Monday, August 31, 2020

A walk along the Brampton Valley Way

Today I went for a walk along the Brampton Valley Way. Following the route of the old railway line to Northampton, this runs for 14 miles south from Market Harborough, but I made it just to the Waterloo Tearoom at Great Oxendon and back.

The route was busy with bank holiday cyclists, dog walkers, joggers and foragers - autumn is already arriving in the hedgerows.

The last train ran along here in 1981 and over the years the nature of the Way has changed. It used to feel much more like an old double-track railway: it was wide and there was ballast everywhere.

Over the years the route has narrowed, as bushes and trees have established themselves. Yet the fauna has diminished: you used to scatter rabbits every time you walked along here and there were muntjac deer too. Today I saw a couple of the former only when I wandered into a neighbouring field.

Because it was busy, today the Way was more for cyclists. But on a quieter day it makes a great walk - follow the full 14 miles and you will go through tunnels at Great Oxendon and Kelmarsh.

Homeless man jailed for 20 weeks for sitting on the ground 'without reasonable excuse'

The County Gazette wins our Headline of the Day Award. 

This Somerset newspaper was commended by the judges for its telling vignette of Britain today.

Sir Nicholas Clegg: An apology

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On Saturday 29 August this blog published a post under the headline Former Liberal Democrat leaders reveal themselves in their advice to Ed Davey.

In it we alleged that Sir Nicholas Clegg, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, had "reduced the party from 62 to 8 MPs over two general elections".

It has been pointed out to us that this is incorrect.

We apologise to Sir Nicholas and to our readers for this inaccuracy and have corrected the post. We have made a donation to the Bonkers Home for Well-Behaved Orphans in recognition of our error.

You see, though the party emerged from the 2005 general election with 62 MPs, by the time Nick Clegg became leader Willie Rennie had gained Dunfermline and West Fife in a by-election.

So we should have said Clegg had "reduced the party from 63 to 8 MPs over two general elections".

In that post we also recorded Ming Campbell's advice to Ed Davey that he should choose a couple of advisers and then listen to no one else.

A reader has reminded me that on, becoming Lib Dem leader, Paddy Ashdown assembled a diverse group of people representing all shades of opinion in the party and met them every week - "a good example of open leadership".

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Six of the Best 955

"Whereas Thatcher offered young people hope - not least the hope of owning their own home - today’s Tories do not. Yes Thatcher wanted to achieve cultural change, but she saw economics as the means of achieving that." Boris Johnson's Conservative's Party has diverged from Thatcherism and not for the better, argues Chris Dillow.

David Boyle reports from the front line of his war with tickbox culture, which is currently to be found in the NHS.

"The form of public accountability we’ve settled on is one that relies on a robust, independent-minded, largely private-sector media to do the job of scrutiny. It hasn’t always done this job well, but no other body is equipped to do it. Now it’s falling away, and as we’ve already seen at the local level, this is not a vacuum that there is any rush to fill." Sarah Ditum mourns the state of journalism.

Enslavement continues in the US and it is called prison, says Ashish Prashar.

Friends of Islington Museum has a history of Islington and Gainsborough Studios - 'Hollywood by the canal.'

Catherine O'Flynn on Cliff Richard's 1973 film musical set in Brutalist Birmingham, which was shown by Talking Pictures TV today: "Take Me High is a mind-bogglingly strange film. A critique of rapacious capitalism. A hymn to a second city. A vehicle for a flagging pop star. A film about a hamburger. It’s a musical without hits and a comedy without jokes."

"A tie is like kissing your sister": The Americanisation of cricket

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Because I go over to my mother's to cook on Sunday afternoon I could not see the return of live cricket to BBC television today.*

But I did keep an eye on proceedings via Twitter and at one point saw this:

I thought of the 1970s, when the North American Soccer League came to British attention because of an influx of ageing world stars like Pele and Bobby Moore.

We smiled when we found out that the Americans could not cope with the concept of a draw - the saying "a draw is like kissing your sister" was widely quoted at the time.

Instead, the league had a penalty shoot out in case of a draw at full time. Later it introduced a revised version in which a player ran towards the goal from 35 yards out and had five seconds to shoot.

Now this mentality has invaded cricket - limited overs cricket at least - with the advent of the super over.

This strikes me as unfortunate: the reduction in outcomes from three to two makes the game a little less subtle and a little less complex.

The same mentality has even invaded chess. It used to be that the world champion kept his title if a match ended with the scores level. Now there are play-off games at increasing rapid time limits until a winner can be declared.

I can't help thinking we all need to grow up a little.

* Though I might well have watched Talking Pictures TV's screening of Cliff Richard's 1973 Birmingham-set musical Take Me High instead.

The Who: Won't Get Fooled Again

Having brought Liberal Democrat politics into this features last week by choosing Something Better Change, I've decided to be consistent and post this today:

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

The last day of the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire

Members of the Stephenson Locomotive Society cling to the brake van on the last day of the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Light Railway, 20 March 1960.

The line had a complicated history. As the Colonel Stephen Society website records:

With bus competition daily passenger services ceased in 1933 and the Great Depression of that decade caused a severe decline in revenue. By 1940 partial closure loomed but the line was taken over by the Army for servicing a network of munitions stores and in this guise the Railway survived in army use till 1960

Colonel Holman Stephens was involved with the operation of 16 minor railways around Britain. He was named Holman after the artist Holman Hunt and his father was a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

If you click on the image above you will see footage of the last day of the line, followed by a sudden switch to Ambergate on the Midland main line,

Former Liberal Democrat leaders reveal themselves in their advice to Ed Davey

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Friday's Red Box email from The Times carries advice for Ed Davey from former Liberal Democrat leaders - some of it revealing about those former leaders.

