Monday, October 31, 2022

Alex Wagner will fight Shrewsbury and Atcham for the Lib Dems

The Liberal Democrats have selected Bowbrook councillor and NHS campaigner Alex Wagner to stand for Shrewsbury and Atcham at the next general election.

reports the Shropshire Star, whose readers will know that Bowbrook is a locale in the North West of Shrewsbury.

Shropshire Lib Dems have achieved wonders in local elections over the past few years, and that record of success had a lot to do with the party being able to come from third place to win the North Shropshire parliamentary by-election last December.

Shrewsbury is a seat that both the Lib Dems and Labour will have in their sites, not least because the sitting Conservative member is the egregious Daniel Kawczynski.

Alex told the Star:

"People here deserve the very best, yet often have the worst services in the country. Our NHS services are in the fourth-division, our roads are crumbling, and it feels like we don’t have a voice at Westminster.

"There needs to be a local choice on the ballot paper next election who is dedicated to banging the drum to get Shrewsbury a fair deal. I’m putting myself forward to do just that.

"North Shropshire has a fantastic, hard-working Lib Dem MP who has been tireless in fighting for our county - I want to follow in Helen Morgan’s footsteps and beat the Conservatives here too."

A little Halloween chill from Shropshire

I used to have bed and breakfast regularly at a house in Shropshire whose core was medieval - it's not the one in the picture..

The owner told me she had once found her young son sitting on the landing with his colouring book.

When asked why he wasn't using his bedroom, he replied matter-of-factly: "The people are being a bit of a nuisance."

Now read another ghostly story from Shropshire that involves children.

A tribute to Ian Jack

One of my favourite journalists died on Friday. Ian Jack was 77 and writing as well as ever up to the day he died.

The Guardian has an obituary of him and also an article in which six people pay tribute to him and choose their favourites among his articles.

My own is his piece from June 2021 on the decline of Rothesay, which left me with a strong desire to visit the resort:
Lack of demand ended the hotel’s cold-bath and wet-blanket therapies in the 1930s, but its superior atmosphere survived into the last decades of the last century, when Scottish trade unions still held their conferences in Rothesay's Winter Gardens and the leaders of the mineworkers, the boilermakers and the amalgamated engineers put up at the Glenburn and drank late whiskies in the bar. It was known - and still is by older Rothesay people - as "the Hydro". 
I saw it first as a child from the deck of a steamer, and by the time I reached 30 had enough confidence to sit on its veranda one late afternoon in June and ask for a Campari and soda. The bay stretched blue and unruffled towards the green hills. Only the rattle of a yacht’s anchor chain broke the quiet. I wondered - as many others have done - how such a lovely place could be so unvisited.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Market Harborough will lose its NatWest branch in January

NatWest Bank is to close its Market Harborough Branch in January, reports the Leicester Mercury.

The decision has been condemned by the president of the Market Harborough Chamber of Trade and Commerce. Kyra Williams told the Mercury:
"We've got a market here and not all of our traders actually use digital banking.

"So it does exclude a large cohort of especially small businesses. I think the Government needs to intervene, really, and force banks to provide a physical network of banks that people and small businesses can use.

"Because I think it is going to be a problem, unless we move to a cashless system there are always going to be people who do need physical banks."
It seems there's not much enthusiasm among small business for turbo-capitalism along the lines of the Truss/Kwarteng model.

On the same page, you can hear the views of the local Liberal Democrat councillor Barbara Johnson.

My mother banked with the NatWest and I was grateful it had a local branch where I could sort out things like the power of attorney in her last months. It will be harder to do things like that after the branch has closed.

And a word for that lovely little building, which must have been built for a small local bank in the 19th century.

Reunion: Life is a Rock (But the Radio Rolled Me)

Before We Didn't Start the Fire, before It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine), there was Life is a Rock (But the Radio Rolled me). Maybe REM were influenced by the brackets?

I saw this in an old chart on Twitter the other day. I don't suppose I've heard it since it was a hit in 1974, but I immediately remembered it and smiled.

Reunion were a group of session musicians who came together to record this track. The singer is Jeoy Levine, who had already enjoyed some success with bubble-gum and novelty records, notably Yummy Yummy Yummy by Ohio Express.

I've chosen a video with the lyrics for your greater enjoyment. They were written by Norman Delph, who was the Velvet Underground's first producer.

And because the song is from the Seventies, you get a guitar solo when the verbal invention briefly runs out.

Friday, October 28, 2022

Remembering Mike Basman and Audio Chess

One of the great figures of British chess, Mike Basman, has died.

Basman never qualified as a grandmaster, but when he drew with the former world champion Mikhail Botvinnik at the Hastings tournament of 1967, Botvinnik singled him out for praise among the younger English players.

And he was one of the strongest British players in the late 1960s and early 1970s, becoming increasingly famous for his choice of unconventional opening moves. Those who followed his example inevitably became known as 'Basmaniacs'.

