12:05pm. 
    This family fun packed day will see the first official train stop at the new station with a ribbon cutting and an unveiling of the new sign to mark the official opening of Richard Jefferies Halt. Children's activities at the museum, a brass band and a steam traction engine to keep you entertained. 
    The museum is situated on the edge of the beautiful Coate Water County Park which houses the miniature railway and its just 2 minutes from the Arkells Brewery Sun Inn family pub. A corner of Swindon perfect for families - Come along to the museum and bring a picnic! 
    There is parking available at Coate Water. 
    For more information and to see other Swindon175 events, visit the website here.
    You can read more about Richard Jefferies and Coate in a guest post by Rebecca Welshman.

    I took the photo above when I visited Coate some years ago. In an earlier life, I wrote a Masters dissertation on Jefferies.

    The lions of Tur Langton

    I was taken with these two lions on Saturday. They guard the entrance to the churchyard at St Andrew's, Tur Langton, and appear to be gravestones too.

    St Andrew's is a Victorian brick church designed by Goddards of Leicester and funded by the Hanbury Charity.

    It is uncompromising and incongruous in a picturesque village, but I rather admire it.

    Tur Langton Manor now has a cafe and some retail units, which makes it easier to view the fragment that remains of the village's Medieval church.

    I found it being guarded by conscientious alpacas.

    In praise of Pokemon Go

    A shocking report from BBC News:
    A group of teenage boys who entered an underground cave network to search for Pokemon got stuck 100ft below ground. 
    The "glum and embarrassed" foursome had to be rescued after entering the complex, known as the Box mines, in Hawthorn, Wiltshire. 
    They had entered while playing smash hit smartphone game Pokemon Go, where users search real-life locations for digital creatures.
    Except, isn't that what we rather want teenagers to be like? Getting out of doors and exploring their surroundings?

    I'm sure Baden-Powell would approve and I suspect Malcolm Saville would too.

    The NSPCC certainly does not approve. The Independent reports its views:
    Because the app encourages people to explore the world, by allowing them to find new Pokemon by heading to different places, the app could be exploited by criminals, the NSPCC said. 
    The same geolocation feature that is central to the app could be used by offenders to find children, the charity warned.
    If you are minded to find children, I suspect there are easier ways of doing so.

    It is good to see children out on a summer evening exploring the streets and seeing things the adults around them cannot.

    It is not so different to what I do on Saturdays armed with my camera and a few scraps of local history.

    Wednesday, July 20, 2016

    A lost line: Tooting, Merton and Wimbledon

    Another exploration of a closed London railway by the people at Londonist. This time there are not a lot of remains to be discovered.

    Why Remain lost the European referendum

    I came across an article today by Warren Hatter that looks at the reasons the Remain campaign lost the referendum.

    I'm not sure quite which body of theory or knowledge it draws on, but it certainly sounds convincing:
    It’s not hard to make a case that the main flaw of the Remain campaign was in allowing the debate to be framed by the Leave camp. Framing isn’t a behavioural effect as such, but how something is framed provides the context for decision-making – and biases – to play. 
    Taking just one example, the Leave side managed to get ‘freedom of movement’ spoken about as though it’s a one-way street. And this is still true; listen to news pieces even today about the issue, and it’s all about EU citizens’ right to move to the UK, not about UK citizens being able to live in any of 28 countries, as a result of being EU citizens. 
    How could the campaign have been run to reframe this? I’ll offer just one example: loss aversion is good to tap into. For UK citizens like me and my family, the Leave campaign was about removing our right to live in 27 of those 28 countries. Expressing it more vividly, they want to take 95% of my/your passport away.

    Private Eye's lead story was on this blog in 2008

    The lead story in the new Private Eye concerns hacks' attempts to turn up some dirt on our new prime minister.

    They hoped to find it in a privately published history of the Oxford University Conservative Association that appeared in 1994 and left no episode of backstabbing or vote-rigging undocumented.

    Trouble is, that history has suddenly become very scarce. Even college libraries known to have held copies now claim they do not.

    But the Eye has seen one and can reveal that no wrongdoing by either the young Theresa Brasier or the young Philip May appears in it.

    It does however have a story about Damian Green being thrown into the Cherwell.

    I would be more impressed by this if it had not already appeared on this blog in 2008. This is what I quoted then:
    One person who will perhaps be a little anxious at the news that David Davis has been replaced as shadow Home Secretary by Dominic Grieve is Conservative MP Damian Green, who has the immigration brief in Grieve's new department. 
    The two men were at Oxford together in the 1970s, when Green (educated at Reading grammar school) was an undergraduate at Balliol College and his new boss (educated at Westminster public school) was at Magdalen. Green, who a contemporary remembers as an earnest sort of chap, was invited to a black-tie dinner at Magdalen and polished his shoes accordingly, but after dinner - and, sadly, history does not record the reason for this - Green found himself picked up in a display of high spirits and deposited in the Cherwell by a group of Magdalen hearties, including Dominic Grieve.
    Quoted, because was not a scoop by me either. The story had appeared in the Observer's diary column Pendennis.