So Ming Campbell tells Ed to lock himself away in a bunker from the start:

As I found when I became leader, people who will have never bothered you before will be wearing holes in your carpet attempting to advise you.

Instead, find a couple of people whose advice you really respect and value. Take advice from them. Don’t have an open house on advisers.

And Nick Clegg, who reduced the party from 63 to 8 MPs over two general elections, advises him not to listen to criticism:

Oh, and – you know this - the better you do, the more they will yell at you from left and right. So listen to the voters – you’re dead right on that – but put your political ear muffs on when the carping starts!

The other former leaders are more helpful.

Tim Farron says:
Clarity is king. You need be clear with yourself what your strategy is and what it is that you want to achieve. Be clear with the party members on the direction and what you need from them in order to achieve that, and be clear with the public about what it is you and the Liberal Democrats stand for.
And Vince Cable says:
The Liberal Democrats will have to craft a narrative which embodies economic competence combined with environmentalism and a message of social justice, which Ed Davey can very plausibly do by rebuilding the grass-roots and re-establishing our reputation for good community-level politics.
The most concise contribution comes from Jo Swinson - I quote it in full:
Make time to think. Whether it's diarising time for exercise, reading, or stimulating conversation with friends, it's important to step back from the immediacy of 24/7 news cycles to see the bigger picture.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Through Epping Forest to the River Lea at Broxbourne

John Rogers takes us on a walk from Loughton on the Central Line through Epping Forest to Sewardstone. and then along the River Lea to Broxbourne.

He has a Patreon account to support his videos and blogs at The Lost Byway,

A defence of liberal populism

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Populism, all right-thinking people agree, is a Bad Thing. Yet in the far-off days when I was a Liberal activist and then councillor, there was a definite populist strand to our campaigning.

We were the people who stood up for the unfashionable end of town. We were the people who stood up for the voters against council ruling groups and senior officers.

I remember doing a survey on council house repairs here in Harborough and being told the next day that the council offices were thronged with people we had encouraged to make complaints. I was proud of that.

Somewhere along the way we have lost much of that spirit.

I blogged that immediately after last December's general election, commenting on an article on the 'Liberalism of the left-behind' by Peter Sloman.

So I am pleased to read a liberal defence of populism by Sarah Smarsh in the Columbia Journalism Review.

She notes that 'populist' is now used in a pejorative way by all liberal journalists and then reminds us: 

Populism is neither right nor left—nor anti-science—by definition. It is merely a concern, whether genuine or feigned, for the common people. Today’s most prominent populists include Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Sen. Bernie Sanders—people who base their policies on valid evidence and have given their lives to fighting everything that the far right represents. 

Indeed, the most crucial progressive political movements of our time—Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, climate marches and gun-reform rallies—are by nature populist. Founded at ground level, often by victims of racism, sexism, environmental injustice, and lax gun laws, they were then energized by the fed-up masses.

She concludes:

At the very least, journalists and commentators should provide an ideological qualifier when tossing “populism” around: “right-wing populist,” “progressive populist.” The more precise word for describing leaders such as Jair Bolsonaro, Vladimir Putin, Boris Johnson, and Donald Trump, though, is not “populist” but “demagogue.” The latter is by definition disingenuous, exploiting social fissures, manipulating media, and misleading the electorate in pursuit of selfish gain. A demagogue may use populist strategies to win support but has little or no concern for the masses. 

I recommend her article and the one by Peter Sloman too.

The photo above shows Huey Long, the populist governor of Louisiana. He was no liberal, but a fascinating figure none the less.

John Leech calls on big tech companies to save Bletchley Park

The former Liberal Democrat MP who led the campaign to secure a pardon for Alan Turing and other men convicted of historical gay sex offences has written to the Big Five technology corporations calling on them to help save the threatened Bletchley Park codebreaking museum.

John Leech, who was MP for Manchester Withingon between 2005 and 2015, told the i newspaper:

"The likes of Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Google would not exist without Turing’s work. For a very long time, he was completely forgotten, but you can’t overestimate how important Alan Turing was… the impact he’s had on modern-day computing has been enormous.

"It would be a very good gesture for [the tech giants] to contribute to ensure the legacies of Alan Turing and Bletchley Park, and hopefully preserve it for future generations.

"If Alan Turing had been born 40 or 50 years later, he would be one of these people at the top of one of these organisations. He never actually personally benefited from his genius, whereas these tech giants today have benefited enormously from his contributions.

"Over decades he hasn’t had the legacy that he deserves, and it’s only in recent times that that begins to be put right. It would be terrible if the Covid-19 crisis were to mean his legacy being forgotten again."

You can more about Bletchley Park on its website.

Boating on the River Eye in Melton Mowbray

There's a nice story in the Melton Times about Melton Mowbray people taking to the town's River Eye:

With limited boating activities available at nearby Rutland Water, Melton Mowbray Town Estate is keen to encourage more people to take boats out on the Eye.

Town bailiff, Billy Boulding, said: “The river encompasses a large proportion of our parks.

“Boating enthusiasts can row or canoe the 1.5km loop around Egerton and Wilton Park, and enjoy the beautiful scenery the river provides.