Tony Miles, Britain's first grandmaster, once used one of Basman's openings to defeat the reigning world champion Anatoly Karpov, much to Karpov's annoyance,

Later in life, Basman made a great contribution as an organiser and inspirer of junior chess. Honouring him a couple of years ago, the world chess federation FIDE said:

With his books and personality, Michael Basman was an inspiration to several generations of British chess players. Grandmaster Raymond Keene once wrote, referring to Basman's promotion of youth chess, "Michael Basman is in many ways the most important person in British chess."

I met Mike Basman in London in the 1980s, but he was most important to me in the decade before when I was a teenager.

Under the name Audio Chess, he produced, sold and hired cassette tapes on chess. Most were on the openings, but I remember a useful one on Russian for chess players and, best of all, a tape that Tony Miles and Basman recorded.

Miles had just qualified as Britain's first grandmaster because of a strong performance in a tournament in the Soviet Union, and on the tape he demonstrated some of the key games. It sounds laughable in the digital age, but in the 1970s this tape seemed almost miraculously immediate.

I still remember from my increasingly distant chess career a game in which I beat one of Audio Chess's regular experts, the late Otto Hardy. I also won a rook ending for the county under the stern gaze of a spectating Otto, putting into practice things I had learned from one of his own tapes.

Mike Basman was born on in London in 1946. His father, an Armenian immigrant named Basmadjian, changed the family name to Basman. Michael temporarily changed his surname back when he lived in Yerevan for a period in his twenties. There he learned Armenian and even participated in the Armenian championship.

Chess in Britain is less colourful for his passing and, like most British players, of the last 50 years, I owe him a debt.

The Joy of Six 1085

David Hencke on the government's determination to rush ahead with introducing photographic voter ID in time for next May’s local elections - despite a warning that the timetable involved is "likely to introduce significant risk to safe election delivery".

The Crime Survey for England and Wales, which estimates levels of offending based on a sample of 13,500 households, suggests overall crime is falling, with a steep decline in theft. But crimes recorded by police are on the increase, with offences of violence rising sharply. Danny Shaw untangles the data.

Do radical protests turn the public away from a cause? Colin Davis concludes: "When we look at public support for the protesters’ demands, there isn’t any compelling evidence for nonviolent protest being counterproductive. People may 'shoot the messenger', but they do - at least, sometimes - hear the message."

Rachel Cunliffe says there’s something discomforting about the way North London has become the butt of Tory jokes about out-of-touch elites.

To mark the centenary of T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, Literary Hub invites four writers and academics to discuss the importance, context, artistry, and legacy of the poem.

Graham Chapman on a new scheme to boost England's declining curlew population: "The first of this year’s birds to migrate away from Norfolk departed at sunset last Wednesday and arrived on a Staffordshire field at sunrise on Thursday. It then flew towards Ireland and made an anxiety-inducing trip out into the Atlantic before returning to dry land."

Thursday, October 27, 2022

How theatre audiences reacted to Freda Jackson's performance in No Room at the Inn

Back to Freda Jackson, who played the villainous Mrs Voray in Joan Temple's play No Room at the Inn and also in the subsequent film. The play, like Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, was inspired by the death of Dennis O'Neill.

I've come across a couple of accounts of how theatre audiences reacted to her performance.

Her son Julian Bird, who became an actor himself in his sixties after a career as a psychiatrist, spoke to the Guardian:

“I was brought up in a theatre family,” Bird says. His father, Henry Bird, was an artist who designed sets. His mother, Freda Jackson, was an actor, “a name in the 40s, 50s and 60s”. 
She was the lead in the play No Room at the Inn, about the abuse of evacuees during the second world war, which was so scandalous that she needed police protection when it transferred to the West End in 1946. “There were always women at the stage door wanting to kill her.”

And I recently found this comment on the IMDb page for the film:

I was Ronnie and my stage name was Stanley Conett (Stanley Heinemann) I played that part for 427 performances at the Winter Garden. Then toured England and Scotland with the show. 

Also I did the BBC version. It is a pity that you have published the wrong actor's name for the Winter Garden version of the show. I was too tall to be in the film version. 

The Theatre version often caused the audience to erupt with shouting and curses at Freda Jackson. The show ended with the girls suffocating Mrs Voray and it was different in the movie.

All of which goes to support the claim from the Nottingham Post that:

Such was the power of her performance, audiences are said to have stood and cheered when her character was finally vanquished.

GUEST POST Wealthy Rishi Sunak should give it all away

Rishi Sunak should take a leaf out of Mr Gladstone's book and give his fortune away, argues Eduardo Reyes.

Leaving aside our different locations on the political paint chart of this country, I can see that Rishi Sunak wants to be first known, and then remembered, as a good prime minister. 

To get to ‘good’ he faces some fierce headwinds. 

But I have an absolute zinger of an idea as to how he can remove a major threat to his aspiration. 

Sunak, having first discussed the matter with his wife, should say they are giving up pretty much all of their extraordinary wealth. 

It’s getting in his way. Their way.

Their asset protection, tax avoidance strategy – that non-dom status – possibly cost him his first shot at being PM. It was awkward, and that awkwardness overshadowed his pitch. 

Right now, his enemies (mostly, though not exclusively, within the post-logic Conservative party), opponents, the media, campaigners and folk with a benign curiosity are sniffing around his arrangements and his family’s affairs. 