    Still, I make that Lord Bonkers 1 Lord Gnome 0.

    Tuesday, July 19, 2016

    Disused railway stations in Oxfordshire

    Three minutes of deep joy.

    Six of the Best 613

    Caron Lindsay can't recommend the Social Liberal Forum conference highly enough.

    "To say that voters should not be allowed to change their minds when they see what the withdrawal terms actually are would be deeply undemocratic." Alan Renwick considers the possibility of a second referendum on Brexit.

    Vaughan Bell examines why are paranoia and schizophrenia more common in cities.

    "I cannot help but feel that I would not have heard such comments from the strangers I spoke with had I been a young twenty-something male travelling alone on this adventure. I truly believe the comments stem from the fact that I am a woman." Leilani on female solitude as a challenging act.

    "I Could Go On Singing isn’t a movie: it’s a 99 minute heartbreak." Nathaniel Hood watches Judy Garland's last film, which paired her with Dirk Bogarde.

    Tim Wigmore meets the Joyces - the first family of Irish cricket.

    Nick Clegg rejoins the Liberal Democrat front bench

    On 10 July I blogged about the Conservative leadership:
    For her sake and the sake of the country, Leadsom should now stand down from the contest.
    The following day she did just that.

    Sometimes it takes a little longer. On 7 July I wrote:
    What would be welcome ... would be Nick Clegg taking on the Europe and foreign affairs for the Liberal Democrats, 
    His party needs him and his country does too.
    This afternoon came news (so far only via Twitter) that Nick Clegg is going to take on the European portfolio for the Lib Dems.

    To be honest, I have been calling for him to do that ever since the last election. But if people have finally started to take notice of me I shall call for more things in future.

    Man who soaks his feet in urine coming barefoot to Retford

    Thanks to the reader who nominated it, the Retford Times wins our Headline of the Day Award.

    Monday, July 18, 2016

    Merton College, Tur Langton and Kibworth Harcourt

    In 2012 I blogged about the plan of Merton College, Oxford, to deprive the Leicestershire village of Turn Langton of its village hall.

    Judging by the banner I found when I went back to Tur Langton on Saturday, that dispute is yet to be settled.

    But Merton College has more ambitious plans for this part of the county. It is one of several landowners (including the Diocese of Leicester) behind plans for a massive development a couple of miles to the west at Kibworth Harcourt.

    Take it as a reminder that however much institutions portray themselves as above getting and spending, someone somewhere is paying for all that effortless superiority.

    According to the Harborough Mail, the plans would increase the population of Kibworth by about 50 per cent, taking it to more than 10,000 people.

    I read many Liberal Democrats moaning about 'Nimbys,' but my impression, at least locally, is that developers get pretty much what they want. Councils are wary of challenging them, and if they generally lose. Wave after wave of new development in Kibworth and Market Harborough testifies to this.

    Anyway, if you live in Kibworth you can see the details of Merton et al.'s plans at Kibworth Grammar School Hall on Wednesday 29 July between 4 and 8pm.

    The photograph below shows Kibworth Harcourt windmill, which must lie in the centre of the proposed development.

    Call for the Spencer Davis Group to reunite for a gig in Birmingham

    Researching my post on The Uglys' Wake Up My Mind yesterday, I came across this cry from the heart on the Brumbeat site:
    The Spencer Davis Group was one of the most admired bands to come out of Birmingham in the 1960s. They were also one of the most successful with internationally known hit records like 'Keep On Running', 'Gimme Some Loving', and 'I'm A Man'. 
    The aim of this petition is to show support for the original line-up of The Spencer Davis Group to re-unite and perform at Birmingham's Town Hall. Their drummer Pete York has requested support from fans of the BrumBeat web site to help this cause. In his own words "before time robs us of our facility to do so." 
    The original line-up of the group was Spencer Davis, Steve Winwood, Muff Winwood, and Pete York. They have not performed on stage together as a group since 1967. 
    We are losing more of our heroes from the 1960s with depressing regularity. It's not about money, It's About Time!
    Perhaps not tactful, but then Muff Winwood himself has suggested that the Spencer Davis Group are the only group to top the singles chart in the 1960s whose members are all still alive.

    There is more about the petition (which I shall be happy to sign) on the Birmingham Mail site:
    It’s more than just a pipedream – John Woodhouse’s campaign has already received the backing of drummer Peter York, and the internet petition is gathering pace daily. 
    John ... explains the appeal, and importance, of The Spencer Davis Group. 
    “In those early days, half the groups in Birmingham were trying to be like The Shadows, the other half like The Beatles,” he explains. 
    “But the Spencer Davis Group were different in that they had their own sound. A lot of bands went on to copy that sound.”
    The photograph above, which was sent to me by the Catalina Island Museum, shows the band in the 1960s. I believe it comes from Spencer Davis's own collection. (Spencer Davis now lives on the island and in 2012 the museum held an exhibition devoted to the band.)

    The video below shows what all the fuss is about.