“It has been underused over recent years but wouldn’t it be nice to see these family and community activities on the river again in the future?”

The article recalls that:

Decades ago, canoeing on the river was a regular sight and it was not uncommon to see many people appreciating the natural assets the town has to offer.

And I remember that in the 1980s you always saw boys swimming from the weir just past the railway station if you passed through Melton by train.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Congratulations to Ed Davey, but we must look beyond the South East of England

Ed Davey is the new leader of the Liberal Democrats.

The result of the ballot was:

  • Ed Davey - 42,756 votes (63.5 per cent)
  • Layla Moran - 24,564 votes (36.5 per cent)

Worryingly, that is a turnout of just 57.6 per cent - 117,924 ballot papers were issued to Lib Dem members, but only 67,320 were returned with valid votes - there were also 540 abstentions and 39 spoilt papers.

I voted for Layla but I congratulate Ed and wish him well.

He has pledged to listen to the voters, which is good. Mind you, we have received the clear message from our former voters ever since 2010 that they did not like us going into coalition with the Conservatives. 

And this result suggests that, as a party, we are still unsure whether to listen to them or tell them they are wrong.

What worries me most about the future is the refrain from Ed's supporters that we have to concentrate on appealing to Conservative voters in our target seats.

Given that most of these are in London and the Home Counties, there is a danger that not upsetting people in Esher will become our party's principal reason for existing.

And that is no basis for a radical political party. 

Yes, the affluent middle classes express progressive social values, but I suspect they will remain as sharp-elbowed about their financial interests as they ever were.

Ed said in his brief speech today that he will listen to voters "from the North, South, or somewhere in between".

That could have been better put and it had better be true, otherwise this party does not have much of a future.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

John O'Gaunt Viaduct, Leicestershire

John O'Gaunt Viaduct stands in East Leicestershire on the closed Great Northern and London and North Western Joint Railway

It was building that line that first brought this blog's hero, the railway contractor and Liberal MP for Harborough J.W. Logan, to Leicestershire.

Elsewhere on this blog you can see another video of the viaduct and film of the last days of the major station on the line, Melton Mowbray North.

Six of the Best 954

"The Liberal Democrats have a poor quality of internal democracy because there are no well-organised factions acting as intermediaries between the membership and the internal elected bodies. If they’re even aware that they exist, most members have no real idea what the internal party bodies do because no one is explaining it to them in practical terms that make sense to them." Nick Barlow argues that the Lib Dems need to understand and embrace factions.

Jane Dodds says it's time for the Lib Dems to back a universal basic income.

"As more and more Englishmen landed on the Caribbean, cut down the trees, ploughed the land and began sugar production, the countryside back home in England also began to change. The slave traders and colonialists were making quick money in the Caribbean and heading home to translate this wealth into landed property." Nick Hayes explains how the English countryside was taken from the public using profits from slavery.

Nonie Coulthard makes the case for the reintroduction of beavers to Scotland.

"Women don’t attend cricket matches as an accessory to their male associates; they go because they want to watch cricket. Women watch cricket. Women understand and enjoy cricket." Abbie Rhodes discusses the sexist and anachronistic attitudes prevalent at every level of English cricket and what this means for female cricket fans.

Helen Lewis says Sherlock was the first drama series to recognise the implications of smartphones.

Will it be Ed or Layla? Watch the announcement live tomorrow

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The new leader of the Liberal Democrats will be announced at 11.30 tomorrow morning.

Why not join the millions who will be watching the announcement live on YouTube?

The Conservatives dropped Land of Hope and Glory and the Union Jack from their conference in 1998

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From the Independent, 18 September 1998

Land of Hope and Glory, the flying of the Union Jack and other overt shows of nationalism are to be dropped for the leader's speech at the Conservative Party conference.  

In a break with tradition by William Hague, the leader's speech is being brought forward a day, leaving the departing party chairman, Lord Parkinson, to wind up the conference the next day with the 84-piece Bournemouth youth orchestra playing the traditional Land of Hope and Glory and tunes from the four corners of the UK, including Scotland the Brave and Land of My Fathers.  

Officials said there would still be a rousing send-off for the party activists at the end of the conference, but it had been decided to make Mr Hague's speech a "more business-like" address, more in keeping with his McKinsey management consultant image.

You don't have to be a Marxist to agree that the Conservatives represent the interests of the wealthy but attempt to win over poorer voters by playing up 'culture war' issues.

Why then is the left determined to give the Tories the culture war they crave? 

The 'BBC to ban patriotic songs' story is a load of nonsense. But yesterday left-wing Twitter was full of people discussing how dreadful Land of Hope and Glory, Rule, Britannia and God Save the Queen are.

For myself, I can enjoy a song without endorsing all or even some of its implications. Which is just as well, considering how dodgy many Sixties classics are - take Keep on Running for a start.

That is why I have always defended the Liberal Democrat conference Glee Club against its critics. And I am happy to defend the Last Night of the Proms too, even though I rarely watch it.

Meanwhile, it is no surprise to discover that the Tories are as hypocritical on this issue as they are on many others.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The $65 million question about a king, a princess and a Shropshire country house

You have to admit that's a racy headline - even for the Shropshire Star. Naturally, it has walked away with our Headline of the Day Award.

And the story beneath does not disappoint:

According to villagers, you couldn’t want a better person to live near to you.