Why run the risk? He’ll have seen the hit that his fellow parliamentarian Nadim Zahawi took when ex Clifford Chance tax lawyer Dan Niedle started to take an interest in the former’s tax affairs. And that line of inquiry is not even spent. 

Wealth is interesting. Why wouldn’t we look? 

Am I mad, you might be thinking? Perhaps unrealistic or naïve? Surely the world doesn’t work like that? As the song has it, the rich get rich, and the poor get poorer. 

In between time, in the mean time, ain’t we got… actually, a chat about politics and wealth. Because it really is all about political context. 

Let’s talk about William Ewart Gladstone, son of Sir John Gladstone. When slavery was abolished the compensation scheme listed dad-Sir-John as the single biggest recipient of payments to make up for his sad loss of enslaved labour. 

A Liberal hero of mine, and possibly yours, sits on such slave money. 

But perhaps the question was, or is, ‘What will/did he (Sunak/Gladstone) do with it?’ 

‘What will he do with it?’ was the question posed by Edward Bulwer Lytton, a 19th Century Liberal turned Conservative, in his novel of the same name. 

It is not quite off topic to note that in the novel, leading 14 sub-plots (there is no main plot), is the one where ‘he’ is a half blind peasant actor cared for by his angelic granddaughter, ‘it’ is £5, and what he does ‘with it’ is he buys a prize performing poodle, so the two of them can be self sufficient. 

In literary and political terms, it showed the poor really can stand on their own two feet with a bit of thought. (Though, spoiler alert, the dog isn’t there at the finish.)

Back in the room, as hypnotists say. 

W.E, Gladstone’s awkward wealth was for so long uninterrogated because of the liberal, and Liberal, bent his life took. Early parliamentary activity, the website ‘They Work For You’ would have shown if online in the 19th Century, had Tory-era Gladstone speaking up for enslaver interests. He changed, and his original position is mostly forgotten. 

And so back to Sunak. He had a period as a rich but beneficent chancellor of the exchequer. When he was the sponsor of the furlough scheme and Covid business continuity grants, we weren’t talking about the fact he might have a secret share in an ultra-high-net-worth pasta and toilet roll mine that only he and his mates could access. 

But things are different for him now. It might, or might not, be the right thing for him to cut certain taxes, or reduce regulation in certain sectors. But the suspicion of both self interest, and a lack of empathy with folk unimaginably worse off, clings to him like so many barnacles as he does it. 

So he should give up the wealth. 

Other ultra-rich people are talking about this. They range from folk who worry about their children becoming a pastiche of obnoxious trustafarian privilege, to others who look at the climate crisis, autocracy or modern slavery

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and wonder if their extraordinary wealth should go to change the things that worry them and elicit their sympathy. 

Why shouldn’t the Sunaks join them? 

There is a tendency in new-right circles to conflate ‘wealth’ with ‘wealth creation’. They are different. Inherited wealth, as some members of early 20th Century Liberal governments saw, is utterly different to wealth creation. The difference, for this prime minister, will be unpicked if he cleaves to the notion that these are the same. 

What, we and Sunak, should ask, is the purpose of wealth? 

It is a question worth asking – worth asking for the wealthy and for the rest of us. 

When it comes to private wealth, up to $68 trillion will transfer to another generation in the next 25 years. That dwarfs the wealth of many nations. It is spectroscopic in scale. The imagination of Scott Fitzgerald would have struggled to express it. It is far bigger than ‘a diamond the size of the Ritz’. 

What happens to it matters. If it all takes the route of asset protection, tax avoidance and vanity projects, that will be a problem. 

If Sunak’s wealth stops him doing well the PM job he wanted for so long, because details of its maintenance are exposed as, by turns, unideal or taxationally cirumnavational, he’ll kick himself. 

Why not, say, keep just two houses and, say £5m in the bank. Everything else is holding him back.  

If he doesn’t do this, every decision of his that cuts a tax or a benefit will be judged, scutinised, resisted and may be frustrated because of his own status as being absurdly wealthy. He won’t be able to argue for the much derided ‘Laffer curve’ without his intentions being doubted.  

He can’t take it with him – none of us can. But we hope to sense we leave a legacy of something – a skein above us that could be love, could be a reputation for good government, but is certainly something that a figure north of £730m, perhaps surprisingly (perhaps unsurprisingly), cannot buy. 

Bulwer Lytton, in his Liberal youth, thought the independent income a right-thinking gentleman got from the land gave him the ability to assess political and artistic questions with an objective head. 

But with a right leaning government, led by wealth, the money takes on a different colour. 

As for Sunak, on his largely unearned income: what, as Bulwer Lytton asked, will he do with it? What he should do, for his own sake, is give almost all of it away. 

Eduardo Reyes is a journalist and low-net-worth individual. He read history at Clare College Cambridge, and is a member of the sneering, metropolitan liberal elite. He lives in South London. You can follow him on Twitter.

Why is the constituency called Shrewsbury and Atcham?

I have solved one of the mysteries of Shropshire politics: why is the constituency called "Shrewsbury and Atcham" when Atcham is only a small village?

