Sunday, May 31, 2020

Me outside Stiperstones post office in the mid-1990s

Why did I worry? I looked young.

Later. I am pretty sure this is August bank holiday weekend 1994.

Fewer people following lockdown guidance since Dominic Cummings story broke

Fewer people have been following lockdown guidance since the story about Dominic Cummings' excursion to Durham broke.
That is the finding of a survey conducted by academics from De Montfort University in Leicester.

For their research, Professor Edward Cartwright and Dr Jonathan Rose surveyed 1201 people across the UK. The number who admitted they had behaved in ways inconsistent with the government guidance because they did not agree with it had increased from 4 per cent to 9 per cent over the space of the last week.

The researchers say:

"There are two explanations for our findings. It could be that people are more willing to discuss their past breaches of the lockdown or that more people have broken the lockdown in the past week. Either way it will likely undermine attempts to police the restrictions and maintain public support for them. We also found a statistically significant decline in trust for Conservative politicians."

Fat Larry's Band: Zoom

A tribute to the video conferencing app that Covid-19 has made suddenly indispensable.

Zoom was a hit in the UK (but not the US) in 1982.

Fat Larry, you may not be surprised to learn, is the drummer. He was originally the singer too, but by now the role had been taken over by Freddie Campbell.

Which means we can add this band to the list (Spencer Davis Group, Santana, J. Geils Band...) of those named after a member other than their lead singer.

Friday, May 29, 2020

A South East London trolleybus in 1959


The YouTube blurb says:

Trams in North London were almost entirely replaced by trolleybuses during the 1930s. So also were routes formerly operated by Bexley, Dartford and Erith Councils. The 698 was one of these.
When tram replacement resumed after the Second World War it was to diesel, not electric, buses. All London’s trolleybuses would be replaced by diesel ones by May 1962.

Six of the Best 930

Stephen Reicher fears Dominic Cummings has undermined the sense of shared responsibility that has been crucial during the Covid-19 crisis.

"I am sad to say that much of the BBC’s domestic political coverage, particularly from some of its ‘star names’, is simply not good enough. And it is actually a betrayal of those fine journalists around the world who believe in telling the truth and holding power to account. Most of all, it is an insult to the BBC’s audience, who rely on the corporation to tell them the truth." Patrick Howse says BBC journalists have been slow to react to our age of untruth.

David Klemperer looks back to the days when a young Keir Starmer was writing for a journal called Socialist Alternatives.

Ray Monk says the early death of R.G. Collingwood changed the course of philosophy forever,

In 2001 Jenny Turner gave her reasons for liking Tolkien.

"The old men say their fathers told them that soon after the fields were left to themselves a change began to be visible. It became green everywhere in the first spring, after London ended, so that all the country looked alike." Michael Dirda reads Richard Jefferies' After London.

Police hunt for 'naked James May' spotted on bridge in Bosworth

Today's Headline of the Day Award is a home win.

Well done to the Leicester Mercury.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

GUEST POST What one Lib Dem councillor has done under lockdown

Sebastian Field, a Lib Dem councillor from Gloucester,  explains how he has helped and kept in touch with his community under lockdown.

Like many Liberal Democrats, I have been helping out in my council ward during the Covid-19 pandemic. I was due to stand for re-election in May this year, having won the seat in a by-election last July, but these elections have been postponed to next year. 

Although, for obvious reasons, I have not been able to deliver leaflets since the lockdown, or knock on doors, I have been able to help in other ways. 

Initially, I helped deliver a leaflet containing details of the community hub that has been set up at county level and the number for our local community worker. The city council set up a food consortium, and as the food referrer for my ward I was well placed to connect this food service with the food club already operating in my ward. 

As the lockdown went on I tried to keep in touch with residents in various ways. I called residents on the phone, sent out emails to check how people are doing and made sure my contact details were readily available via my social media and website. I also joined and contributed to the local mutual aid network on Facebook.

In some ways, it was quite tough at the beginning to find a role. Normal activity like finding and  reporting casework, relaying residents’ concerns to the council and reporting back via leaflets were all reduced or not allowed. 

After casting around for a role, I determined that I should concentrate on making myself as visible as possible, not in person perhaps but online and via any other channels I could find. I also realised that I would have to get creative with my profile.

I borrowed an idea from the nearby Cheltenham Lib Dems of the ‘photo Spotlight’ (Focus in their and your language, but we call it ‘Spotlight’ in Gloucester). This consisted of five or six photos of action I was taking in the ward, or news items I could report on, with captions. I created a collage of the photos via an app, and would generally release them one by one on Twitter and Instagram, and again as a collage on my campaigning Facebook page. 

Some were photos of issues I’d reported before the lockdown. Although, for example, the highways department was prioritising essential repairs, many of the issues I had reported got fixed anyway. Other examples highlighted local shops that were still offering online or takeaway options.

