Wednesday, May 18, 2022

A note of caution on the prospects of a "progressive alliance": We are bad at predicting our own behaviour

Best for Britain is proud of its opinion poll, which forecasts how people would vote given various scenarios where parties co-operate with one another at the next general election.

Most Liberal Democrat and Green voters would vote Labour if their parties stood down, their findings say. Equally, Labour voters would mostly be happy to vote Lib Dem or Green.

It looks easy, doesn't it?

As Freddie and Fiona once put it to Lord Bonkers:

"All we need do ... is change the Labour Party constitution, have all the parties agree a common manifesto and then get them to stand down wherever we think they should."

But then F&F aren't old enough to remember the Alliance and what it is like when the Conservatives and the press are looking for divisions to exploit. It would be far worse now with more parties involved and what Lord Bonkers would call "the electric social media".

There is another problem with this poll. Most opinion polls ask people how they would vote if there were an election today. This one asked them how they would vote in a year or two's time given a number of different conditions,

The problem is that we are poor at predicting our own behaviour. As a post on the Research Digest blog once expressed it:

Psychologists have identified an important reason why our insight into our own psyches is so poor. Emily Balcetis and David Dunning found that when predicting our own behaviour, we fail to take the influence of the situation into account. 
By contrast, when predicting the behaviour of others, we correctly factor in the influence of the circumstances. This means that we’re instinctually good social psychologists but at the same time we’re poor self-psychologists.
So this sort of polling is unlikely to provide the proof that Best for Britain thinks it has. They might, however, do better if they ask people how they think their neighbours would react faced with these conditions.

For instance, I would not resent a progressive alliance as a way of denying people choice, but I suspect many possible anti-Tory voters would.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Up Caledonian Road to Copenhagen Fields with John Rogers

John Rogers takes us on another London walk. This time it's from Gray's Inn Road up the Caledonian Road to Caledonian Park in Islington.

I was in Housmans bookshop [09:00] the other week and emerged with a novel by Rose Macaulay. I still haven't got the hang of this "left wing" thing.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Cuckoos, lapwings and curlews in the Shropshire Hills

And I can't remember the last time I heard a cuckoo, yet when I was a child you expected to hear one on any spring or summer walk.

The cuckoo is not the only bird that is disappearing from Shropshire. When Malcolm Saville's Lone Pine Club (the thinking child's Famous Five) formulated its rules at its camp on the Long Mynd, the members found it natural to adopt the cry of the peewit (or lapwing) as their secret signal.

I knew the late Robert Smart, who had been a friend of Saville's and published several books of walks in the Shropshire Hills. The last time we met he told me he hadn't seen a lapwing on the Mynd for years. That must take us back to the turn of this century.

The only place I have seen Lapwings is the Outer Hebrides. The are entertaining birds - tumbling yet slightly pompous with it - that remind you of Dickensian clerks.

But the bird that really makes me think of the Shropshire hills is the curlew. When I started visiting the Stiperstones in the 1980s, the bird's haunting cry told me that I was getting near the summit ridge.

Today the curlew is in danger of going the same way as the lapwing, but there are people working to save it.

The film below threatens to be overwhelmingly sad, but hold on for a more hopeful ending.

But it's a sad fact that 50 years or more of environmental activism have not been enough to save what used to be everyday birds in these hills.

Christopher Hitchens saw through Vladimir Putin from the start

Here's The Hitch answering a question at the University of Western Ontario on 8 March 2005.

Unlike many commentators, he saw Putin for what he was right from the start.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

The first night of Oliver!

Embed from Getty Images

Oliver! is the great British musical. I regard that as a statement of fact rather than an opinion.

Legend has it that the opening night audience went wild, but what did the critics make of it?

Well, our old friend J.C. Trewin loved it. Writing for the Birmingham Daily Post on Friday 1 July 1960, the day after Oliver's premiere he confirmed the legend:

"May Dickens forgive me!" said Lionel Bart as he took that surprising thing, an author's call, at the end of Oliver! to-night. He came upon the stage of the New Theatre after the most triumphant reception a musical play, and a British play at that, has had in years.

As for himself:

After the twentieth call we knew what the first-night audience thought. I fancy that Dickensians will forgive Mr. Bart. exclamation mark and all. I repeat, this is not a night for pedantic analysis. You have either to surrender to it or to carp. Personally. I have not found it hard to surrender.

