Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Searching for the source of the River Lea

Nick Corble of Diagonal Walking searches for the source of the River Lea near Luton.

When you can find it, the Lea flows all the way to East London to join the Thames.

Bots and trolls exploit divisions that are already there

Earlier today Carole Cadwalladr sent and then deleted a tweet suggesting that asked whether bots and trolls are fabricating antisemitic messages to fan the dispute in the Labour Party.

She pointed out that such forces work by augmenting and amplifying divisions that are already there.

Before we examine this idea, let me first emphasise that Labour does have a problem with antisemitism. Step forward, for instance, the recent mayor of Shrewsbury, Ioan Jones, and his belief that the Rothschilds have "financed both sides of every war since Napoleon".

And it has to be admitted that Carole was foolish to use her tweet to point us to a thread that wandered off into the deep rough of conspiracy theory.

But she was surely on to something. It would be amazing if Moscow were not using Labour's fault line over antisemitism to make mischief.

Certainly, I often come across what look to be pro-Corbyn bot accounts. I assume they will go into overdrive at the next election if Putin decides a Labour victory will do most damage.

And a word of warning to my fellow Remainers.

If I were in charge of Putin's black ops - I've had offers - and wanted to damage Remain's chances in any second referendum, I would pump out the word "gammon" as much as possible.

There is nothing like belittling people to make them unwilling to change their minds and vote for you.

If you don't believe me, take the time to listen to this talk by Steve Reicher.

Peter Gabriel, Brexit and the closing of the British mind

Remember how Brexit was supposed to make Britain a truly global nation? That's not how it's turning out in practice.

Today's Guardian quotes Peter Gabriel talking about his experiences of organising this year's Womad world music festival, where three acts were prevented from entering the country and a fourth arrived late:
"The right to travel for work, for education and even for pleasure is increasingly being restricted and often along racial and religious lines. 
“It is alarming that our UK festival would now have real problems bringing artists into this country … [many of whom] no longer want to come to the UK because of the difficulty, cost and delays with visas, along with the new fear that they will not be welcomed.”
The truth, of course, is that a global Britain is the last thing many supporters of Brexit want.

Anyway, Peter, while you are here...

In which Priest Weston is entirely surrounded by potholes

There's worrying news of my favourite part of Shropshire.in the Shropshire Star:
People living in a rural village on the Welsh border have demanded immediate county council action after being threatened with being effectively cut off by unfinished roadworks. 
At a meeting held at Priest Weston Village Hall locals told of their frustrations concerning the roads’ poor maintenance and the damage it was causing to their cars. 
Among those present was the school bus driver and the primary school minibus driver - both of whose routes have been affected by the lack of work to remedy the road surfaces.
The meeting was organised by the area's Liberal Democrat county councillor Heather Kidd.

She told the Star:
“Despite a sustained campaign by residents and myself we still have not had any meaningful repairs done to the dreadful road surfaces on all four roads leading out of the village.”
There is a mention too for The Miners Arms, which is one of the pubs in this part of the world where local resident Ronnie Lane would sometimes turn up with a few friends and give an unadvertised performance.

This is not the first time Priest Weston has had such problems. Back in 2007 the collapse of an old mine shaft led to the closure of the road to White Grit.

That incident led to this piece of whimsy from me in the New Statesman:
Last year, down the road in a field near White Grit, an old mineshaft collapsed. It left a hole 50ft across and 20ft deep. (You will find White Grit on the map near The Bog ­- the village names are delightful round here.) 
The hole turned out to be right on the border between Shropshire and Powys and neither council was keen to take responsibility for it. Argument raged over whether it was in England or Wales. And until the matter was settled I had a profitable side-line selling bootleg liquor from a stall in the field.
Anyway, as the Coalition and Conservative governments' cuts to local authority spending bite every more deeply, I fear there will be many more cases like Priest Weston.

Monday, July 30, 2018

More ghost signs from Aylestone

This Saturday's expedition was cut short by welcome rain, but I found some more Aylestone ghost signs to add to last week's crop.