I took the opportunity to start the email newsletter I had been mulling for a few months. I followed advice from my local party chair and ALDC to create this, and although it’s a learning curve I am getting more responses and casework as a response to them. It is important to be seen as a reliable and trusted source of local information. 

The emails feature advice, useful links, and issues I am working on. Many of the stories are one-line casework issues, often with a link to a fuller description on my website, thus creating click-throughs and raising my profile still further. 

I also make sure that I signpost people to good, free resources online such as free ebooks or music streams. My ward has pockets of deprivation, and for many, lockdown has been a real struggle.

For this reason we sought to help local families in the ward and surrounding area via our child literacy scheme. This was begun before the lockdown in conjunction with the local grammar school and the nearby primary schools, and was designed to help children improve their reading via help from adults and the senior school. 

During lockdown we have delivered hundreds of books and craft kits to local children, thanks to help from my wife obtaining craft materials, friends and Facebook contacts donating books, and the coordinator of the literacy scheme working very hard to get packs of books and materials dropped off to families.

All of this work has kept me busy and will no doubt help to raise my profile before the postponed elections next May - no small concern when I only won my seat by three votes over the Tory.

My primary motivation, though, has been to help people, because that is how I feel I can contribute during the pandemic, and because it is the right thing to do. As a party, we have been exceptionally good at helping people in our communities, and I am proud of what we have done during this crisis.

Helping in our communities and profile building all tie in with the rebuilding work we will have to do to achieve electoral success again, and which acting leader Ed Davey has called for, namely redoubling our efforts to serve our communities the best way we can. We can show that we are the community champions people have long known us to be, and use this as a springboard to getting back to where we can and should be as a party.

Sebastian Field is a Lib Dem councillor for the Podsmead ward in Gloucester.

Pair hired for man's broom sexual fantasy turn up in bedroom at wrong address with machetes

It took the judges little time on Zoom to give today's Headline of the Day Award to Sky News.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Wallace Lawler, James Haigh and the 1969 Birmingham Ladywood by-election

Wallace Lawler won the Birmingham Ladywood by-election for the Liberals in 1969, but lost the seat back to Labour in the following year's general election.

Lawler sounds like a pioneer of community politics, but I have never heard him talked about in Liberal or Liberal Democrat circles. 

This may be because his campaigning was tainted with racism - certainly that was the story I once heard from some Labour-supporting friends in Birmingham. No doubt I have readers who know all about this.

Click on the image above and you will go to a television report on the by-election. It includes interviews with all the candidates, Lawler included.

But he is not the one who interests me the most. The last interviewed - and the film siezes up while he is talking - is James Haigh. He was to finish last with only 34 votes.

Because Haigh taught me maths between 1973 and 1974.

Given my views on Welland Park College, Market Harborough, in that era - and on its mathematics department in particular - I am tempted to conclude that the electors of Ladywood got it about right.

But I shall rise above this because Haigh turns out to be an interesting figure.

At Ladywood he was standing for the Fellowship Party. This was an environmentalist and nuclear disarmament party that existed between 1955 to 2007. 

It attracted prominent figures as members, including Benjamin Britten, Sybil Thorndike, Vera Brittain, Donald Swann, Rowland Hilder and Leo McKern.

This was the only time Haigh stood for the party in a parliamentary election, but he had already fought Bromley as a nuclear disarmament candidate in 1964.

And a bit of scrabbling around on Google reveals that he was educated at Marlborough and the universities of Leeds and Oxford. In 1964 he is described as a primary school teacher and in 1969 he was teaching at Corby Grammar School. He had also taught in Nigeria at some point.

What I didn't know until I researched this post was that after Ladywood he joined the Liberal Party and fought the Kettering constituency (which then included Corby) at the 1970 general election and the two elections of 1974.

If I had known some of this at the time we might have got on better.

Boris Johnson's hero is the mayor from Jaws

A Daily Mirror report from 2007 quotes Boris Johnson addressing a meeting of business leaders:

"The real hero of Jaws is the mayor, a wonderful politician. A gigantic fish is eating all your constituents and he decides to keep the beach open.

"OK, in that instance, he was wrong but in principle we need more politicians like the mayor."

It doesn't sounds so funny now, does it? 

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Police break up illegal lockdown birthday party at Tory MP's house

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This is like the John Major's final months when every day brought a new scandal.

The MP in question, reports the Daily Mirror, is Rob Roberts from Delyn.

I can find next to nothing about him online. In particular, I can't see if he went to an expensive private school or not.

So it's too soon to say whether he will be made to resign.

Richard Rorty explains why the Conservatives will not be forgiven

The Conservatives think voters are angry about Dominic Cummings' behaviour. But things are far worse for them than that.

Because voters feel humiliated.