The solution is that the constituency does not cover just the town of Shrewsbury, but also takes in a swathe of countryside to its south that stretches from the Severn to the Welsh Border. This includes the Stiperstones and the nearby large villages of Minsterley and Pontesbury.

And until 1974 the local authority covering that countryside was Atcham Rural District Council.

Atcham RDC was merged with the Borough of Shrewsbury in 1974. The new authority was expected to be named merely Shrewsbury, but when councillors met they decided to call it the Borough of Shrewsbury and Atcham. 

The parliamentary constituency adopted the name Shrewsbury and Atcham in time for the 1983 general election, even though it kept the boundaries of the old Shrewsbury seat.

The Borough of Shrewsbury and Atcham disappeared in 2009 when Shropshire became a unitary authority. And under the 2016 Boundary Commission proposals, the constituency, while remaining largely unchanged, will revert to the name of Shrewsbury.

When that happens, the benign ghost of Atcham Rural District Council will have been laid to rest.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Boris Johnson's 2019 purge will haunt the Tories for years to come

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If Rishi Sunak was meant to offer a fresh start, then his first cabinet was deeply disappointing. There was little sign of a cabinet of all the talents, made possible by the soothing of old enmities, beyond the return of Michael Gove.

In fact it's hard not to be depressed at many of the names he brought back or kept on yesterday: Gavin Williamson, Suella Braverman, Dominic Raab, Thérèse Coffey.

If you try to come up with a list of four more encouraging names, you are likely to come up with something like: David Gauke, Dominic Grieve, Justine Greening, Rory Stewart.

Trouble is, none of that four is still in the Commons. All were among the 21 Conservative MPs who lost the whip in September 2019 for, in effect, voting against a no-deal Brexit.

Gauke  and Grieve stood as Independents in the general election later that year, while the other two did not defend their seats under any label.

It's clear that Boris Johnson's 2019 purge will continue to hurt his party for years to come, and not just because it cannot spare people of that talent.

If the Conservative Party is to have a future that does not involve a permanent shift to being the English Nationalist Party, then at some point the moderates are going to have to fight back.

And if they are going to do so, those moderates and the party as a whole will need a leader - a Tory version of Neil Kinnock, if you will.

It's possible to imagine that such a figure can be found among the four names I chose. It's much harder to imagine he or she is to be found in Sunak's new cabinet.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Hans Niemann sues Magnus Carlsen and others for $100m over chess cheating allegations

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The teenage American chess player Hans Niemann has filed a lawsuit seeking $100m in damages from the world champion Magnus Carlsen and others who have more or less explicitly accused him of cheating.

He has accused them of colluding to blacklist him from the strongest tournaments.

If you are interested in his chances of success, listen to the latest edition of Perpetual Chess Podcast, where a law professor gives his views. He feels that Niemann may face an uphill struggle to prove his case.

In the mean time, Niemann has answered his critics with a strong performance in the US Championship.

As Leonard Barden wrote in the Guardian:

St Louis’s expensive state-of-the art security precautions, with metal-detecting wands, radio-frequency scanners, and scanners for checking silicon devices, were probably the most thorough for any chess tournament in history. They did the trick, and there have been no serious suggestions that any game was played abnormally.

The outcome is that Niemann, competing without outside assistance as a US championship debutant, and playing under extreme pressure from all the many allegations before and during the tournament, has still performed at the level of the world’s top 40 grandmasters, and has maintained his elite 2700 rating.

St Crispin's Day and why John Arlott was the greatest commentator

Today, 25 October, is the feast day of the twin saints St Crispin and St Crispinian. Jacob Rees-Mogg couldn't resist dating his resignation letter "St Crispin's Day" - Crispin's twin never gets the same coverage.

The two were martyred in 285 or 286 in Northern France, and a local tradition holds that they lived for a time at Faversham in Kent.

St Crispin's Day (his twin doesn't get the same coverage) is famous as the date of the Battle of Agincourt and for the king's speech in Shakespeare's Henry V.

My favourite piece of cricket commentary dates from March 1977 and the Centenary Test - a one-off test played between England and Australia at Melbourne to mark the centenary of test cricket and of Ashes cricket in particular.

Arriving from a victorious tour of India, the England captain Tony Greig won the toss and put Australia in. A good team bowling performance saw them dismissed for 138. Sadly, normal service was resumed as Dennis Lillee and Max Walker bowled England out for 95.

Australia declared their second innings at 419 for 9, setting England an improbable 463 to win. Yet for a while it looked as though they might get there. Good batting by Mike Brearley, Derek Randall and Dennis Amiss meant England reached 279-2.

But it was not to be. Dennis Lillee too five wickets and Australia won by 45 runs, which had been there margin of victory a hundred years before.

While things were going well in England's second innings and Derek Randall was batting out of his skin, I heard, listening in the night, John Arlott say:

And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here.

He really was the greatest cricket commentator of all.

Jacob Rees-Mogg will not be in the new cabinet, but he was in the first series of 24

It sounds as though Jacob Rees-Mogg will not feature in Rishi Sunak's first cabinet, which suggests our new prime minister has better judgement than his two predecessors.

As a consolation to his admirers - I know, but say something disobliging about him on Twitter and you will meet them - here is an unexpected glimpse of him in the first series of 24.