He names the songs from show that he think will prove most popular: I'd Do Anything, As Long as He Needs Me and Oom-Papah. 

Maybe it's just because of Ron Moody's performance of them in the film, but today I think first of Reviewing the Situation and Pick a Pocket or Two. 

Who Will Buy?, with its street cries, is in many ways the most interesting, while the least interesting, Food Glorious Food, was the one BBC Radio played to death for a couple of decades.

And this is what Trewin had to say about the cast:

Fagin is presumably allowed to get away. Something, of course. may happen to him later; but that it not in Mr. Bart's scheme, and we could not wish that much would happen to the old fence as Ron Moody presents him, in a fantastic-grotesque performance that is suited exactly to Oliver! if it is not entirely Dickensian ....

But this is not a time to consider the acting too closely. though such a major part as Georgia Brown's Nancy has full spirit. Keith Hamshere is meltingly Oliver. and a sketch of the undertaker's wife by Sonia Fraser. late of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, would aid any production. 

Ron Moody we all know. Georgia Brown is generally acknowledged as being a better Nancy than the film's Shani Wallis, though it's hard not to wish that Carol Reed's wish to cast Shirley Bassey had been granted by the money men.

Sonia Fraser had a long career in theatre and was a friend and collaborator of Miriam Margolyes. Keith Hamshere lasted over a year before he grew to tall to play Oliver, then made a couple of films and gave up acting to become one of the leading stills photographers in the film industry.

The Joy of Six 1050

"Those that claim to be the party of clever economics and fiscal responsibility would do well to remember this simple truth: the square root of fuck all is always going to be absolutely fuck all, no matter how creatively you’re told to to dice it." Jack Monroe asks why elected representatives and salaried journalists and presenters are trying to undermine the ten-year career and credibility of a food blogger.

Andrew Adonis reviews Chums: How a Tiny Caste of Oxford Tories Took Over the UK by Simon Kuper: "In place of Kuper’s plan, I would instead introduce a different 'levelling-up' reform challenge for Oxford. It needs to radically broaden the social intake of its state school recruitment, which today is too largely drawn from grammar schools, sixth-form colleges and academies in London and the southeast".

Helena Horton on ambitious plans to rewild London.

Neal Ascherson is always worth reading: here he discusses the history of the extraordinary Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

"Tragically, he was discovered, captured, and deported during a raid in Toulouse in 1944 - first to Drancy, then to Auschwitz, and finally Kaunas-Reval in Lithuania. Of hundreds of people captured in Toulouse that day, only a handful survived. They perished without a trace." Janet Horvath says we should not forget the cellist and composer Pál Hermann.

"It was a big car park, but it was in bad shape. So in 2010, the Trinity Square high rise car park, an iconic brutalist building that dominated Gateshead’s skyline in the 1970s, was demolished, and a part of British film history was gone. Though not before the canny council sold tinned lumps of rubble to film fans for £5.00 a go." Tim Pelan watches Mike Hodges' 1971 film Get Carter.

Aldous Harding: Fever

Aldous Harding is a New Zealand artist now based in Cardiff. A 2019 Guardian review of a concert by her said:

In the years since 2014, when her self-titled debut came out in her native New Zealand, Harding has become cult-famous for her intense performances. They draw attention to the fact of their own artifice and have garnered comparisons to uncompromising auteurs such as Kate Bush.

Harding has a punk rock stare and, on her stool, she adopts cowboy postures that would be called manspreading if they happened on the London underground. When she sings, she is legion: Harding can sound like a child, like Joanna Newsom, or a dissipated émigré such as Nico. 

Saturday, May 14, 2022

The old road to Foxton Locks

I've blogged before about how I worked for the organiser of the Liberal Party Assembly in 1985. That summer the office was housed on two narrow boats at Foxton Locks.

The photo above shows where the boats were moored - on the arm that served the bottom of the inclined plane that once took boats up and down the hill here.

A lot has changed at Foxton since then, notably there's now a proper car park for visitors and a new road to serve it.

What used to be the road to the bottom of the locks is now a footpath.* Ironically, it is in much better condition than it ever was as a road. Then it had enough large potholes to keep a Focus team pointing for a fortnight.