They have made sacrifices. They have put up with not seeing their grandchildren even if they live nearby. They have experienced the trauma of having relatives die alone and unvisited.

The voters made these sacrifices because the government told them to and because they believed everyone was doing the same. We were all in it together.

Now they find that the prime minster's adviser - a spoilt rich kid; a permanent adolescent in a T-shirt who thinks it clever to arrive 30 minutes late at his own press conference - has been ignoring the rules.

And then he offers a ludicrous story in an attempt to excuse his behaviour.

And then cabinet ministers pretend they believe that story is true.

Suddenly the voters feel they have made to look - and feel - fools.

As Richard Rorty said in his Contingency, Irony and Solidarity:
The best way to cause people long-lasting pain is to humiliate them by making the things that seemed most important to them look futile, obsolete, and powerless. 
Consider what happens when a child's precious possessions - the little things around which he weaves fantasies that make him a little different from all other children - are described as "trash," and thrown away. 
Or consider what happens when these possessions are made to look ridiculous alongside the possessions of another, richer, child.
This seems to me exactly right and reminds us that Rorty - uniquely among postmodern philosophers - was a wonderfully lucid writer.

It explains why the Liberal Democrats alienated young voters when they reversed their policy on university tuition fees. They felt they had been had.

And how else did we imagine they would feel?

You can say a freeze on tuition fees was not one of our key pledges, but when Nick Clegg's battle bus arrived in Leicester during the 2010 general election campaign it headed straight for De Montfort University.

The city's voters have not forgotten that. And why should they?

I do not think the behaviour of the Conservatives will be forgotten - or forgiven - either.

Teenage driver sentenced after getting friend to hit him with pan in bid to fool police over crash

A frying pan yesterday

The Evening Standard wins our Headline of the Day Award.

I don't think you had to be Gideon of the Yard to see through this one.

Government minister resigns over Dominic Cummings

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Douglas Ross, the minister for Scotland, has resigned from the government over Dominic Cummings' behaviour.

In his resignation statement he says:
"While the intentions may have been well meaning, the reaction to this news shows that Mr Cummings’ interpretation of the government advice was not shared by the vast majority of people who have done as the government asked. 
"I have constituents who didn’t get to say goodbye to loved ones; families who could not mourn together; people who didn’t visit sick relatives because they followed the guidance of the government. I cannot in good faith tell them they were all wrong and one senior adviser to the government was right."

Monday, May 25, 2020

Six of the Best 929

Michael Meadowcroft reviews the Lib Dems' election review.

Jeremy Farrar is interviewed about science, public policy and Covid-19: "In my view, the infection rates in the UK are too high, at least today, to reopen schools. Will that be different in two weeks' time when half term ends and schools are potentially open? It might be. But if the question was 'should we open schools today?' my answer would be 'no'."

"Tony had apparently - and fairly typically - spent a whole psychiatric career being labelled and drugged rather than offered the chance to look at his past. Until the very last moments of the programme, we saw him being offered exactly the same again, except this time it was further sanctioned by ‘leading experts’ in the field." Lucy Johnstone reviews What's the Matter with Tony Slattery?

Why don't we talk to children in care, asks social worker Andy Black.

Beware those who persecute in the name of principle, says Paul Russell.

Bee Wilson reviews a book on Gef, the talking mongoose who took up residence in a farmhouse on the Isle of Man in the early 1930s.

Bolivian orchestra stranded at ‘haunted’ German castle surrounded by wolves

Our Headline of the Day Award crosses the Atlantic.

Well done to the New York Post and thank you to the reader who nominated it.

Write a guest post for Liberal England

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

As you can see from this list of the 10 most recent guests posts, I am happy to consider a wide range of subjects beyond the Lib Dems

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

Sunday, May 24, 2020

A North Eastern Railway poster for Barnard Castle

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Mingle with the elite at the UK's most happening holiday venue!

A childhood in care means you are twice as likely to die earlier

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

There is a worrying story in today's Observer, though I can't find anything online about the study it is reporting:
People who spent time in care as children are almost twice as likely to die prematurely than those who did not, stark new research reveals. 
Researchers at University College London tracked more than 350,000 people using official government data between 1971 and 2013. They found that the likelihood of dying earlier among those who had been in care increased over time, contrary to the general population which, during the same period, experienced a decline in mortality risk. 
The team at the UCL’s institute of epidemiology and healthcare said the findings were “shocking” and called for a government response into why inequalities appeared to be widening. 
Throughout the 42-year period, they found that adults who spent time as children in the care system were 70% more likely to die prematurely than those who did not.
However, within the more recent cohorts, the chances of dying early had increased to “more like twofold”. 
Researchers believe that the impact of austerity may have worsened the situation since December 2013, the last date for which “all-cause mortality data” was available.
It is also worth asking whether the increasing move to having residential care for children provided by commercial companies has contributed to this trend.