If you can't spot him first time, have a look at the television screen at 0.15.

Monday, October 24, 2022

The Joy of Six 1084

"The thought occurs that maybe the Conservative Party no longer cares.  Perhaps the sum of its ambition is to become the provisional wing of the right-wing entertainment industry: happy to preach to a diminishing band of true believers, and good for a newspaper column or fringe TV turn, while Keir Starmer gets on with the tiresome business of actually running the country." Paul Goodman ponders the continuing appeal of Boris Johnson to Conservative members.

Patrick Barkham meets Guy Shrubsole, who is campaigning to double the one per cent of Britain's land area where rainforests endure: "There’s something so alluring about this weird, gnarled, dripping, moss-encrusted ecosystem. The fact that it sounds exotic but thrives very specifically on British weather is really magical. I wanted to re-enchant more people with the magic of the rainforest we have left in this country."

"Early on, the journal Nature rejected him because, as they told Lovelock: 'We don’t publish papers from home addresses. They mostly come from cranks.'" Roger Highfield profiles the late James Lovelock and asks if his death in July on his 103rd birthday marked the end of the golden age of the independent expert.

Neil Mackay meets the archaeologist Professor Tony Pollard, whose work has uncovered astonishing truths about Culloden, the Battle of Waterloo and even the Falklands campaign, and has helped bring peace to traumatised soldiers.

"Witchcraft is in the bones of Shropshire folk, if we are to believe Folklorist Charlotte Burne. She wrote that magic was so intertwined in the lives of people here, that when a new vicar took parish near Clee Hill, he was shocked to discover how prominent of a role it played in everyday life." Nearly Knowledgeable confirms my view of life in the Shropshire hills.

Samantha Yeo remembers living with a ghost who played her old music box and hid under her bed.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Write a guest post for Liberal England

I welcome guest posts on Liberal England. Not only that: I'm happy to publish posts on subjects far beyond the Liberal Democrats and British politics.

If you'd like to write something for this blog, please send me an email so we can discuss your idea. 

I'm happy to entertain a wide variety of views, but I'd hate you to spend your time writing something I really wouldn't want to publish.

A review of See How They Run

It's going to be hard to write this post without spoilers for See How They Run and even The Mousetrap, but I'll make sure I give fair warning of any that occur. 

It's fair, though, to say that the identity of the murderer in The Mousetrap is only a secret if you want it to be: you have only to read the play’s Wikipedia entry to discover it. There are at least two full performances of the play on YouTube and you can find the complete script online too. You can even hear Tom Holland blurting out the killer's identity in a recent, and otherwise excellent, The Rest is History podcast on Agatha Christie.

Anyway, I went to see the film See How They Run a couple of weeks ago. It concerns a murder behind the scenes of Agatha Christie’s play The Mousetrap in the early 1950s and mixes real and fictional characters. It pays homage to and parodies the murder mysteries of the golden age, and has ambitions to do more that I’m not convinced it fulfils. It made me laugh, but it also worried me.

Some of the reviews were too enthusiastic, particularly those that praised the "chemistry" between Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan. Because in this film Rockwell is the most inert substance ever discovered: he barely reacts to Ronan for most of the film.

But then there is not much reaction between any of the characters at all, which is in part a function of the usual pattern of detective fiction, where the suspects are questioned in turn and in private by the detective.

The best performance is Ronan’s as WPC Stalker, but as Tina Kakadelis says:

Ronan’s comedic timing is impeccable, but instead of leaning into that, the film tends to make Stalker’s optimism the butt of the joke. It’s a decision that feels lazy in terms of cultivating comedy.

Elsewhere in the cast, we are told that Reece Shearsmith’s John Woolf is an interesting character, but less often shown it, while Harris Dickinson and Pearl Chanda could win a contest for being the pair of actors as little like Richard Attenborough and Sheila Sim as possible.

And here come the spoilers…

Just as in The Mousetrap, the catalyst of the murder (in fact murders, as we’re doing spoilers) in See How They Run is someone seeking revenge for the death through cruel treatment of a child. As readers will be aware by now, Agatha Christie was led to this idea by the death of the foster child Dennis O’Neill at a farm in Shropshire in 1945.

Christie changed things around a little, making the younger rather the elder brother the victim and adding a sister to expand the number of possible suspects. When the murderer is revealed, they are treated with kindness.

Not so in See How They Run. Over to Gregory Mysogland:

The party is … locked inside and held at gunpoint by Dennis (Charlie Cooper), an usher from the theatre the play is being performed at. Dennis’ full name is revealed to be Dennis Corrigan, one of two brothers’ whose tragic story of childhood abuse served as the inspiration for The Mousetrap. In reality, the boys’ last name was O’Neill and the one named Dennis is the one who died young, while his brother Terence survived. 

See How They Run's Dennis has always been outraged by the success of The Mousetrap, which he feels exploits his brother's death. He killed Leo and Mervyn to stop the film adaptation from going forward and hopes that killing Christie and the house guests will get the play shut down.