When Mark Littlewood was the Coalition's "Red Tape Tsar"

Embed from Getty Images

The Tobacco Tactics site reminds us of a piece of recent political history:
In September 2011, Littlewood, wrote on his Daily Mail blog that the "Coalition’s war on red tape is just hot air". Less than two months later, Littlewood was appointed as an independent adviser to the government’s Red Tape Challenge for Disruptive Business Models. Speaking on his appointment, Littlewood said: 
The IEA has sought to educate people over recent months about the burden which red tape and regulation places on businesses in the United Kingdom. Holding back enterprise through unnecessary bureaucratic intervention lowers employment and stifles economic growth.
Questions were raised over Littlewood's independence. His position as a Red Tape advisor is unpaid, so his government work is effectively being subsidised by the IEA. 
In March 2012, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Smoking and Health asked Vince Cable, the Trade and Industry Minister, for “reassurances” that Littlewood would not be advising on tobacco-related matters because of his “clear conflict of interest”. 
The committee chairman, Stephen Williams MP, said in a letter, quoted in the Independent. 
He clearly has a pro-tobacco agenda and has campaigned for a number of years against regulation of the tobacco industry. He could not, therefore, fulfil the remit of an independent adviser to the Government. 
In a statement to the Independent newspaper, the Department for Business said that Littlewood would not be involved in any tobacco-related matter. 
On 24 March 2012, Vince Cable confirmed this in a letter. Cable wrote to Stephen Williams, the chair of the APPG, confirming that 
Mark Littlewood is an independent advisor to the team running the Disruptive Business Models theme of the Red Tape Challenge … Tobacco-related matters are not part of the Disruptive Business Models theme.
While excessive regulation can operate as a barrier to new producers entering a market, when the right talk of "red tape" they generally mean hard-won rights for the average worker.

We Liberals should defend those rights.

Why I struggle to see Jeremy Corbyn as a great opponent of antisemitism

The video above shows one of Jeremy Corbyn's controversial appearances on the Iranian government's television channel Press TV.

Have a listen in particular to the exchange with Mehdi, which you will find between 6:42 and 8:05.

Note that when Corbyn thinks Mehdi is saying the United States is trying to bring peace to the Middle East, he immediately picks him up.

But when Mehdi says Israel is a "disease" that must be "got rid of" from the region he allows it to go unchallenged.

I do not believe Jeremy Corbyn is an antisemite. I do believe that he comes from a strand of Labour politics that sees opposition to America as an overwhelming imperative.

You can oppose Israel's policies - and they should be opposed - without being antisemitic in the slightest degree.

But if you think of what getting rid of Israel would mean for its citizens, you cannot endorse Corbyn's silence here.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

A tour of the old lead mine at Snailbeach

GingerBeardMark and the musician Eric Loveland Heath are our guides for a tour of the remains of Snailbeach lead mine in Shropshire.

In its day - the second half of the 19th century - this was the most productive lead mine in the country.

The work of Eric Loveland Heath, who grew up in Snailbeach and has been inspired by its strange landscape, has featured on this blog before/

Six of the Best 807

Caron Lindsay was at the Social Liberal Forum conference yesterday, where big ideas abounded.

"It has been de rigueur in certain middle class circles to complain about the baleful effect of political parties in government, but nobody appears to be complaining now they have all but disappeared in the chaos hat now seems to be overtaking what used to be known as the UK government." David Boyle is as penetrating as ever.

"Leave-supporting areas can be easily distinguished from those supporting Remain. Broadly speaking, they are more deprived, have lower levels of income, fewer high status-jobs, a weaker economic structure, and an ageing demographic with lower levels of educational attainment." Thiemo Fetzer argues that the vote for Brexit can be explained by the Coalition government's austerity policies.

Ferdinand Mount reviews a new life of Charles de Gaulle.

Bernard Weinraub examines the strange failure of the Clint Eastwood and Kevin Costner film A Perfect World.

Whenever a glimmer of chess talent is spotted in the United States, people often ask: “Is this the next Bobby Fischer?” Daaim Shabazz on Fabiano Caruana, the challenger for the world chess championship.

Did Mark Littlewood start out in the Chard Group?

© Steve Barnes
It looks as though Mark Littlewood will be in the news this week thanks to this Guardian story:
The director of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) was secretly recorded telling an undercover reporter that funders could get to know ministers on first-name terms and that his organisation was in “the Brexit influencing game”.
Mark Littlewood claimed the IEA could make introductions to ministers and said the thinktank’s trade expert knew Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, David Davis and Liam Fox well. 
The IEA chief was also recorded suggesting potential US donors could fund and shape “substantial content” of research commissioned by the thinktank and that its findings would always support the argument for free-trade deals.
The Guardian also quotes Littlewood's response that there is nothing wrong with any of this, though I am not convinced by research whose conclusions you know before you have conducted it.