But Corinna Sayn-Wittgenstein, the ex-wife of a German prince, has placed the village of Claverley at the centre of a story that has fascinated people across Europe.

It involves secret agents, mysterious offshore companies and the small matter of a $65 million gift from her ex-lover, the former King of Spain.

And the report then sets out the story in almost bewildering detail.

Claverley is a village near Bridgnorth. Unusually for a Shropshire village, it has not been visited by me, so the photograph above comes from the invaluable Geograph site.

And I hear you asking whether there is a connection between the Sayn-Wittgenstein family and the philosopher.

Looking at the Wikipedia for Ludwig Wittgenstein, the answer is yes and no:

According to a family tree prepared in Jerusalem after World War II, Wittgenstein's paternal great-great-grandfather was Moses Meier, a Jewish land agent who lived with his wife, Brendel Simon, in Bad Laasphe in the Principality of Wittgenstein, Westphalia.

In July 1808, Napoleon issued a decree that everyone, including Jews, must adopt an inheritable family surname, so Meier's son, also Moses, took the name of his employers, the Sayn-Wittgensteins, and became Moses Meier Wittgenstein.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Six of the Best 953

"A striking thing about the history of modern Russia is how littered it is with the corpses of democrats and friends of open society." Brian Stewart reviews a book on how Putin took over Russia.

Steven McCracken explains the strange rise of Darren Grimes.

"West African soldiers from the British colonies of Nigeria, the Gold Coast (now Ghana), Sierra Leone and the Gambia were crucial in winning the six-year jungle war in Burma (now Myanmar), fighting in appalling conditions to defend India from being overrun by Japan in World War Two." David Rae, Ed Emeka Keazor and Ngozi Eneh Ojo say the story of the African soldiers who risked their lives and left their families to fight for the British must finally be recognised.

Jenny Valentish on the feminist pop of the 1970s Australian singer Helen Reddy, who is the subject of a new biopic I Am Woman.

Continuing the 1970s theme, Matt Blake chooses the books that defined the decade.

"Of Heathrow that day, Harmison writes: 'Have you ever tried to tell a five-year-old that Daddy’s not going to be home for weeks on end? At that moment I really wish I wasn’t a cricketer. I really wish I’d stayed working in the factory with my dad.'" Phil Walker talks to the former England fast bowler Steve Harmison his love for bowling, his outlook on the game and how he got through the most challenging times of his career.

Lib Dem council leaders oppose forced move to unitary authorities

Representatives of 29 Lib Dem-run councils have signed an open letter opposing any move to impose unitary authorities across the country.

The Saffron Walden Reporter quotes from the letter:

"We are not in principle opposed to unitary councils of reorganisation, but it should only ever be locally driven, designed to empower communities and respond to local needs. Now is not the time to be disbanding our high performing councils and creating new ones.

"Reorganisation may benefit some places, but not all and not now. Continuing with mass reorganisation at this time risks scarce resources being diverted away from the Covid recovery and other vital public services. The choice for us as council leaders will be ‘what do we stop doing on recovery in order to resource reorganisation. That is not a choice we wish to make."

Well, I am opposed in principle to unity authorities. There may be places where they make sense and I am not the sort to insist we have the same system in every county, but I believe local government must be as local as is practicable.

And I am not convinced that centralising everything will save money. That is a very Seventies Labour argument but, as I blogged at the end of 2018, Brexit is steadily pushing Tory policy in that direction.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

The Saint, Greavsie and Donald Trump make the quarter-final draw for the 1992 Rumbelows League Cup

It's a funny old game, Saint.

Did we want to defeat Brexit or just to feel superior?

This morning I tweeted a story from the Mail on Sunday:

When he returned home from the horrors of the First World War, a thankful Walter Brown planted an oak tree on the edge of his farm.

Standing tall more than a century later, it symbolises the longevity of his ancestors’ relationship with the land in Rutland.

The Brown family has tilled the soil in the Welland Valley for more than 300 years, but Walter’s grandson Andrew fears the new Agriculture Bill will mean he is the last.

Mr Brown, 56, says the Bill fails to protect the UK’s world-leading food and welfare standards.

And that could be the ‘final nail in the coffin’ for 40,000 family farms which would be replaced by massive US-style feedlots, where tens of thousands of cattle are crammed into pens with poor environmental standards.

Almost by return someone tweeted:

Having a low risk guess here that they're unshakeable Tory and, by definition and utterly predictable demonstration, hard Brexit supporters.

They were wrong on both counts.

Here is Andrew Brown commenting on the referendum result in 2016:

English farmer Andrew Brown says last week’s vote by the British people to leave the European Union (EU) will have long term negative implications not just for the nation’s agricultural sector, but for the country as a whole.

“Words fail me. This is an unmitigated disaster, not only for farming but for the whole country,” the farmer from Rutland in eastern England said.

Mr Brown had been an active campaigner for a ‘stay’ vote prior to the referendum, saying British farmers could not get a better trade deal with Europe than they had as members of the EU.

“People talk about unwinding regulation, but do you really think the EU nations are going to let trade partners have less compliance regulation than they do?” he asked.

“A vote to leave is like turkeys voting for Christmas.”

As to being a Conservative, Andrew Brown is an Independent member of Rutland County Council - the photo is of Lyddington, the largest village in his ward.

Around here it's not unknown for 'Independent' councillors to be members of the Conservative Party on the queit, but I have no reason to think that Andrew Brown is. His interest in conservation, for instance, is not typical of local Tories.