The reveal of Dennis as the killer makes sense given the film's meta-commentary but the legitimate question it raises isn't given the consideration it deserves. The film puts some effort into criticizing how the entertainment industry exploits real tragedies, but not nearly enough. …

At Christie's, the group pretends to understand Dennis’ frustration and tries to console him, but they only do so to save themselves from him. Christie expresses sympathy for him but states that to not write about tragic topics would be to deny a part of who she is. This is an understandable viewpoint, but it's also the last word the film says on the issue, and as such is much too simplistic and one-sided. ...

Eventually, Christie herself kills Dennis by hitting him in the head with a shovel, comically going in for more blows before the others stop her. Although Henderson's manic performance is good enough to make this scene darkly funny on first viewing, upon reflection, it adds to the exploitation of the O'Neill's represented by Dennis' role. 

Making the character a murderous villain and then dismissing his legitimate argument with a wave of the hand is bad enough, but having him meet a violent death similar to the real Dennis's is cruel and immoral, not to mention completely against the ideas the film tries to bring up in relation to him.

Nothing further, m'lud.

I suppose the defence might point out that there is something inherently funny about a butler being killed in a whodunnit, and that any dig at Julian Fellowes is to be applauded.

Sandy Denny and Johnny Silvo: The 3.10 to Yuma

3.10 to Yuma is a 1957 Western starring Van Hefflin, who had also appeared in Shane as Joe Starrett. This, its theme song, was recorded by Sandy Denny and Johnny Silvo for their 1967 album Sandy & Johnny, though I think this is not the take that appears on the record.

Sandy Denny has appeared on this blog several times, so let's talk about Johnny Silvo. He died in 2012 at the age of 75, and his Independent obituary is worth a read:

Johnny Silvo was the sort of populist folk singer for whom Britain's folk scene coined the expression "folk entertainer". He was an old-school folkie whose repertoire of folk and folk-blues standards, jazz and blues material chimed with the country's folk scene in the 1960s and 1970s in particular. 

His name seldom figures in accounts of the subject, except maybe as a marginal note associated with Sandy Denny ... through her time singing with the Johnny Silvo Folk Four and their joint album Sandy & Johnny (1967). Silvo's audience, concentrated in Western Europe and Scandinavia, did not care and stayed true to the end.

Born John Woods in Wimbledon, like the notable guitarist, composer and vocalist Davey Graham he was mixed-race. Supposedly, his mother was from Ireland and his father was an African-American serviceman. The story goes that his mother was killed in an air raid, so he grew up as a Barnardo's Boy. 

The historical record shows that it was hard enough being placed with a family after the war if white; getting adopted as a mixed-race child in post-war Britain was harder still. He lived in a succession of Barnardo's homes in Surrey and Hertfordshire.

Silvo also appeared on television as a presenter of Play School.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Telling at the Robert Monk Hall, Foxton

The is Foxton village hall, which opened in 1931 and is in a vaguely Tudor style. It was a gift from Robert Monk, who came from the village and made his money running the Robin Hood Hotel on Gallowtree Gate in Leicester.

I was there today and thought of 1986, when the Liberals won three Harborough District Council by-elections in a row. I gained Market Harborough North, Simon Galton gained Thurnby, and Colin Wells gained Foxton, Lubenham and Gumley.

The third of those by-elections took place on 9 October. I can date it because I remember it was the week the Independent launched and I read one of the newspaper's very first issues while telling at the Robert Monk Hall, which was the polling station for Foxton.

It's less a memory than a flashback: there were two Conservative tellers and they spent their time discussing a horse that had suffered a nosebleed. Foxton seemed that sort of village.

Foreign affairs reporting at its finest

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A letter in Private Eye complains that Lord Gnome's organ began a report on restrictions imposed by the Iranian government with the words:

The Iraqi government imposed widespread internet blackouts to try to contain the unrest that followed the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini...

This reminds me of the story about the subeditor working a freelance shift on a newspaper who called out: "What's your house style? 'Iran' or 'Iraq'?"

Friday, October 21, 2022

A church on the edge: St Mary's, Happisburgh

I visited Happisburgh once. I wanted to see the eroding cliffs and liked the unexpected way its name was pronounced.

Simon Knott shows you the cliffs, pronounces the village's name correctly and shows you Happisburgh's fine church.

One story he does not tell is the one about Arthur Conan Doyle staying at the inn in the village and being inspired by the landlord's young son and his interest in codes to write the Sherlock Holmes story The Adventure of the Dancing Men.

In 2006 Norman Lamb unveiled a plaque commemorating Conan Doyle's visit.

The Evening Standard says naturists have hailed the first bison born wild in the UK for thousands of years

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We don't have a Standfirst of the Day Award, but if we did the Evening Standard would have walked away with it for its:

The first wild bison has been born in the UK for thousands of years in what has been hailed as a "monumental moment" by naturists.

And here's a screenshot, just in case the Standard corrects it.

But I doubt it will - it's already made fun of its mistake in a "what are we like?" tweet.

I've read enough old stories via the British Newspaper Archive to realise there was never a golden age of error-free papers, but come on guys. Find some subeditors and raise your game.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Welsh government moves to end the handcuffing of children in care when they are moved between placements

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There was a bit of encouraging news today in the shape of a story in Social Work News:

Wales has become the first UK nation to protect children in care from being handcuffed or restrained when being transported between care settings, under landmark new regulations introduced by the Welsh Government.