Sir Karl Popper writes: Neither am I and nor is Caron Lindsay. And is "thinktank" really one word?

As Littlewood is in the news, it seems a good time to quote a 2010 item from Liberator's Radical Bulletin - you can download a pdf of the whole issue yourself.

That story runs:
A fascinating Chard Group document comes our way (and that is not a phrase you will often read in Liberator). Long before its present preoccupation with running conference raffles, the Chard Group was set up and run by Richard Denton-White to support Paddy Ashdown’s objective, set out in his 1992 speech in Chard, of working more closely with Labour. 
The September 1995 issue of the group’s Campaigner newsletter says its new vice-chair is Mark Littlewood, who “is now the youth president of the European Movement”. 
Someone called Mark Littlewood was the Lib Dems’ head of media until his unfortunate spot of bother with Ming Campbell’s inaugural conference speech as leader in March 2006, and later ran the lunatic-fringe libertarian right Liberal Vision, before departing the Lib Dems last year to become director of the Thatcherite Institute of Economic Affairs. 
That Mark Littlewood was, by an extraordinary coincidence, described as a former youth officer of the European Movement in a 2004 interview in PR Week to mark his appointment as Lib Dem press officer. 
So did Littlewood really make the strange political journey from Denton-White’s pro-Labour body to the wilder shores of the libertarian right – and, if so, where might he next be found?
Well, he's still to be found at the IEA. But if he did start our with the Chard Group his journey has been stranger even than that of his employee Darren Grimes.

Robin Sarstedt: My Resistance is Low

There was a hashtag popular on Twitter earlier this week (#songsofsummer1976) that people used to boast about having been at famous early punk gigs.

To those of us outside London and reliant upon Radio One for our music, 1976 was very different. It was a year of disco and novelty hits.

The song that reminds me of taking my O levels early that summer is If You Leave Me Now by Chicago. I had thought of choosing that today, but listening to it now it is pretty awful. Silly voice, silly hair.

So let's embrace the novelty hit vibe with Robin Sarstedt.

He was the youngest of the Sarstedt brothers. His two elder brothers - Eden Kane and Peter Sarstedt - both had number one singles in the UK in the Sixties.

Robin did not quite match that - My Resistance is Low made number three - but by 1976 he had already enjoyed an interesting musical career He recorded with Joe Meek and was part of a successful Swedish band called The Deejays.

Looking back on that era, it is remarkable that so little was made of the Indian heritage of popular performers like Cliff Richard, Engelbert and the Sarstedt brothers.

I wouldn't claim My Resistance is Low is a great record, but Danny Baker continually maintains that the world would be a better place if there were a radio channel devoted to play just the few seconds of it.

And it does give a chance to the single the three Sarstedts released together in 1973: Chinese Restaurant.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

From telephone exchange to Baptist chapel

A Particular Baptist is not a Baptist who insists the water is just the right temperature. It is one who holds to the Calvinist doctrine that Christ died not to redeem all of us but just the elect.

Today I came across this little Particular Baptist chapel just off the Aylestone Road in Leicester.

According to The Mystery Worshipper:
 The congregation used to be based in the city centre, in a building that could accommodate a congregation of 600+. As numbers dwindled and the building became surplus to their needs, the church acquired this building – and regard it as God's provision.
That site also says:
 I was surprised to find out that the building used to be a telephone exchange – it seems so well suited to its new role that I thought it had been purpose-built.


Jacob Rees-Mogg is no Sister Julian

The Guardian letters page wins Headline of the Day for the first time.

C.P. Scott would be so proud.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Lord Bonkers condemns the Duke of Rutland's attempt to get people to work without pay at Belvoir Castle

Embed from Getty Images

From BBC News:
The Duke of Rutland, who is reportedly worth £145m, has been criticised after actors were asked to work without pay at his stately home. 
Belvoir Castle, where the 11th duke David Manners lives, advertised for actors to perform voluntarily as "Kings, Queens, Dukes and Duchesses". 
One actor said the advert, which asks applicants to be "flexible" with working hours, was "outrageous". 
Belvoir Castle, in Leicestershire, has since taken down the advert.
Lord Bonkers writes exclusively for Liberal England:
Noblesse oblige, it is the business of the wealthy man to give employment to the artisan.and so forth. 
I should like to take this opportunity to reassure my readers than every actor employed in one of the many artistic performances that grace Bonkers Hall is suitably remunerated. 
While I am not suggesting for a moment that the Duke of Rutland is hard up, if he is finding things A Bit Of A Stretch at the moment he could always relinquish his ceremonial role to the scion of another family that has lived in Rutland for rather longer than the Manners.