I remember guiding the chief stewards van down it when he arrived to collect the assembly programmes which the printers van had brought a couple of days before.

Today it was all sheep and May blossom, with not a pothole in sight.

* The final stretch of the path is new - the old road ran along the bank of the canal for a little. But, going uphill, once you are through the first gate you are on what was the road all the way to the top.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Yesterday's local by-elections and a progressive alliance

There were two local by-elections yesterday. Both were in Conservative-held seats and the Conservatives lost both of them.

The results also pose questions about the practicality of and need for a "progressive alliance".

Take the by-election in the Frensham, Dockenfield and Tilford ward of Waverley Borough Council in Surrey.

Here, Labour and the Liberal Democrats stood down to give the Green Party a clear run against the Conservatives. The Tories lost all right, but it wasn't the Greens who won.

The victor was David Munro, an Independent who used to be the Conservative police and crime commissioner for the county. Munro is a former Army office who lost his career because he was openly gay.

This should serve as a reminder that parties do not own their supporters votes and cannot deliver them en bloc to another party. And also as another reminder that Twitter is not the real world.

Last night there was also a by-election in the Peacehaven ward of Lewes District Council.

There was no progressive alliance here: Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens all fielded candidates. But this did not stop Labour from gaining the seat by a mile.

The result was Labour 641, Conservatives 477, Lib Dems 32, Greens 32,

If the electorate is determined to get rid of the Tories, as they were in 1997 and as I sense they are now, then it will organise itself to do so.

Remember that in 1997 Labour came from third place to take two seats from the Tories - Hastings & Rye and St Albans - that had been Liberal Democrat targets.

You can hear these issues debated in the latest Oh God, What Now? podcast, where Layla Moran is the guest. I share her view that any alliances must be locally determined and not imposed from on high.

And is it good for Liberal Democrats to taken on a "progressive" identity?

I have seen a quote online from my much-missed friend Simon Titley that exposes its weakness:

"Progressive." What does it mean? The only discernible meaning is "not conservative" or "not reactionary"... negative definitions. The "p" word is a lazy word, so give it up. It will force you to say what you really mean. We need real politics not empty slogans.

I don't know where this comes from, but there is an archive of Simon's writing on the Liberator website.

Let me end by once again recommending the weekly local by-election previews by Andrew Teale.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

I don't! Northamptonshire crematorium scrapped as wedding venue after holding just ONE ceremony

The Northampton Chronical & Echo wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Congratulations to them, but not to the now-defunct Kettering Borough Council.

Northampton urban tree festival, Saturday 21 May

Save Our Street Trees is hosting a mini urban tree festival in Northampton on Saturday 21 May.

The event promises an afternoon of tree-themed fun for adults and children at Delapré Abbey, the country house and park just a mile from the centre of the town.

Between 2 and 5pm there will be yoga, crafting, art classes and tree trails to celebrate and support urban trees. All the activities are free (but donations will be welcome).

You can learn more about the festival on the Save Our Street Trees website.

The Northampton event forms part of the 2022 Urban Tree Festival, which runs from 14 to 22 May.

The Save Our Street Trees website has a full list of events, most of which take place in London.

Happy St Pancras Day to Liberal England readers

What with it being the saint's day of Saint Pancras and Steve Winwood's birthday, 12 May has long been a bank holiday here on Liberal England.

To help you celebrate this year, here are a statue of the young martyr I found in London the other week and a spot of vintage Spencer Davis Group featuring a 17-year-old Winwood.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

The ventilation shaft for Oxendon Tunnels

You can find this ventilation shaft in a field just to the edge of Great Oxendon village. It served the twin Oxendon tunnels on the Market Harborough to Northampton railway line.

That line closed in 1981 (I was on the last train), and today you can walk and cycle through one of the tunnels on the Brampton Valley Way.

I was also taken with an old metal gate post that stands by the shaft.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

The Joy of Six 1049

"Some people believe that support for the war comes out of the propaganda itself. In a way, this is true, of course. But why do people believe it? The formulas work because people can use them for their own ends. The public are the victims of propaganda but, at the same time, it’s made-to-order just for them." Shura Burtin asks why Russians support the war against Ukraine.