In fact, reading his biography I am struck by the thought that he sounds just the sort of person who should have featured prominently in the Remain campaign.

But even if Andrew Brown were a Tory and a new convert, we should still be welcoming him to our side of the debate. And I am pleased the Mail on Sunday is now campaigning in defence of our food standards.

Instead, most Remain activity on social media appears designed to make ourselves feel good and to ridicule our opponents.

But if we want to win in the end then we have to convert some of those opponents. And ridiculing people is about the last thing likely to do that.

I made much the same points back in March 2018, when I asked But could Remain win a second referendum?

I am now tempted to ask if we ever really wanted to defeat Brexit. Was it always more about feeling superior?

The Stranglers: Something Better Change

Voting in the Liberal Democrat leadership contest closes at 1pm on Wednesday.

The title of this 1977 Stranglers single expresses one of the main reasons I voted for Layla Moran.

If you are a party member and haven't voted yet, I hope you will vote for her too.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Write a guest post for Liberal England

Do you want to have your say on the future of the Liberal Democrats once our new leader is elected?

I welcome guest posts on Liberal England.

As you can see from this list of the 10 most recent, I am happy to publish posts on subjects far beyond the Lib Dems and politics.

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

Daisy Cooper on the problem of people breaking into prison

Things are even worse than you thought.

Today's Mirror reports:

Cash-strapped jails are facing a new crisis – people breaking in.

In one case, a 13-year-old boy strolled into an open prison to deliver drugs.

Unions say security is so lax at other low-category sites that criminals drop off takeaway food to pals still inside.

The Prison Officers Association said Tory cuts had left some Category D jails with just three guards over night.

The incidents came to light after one prisoner was battered by intruders at HMP Spring Hill, in Aylesbury, Bucks.

The report quotes Daisy Cooper, Liberal Democrat MP for St Albans and the party's justice spokesperson:

"Conservative cuts have caused havoc. Because of overcrowding and under-staffing, the prison system is unable to cope. We need an urgent intervention to end this shambles."

She also calls for community-based sentences "that actually work".

Six of the Best 952

"For an innovative, democratic, liberal party caring about human rights and income security for all, and for thereby securing the future of our movement, Layla is the leader we need right now." James Baillie on why he has voted for Layla Moran to be the next Liberal Democrat leader.

John Cassidy offers a brief history of MAGA money grubbing from Paul Manafort to Steve Bannon.

Julie Harding looks at the real-life experience of animals that led George Orwell to write Animal Farm.

"As they stood in the winter chill, preparing to begin their bloody work, the troops cannot have known that what they were about to do would forever be remembered as one of the most horrific acts of political violence in British history." Allan Kennedy explains what led to the Glencoe Massacre.

"Odd Man Out is a transcendent example of the heist gone wrong film: a manhunt across eight hours of a bitingly cold November night with a poetic, haunting snowscape finale that some say surpasses Reed and Krasker’s later Viennese whirl, The Third Man." Tim Pelan watches a neglected Carol Reed film.

The Red House pays tribute to the guitarist Julian Bream and his work with Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Eastern suburbs adventure: Newbury Park to Chadwell Heath

John Rogers takes us on a walk from the Central Line loop at Newbury Park, with its stunning bus station, along Eastern Avenue, through Seven Kings Park, Goodmayes Hospital, St Chad's Park and Whalebone Lane to the site of a World War II anti-aircraft gun battery at Chadwell Heath. 

John has a Patreon account to support his videos and blogs at The Lost Byway,

Paul Tyler and the Beast of Bodmin

The Liberal Democrat MP Paul Tyler is interviewed in the latest edition of the podcast Big Cat Conversations.

He talks about his role in the mid 1990s, when he was MP for North Cornwall and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food commissioned an investigation of the possibility that large exotic cats were killing livestock on Bodmin Moor.

In those days Lord Bonkers was dropping heavy hints that Paul was himself the Beast of Bodmin, changing shape at night to lope across the empty moor. At my legal advisers' urging, let me say I am sure this was not the case.

Meanwhile in Gloucestershire...

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Six of the Best 951

John Harris says the Tories are creating a cookie-cutter Britain: "Anyone who has watched what has happened to British housing will know what is surely coming: more and more Unplaces, in which community and collective purpose are beyond people’s grasp because the physical means to create and sustain them simply do not exist."

Polio terrified Americans, and in 1955, when Jonas Salk’s vaccine became available, they snapped it up like candy. Sixty-five years later, reports Arthur Allen, this is a different story.

Casting envious eyes on Canada, Adam Gopnik asks if the American Revolution was really a good idea.

"Eliot’s own consideration of the name she should be known by is as complicated a psychological and moral question as any depicted in her novels. However, her wish to be known professionally as George Eliot is resolute and clearly articulated." Eleanor Dumbill argues that it is not empowering to abandon the male pseudonyms used by female writers.

"He remembers a game where the other team had a player from Barbados. 'I didn’t get any runs, but he did. And when I went out to field their team was shouting: "Our one is better than yours," and you’ve got 20 people laughing, do I laugh? Or do I look like the angry black man?'" Andy Bull talks to black British cricketers whose careers were cut short by racist stereotyping,

James Collingwood on Robin Redbreast, a piece of folk horror broadcast in the BBC's Play for Today slot in 1970.

People behind Lutterworth's Church of Pain revealed

Yesterday Lutterworth's Church of Pain won the Leicester Mercury our prestigious Headline of the Day Award.