The Senedd has published the Reducing Restrictive Practices Framework (RRPF), its latest framework to protect vulnerable children from harmful handcuffing and restraint practice.

The RRPF turns out to have been published two weeks ago and the relevant section reads:

There are circumstances where it may be necessary to use secure transport to move people between placements, outside of the criminal justice system.

Welsh Ministers are clear that it is not appropriate to use handcuffs of any kind during such journeys.

The use of secure transport itself should be only considered if, following a full risk assessment, it is deemed necessary to reduce the risk of harm to the person being transported and/or serious harm to others.

Where the secure transport services are commissioned, any use of restrictive practices during the transport of an individual should be reported to the commissioning agency. These incidents should also be recorded and reflected in data collecting arrangements.
The unnecessary use of handcuffs, with their implication of criminality, on children in care was flagged up by Fiona Simpson in a Children & Young People Now article last summer.

She reported on Hope Instead of Handcuffs, a cross-party campaign calling for legislation allowing children in care to be handcuffed while being moved between placements to be scrapped.

Hope Instead of Handcuffs also wants to reform the law in this areas. At present it allows private transport providers to restrain children without any regulation, monitoring or accountability.

Simpson quoted Emily Aklan, chief executive of children’s social care provider Serenity Welfare and founder of Hope Instead of Handcuffs:
"I've seen far too many children with red marks around their wrists with massive distrust towards the system which is supposed to be helping them. 
"But with no need to monitor and report any use of handcuffs and safeguarding issues preventing children from being able to share their stories, it’s been incredibly difficult to prove just how widespread this issue is."
What we need to see now is that rest of the United Kingdom following the lead of Wales on this worrying issue.

I suspect private companies are putting the need for safety above any other factor - certainly above the dignity and rights of children in care.

The Joy of Six 1083

Peter Geoghegan shows how the European Research Group became a tightly organised "party within a party" that set the UK on course for a no-deal Brexit.

"People are not stupid. They can laugh at all kinds of things without taking it home and into reality. I perform in front of generally intelligent audiences, and they get the stuff. They don’t go home and smash things up, do they?" Jerry Sadowitz talks to the Guardian about being the experience of being cancelled by his Edinburgh fringe venue.

"Homer, a high-school graduate whose union job at the nuclear-power plant required little technical skill, supported a family of five. A home, a car, food, regular doctor’s appointments, and enough left over for plenty of beer at the local bar were all attainable on a single working-class salary." Dani Alexis Ryskamp argues that the existence enjoyed by the Simpsons when the series launched in 1989 is now out of the reach of many Americans.

"From 1979 to 1985, Norwich was home to the largest squat in Europe: the Argyle Street Alternative Republic ... Around 60 terraced council houses were occupied by hippies, bikers, Bolsheviks, and wanderers of every stripe." Damien, a former resident of the Republic, remembers how it was broken up by the authorities.

Rachel Cook celebrates the reopening of Leighton House in Holland Park, the home of the Victorian painter Frederic Leighton.

Graham McCann surveys the rise and fall of Don Estelle: "There he was, one of the stars of a BBC sitcom that was attracting audiences of up to 17 million viewers, as well as sharing the spotlight on multiple editions of Top of the Pops with the likes of Paul McCartney and Wings, the Bay City Rollers, 10cc, Art Garfunkel, Barry White and Eric Clapton, and making lucrative personal appearances all over the country, often in the company of his co-star and musical sidekick, Windsor Davies."

Child abuse inquiry calls for mandatory reporting in its final report

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The final report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has come out in favour of the mandatory reporting of allegations of sexual abuse in institutions for children.

BBC News quotes the chair of the inquiry, Professor Alexis Jay:

"We heard time and time again how allegations of abuse were ignored, victims were blamed and institutions prioritised their reputations over the protection of children..

"We cannot simply file it away and consider it a historical aberration when so much of what we learned suggests it is an ever growing problem exacerbated by current and future threat of the internet."

The 20 recommendations made by the inquiry also include:

  • the creation of a cabinet-level minister for children; 
  • a ban on the use of pain compliance techniques on children in custodial institutions; and 
  • a requirement for registration of care staff in residential care and staff in young offender institutions and secure training centres.

You may recall that this is the inquiry described by Boris Johnson as money "spaffed up the wall".

Which leads me to recommend Richard Beard's Sad Little Men: Private Schools and the Ruin of England, a study of what being sent away to boarding school at a tender age does to the ruling class.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Why are Euston and Euston Square separate stations?

In short, because of 19th-century competition between railway companies and 20th-century worship of the motor car. But all that is about to change.

But do watch the video, because Jago Hazzard is always engaging. You can support his videos via his Patreon page.

Tory deputy chief whip: "I am fucking furious and I don’t give a fuck any more"

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Apologies for the bad language, but it's Isabel Hardman on the Spectator website quoting the comments of the resigning Conservative deputy chief whip Craig Whittaker this evening.

Hardman writes:

Wendy Morton has now left the post of chief whip after the government folded on the opposition day fracking vote being treated as a "confidence issue". MPs were warned they would lose the Tory whip if they didn't vote with the government. 