Sean Kippen reviews This is Not Normal: The Collapse of Liberal Britain by William Davies.

"By marginalising the empowering role of institutions in Savile’s crimes, both the Netflix documentary and official inquiries ultimately preserve the reputations of those institutions, and absolve key individuals of responsibility. To date, few have been brought to justice for enabling, covering up or failing properly to investigate what he did." Chris Greer and Eugene McLaughlin on the response to Jimmy Savile's crimes.

Claire Fitzpatrick says too many women in prison today were the girls in care of yesterday. "Beyond the gaze of the community, their experiences are easily ignored. Yet the stubborn over-representation of those with care experience in custody must be addressed by dramatically improving the care and support that individuals receive at earlier points in their lives."

"The defeat of the Ringways marked the first time that the planners had been publicly defeated. It showed that great plans for recasting urban space were not some unanswerable edict from on high: they were political proposals that could be successfully fought against." Michael Dnes and Calum Heath discover the London urban motorways that never were.

When it comes to writing, argues Derek Thompson, simple is smart.

J.W. Logan MP and his portable meeting room Free Speech Hall

Denied the use of village school halls by the Tories, my hero J.W. Logan took his own building around with him. I had imagined that it was some kind of tent, but an account in the Leicester Chronicle of 7 December 1889 shows it was far more than that:

On Saturday evening Mr. J.W. Logan, the Liberal candidate for the Market Harborough Division, addressed crowded meeting at Church Langton in his new portable building, to which has been given the appropriate appellation of Free Speech Hall. 
The building is an exceedingly neat and commodious wooden structure of oblong shape, being thirty feet long by twelve feet broad, and capable of accommodating about 150 people. Seats are arranged on each side to hold four, leaving a gangway up the centre by which the platform is reached. 
The heating apparatus consists of an elegant little stove, light being supplied by means of a couple of large lamps pendant from the top. When lighted and comfortably warmed and filled with an enthusiastic audience, as was Free Speech Hall on Saturday evening, it is not easy to imagine when inside that the erection is anything other than a permanent one. 
A lamp is hung at the entrance outside, and along one of the outer flanks is inscribed in large characters, "The system that will not bear discussion is doomed." 
The whole affair affords an additional earnest of the zeal and indomitable pluck of Mr. Logan in the cause which he has so thoroughly at heart, and is calculated to falsify the prophetic inspiration of his Tory friends, that he would ere long return to their fold - the wish of course being father to the thought.

Logan did start out as a Conservative, but - at least as he told the story - he was so shocked by the poverty he saw in Ireland that he became a Liberal and a thoroughgoing Radical at that. I must blog about this one day.

The Chronicle, which was clearly a splendidly Liberal newspaper, said that this Church Langton meeting was held "on the Green, in proximity to the rectory gate".

This puts it more or less in the area shown in the photograph above. This now includes the village war memorial, which includes the name of Logan's son Hugh, who was four years old when this meeting took place.

Norman Lamb on his time as a minister... and Danny Alexander

Norman Lamb has been interviewed by the Institute for Government for its Ministers Reflect series.

You can see a short clip from it above and read the full transcript on the IfG website. (The interview took place in March 2020.)

As the Liberal Democrats could find themselves part of a coalition government after the next election, it's important that we learn from our unhappy experience between 2010 and 2015. So this interview makes useful reading.

But it may not make happy reading for Danny Alexander, who does not come out of it well.

Here, for instance, is Norman Lamb talking about his role as Nick Clegg's parliamentary private secretary, which he took on after the offer of a ministerial role was clumsily withdrawn:

I found it to be a fairly hollow role. I was involved in central discussions and I became part of the core team around Nick, but I was also conscious that the power lay with Nick and Danny - Nick primarily went to Danny and not anyone else - which caused, I think, some frustration amongst many people. A lot of people felt that Danny wasn't necessarily the best influence on Nick, and I still feel that strongly.

And when asked by the interviewer to expand on this point, Lamb says:

I think that Danny was hopeless on the health reforms, he passed it all and didn’t really understand the issues, in my view. In my view, the great sadness was David Laws falling early as the chief secretary .... The caricature of David was as right wing, as a sort of Tory in disguise, but actually, internally, he wasn’t. He was the one who was fighting against ending the indexing of benefits, he was fighting for a real terms increase in education spend and a real value to the pupil premium. 