In most sectors the idea that strong regulators will force companies to curb their profits and provide better services has turned out to be a fantasy.

Millie Small: Mayfair

Millie Small, who died at the start of this month, was famous for My Boy Lollipop, the record that introduced Britain to ska.

It was also the record that set Chris Blackwell's Island Records on the road to success and I posted a track Millie Small recorded with another of the label's early acts, the Spencer Davis Group, to mark her death.

This is another fascinating track from her. It's a reggae version of a Nick Drake song and, I believe, is the first recording of one of his songs by another artist.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

St Albans Abbey on a damp March morning

No one can go anywhere any more, so here's a photo of St Albans Abbey I took on a damp March morning in 2012.

Friday, May 22, 2020

The last days of the Liverpool Overhead Railway

This unique line operated between 1893 and 1956. Click on the image above to view a film about its final days on the British Film Institute site.

It closed because years of salt spray off the Irish Sea had left the owners with a vast repair bill. But there was also a suspicion that the line had annoyed the powers that be by surviving in private hands after the nationalisation of the railways in 1948.

A reminder that I'm on Instagram too

What's the worst trouble Jamie Stone has ever got into?

Jamie Stone, the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, has just tweeted this clip from 2018.

If I know Lord Bonkers, he will immediately call for Jamie to be made leader on the grounds that this is just the sort of experience you need in a hard-fought by-election.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The lost stations of Cambridge

This video takes us to the sites of all the closed railway stations in and around Cambridge.

There are a surprising number.

Six of the Best 928

"What was the Liberal Democrats’ aim at the 2019 general election: to maximise the number of Liberal Democrat MPs in parliament or to stop Brexit? That was the tactical question the party never answered." Stephen Bush looks at the Lib Dems' post mortem on their 2019 general election campaign.

"Seventy years ago my dad needed to change his weird foreign name to avoid the sly glances of bigots. Stewart Lee is that bigot - a man who thinks the best response to a foreign sounding Jewish name is to ridicule it in a national newspaper." Ouch. Read Stephen Pollard in the Jewish Chronicle.

Kathryn Rix surveys bizarre turnip-related deaths among Victorian MPs.

Following the death of Florian Schneider, Owen Hatherley looks at the influence of Kraftwerk.

Mackenzie Nicholls marks the 20th anniversary of Gladiator. Russell Crowe tells him: "The standout thing with this film, and 20 years later I can say with confidence that somewhere in the world, today, tonight, that movie will be played on primetime. And it’s 20 years since it came out. Not every movie lasts in that way."

Wyrd Britain reviews a collection of horror stories by Arthur Machen.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The quest for Richard Jefferies

Wiltshire Man and his bike take us to some of the county locations associated with the 19th-century nature writer Richard Jefferies: Swindon's Old Town, Coate Water and Liddington Hill.

Jon Whiteley (1945-2020)

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The Ashmoleon Museum site announces the death of the art historian DrJon Whiteley:
Jon joined the Museum in 1976 as Assistant Keeper in the Department of Western Art. In a career of 38 years at the Ashmolean he was a dedicated teacher to generations of Oxford students; one of the country’s most distinguished art historians; and a well-loved colleague and friend to everyone who knew and worked with him.
But well before that he was a child film star.

In the 1950s he appeared in two films with Dirk Bogarde (Hunted and The Spanish Gardener), in Fritz Lang's Moonfleet and in The Kidnappers, for which performance he was awarded an honoray Oscar.

The photo above shows him with the director of Hunted, Charles Crichton.

Former Labour councillor who joined Lib Dems before announcing she was defecting to The Brexit Party has now become a Conservative

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Ladies and gentlemen. we have our Headline of the Day and our Councillor of the Day.

Well done to Rochdale Online and Cllr Kath Nickson.

Monday, May 18, 2020

The troubled tale of the Blue Pullman

The Blue Pullman trains were a Sixties precursor of British Rail's High Speed Train.

This video tells their story.

Terry O'Neill: The Mousetrap and Me

Blogging about the government's scrapping of safeguards for children in care has sent me back to the death of 12-year-old Dennis O'Neill in 1945.

Dennis and his younger brother Terry had been boarded out on a Shropshire farm and Dennis died there from abuse and neglect.

In the process I have come across this award-winning radio documentary from 2011 in which Terry tells their story. I blogged about its connection with The Mousetrap myself in 2007.

This programme comes with a heavy trigger warning: it is a dreadful story of abuse. For some reason I have been far more affected reading Terry's O'Neill's book today than I was when it came out 10 years ago.

When I first encountered this case I formed the strong impression that it had largely been forgotten. That was one of the themes of my chapter in the book Making and Breaking Children's Lives.

Now it is widely discussed in the professional literature and that must be due at least in part to Terry O'Neill's book.