Today that same paper solved the mystery over who put it up:

Two teenagers, Aaliyah Louw and Joseph Blackmore, both 17, decided to build the structure after coming across the fly-tipped bricks on August 16.

Aaliyah, from Lutterworth, said: "It was starting to rain, and we didn't want to walk any further and were a getting bored, so we decided to just build a small shelter for a laugh.

"Then we just found the sticks that were kind of in the shape of a cross, and put it on top.

"There wasn't really any other motivation behind it, other than wanting to have some fun."

Aaliyah said that her and Joseph spent about an hour-and-a-half building the structure in the rain, and some of the walls had to be reinforced because they kept falling down during construction.

Top sleuthing by Maia Snow, but it doesn't explain why South Kilworth, which is on the way to Lutterworth from here, has a House of Pain.

Now the ravens are leaving the Tower of London

As if you needed any further proof this government is ruining Britain, the Evening Standard reports that 

Ravens at the Tower of London are leaving the historical site to search for food due to a lack of visitors during coronavirus lockdown.

It goes on to remind us that folklore holds that if six of the birds permanently leave the Tower then the kingdom, the crown and the building itself will fall.

And the Standard says the Tower's ravenmaster reports that two birds are already venturing away to forage.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Mr Fantasy: 50th anniversary documentary for Traffic's first LP

Mr Fantasy, Traffic's first LP, came out in 1967 and this documentary was made to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

Steve Winwood's bandmates Chris Wood and Jim Capaldi died in 1983 and 2005 respectively, while Dave Mason barely gets a mention here.

But he did turn up as a black-hatted bad fairy in the BBC's celebration of Steve Winwood's career English Soul,

Call it differences over musical direction.

Layla Moran: We have to show we've learnt from what we got wrong in the Coalition

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Here's an interview with Layla Moran you may not have seen. 

Earlier this month she spoke to Simon Barrow from High Profiles. This website interviews prominent figures about their values, beliefs and principles and about the experiences that have formed them.

The results are often more revealing than your average political interview.

Here are a few of the things Layla has to say:

"I spoke Arabic as a child – my first word was daw’, which means ‘light’. [Up to the age of three] I spoke exclusively Arabic with my mum and English with my father, who doesn’t really speak any Arabic at all."

"The way that I approach politics is collaboratively in general, you know, and especially when [our support is] 6 per cent in the last poll I looked at. If we are going to actually achieve anything for people from our current position in Westminster, we have to forge alliances. And that includes with backbench Conservative MPs, incidentally, so I’m proud to chair the all-party group on coronavirus and I’m even more proud that [the former Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union] David Davis is part of it."

"There are some who blame us for that Coalition period, and particularly austerity; and, to be perfectly honest, there are parts of that legacy that I’m not very proud of, either. We can’t ever write it out of our party’s history, and if I’m leader of the party I’ll face questions on it; but I think we need to demonstrate that where we got it wrong we’ve learnt from that and we won’t do it again."
And there is something telling about a former Liberal Democrat leader in one of the questions:
In 2008, when I interviewed Nick Clegg for High Profiles, I asked him whether he saw any tension between economic and social liberalism, and he seemed to be genuinely puzzled by the question.

Strange 'Church of Pain' appears overnight at country park near Lutterworth

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

The judges remarked that nothing about Lutterworth would surprise them.

Stokesay Castle from the air in 1948

Taken in 1948, this aerial photograph shows Stokesay Castle, its half-timbered gatehouse and the church of St John the Baptist. Stokesay lies just to the south of Craven Arms in Shropshire.

St John the Baptist was substantially rebuilt in the 17th century after it suffered serious damage in a Civil War skirmish.

You can see more photos of Stokesay on this blog.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Test Match Special wants every boy to show house spirit

Marking Test Match Special's 50th birthday back in 2007 I said:

Though Brian Johnston died a national treasure and did seem in an exceptionally happy mood in his last few summers, he could be Blimpish and sometimes made the commentary box sound like the staff room of an undistinguished private school.

Today there is a keen new master on the staff. Simon Mann has no time for slackers. Everyone must show the right spirit. Those who don't must be made an example of.

Back in the 1970s it was Fred Trueman who fulfilled this role and it was the number of no balls that shocked him. No professional should bowl them, we were told. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Various ways of punishing bowlers who sinned were proposed. As I recall, the most popular was making the penalty ten runs rather than one.

This would have damaged the game, because of the risk that young tearaway fast bowlers would be turned into medium pacers to make sure they didn't give away runs.

And were no balls so terrible? We accept that an Olympic long jumper will sometimes overstep the board. Why is it so terrible for a fast bowler to overstep the crease?

The best fast bowling I have ever seen from an Englishman, Bob Willis's 8 for 43 at Headingley in 1981, happened after his captain Mike Brearley told him not to worry about no balls and to concentrate on bowling fast.

These days it is slow over rates that outrage the Test Match Special team. Again penalty runs are advocated and there is talk of making sides field one short. 

Already captains can be suspended, which led to what Vic Marks called "confirmation that the world is indeed prey to nitpicking jobsworths capable only of reading the manual rather than delivering common sense"as Jason Holder was banned for the third and final test last winter after leading the West Indies to an unassailable two-nil lead over England.

As if anyone in the Caribbean cared about the over rate after that.

And during the second test against Pakistan a few days ago Test Match Special went into meltdown because time was lost to rain and bad light.