His fall from the Treasury meant that we lost an intellectually coherent Liberal in the Treasury. We ended up with someone who was trying to convince Tories that he could be trusted doing this vital role of chief secretary to the Treasury. It was a case of overcompensating, which you quite often see.

That overcompensation was pretty much official Liberal Democrat strategy after 2010 - you can learn that from an article written by Nick Clegg's then political adviser, Richard Reeves, in 2012.

Reeves thought the Liberal Democrats had first to prove they were mature enough to be in government, but it is hard to imagine any other party burdening itself with this demand when it had just won a share of power through the ballot box.

A better model, Norman Lamb suggests, was that offered by Norman Baker as a transport minister. Lamb recalls that Philip Hammond (then the transport secretary) complaining to him that Baker was difficult to work with and did not comply with the protocols:

Norman, who I’ve got a lot of time for, was a press junkie who was just going off and actually doing what he ought to be doing, I think getting the message out there about what a Lib Dem minister was achieving. 

Lamb goes on to add:

The interesting thing was that the two of them ended up getting on quite well in transport and having a degree of mutual respect, I think because they were both assiduous - I think the dynamic ended up working quite well.

So next time we Liberal Democrats find ourselves in coalition, we need to have more confidence in ourselves and in the approach to the country's problems that we have just fought an election on.

And we need to make sure  we have someone at the treasury with the intellectual equipment and confidence to stand up for themselves.

In 2010 our front bench had as much expertise on economics, if not more, as those of the two larger parties. Think Vince Cable, Chris Huhne, David Laws and Steve Webb. We should have drawn on that pool of talent and used Danny Alexander's talents differently.

You can explore all the Ministers Reflect interviews on the Institute for Government website.

Monday, May 09, 2022

Graham Moffatt's career in films

As promised, here is a short film about the actor Graham Moffatt, who was landlord of The Swan, Braybrooke, between 1948 and 1958.

Sunday, May 08, 2022

Magazine: Shot by Both Sides

This is a great record and in particular a great guitar riff. It was devised by Pete Shelley, which is why you can also hear it on the Buzzcocks' Lipstick.

But the figure who interests us is the keyboard player Dave Formula, because we have seen him before.

More than a decade before he joined magazine, he worked under the name David Tomlinson and was a member of the St Louis Union.

And, as you no doubt remember, they appeared in the Spencer Davis Group's film The Ghost Goes Gear and were the best thing in it apart from the Spencers themselves.

Just in case that film has slipped your memory or you are feeling to weak to follow a link, I have added the video of St Louis Union below.

Dave Formula, incidentally, went on to help form Visage, which means I could equally have chosen Fade to Grey this week.

Saturday, May 07, 2022

A plaque for Graham Moffatt at The Swan, Braybrooke

I caught the bus to Braybrooke this morning. It was mainly to have breakfast at The Swan, but also to photograph the plaque there commemorating the fact that the actor Graham Moffat was its landlord for ten years.

Moffatt, along with Moore Marriott, supported Will Hay in his comedy films during the 1930s. I find that Hay's comedies of baffled and venal authority has lasted much better than the work of comics we are meant to feel sorry for, like George Formby and Norman Wisdom.

And Jimmy Perry had the trio of the pompous man (Hay), the old man (Marriott) and the boy (Moffatt) in mind when he created the first three Dad's Army characters: Captain Mainwaring, Corporal Jones and Pike.

I shall post a short video about Moffatt in a day or two. He did appear in some other films, including I Know Where I'm Going and A Canterbury Tale.

Friday, May 06, 2022

The lost stations of Norwich

This video takes us to the sites of the various vanished stations within the city of Norwich.

If you enjoy it then try the similar ones from the Rediscovering Lost Railways account that I have posted on Oxford and Cambridge.

Tory expert on beating the Lib Dems beaten by Lib Dems

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Red faces at Conservative Central Office this morning as the party's expert on beating the Liberal Democrats has lost his council seat... to the Liberal Democrats.

As the Spectator puts it:

For incumbent councillor Hayward Burt has been soundly beaten in the Blackmoor Vale ward for Somerset Council, losing alongside his colleague William Wallace to two Lib Dems Sarah Dyke and Nicola Clarke. 
The two Tories gained 1,443 and 1,328 votes respectively, compared to Dyke on 1,814 and Clarke on 1,590.