He has served his brother's memory wonderfully well. As a 10-year-old in 1945 it was his evidence in court that secured the conviction of their foster parents for manslaughter and neglect.

GUEST POST Time for the Lib Dems to learn from social democracy

To revive their fortunes the Liberal Democrats need to focus on issues like  health, education and housing, argues George Kendall.

The authors of the 2019 election review have done an excellent job, courageously speaking uncomfortable truths.

Their most important point is that talking about what we like to talk about "has come at the expense of constantly thinking about what ‘normal’ people care about and building everything we do around trying to help."

The party’s Social Democrat Group has issued a statement to welcome this review. In it the group says:
To reconnect with many of the voters we have lost, we need to start talking about our social democratic values. To do that, our leadership needs to help the party reconnect with this too often forgotten half of our party’s founding heritage.
This is important, not just because it will help us electorally. Caring about what people think and being champions for their concerns is something we should do regardless of the electoral benefits.

Liberals are often very concerned about these issues too, and our manifesto contains excellent polices that are designed to reduce poverty, but other issues have taken more of our energy. Europe is not the only example.

A notorious example was during the Coalition, when we persuaded Osborne and Cameron to support a 5p charge on plastic bags in return for tightening benefit sanctions. In the end, the benefits sanctions were not tightened, but how was that deal ever considered? I fear it came from a belief that Lib Dem members cared more about charging for plastic bags than preventing a harsher benefit regime. Nor was it just the Coalition.

In some parts of the party, there is passionate debate about a sugar tax, both for and against. Issues like this are not unimportant, but surely we should divert some of this passion to improving the education of people from disadvantaged areas or the growing crisis of a lack of affordable housing.

This lack of passion on issues that concern the most vulnerable and the less affluent parts of the country has had an impact on our image.

Part of the problem may be that liberalism means different things to different people. Many Liberals work hard to understand and champion the concerns of those who are not affluent, but not all.

The Financial Times has described Osborne as "metropolitan and socially liberal”, yet George Osborne was responsible for draconian cuts to welfare immediately after the Tories won a majority in 2015.

I think the solution is to remember that we are not just liberals and our values are not just Liberal. We were formed as an equal partnership of liberals and social democrats, and our values and policies are deeply informed by social democratic thinking.

Inherent in social democracy is a concern about issues like health, education and housing. If we start to think of our party as being both liberal and social democratic, we will not be able to stop thinking about these issues. As we do so, we will start to care more about them, and that passion will come over to the electorate.

But being passionate about these issues is not enough. If we just use these issues as an argument to push an agenda we already believe in, we may fall into the trap of paternalism. Responding to their concerns involves more than designing policies we think will help. It would be only too easy to adopt a policy that affluent liberals like, but is despised by those it is intended to help. We also need to listen.

There are many barriers to our achieving this change. Our membership is now heavily skewed towards the affluent areas of the county. The same is true of our parliamentary party. Changing will be hard.

To fix this all of us need to make a deliberate effort to listen to the parts of the party that are not affluent and are not London and the South East. If the people we follow are predominately university educated, we should try to break out of our groupthink by following people and organisations that are engaged with those who are not.

Virus permitting, we should knock on doors in a nearby council estate outside an election period, to listen carefully to their concerns and their reaction to our polices. We should also listen to and give prominence to new groups like Liberal Democrats for the Heart of England and the Northern Liberal Network.

And we should listen more to people who have done the hard yards and have campaigned over many years for less affluent parts of the country. People like Andrew George in Cornwall and my colleague in the Social Democrat Group, Michael Mullaney, in the Midlands.

If you would like to help the Social Democrat Group in our work on this, do join us. You don’t need to think of yourself as a social democrat: iust as a Lib Dem who wants to help make the party more passionate about the needs of the less affluent parts of the country.

 George Kendall is acting chair of the Social Democrat Group. He writes in a personal capacity.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Remembering Mystery Hall from 1967

One of the oddities of belonging to my generation is that you have memories of television programmes that no longer exist.

There is the episode of All Gas and Gaiters where the authorities discover a parish hidden in the fold of a map and work out that it has never received an episcopal visit.

So they go there - and discover that its inhabitants are still living in the Middle Ages.

That sounds like The Bishop Pays a Visit, first broadcast in January 1969 and since wiped.

I also have memories of a children's serial that featured a secret pasasge, which the young hero was warned against entering in case he became stuck.

And there was an adult character you thought was on the boy's side who turned out not to be. An effective plot twist that - I am surprised it is not used more often.

After much searching, I have decided that this is probably the Southern Television serial Mystery Hall, which was broadcast in 1967 and is now believed lost.

Which means the young hero was played by Mark Colleano, son of the American actor Bonar Colleano and the British actress Susan Shaw.

It was set in a hotel on the South coast, but my memory (which may well be fallible) is that the secret passage began behind a dresser in the kitchen and that the kitchen was like that of a Yorkshire farmhouse.