This is England. It happens from time to time. You can ask the umpires to be a bit more sceptical about what constitutes dangerous conditions, but there is no need to make a nonsense of the game by changing to a different ball if it gets dark.

What these cures from the TMS team have in is that they would be harmful to cricket than the original disease.

That team should spend a bit less time giving their opinions and a bit more describing the cricket that is taking place in front of them.

But I get the impression that some of them would be happier watching schools cricket where everyone shows house spirit.

Firefighters find 'exorcism' after responding to smoke alarm in Long Eaton

The Nottingham Post wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Remember: If you do not keep up your payments to the exorcist your house may be repossessed.

Monday, August 17, 2020

When Ken Livingstone advertised Red Leicester

In 1989 Ken Livingstone made this television commercial for the National Dairy Council - thanks to Alwyn Turner for tweeting it.

He has given me an excuse to say nice things about both Livingstone and Red Leicester.

When Ken Livingstone was suspended by the Labour Party in 2017 because he wouldn't stop talking about Hitler I blogged:
I am sad for Ken because I remember him as leader of the Greater London Council.

It's not that I thought his policies were great, but the way he conducted himself was a model for any aspiring politician.

Though this was the era in which the Sun labelled him "the most odious man in Britain", he remained unfailingly calm in interviews and was witty too.

He was a star. When he resigned his seat and fought a by-election as part of the campaign against the abolition of the GLC, I helped the Liberal candidate Steve Harris.

One Saturday the great and good of Richmond Liberals turned up to help. Their children asked if they could go on Ken's bus.
And then there's Red Leicester.

If you know it only from the plastic-wrapped supermarket version then you have missed a treat.

A proper farmhouse Leicester has a sweet, earthy flavour and a wonderful, almost creamy, texture.

The mismatch between the Lib Dems and their voters after 2010

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Christopher Butler has been interviewing figures involved in the Liberal Democrats' decision to support an increase in tuition fees after entering government in 2010.

His research is published in the academic journal British Politics, but he has also written a blog post for the London School of Economics' British Politics and Policy blog.

There he quotes a 'former adviser' as saying that it turned out that a lot of Liberal Democrat support came from

broadly public sector workers who were being hit in numerous different ways with the policy choices we were making. Fees is probably a good example but certainly not alone; NHS reforms, pension caps, wage caps this kind of stuff; hugely problematic for them.

This would not have been news to many Lib Dem activists, because our local campaigning had for years presented us as the people who defend local services. 

Instead, writes Butler:

Having finally got back into government, the party’s initial strategy was to focus on delivering the four policies which had featured on the front page of the manifesto (of which tuition fees deliberately was not one), on the assumption that these were the policies which had secured its support at the 2010 election.

Those four policies were raising the income tax allowance, introducing the pupil premium, electoral reform and the environment. Yet, as Butler says, this ignored the campaign the Lib Dems had fought at the 2010 election.

He reprints one of Nick Clegg's own leaflets:

The Liberal Democrats are committed to getting rid of tuition fees and oppose the top-up fees that Labour and the Conservatives support.

And people in Leicester remember that when Clegg's battle bus swept into Leicester it made for De Montfort University so he could be filmed receiving the adulation of students.

Butler ends by pointing to new research that suggests a developing core vote for the Lib Dems in certain seats in London and the South East.

He complains that, despite this, both Ed Davey and Layla Moran are claiming the party can win parliamentary seats across the country.

But I believe Ed and Layla are right. You cannot build a national political party on the interests of a handful of seats in the Home Counties.

In order to listen to your voters you have first to acquire them.

Police pick up a penguin from village street in Nottinghamshire after farmyard escape

Sky News wins our Headline of the Day Award for this exciting story from Strelley,
which is famed throughout Nottinghamshire for its penguin farms.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Diesel Trainride (1959): When DMUs were sexy

Diesel Trainride, made in 1959 by British Transport Films, shows the railways and society in transition.

So people still dress in their best clothes to travel, but diesel multiple units are presented as excitingly modern.

By the 1970s the ones from this era were showing their age, but I still miss the possibility of travelling in the front coach and seeing what the driver sees.

The film's geography is a nonsense - our journey starts in East Anglia, only to take in the Newcastle to Carlisle line and end up in the Lake Distract - but there is much of interest to be seen along the way.

You will soon tire of the children, probably voiced by adult actresses, and their cute questions, but treat them as interesting examples of what children were meant to be like in 1959 and they become more tolerable.

Cricket Badger: John Poysden's podcast on the art of slow bowling

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This blog loves spin bowling - leg spin in particular. Back in the late 1980s I sent to see Sussex play at Derby just because they had a young Ian Salisbury in their side.

And one of my more prophetic posts comes from 2006 when Adil Rashid made his debut for Yorkshire:

Won't it be nice if yesterday turns out to have been an historic day in English cricket?

Mind you, I also have a label for Mason Crane.

Another Yorkshire leg spinner, Josh Poysden, has started a podcast to explore the art of slow bowling. 

He has posted eight episodes so far, with guest including Dom Bess, Matt Parkinson and Stuart MacGill.

Belle Adair: Golden Days

It's the question everyone is asking: "Where have the golden days all gone?"

Golden Days is a track from the 2013 debut album by Belle Adair, an indie rock band from Alabama.