Lib Dems win Uppingham by-election as Rutland's Tories implode

Forget the Red Wall and the Blue Wall: Rutland is where the action is tonight.

Stephen Lambert has won the Rutland County Council by-election in the Uppingham ward for the Liberal Democrats.

The result:

Lib Dems - 661
Independent - 327
Conservative - 206
Reform - 36

The by-election was caused by the resignation of a Green councillor.

Meanwhile Rutland's Conservative group has continued to fall apart, with three more of its remaining members leaving.

They included the council's leader Oliver Hemsley, who has issued a rather rambling statement saying he intends to stay in this post as an unaligned Independent. As far as one can tell, he is frustrated by the level of funding Rutland receives from central government.

At Rutland's 2019 all-out council elections, the Conservatives won 16 of the 27 seats. Today, thanks to by-election defeats and defections, they are down to 6.

Thursday, May 05, 2022

Ructions in Leicester Labour Party over Sir Peter Soulsby's reselection as mayoral candidate

Three councillors have accused the Labour party of excluding women, Muslims and whole branches from the process to choose its next Leicester mayoral candidate so the incumbent, Sir Peter Soulsby, did not face a challenge.

The Skwakbox has obtained a letter from the three Labour councillors (Rita Patel, Sharmen Rahman and Patrick Kitterick) to Keir Starmer in which they allege local Labour employees:

  • excluded Muslims from selection votes by holding the votes during Ramadan, in a city with a high proportion of Asian residents in the UK, including in wards with some of the largest Muslim populations in the city
  • disadvantaged women in the selection process
  • cancelled or suspended meetings of branches likely to vote in favour of a selection contest, including one only an hour before the meeting was due to start
  • declared a meeting of the party’s local government committee ‘null and void’ to prevent the party’s preferred committee chair being defeated, yet allowed the ‘procedures secretary’ - a former employee of the mayor and until recently an employee of right-wing Labour MP Jon Ashworth - selected at the void meeting to exercise the role
  • ignored and dismissing complaints about the abuses of democracy and procedure
  • withheld details of vote tallies from members

You can read the full letter on The Skwakbox.

Sir Peter, who has been Labour's elected mayor since the system's inauguration in 2011, was duly chosen as Labour's candidate for the 2023.

But as the Leicester Mercury reports:

Recent months have seen calls from within the party for an open candidacy. Rushey Mead ward councillor Rita Patel told Leicestershire Live that the city would ‘live to regret it’ if a debate on the future leadership of the city was not had, while Patrick Kitterick had also stated his intention to challenge for the candidacy.

I picked up on similar tensions before Labour's 2019 candidate selection:

My sources tell me that Soulsby's people turn up at ... branch meetings and inform members that an open contest would be "divisive," "unhelpful" or "destabilising".

"We don't want the Mercury reporting that Soulsby has been deselected," they are told.

I wish the three councillors joy, but I doubt Keir Starmer will provide it.

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

I have a Morphy number of 4

People keep tweeting their Wordle scores so I'm going to do this.

Born in 1837, Paul Morphy was already acknowledged as the strongest American player when he came to Europe at the age of 21. There he beat most of the strongest players, often with some ease, and was often hailed as the strongest player in the world. But he failed to obtain the match with the Englishman Howard Staunton that would have allowed him to prove this beyond doubt.

Morpby returned to American in 1859 and gave up competitive chess to work as a lawyer in New Orleans. Troubled by delusions and paranoia, he died aged only 47.

Garry Kasparov has called Morphy the "forefather of modern chess" and "the first swallow - the prototype of the strong 20th-century grandmaster," while the parallels with Bobby Fischer are obvious.

The Morphy number is a way of expressing how closely a particular is linked to Morphy:

People who played a chess game with Morphy have a Morphy number of 1. Players who did not play Morphy but played someone with a Morphy number of 1 have a Morphy number of 2. People who played someone with a Morphy number of 2 have a Morphy number of 3, et cetera.

As that Wikipedia entry says, the idea is similar to the Bacon number for actors.

I shall now demonstrate that I have a Morphy number of 4.