Re-enchanting the city: Towards a psychogeography of Leicester

Last Saturday's walk from in search of C.P. Snow took me past the goals of a couple of former outings.

There was a match going on at the Aylestone Road ground where Leicestershire used to play and Mike Brearley kept wicket for Cambridge in the last first-class game it hosted.

The path to the point from which you can view Raw Dykes, the remains of the water course that brought Roman Leicester its water supply, was choked with weeds that were turning brown from the sun.

These overlapping narratives are a way of re-enchanting the city, but I wonder if I can claim the status of psychogeography for my wanderings and writings.

Reading the best short guide to the subject - Psychogeography by Merlin Coverley - I suspect I am more naturally categorised, like Peter Ackroyd, as a New Antiquarian.

Inspired in their wanderings more by history than art, this is a type Coverley rather disapproves of.

Still, I lap up the writings of Iain Sinclair, the high priest of psychogeography, so maybe there is hope for me.

And, while I seldom set off without a bit of local history in mind, it is the unexpected discoveries - the drummer boy at Thurmaston, Colonel Lancaster's cottages at Kelmarsh - that bring me most pleasure.

I had a university friend from Northern Ireland who introduced me to the concept of the Ulster concept of the "dander" - a walk almost but not entirely without purpose.

It describes the activities of the University of York Railway Society in those days and also characterises the most enjoyable of the walks I record here.

Why Vince Cable's idea of a leader outside parliament won't work

It transpires that Vince Cable's plan of "opening the doors, ceasing to be an inward-looking, membership club and broadening out" goes much further than we realised.

As the Daily Mirror told us last night
Vince Cable has hatched a secret plot to pave the way for a non-MP lead the Lib Dems. 
He wants to scrap or amend an obscure part of the party’s constitution which states only an MP can take the helm. 
The move, which is likely to be put to the party after summer recess and could be debated at the annual conference in Brighton in September, would mean a non-politician could become leader, scuppering ambitions of Sir Vince’s rivals on the Commons’ benches. 
One potential name in the frame is campaigner Gina Miller, who took the Government to court over Brexit last year.
Embed from Getty Images })});

For a more gossipy take on the same story, see Patrick Maguire in the New Statesman.

I can see the appeal of persuading high-profile figures with liberal beliefs to join the party. We are in a trough at present - the idea that we are doing wonderfully well in local elections rests arises largely from confirmation bias - so we badly need an infusion of pizzazz and brio.

Moreover, local politics often works this way round. You first identify people in the community who have sympathetic beliefs and are well known, and then persuade them to join the party and become council candidates.

But would a leader outside parliament work? I think not.

That leader, assuming the Liberal Democrats still have pretensions to power, would have to get themselves elected to the Commons sooner rather than later.

We don't have safe seats where we can engineer a convenient by-election (not even Twickenham). Even if we did, the voters don't like being taken for granted in this way. Just ask Patrick Gordon-Walker - one for the teenagers there.

So Gina Miller, or whoever it is, would have to try to gain a seat at the general election at the same time as leading the party's national campaign. And all that with little experience of party politics.

Even if we Lib Dem members wanted it to work, it sounds pretty unlikely to be successful.

Oh, and then there is this tweet...

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Rediscovering the St Ives to Huntingdon line

Last week it was March to Spalding. This week it is St Ives to Huntingdon.

You can watch archive footage of the line from Cambridge to St Ives via another post on this blog.

Darren Grimes continues to be mysterious

Never mind my puzzlement over the rapid change in Darren Grimes's politics: there is a more fundamental question about him. Just how old is the guy?

The screen capture above comes from a post made today on the page where he raised money to fund an appeal again the Electoral Commission finding that he had broken the law.

The tweet below was sent by him earlier this week.

h/t James Chalmers

Those "senior Liberal Democrats" are meeting tonight

Remember those "senior Liberal Democrats" who want to Vince Cable as leader?

According to Total Politics, which is unable to add any detail to that original story, they are meeting this evening.

I like Layla Moran and can see her being party leader one day, but I am not convinced that a change of leader is the answer to our current lack of progress.
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Maybe everyone should just go on holiday?

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The ghost signs of Aylestone

A few trophies from Saturday's exploration.

Newsnight thinks Wasim Akram is about to become President of Pakistan

Take a look at the first few seconds of this video.