Reviewing the album, The Brave and the Blue, the blog When You Motor Away... said:

There's a sense of that British Invasion-meets-Southern soul thing that made bands like Big Star, R.E.M. and A.M.-era Wilco so enjoyable, although these guys tend to feature a bit more in the way of instrumental detours and some other interesting touches like electric piano and muted horns here and there. 

But like those Southern forefathers, Belle Adair sure don't skimp on guitar jangle, and they sure don't skimp on gorgeous vocal harmonies.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Six of the Best 950

"Some voters live in a so-called populist bubble, where they hear nationalist and xenophobic messages, learn to distrust fact-based media and evidence-based science, and become receptive to conspiracy theories and suspicious of democratic institutions. Others read and hear completely different media, respect different authorities, and search for a different sort of news." Anne Applebaum on how to beat populists when facts no longer matter - unconventional messengers, appeals to patriotism and even jokes can reach voters who don’t want to listen.

The current government communications campaign to prepare Britain for Brexit won't work. Maddy Thimont Jack explains why.

Jake Richards says children in care cannot be ignored any longer.

"In the past two years night trains have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, helped by the increasing discomfort of budget air travel and the security that goes with it, concerns around the climate emergency, and now the pandemic."  Nicole Kobie asks why the UK doesn’t have any night trains to Europe.

Historyfare tells the story of a Wellington bomber that took off from Market Harborough and crashed near Melton Mowbray on 13 August 1944.

Matt Thacker surveys the best and worst of cricket fiction.

Friday, August 14, 2020

The Bass, Ratcliff & Gretton Brewery, Burton upon Trent

The Bass, Ratcliff & Gretton Brewery at Burton upon Trent was so extensive that it had its own railway system.

What happened to Burton's unique townscape? Jonathan Meades blames one of his uncles, who was its town clerk:

Under his stewardship Burton destroyed itself. The mega-brewers, whom Uncle Hank sucked up to and who plied him with cases of limited-edition beers each Christmas, were men whose all too English mores he admired. They were given carte blance to demolish the great brick warehouses that defined Burton, the brewery of the Empire. The oast houses, the maltings, the cooperages  they all went. 

They were expendable (and Victorian). Cities are temporary things. Only the country, the specially sanctioned parts of the country, are eternal.

Emma Nicholson: Exam grades are lower in state schools because they teach pornography

The Conservative peer and sometimes Conservative and Liberal Democrat MP Emma Nicholson has taken to Twitter to share her unique perspective on the controversy over A level results:

She wins this blog's Snob of the Day Award. Nice one, Em.

Later. This tweet has now been deleted, but you can see what she wrote above.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Devotion, death and dissolution in Leicestershire 2

The second part of Jim Butler's latest Hidden Histories video discovers Leiceser's lost churches and takes us to Launde Abbey and John Wycliffe's Lutterworth.

Watch part 1 here.

Lord Bonkers writes: It cannot last much longer

Lord Bonkers writes exclusively for Liberal England: 

To the Bonkers’ Home for Well-Behaved Orphans where the little inmates hang upon my tales of how life used to be.

I tell them of a time long ago when one could talk to one’s family and neighbours, travel by train or bus or go out to the cinema or a restaurant, all without wearing a mask. It was a time when people would attend a test match or football game with their friends and when the news was not dominated by a single subject. Life was so good there were even local by-elections to contest every single week.

“I wish it could be like that again!” exclaims one little girl. “Never mind, my dear,” I say, patting her arm, “the Liberal Democrat leadership election cannot last much longer.”

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Infotagion podcast looks at Russian interference in public and political life in the West

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In his first ever on-the-record broadcast interview, Trump-Russia dossier author and ex-MI6 officer Chris Steele joins Damian Collins MP for a special extended edition of the podcast. They discuss the extent of Russian interference in public and political life in the West, and why governments are behind the curve tackling the threat. 
Joining them is Luke Harding, Guardian journalist and author of the new book Shadow State: Murder, Mayhem and Russia’s remaking of the West. Dr. Charles Kriel wonders what new methods the Russians might be developing behind the scenes.
Listen to this edition of the Infotagion podcast.

Six of the Best 949

"In the past two decades, the list of British calamities, policy misjudgements, and forecasting failures has been eye-watering: the disaster of Iraq, the botched Libyan intervention in 2011, the near miss of Scottish independence in 2014, the woeful handling of Britain’s divorce from the European Union from 2016 onward. As one senior British government adviser put it to me, 'We’ve had our arse handed to us recently.'" Britain's performance on Covid-19 has been poor, but Tom McTague argues that we were failing long before the virus struck.

"The problem is that the Party’s democracy is performative, not real. We have elections, but accountability and scrutiny are poor. Finding out what the Committees do between elections is difficult – the various minutes are seldom published, very brief reports go to Federal Conference." Mark Valladares asks if the Liberal Democrats are governable.

Keith Melton is not a fan of the motion on the environment accepted for debate at next month's virtual Lib Dem Conference.

The way we talk on the internet is broken, but users are not the ones who broke it. It was the tech companies did that, says Elamin Abdelmahmoud, and they did it for profit.

Alison Campsie reveals that Scotland’s fishing towns and villages boomed from the sale of cheap salted herring to slave plantations.

"The film opens with a disembodied head warning a group of children about the dangers of wolves in sheep’s clothing. Steeped in religious language and projected against a starlit sky, the scene locates the film firmly in our collective imagination. This is neither the real world nor the world of books, it is somewhere in between," FilmJuice looks at Night of the Hunter.