James Mortimer was an American diplomat, journalist and chess player who befriended Morphy during his visit to Europe. When Morphy returned to Paris for a visit in 1863 they are widely agreed to have played some offhand games, so James Mortimer has a Morphy number of 1.

Mortimer, who eventually settled in London, was still playing chess in his seventies. In 1904 he took part in a tournament in Brighton where another of the entrants was a young George Thomas, so Sir George Thomas has a Morphy number of 2.

As well as twice being British chess champion, Sir George Thomas (as he became) was for years the strongest Badminton player in the world and in 1911 reached the quarter-finals of the singles and the semi-finals of the men's tennis doubles at Wimbledon. The Thomas Cup, badminton's equivalent of the Davis Cup, is named after him.

Sir George finished second in the 1935 British chess championships, where one of the players in a tie for third place was Leicester's Alf Lenton. So Alf Lenton has a Morphy number of 3.

And as I once blogged, I played Alf Lenton in the Leicestershire league in the late 1990s, when he must have been pushing 90. The game was a draw - a short, violent King's Indian Defence with me playing Black, so I have a Morphy number of 4.

Some would frown about their being no written record of a game between Morphy and Mortimer, but I like the interesting people who stand between me and Morphy if you allow this route.

Anyway, you can enjoy Morphy in action in the video above.

Nottinghamshire's Tory police and crime commissioner caught speeding five times in four months

Caroline Henry, the Conservative police and crime commissioner for Nottinghamshire, has admitted breaking the 30mph speed limit five times between March and June of last year. The offences took place at four different locations across the county.

She is due to be sentenced in July.

BBC News reports that:

Magistrates were told Henry, who is the wife of Broxtowe MP Darren Henry, had written a letter to the court saying she was "very sorry, embarrassed and ashamed".

And goes on to tell us:

On her official PCC website, Henry listed ensuring an "effective and efficient" police response to speeding as one of her priorities.

She campaigned for election using the slogan "Make Notts Safe" and promised to "reduce crime with action, not words".

All of which puts Henry in a difficult position. I'm not a fan of the police and crime commissioner system, but a minimum requirement of holding such a post should be that you don't break the law.

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

In 1972 the Democratic majority leader in the House of Representatives disappeared

In 1972 Thomas Hale Boggs Sr was the Democratic majority leader in the House of Representatives and had been the youngest member of the Warren Commission, which investigated the assassination of President Kennedy.

On 16 October of that year his plane disappeared over Alaska and the wreckage has never been found.

This video tells the story and explores some conspiracy theories, but you sense its heart isn't in it and that it believes the weather was to blame.

John Wycliffe Black, the last Liberal MP for Harborough

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The Liberal Party, largely in the shape of my hero J.W. Logan, held the Harborough constituency between 1891 and 1918, when its sitting member Percy Harris did not receive the "coupon" from Lloyd George's coalition with the Conservatives.

But there was once last hurrah. In 1922 the Liberals won back Harborough with John Wycliffe Black as their candidate. Like many a Liberal who gained a seat in that year's general election, he was to lose it when another election was called the following year.

Black died in 1951. Here is part of the report the Leicester Evening Mail carried on 19 June:


If ever a man deserved the title of "Grand Old Man" it was Alderman John Wycliffe Black, whose death at his home in Holmfield-road, Leicester, was reported in later editions of the Evening Mail yesterday. 

Eighty-eight years of age, his long life was packed full of public service, and right up to the end he was a virile debater at the Leicestershire County Council meetings. 

Member of Parliament, world president of the Churches of Christ - his greatest love - alderman, magistrate, government adviser of health matters, a leader of the boot and shoe industry - these were some of the vital matters that occupied his long career. 

It was in 1892 that he began his long association with the Churches of Christ. When the Melbourne-road Church was built he became superintendent of its Sunday School and Young People's Institute, and held that position for 37 years. 

Leader of the Liberal Party In the Harborough Division for many years, he became MP for the division in 1923, until the General Election the following year. 

The oldest. member of the Leicestershire County Council, he was first elected as a representative of Oadby in 1903

The Mail went on to discuss his service on the county council and on Wigston Urban District Council and that he was "head of J.W. Black and Co. boot manufacturers, South Wigston".