That's not Imran Khan, who was a right-arm bowler, but Wasim Akram.

I suppose all seam bowlers look alike to the bright young things at Newsnight.

Later.  Newsnight have deleted their tweet, but someone captured the vital seconds.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Six of the Best 806

Daniel H. Cole and Aurelian Craiutu have some good news for you: reports of the demise of liberalism are greatly exaggerated.

"To see, as most commentary has done, the deliberate traumatisation of migrant children as a 'mistake' by Trump is culpable naivety. It is a trial run - and the trial has been a huge success." Fintan O’Toole says trial runs for fascism are in full flow.

Rhitu Chaterjee finds that replacing vacant sites with green spaces can ease depression in urban communities.

"Sadly, an ever-more-vocal minority of our site’s visitors appear to be intent on abusing the ability to comment. They lurk beneath even the most innocuous of stories to grind out personal grudges, rail against the council or the T&A or - worse - pollute the comments section with hate-filled, racist, anti-Semitic or Islamophobic tirades." Bradford's Telegraph & Argus explains why it has turned off comments on its website.

Jan-Christopher Horak introduces the film director Ernst Lubitsch, "the director of possibly the most sophisticated anti-Nazi film to come out of Hollywood during the war years, To Be or Not to Be."

Have a wander through Nottingham with Watson Fothergill and Philip Wilkinson.

Brexit is giving Britain the economics of the Soviet Union

Embed from Getty Images

There is a story we used to tell in the West to demonstrate the superiority of our economic system.

It concerns an official from the old Soviet Union who came on a visit to Britain.

Back home he was responsible for ensuring that the right amount of bread arrived in Moscow each morning.

When he arrived here he was asked if there was anyone he would like to meet.

He replied that he would like to talk to his opposite number - the government official who was responsible for ensuring that the right amount of bread arrived in London each morning.

And he was astounded to be told that there was no such person.

Well, that is not true any more.

Brexit risks the ripping up of all the elegant market mechanisms that ensure food from all across Europe fill our supermarkets every day. There will be borders, customs to clear and red tape.

So the government is having to step in.

Today Dominic Raab promised MPs he would ensure "there is adequate food supply" if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal.

That's right. Now there is someone responsible for ensuring that the right amount of bread arrived in London each morning.

And his name is Dominic Raab.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Liberal Democrats call on the leadership of Northamptonshire County Council to resign

For the second time in a year, a section 114 notice has been issued by the chief financial officer of Northamptonshire County Council. It is a Conservatice-run authority led by Cllr Matt Golby.

As I explained when the first notice was issued in February, this is a measure the officer takes if a council has, or is likely to have, an unbalanced budget.

Commenting today the leader of the Liberal Democrat group on the council, Chris Stanbra said:
"Matt Golby now needs to consider his position, as do cabinet members Cllr Michael Clarke and Cllr Ian Morris. Cllr Golby was deputy leader before and has been in the cabinet for many years. Cllr Clarke and Cllr Morris were also in the cabinet and so would have been involved in making these decisions. 
“They need to seriously think about whether they should step down in light of the current situation the council is in. If they don’t, they need to be ready to explain why it is that they should stay, as they bear a responsibility in this."
The Labour chair of the council's scrutiny committee said much the same:
"Clearly Matt Golby was a leading part of the cabinet and knew what was going on. 
"Those responsible now need to be held accountable. In the opposition we knew there were huge financial problems but we did not know a lot of the detail as it was hidden from us."
According to another Northamptonshire Telegraph report, Mr Golby
said he was disappointed that opposition politicians had called for him to step down.
But he added magnanimously:
"I am OK with taking responsibility for my involvement in the past."
Every local authority is under dreadful financial pressure, but the problems in Northants are an order of magnitude greater than any that have been revealed elsewhere.

Why is this? Let me try a theory on you.

Northamptonshire is the heart of Conservative Brexit country. Just think of the MPs the party selects: Angela Leadsom, Chris Heaton Harris, Peter Bone, Philip Hollobone, Tom Pursglove...

I think it fair to say they are more remarkable for their ideology than their intellect.

Local Conservative branches used to be filled with people who know how many beans make five. I suspect that in Northamptonshire at least, they have been replaced by ideologues who would could not read a spreadsheet to save their lives.