Still, it may well have been Mystery Hall I watched - I have illustrated this post with a couple of relics of it that I found online.

Southern made some interesting children's television in those days, but much of it is lost. This includes an adaptation of T.H. White's The Master.

17 May in Liberal England history

I enjoyed doing this for 18 April - whether my readers enjoyed it as much is another question - so here is a survey of what has concerned this blog down the years on 17 May.


Hard times in the Shropshire hills. Stiperstones primary school was to close and Bishop's Castle residents were planning to block the road in a protest against bus cuts.


I previewed A Very British Scandal as the first episode was about to be shown.


"Boris Johnson moos 'like a cow' and devours cakes on bakery visit" ran my Headline of the Day.

You can't say we weren't warned.


Talking of Boris Johnson, I blogged about his failure when mayor to publish a report on air pollution near London' schools.


Included in a Six of the Best, Down at Third Man was worrying about the future of English cricket:
"The players coming in during the next few years come from a generation deprived of free to air cricket. This generation will have come in on the echoes. Soon it will be a privileged generation: in the main sons/daughters of club cricketers and sons of parents able to afford a very expensive education, or sons able to win scholarships to such institutions."


I went to Woodhouse Eaves, which had once been a sort of health resort in Leicestershire's Charnwood Forest:
Today, the first hot day of the year, the countryside was alive with hikers and Scouts, giving it something of the atmosphere of its 1930s heyday.


UKIP supporters, I suggested, were not that keen on the UK. They were English Nationalists.


I quoted Christopher Hitchens and his praise for Karl Popper's insistence on the importance of argument:
It is very seldom, as he noticed, that in debate any one of two evenly matched antagonists will succeed in actually convincing or "converting" the other. But it is equally seldom that in a properly conducted argument either antagonist will end upholding exactly the same position as that with which he began.


Lord Bonkers reacted to the headline "Fox blasts British overseas aid plan":
It was clearly set out in the Coalition agreement. Now clear off down the garden and leave our dustbins alone.


I quoted something I had written for the Guardian website back in 2006 (when it paid much better than it does today):
When [Charles] Kennedy stood for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats in 1999, the West Highland Free Press - a radical newspaper published in his own constituency - remarked that people in London were beginning to ask what it had been asking for 15 years: what exactly does Charles Kennedy stand for? 
Though he won that contest and went on to lead the party for nearly seven years, we never really found out.


Those were the days. I wrote seven posts on 17 May 2009 and most of them were about politics.

In one of them I argued that:
the causes of the anger over MPs' expenses go beyond indignation at what has been done with our money. That anger is so great because this affair has laid bare what an unequal society we now live in.


Michael Gove wanted to tell teachers what they should wear:
No doubt this is meant to appeal to Tory voters who like tradition, but in reality there is little tradition of teachers dressing smartly. The traditional dress for teachers was the academic gown, which was designed precisely to distance education from the world where a good business suit matters. 
Less grand teachers wore a tweed jacket with leather patches and a worried expression.


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I asked why people could not forgive Ming Campbell for being old:
If a comedian or journalist had made similar reference to the fact that a politician was a woman or was gay or was Black, it would have finished that comedian or journalist's career. Yet in our society it is perfectly acceptable to make fun of people for being old.

The idea that the state should decide the speed at which people walk their dogs is ridiculous.
I still hold that view today.


there is a law that people accuse others of the faults they most fear in themselves, much as those who make most fuss about homosexuality are supposed to be repressed homosexuals themselves.


Iraq Body Count estimated the number of civilian deaths in the country since the start of the invasion at somewhere between 9,148 and 11,005

The Sound: Hot House

The Sound were an Eighties band who, says Wikipedia, were never commercially successful but have long been championed by critics.

Hot House failed to trouble the charts in 1982. Informed opinion holds that this live version from a John Peel session is better than the one that was issued as a single.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Six of the Best 927

"The dumbing down of democracy has been gradual, but a Pandora’s Box of idiocracy was fully opened with the election of Trump in the US and the EU Referendum in Britain. Both were seismic events that shook the foundations of politics through the blatant manipulation of basic truths." James Melville believes we are losing the art of seriousness, clout, gravitas and diligence in our political discourse.

Peter McColl looks at government's view of the public in the second world war and Covid-19: "In the 1940s the population were thought to prefer safety. In the 2020s the population were thought to prefer work. The patricians of the 1940s were wrong. The behavioural economists of the 2020s are wrong."

Attempting to change someone's sexual orientation is unethical, exploitative and potentially harmful, says Megan Manson as she argues that British charity law is charity law propping up conversion therapy.

Where did the plot against George Soros come from? Hannes Grassegger explains.

Jonathan Fryer celebrates Ronald Searle and St Trinian's.