Monday, May 02, 2022

The Joy of Six 1048

"In Sussex, the Liberal Democrat district councillor Ruth Fletcher has complained about how footpaths and bike tracks were removed from a proposed housing development in Horsham after police objections." Phineas Harper says police use of the Secured by Design initiative is damaging British cities and robbing them of greenery and public amenities while promoting fear.

Barbara Ortutay and Amanda Seitz remind us Twitter has been down the "free speech" road favoured by Elon Musk before and it didn't end well.

Milli Hill argues that concern over The Family Sex Show is proper safeguarding of children not a moral panic.

"In recent years there’s been an explosion of interest and claims of diagnosis of ... [multiple personality] disorder, coincident with the rise of Tumblr and TikTok, where there are thriving communities of adolescents who claim to have dozens of 'alters' and who refer to themselves as 'systems,' along with a whole boutique identity vocabulary that they’ve developed." Freddie deBoer is concerned at the online spread of the MPD diagnosis.

James Fair asks if it's time to kill the badger cull.

"Rather like Eliot’s Four Quartets, from which he quotes liberally, Davies transcends a mere documentary study of a particular place and time into a series of ponderings on the very nature of time, place and memory." Bobby Seal watches Terence Davies's Liverpool trilogy.

Evan Harris speaks after settling his phone-hacking claim against Murdoch newspapers

Evan Harris didn't just make a statement to court as his claim against The Sun and the News of the World was settled, he made one outside court too.

And here it is.

In settling Evan Harris's claim, the owner of the papers, News Group Newspapers, made no admission of liability.

Lord Bonkers 30 years ago: Reflections on the general election

It's time again to see what Rutland's most celebrated fictional peer was saying 30 years ago.

I did start this feature a while ago but, what with one thing and another, it was not possible to continue it.

Here, however, is an extract from Lord Bonkers' Diary in the May 1992 issue of Liberator (no. 204).

As we join the old boy, he is reflecting on the result of the recent general election.


Perusal of the morning's newspapers brings a little cheer. Painful as our losses were, we can take in pride in some results Mr Paul Tyler, who was a Member with me in 1906, has finally contrived to regain a seat, the Reverend Hughes has been returned in triumph, Dame Vera Lynn has held Rochdale - how appropriate that she should follow dear Grace Fields in sitting for that happy town! - and those of us who, in recent months, have intimated that we thought Father Alton to be a few Shuttleworths short of a committee room clearly owe him an apology.

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

Sunday, May 01, 2022

Harborough District Walking Festival, 26-29 May 2022

"Come and discover an often overlooked part of England," says the website for this month's Harborough District Walking Festival:

The Harborough district is an area of rolling countryside, ancient pastures and farmland, streams, woodland spinneys and beautiful villages. Canals, battles and buried treasure are all there to be explored – not to mention local characters and ancient customs.

All the Festival walks are led by two experienced guides, so your walk will be enhanced with fascinating details of the local area and its history

Thursday 26 May

Morning walk: Rolleston and Noseley (no stiles)

Afternoon walk: Tugby, Rolleston and Skeffington

Friday 27 May
Morning walk: Claybrooke Parva and Fosse Way

Afternoon walk: Brampton Valley Way (wheelchair friendly)

Saturday 28 May
Morning walk: Hallaton, Cranoe and Slawston

Afternoon walk: Saddington, Gumley and Laughton

Sunday 29 May
The Langtons

There is a charge for each walk and places are limited. You can book via the Festival website.

James Carpenter, one of the Festival guides, runs an extensive programme of public guided walks based around Market Harborough and Lutterworth. Full details can be found online.

Peggy Lee: Is That All There Is?

This is a third and final choice of a Sunday music video inspired by some of my mother's favourite songs.

Is That All There Is? must have appeared in the house when I was nine, and I remember thinking it wonderfully grown up.

Today I note that it was written by the classic team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and that the arrangement was by Randy Newman, who also plays the piano. And Peggy Lee's performance is simply perfect.

Is that all there is? was the last thing I thought after my mother's funeral, which went off wonderfully and brought home to me just how much she had done with her life.

As to theological questions, family legend has it that when one of my Dissenting great-grandmothers was dying the minister came to see her and she told him he knew no more about the afterlife than she did. I think that's the only sensible position to take,