And those are the people from whom Northamptonshire Conservatives choose their council candidates. Those are the people who get to make that choice.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Mock Tudor and Art Nouveau in a Leicester backstreet

You never know what you will find. Searching for C.P. Snow's plaque, I found this idiosyncratic building in Cavendish Street.

This, you may recall, was the street hardest hit by the first German bombing raid on Leicester in World War II.

The Mock Tudor timbers and Art Nouveau lettering survived that, though the modern replacement windows do them no favours.

Down the road you will find another happy survival: a proper hardware shop.

It turns out Alan Moore was wrong: Governments should not be afraid of their people

Embed from Getty Images

It's the line everyone knows from Alan Moore's graphic novel V for Vendetta and the film that was made from it:
People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.
But is it as obviously right as it sounds? Is fear really a good thing in politics?

Take the current situation in the Commons, where it highly likely that a majority of MPs believe it is against Britain's interests to leave the European Union.

Why don't they vote in accord with their beliefs? Because of fear.

They are afraid of their party's whips. They are afraid of their local activists. They are afraid of being deselected.

They are afraid their career will never recover. They are afraid of what the press will say. They are afraid of the far right.

Yes, they are afraid of the voters, but the voters' option of voting for someone else next time is at the root of democracy. You stand up for what you believer, but if the voters look elsewhere, that is their right.

Perhaps there is some truth in the idea that is good when governments are afraid rather than individual politicians. Certainly, there is nothing like a resurgent Labour opposition to persuade a Conservative government to treat the average voter better.

But for the most part, fear seems to me to be corrosive to democratic politics.

Equally, the contempt the average voter has for politicians - they are all the same, they are all in it for themselves, they are all out to feather their own nests - seems to me both ill founded and damaging.

When they come to write the histories of the extraordinary period we are living through (if it results in a world where books are still allowed), I think the Daily Telegraph's publication of MPs' expense claims will come to be seen as a key moment.

The BBC's Question Time, for instance, has spent years trying to recapture the public anger that featured in its first programme after the story broke, and has trashed its brand in the attempt.

And why did the scandal over MPs' expenses arise? Because the authorities were afraid of what the press would say if they were given a pay increase and told them to fill their boots from their expense allowances instead.

No, fear is not a good thing in democratic politics.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

A Rugby train at Market Harborough in 1966

Photograph © Lamberhurst from Wikimedia Commons
This photograph was taken in 1966, which was the year the line to Rugby closed.

I remember a school friend's father telling me that there used to be a train from Market Harborough to Birmingham in the morning and how useful it was.

As Wikipedia says, the line from Rugby to Peterborough offered a more direct route from the Midlands to East Anglia than the line via Leicester that survives. It was closed because it served fewer centres of population.

It was the remains of this platform, and of the bay platform beside it, that I photographed in May before they were lost in the reconstruction of Market Harborough station.

East Fife 4 Forfar 5.

From BBC Sport:
It was the scoreline that the late, great Eric Morecambe always used to joke about but had never come true - until now.  
East Fife 4 Forfar 5 was the much-loved comedian's idea of the ultimate tongue-twister for anyone trying to read out the football results.  
On Sunday, that result finally happened for the first time in the fixture's history - sort of. 
The Scottish League Cup Group B tie between the sides went to penalties after a 1-1 draw. And the score in the shootout? East Fife 4 Forfar 5.

Now there are stories about a Lib Dem leadership challenge

Embed from Getty Images

First it was secret talks about founding a new centre party: now it is a challenge to Vince Cable's leadership.

The Mail on Sunday reports:
A group of senior Lib Dems are planning to meet this week to push for Dr Cable to be succeeded by 35-year-old Layla Moran, the party’s education spokeswoman, who became an MP only last year.
It's those senior Lib Dems. they do get about.
The anti-Cable group is split between those who want him to go now and those who want to position Ms Moran as the natural successor when he stands down of his own volition. But most are agreed that Ms Moran would be more ‘electorally attractive’ than deputy leader Jo Swinson, who is favourite to succeed him.
Jo, it seems, "just doesn’t have the necessary stardust".

What to make of this?

I know it's the Mail on Sunday, but if I were looking to invent a story to interest that paper's readers, a Liberal Democrat leadership contest would not be my first thought.

I take it as recognition that, despite our frantic spinning of local election results, the Lib Dems have not experienced much of a revival yet. I don't particularly blame Vince for this, but it is best to be honest about our fortunes.

And I also take it as recognition that the next Lib Dem contest will not be an automatic victory for Jo Swinson, as many see too assume.