"The peculiar journey of a world renown piece of Pre-Raphaelite art – that will take us from Clapham Common to Puerto Rico, carefully avoiding Andrew Lloyd Webber’s lefty granny. And remarkably, this painting, Flaming June is back in this country, in the London house where she was painted." The Long Victorian on the strange career of Frederic Leighton's Flaming June.

Man reunited with prosthetic leg after boy finds it on treasure hunt

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Well done Sky News, which has picked up our Headline of the Day Award thanks to a nomination from a well-placed Lib Dem source.

Simon Russell Beale reads Richard Jefferies

Currently in lockdown in the town, the actor Simon Russell Beale has recorded some readings for the Marlborough Literary Festival.

The first is taken from Richard Jefferies and his essay Wild Flowers, which you will find collected in the anthology The Open Air::
"If we had never before looked upon the earth, but suddenly came to it man or woman grown, set down in the midst of a summer mead, would it not seem to us a radiant vision? 
"The hues, the shapes, the song and life of birds, above all the sunlight, the breath of heaven, resting on it; the mind would be filled with its glory, unable to grasp it, hardly believing that such things could be mere matter and no more.
"Like a dream of some spirit-land it would appear, scarce fit to be touched lest it should fall to pieces, too beautiful to be long watched lest it should fade away."

Friday, May 15, 2020

Lib Dem scientists publish briefing on Covid-19 and mental health

Three prominent psychologists have written a briefing on public mental health and Covid-19 for the Association of Liberal Democrat Engineers and Scientists.

Paul Gilbert, Felicia Huppert and Kate Brierton advocate a compassion-based approach to aid people's recovery and resilience.

They say people in the public eye should avoid suggesting that everyone ‘ought’ to be damaged or traumatised by their experiences. Instead they should point to people’s courage and acknowledge the opportunities for transformation and growth.

The psychologists emphasise that even when people experience unusual symptoms, such as flashbacks or sleep difficulties, these may not represent a mental disorder but be normal responses to an abnormal, high-stress situation.

They say:
By focusing on people’s natural caring and soothing emotions, and developing a compassionate self to intermediate between perceived threats and responses, compassion focused approaches to public mental health show significant promise as interventions to tackle mental health disorders and enhance mental health and wellbeing during and following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Felicia Huppert is the mother of Julian Huppert, the former Lib Dem MP for Cambridge.

Lib Dem 2019 election review published

The report of the review of the Liberal Democrats' 2019 European and general election campaigns has been published online this afternoon:
While decisions made in 2019 certainly frustrated our electoral prospects, the underlying lack of preparation is a bigger cause for concern. 
There was an opportunity for us to win more seats in 2019 but the main causes of that failure are the decisions made over the course of many years, before Brexit was even conceived.

Coronation St actor Philip Middlemiss wanted over sale of military planes to Ghana

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The Times wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

A fatal railway accident at Melton Mowbray in 1892

Loitering in Little Bowden churchyard today (as you do), I came across this gravestone of a man killed in a railway accident.

A little googling takes you to a report of the accident that killed Harry Pollard:
As the 1.53 p.m. London and North-Western train from Nottingham to Northampton was approaching Melton north signal-cabin upon the up line at 2.46 pm, the engine left the rails, followed by the whole of the eight vehicles in the train. 
The driver, Robert Herron, who jumped from his engine just before it went over the embankment, was killed, probably being struck by one of the carriages, and his body was found upon the 4-ft. way of the up line; the fireman, Henry Pollard, was also killed, his body being found under the end of the third-class carriage at the foot of the embankment, and a news-boy named William Stone, who was a passenger, supposed to have been in one of the two leading vehicles, was also found dead under the first-class carriage halfway down the slope. 
There were, fortunately, few passengers except in the rear part of the train, and three only are returned as having been injured.
And a link on that page will take you to the full Board of Trade report on the accident.

The train would have been timetabled to travel from Melton to Northampton via Market Harborough. This may be a cursed service, as Lord Bonkers once recalled the disappearance of another train on this route in the 1920s.

Layla Moran wants evidence backing school reopening published

Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat leadership candidate and education spokesperson, has called for the scientific advice underpinning the decision to start reopening England's schools from 1 June to be published.

Her move follows a worrying appearance in front of the Commons science and technology committee by Osama Rahman, the Department for Education's chief scientific adviser.

As BBC News reports:
Osama Rahman said the decision to reopen schools was not made by the DfE. 
When asked what assessment he had made, as the chief scientific adviser for the department, of how effective guidance on safe reopening of schools was and how it might be implemented, he said: "I haven't." 
The advice recommends social distancing in classrooms, with reduced class sizes and keeping small children in groups to limit potential virus spread. 
He was also unable to point to any evidence behind the decision to reopen schools in a way that could be said to be safe. 
He also told MPs that there was doubt over suggestions that children are less likely transmit the virus than adults, explaining there was only "low confidence" in that theory. 
He agreed that reopening schools was "putting together hundreds of potential vectors" of the virus who could then go and spread it in the community.
In a letter to Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, the government's top scientific and medical advisers, Layla says:
"The decision that has been taken, to reopen schools as early as 1 June, has caused a great deal of concern amongst school leaders, teachers and many parents.
"We need reassurance from the government that this decision was taken purely on public health grounds, and not due to economic fears." 
"I hope you agree that we have some work to do in reassuring parents, staff and pupils that opening schools in a few short weeks time is the right thing to do and that publishing all the advice pertaining to this is an important step in this debate."
There is a lot of work to do in reassuring people, particularly as the suspicion is growing that the government is not so much following the science as pressurising scientists to come up with advice that matches its political imperatives.

And the growing appeals to "common sense" mean the government is now putting the onus for decision making on to the public, with the implication that it will be our fault if things go wrong.

I have seen calls today for teachers to "show courage". But if it takes courage for people simply to go to work, it is too soon to reopen our schools.

Northern Ireland businesses latest group to discover you can't believe a word Boris Johnson says

Remember this video clip?

Today it emerged that there will be customs checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom because of Brexit.

Sky News quotes Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson on Brexit:
"Johnson's government has failed to give businesses much needed clarity on this issue. 
"It now seems Johnson was deeply dishonest with businesses when he previously asserted there would be no checks and businesses could put paperwork 'in the bin'."
It was obvious to anyone who understood Johnson's Brexit agreement that these checks would have to be imposed.

But, as we have twice seen in the Commons this week, Johnson tells whatever lie will get him through the next ten seconds.

It's as simple as that.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Rediscovering the Bedford to Hitchin line

Before the Midland Railway opened its London terminus at St Pancras, it used Euston and then King's Cross.

To reach the latter, trains south from Leicester took the current line as far as Bedford, then ran on Great Northern metals to Hitchin and took the East Coast main line from there to King's Cross.

This arrangement survived until St Pancras opened in 1868, after which the Bedford to Hitchin line dwindled to become a rural branch line.

It closed to passengers in 1961 and to good traffic in 1964. This video follows the route today to see what survives of it.

You can find another on this blog that shows the last days of the Bedford to Hitchin passenger service.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The link between Normal People and Malcolm Saville

Normal People, I read, has become BBC Three's biggest hit to date, with more than 23 million downloads globally.

I also read that the show has been dubbed "the raunchiest ever BBC show" because of the 41 minutes of sex scenes scattered through its six hours.

These facts may not be unconnected.

Normal People, a novel by Sally Rooney, was adapted for the screen by Alice Birch.

Alice Birch also wrote the play The Lone Pine Club, which was an affectionate homage to the books by Malcolm Saville.

I travelled to Sheringham to see it and then reviewed it on this blog. If it had been raunchy I feel sure I would have mentioned the fact.

Six of the Best 926

Michael Meadowcroft points us to a short document on the principles of liberal democracy that he once helped Leeds Lib Dems draw up.

Natalie Bloomer is right to emphasise how the government's response to Covid-19 is putting the working class at much greater risk.

"All can now see that social care and our system of social support is worth much higher esteem; but how or whether we translate a new mood into a new system is uncertain." Alex Khaldi on social care after Covid-19.

Patrick Barkham explains how forest schooling is helping children from every background: "I assumed that most refugees have come to the UK from cities, but Wild Things has worked with many migrant children who grew up in rural areas. Meanwhile British-born city children belong to a country called Indoors."

"The guards are accustomed to such disturbances. But every so often a patrol encounters a noise, a flash of movement, or simply a sudden lurch in the pit of the stomach, that stops even hardened veterans in their tracks." Killian Fox meets the ghosts of the British Museum.

Richard Mabey introduces Richard Jefferies' Wildlife in a Southern County,

Ed Davey accuses Boris Johnson of misleading parliament

From the Guardian website:
Boris Johnson has been accused of misleading parliament by denying that his top medical and scientific advisers had not signed off his government’s new “stay alert” slogan. 
The acting Liberal Democrat leader, Ed Davey, claims the prime minister misled MPs “inadvertently or otherwise” by telling them in a debate in the Commons on Monday that the claim was “not right”. 
Davey has asked Johnson to come back to the chamber to “clear up this discrepancy” and ensure that Hansard, the official record of parliamentary proceedings, is clarified so that it is accurate.
Well done, Ed.

Boris Johnson has gone through life finding that a combination of bluster, waffle and outright lying are enough to dispose of any question.

Now he is prime minister and facing a crisis, we need the truth and clarity from him. Otherwise people will die.

Happy St Pancras Day

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Today, 12 May, is St Pancras's Day and also Steve Winwood's birthday.

So it's always a big deal here on Liberal England.

Monday, May 11, 2020