The Mail, incidentally, quotes "a source close to Ms Moran" as saying she is
"keen to build her majority in her seat before considering the leadership. And she doesn’t want her supporters to treat Jo like that. There’s also been a good recovery under Vince’s leadership."

Gerald Finzi: Fear No More the Heat of the Sun

Time for some English art song, alebit with a Welsh singer, and a title appropriate for this heatwave.

Fear No More the Heat of the Sun comes from Shakespeare's Cymbeline and, like a lot of good poems, is about death.

The couplet:
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.
Encapsulates the whole of Housman's verse centuries before he was born.

I sometimes suspect Bryn Terfel of overacting in this sort of work, but his voice is simply magnificent.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Vince Cable's bright new ideas from Canada remind me of the old Liberal Party

Given how unwilling Vince Cable's office has been to account for his absence from the Commons the other evening, it comes as no surprise that the Sunday Times is reporting that he was in discussions about the launch of a new centre party.

Let's park out outrage on that until we know more about what it proposed.

Meanwhile I have  thinking about yesterday's report from Business Insider that 
"Tom Pitfield, a data analytics expert and childhood friend of Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau, is helping Cable with party reforms which will be unveiled at the Lib Dem autumn conference."
I am all for learning from abroad, even if the ghost of Ryan Coetzee flaps ineffectually over the idea after our recent experiences.

But what struck me about the new approach Cable revealed:
"Essentially, they decided it was about opening the doors, ceasing to be an inward-looking, membership club and broadening out. Tom Pitfield is currently advising me on how best to use their ideas."
was that I had seen it somewhere before.

And the place I had seen it was the old Liberal Party.

Where we had active local parties there was typically a wider circle of supporters who were not members of the party. They might come to social events or deliver Focus in their street.

Here in Harborough we even had someone who had become disaffected from the local branch but would still appear from nowhere and run the committee room on polling day for a candidate he liked.

And I have read - it may have been in his memoirs - that when Paddy Ashdown was starting out in Yeovil the meetings of the local party were great because all sorts of interesting people would turn up.

All that sounds to me just what a political party should be like.

Then came merger with SDP. We were told that the Liberal approach was hopelessly old fashioned and that what the new party needed was a centralised membership.

The Liberal Democrats have been operating with that model ever since.

Merger was a long time ago, but then I suppose one of the compensations of getting older is that you can smile at irony or feel a comforting sense of familiarity as debates you remember eventually come round again.
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So maybe the old Liberal model had something to be said for it after all?

A plaque for C.P. Snow and the first Nazi raid on Leicester

Placed so obscurely that you have to know it is there before you find it is a plaque marking the Leicester birthplace of C.P. Snow.

Snow, who lived from 1905 to 1980. was a scientist and civil servant who served in the Lords as a minister in Harold Wilson's short-lived Ministry of Technology.

He was also a novelist and was at one time was taken enormously seriously by the critics. Since his death, though his sequence Strangers and Brothers has been adapted by the BBC for both radio and television, he has fallen into almost total eclipse.

Really, it is the writers this doesn't happen to who need explaining, but reading Snow today it is difficult to see why he enjoyed such a reputation. As Simon Hoggart once observed, his characters address one another in the language of Times editorials.

Even the famous phrase he coined - "the corridors of power" - seems to be used less these days.

Anyway, Snow's plaque is not on his birthplace, which has disappeared, but on the house next door.

When I read about this I remembered the German raids on the area around Leicester station. You can map where the bombs fell by finding the postwar buildings dotted down incongruously among the Victorian streets. 

Could the same thing have happened here in Aylestone? It did. 

The air raid near Leicester station took place in November 1940 and was the city's worst night of bombing in the war. But its first raid was in August 1940, when the streets where Snow's house stood were attacked. 

As we came up the Saffron Lane past the end of Cavendish Road the gas main was blazing and I could see lots of bomb damage, many buildings were in ruins, people were just being rescued with ambulance’s and fire engines all around. This was less than half an hour after the raid. 
Six people were killed; Cavendish Road was only one mile from our house. In broad daylight the German Dornier Do.17 bomber flying very low curved round the gas works after dropping its bombs (it missed), straight towards our house. 
Mother had the pram with Graham in it just approaching our front gates. My brothers Arthur and Tony had been debating what sort of plane it was, when they decided it was German, they made a dash for our shelter. 
Mum had heard reports of German planes machine gunning civilians; she snatched Graham up out of his pram and made a dash for the shelter just as the plane roared over, my mother fell into the Anderson shelter; mum was black and blue for weeks.
The six people who died are now remembered on a discreet plaque on the wall of a hall attached to the Ecumenical Church of the Nativity, which stands where Cavendish Road joins Snow's Richmond Road.

So was Snow's old family home destroyed by a German bomb? No, but it was damaged.

Snow's brother Philip was himself a remarkable man who captained Leicestershire's second XI, became a colonial administrator and captained Fiji in first-class games.

In his memoirs Philip Snow recalled:
As the bombing of England started in earnest in 1940, my conscience in beautiful remote Lau was deeply stirred, not least when I heard that the area around our Richmond Road house in Leicester was almost the first to be bombed. 
A single German plane had dropped its bombs near the gasometers and all along the unbroken line of terraced house in Cavendish Road, which was at the bottom of our garden: flying fragments has smashed our third-storey windows and some people living parallel to us had been killed.
It's a long way from lower middle-class Leicester to Fiji or the House of Lords.

Exploring the area I found the former Aylestone Library, which must have been known to the Snow boys - a third brother became a historian and wrote a history of Leicestershire cricket.

Friday, July 20, 2018

A Long Eaton ghost sign

Now a private house (and up for sale), this must once have been home to a business catering for sightseers at Trent Lock.

Six of the Best 805

Brexiteers who look to Donald Trump for help will be disappointed. Dana Allin explains why.

Oliver Stanton has some sensible ideas from improving the Liberal Democrats' online presence.

"A shorter overall running time and a focus on producing even smaller bits of content risks robbing viewers of some of the current programme’s interrogative depth. Save for the various Sunday shows British TV is not running over with dedicated political interview programming, and [Andrew] Neil is one of the best in the business." Henry Hill is rightly critical of the BBC's decision to scrap the Daily Politics and Sunday Politics.

Neal Ascherson contributes a characteristically brilliant review of Katherine Verdery account of her time in Ceau┼čescu’s Romania: "The crowning mercy of human relations is that we don’t know what other people are really thinking about us. They – those others – decide what redacted selection we are offered. But to read one’s police file is – suddenly – to have the curtain pulled open. The self you think you know becomes a mask, concealing a devious somebody else whose relationships are mere espionage fakes."

Helen Day introduces a Canterbury exhibition of the other work of the artists who illustrated Ladybird Books. We get to meet the real Peter and Jane too.

Have a look round Shrewsbury's last watchtower with Chris Schurke. I want to live there.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Rediscovering the March to Spalding line

Three years ago I wrote:
The most substantial British railway line I have travelled on that has since closed is the Woodhead route from Sheffield to Manchester. 
After that comes March to Spalding. When I was a student in York there was a regular service from Doncaster to Cambridge and I once used it to have an afternoon in Ely. 
March to Spalding was closed in 1982 and all freight workings were diverted via Peterborough. 
It was an expensive line to operate because of all the level crossings in the flat Fenland landscape.
This video shows what remains of the line today. What strikes me more than the buildings and railway equipment it finds still in situ is how much the line has reverted to nature.

As I observed in that earlier post there is a lot on the internet about the line being reopened, but I fear it will never happen.

William Wallace condemns Theresa May for not speaking out against extremism

Embed from Getty Images

Good stuff from the Liberal Democrat peer William Wallace in the Yorkshire Post:
When Theresa May became Prime Minister she promised to heal the divisions in British politics and society that the referendum campaign had opened. Two year later, those divisions have widened, rather than narrowed, with violent language and threats appearing in newspaper headlines and online messages. 
And the Prime Minister has remained silent, two years later, about the underlying threat to democratic debate and dialogue – and to the safety of our politicians – that this presents. 
Last week I met two MPs, from different parties, walking along Whitehall comparing the death threats they had received. Both were men; they remarked that many women MPs had received more such threats than they had, and were – two years after the murder of Batley & Spen’s Jo Cox – even more concerned that aggressive language might lead to violent attacks. 
The Yorkshire Post these days is a good paper that you should make part of your regular reading if you are interested in politics.

And trivia fans will be pleased that Helen Wallace, William's wife, is the daughter of Edward Rushworth who fought the Harborough constituency for the Liberal Party three times, polling 13,533 votes in the last of them (1964).

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Erewash Canal at Long Eaton

Some photographs taken on the walk from Long Eaton station to Trent Lock.

This is just the sort of shabby charm I look for on the canals.