One MP who witnessed Morton walking past with the Prime Minister’s PPS, tells me: "She's as mad as thunder and is saying 'unbelievable'."

Craig Whittaker has just come out of the lobby and said "I am fucking furious and I don’t give a fuck any more."

She says there are also reports of the bullying of MPs before the vote.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Lord Bonkers 30 years ago: While members of the Women's Liberal Federation beat me with rolled up copies of Pericles' funeral oration

Look, I don't really care what Lord Bonkers was saying 30 years ago either, but the old boy insists. So here is an extract from the diary that appeared in the October 1992 issue of Liberator (no. 208).

We catch him playing truant from the Liberal Democrats' Autumn Conference.


Normally, let me say at once, I should walk miles barefoot upon hedgehog skins while members of the Women's Liberal Federation beat me with rolled up copies of Pericles' funeral oration for the pleasure of hearing one of young Ashplant's speeches. You can imagine, then, what a bitter disappointment it is that an apparent clash of dates obliges me to leave Harrogate after morning coffee.

I purchase Sir Desmond Wilson's latest opus to read on the train; his publishers, with laudable candour, describe it as "a unique and frightening book.

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

Major new donors are approaching the Lib Dems

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Crediting sources in the Liberal Democrats, ITV News reports that the party has signed up five major new donors in the part 10 days, including one who previously gave money to the Conservatives:

The donors have each added their names to a group known as the Liberal Alliance that provide funds to specifically target Conservative MPs in so-called Blue Wall seats.

They include seats on the outskirts of London with populations that are getting younger and more diverse.

Sources said that two of the donors had approached the party out of the blue to ask if they could help.

The donors have signed up to give the Lib Dems £50,000 every year.

ITV News quotes an upbeat party source:

“We have seen a significant change over the past week with a dramatic increase in donors knocking at the door of the Liberal Democrats.

"They will not forgive the Conservatives for wrecking the economy and see us as the main party to unseat many of those MPs in their heartlands.

"They know there is little chance of getting the Conservatives out of power without us winning those seats.”

Heinz and Wilko Johnson

I've been collecting unlikely pairings of musicians who feel like they come from completely different eras. And here's the latest.

Heinz Burt, protégé of the pioneering record producer Joe Meek and bass player with The Tornados, who had an era-defining hit with Telstar, and Wilko Johnson from Doctor Feelgood.

Burt - or just Heinz, as he was always billed - is the singer and Johnson is the long-haired guitarist nearest him when you see them in wide shot.

This video comes from The London Rock and Roll Show, which was held at Wembley Stadium in August 1972. This was the concert at which Roy Wood launched his new band Wizzard.

Without his hair dyed a startling blond and with sideburns, Heinz appears to be harking back to an era just before the one in which he found brief fame. The Tornados, and Meek's acts in general, looked forward, not back to the Fifites.

You can see the other unlikely pairings I have found in my post on Paul Rodgers and Bruce Thomas.

Monday, October 17, 2022

John Rogers follows the mythical river of Dagenham

John Rogers follows the Gores Brook, describing the walk on YouTube as follows:

Our walk starts in Parsloes Park in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham ... We walk the buried section of the Gores Brook. There are plans to daylight the brook from its culvert, a project by Thames 21 with the support of the Mayor of London. 

We then follow the Gores Brook above ground as it flows through Goresbrook Park, across Ripple Road, and past Dagenham Asda where the 145 bus terminates. 

Our riparian adventure then plunges us into a post-industrial landscape created by the ghost of the Ford Motor Works at Dagenham as we walk along Chequers Road, crossing Dagenham Dock Station and passing beneath the A13 road. Turning into Choats Road we once again meet the Gores Brook and follow footpath 47 to the point where the Gores Brook makes its confluence with the Thames at Horse Shoe Corner.

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

The Joy of Six 1082

"Getting rid of Truss will not solve anything. Her party has come to resemble a sect. Brexit courses like a poison through its bloodstream. Whether old-fashioned Conservatism can be remade in opposition is an open question." Philip Stevens says the Conservatives have been broken by Brexit.

"Mississippi had certain unspoken rules, she told him, rules that didn’t exist in Chicago, where he’d grown up. He would need to follow them at all times. For instance: He shouldn’t speak to white people unless spoken to. If a white woman was walking toward him, he should lower his head and never look her in the eye." Ellen Wexler on a new film that dramatises the life of Mamie Till-Mobley, who forced America to confront the brutality of her son’s 1955 murder.

Matthew Pennell writes in praise of Britain's Asian businesses.

Ann Manov is deeply critical of Holocaust fiction in general and of the work of John Burnside in particular.

"Several of her entries were deleted by other Wikimedians, as the most influential contributors and editors are called. She told that they said a handful of the women she wrote up were not all that well-known. Wade said that’s right, that’s the problem: they should be better known." Timothy Harper talks to Jessica Wade, the 33-year-old who has written more than a thousand Wikipedia entries for little-known women scientists.

Eileen Jones recalls the joy of working with Angela Lansbury.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Ludlow's town wall still awaits repair 10 years after it collapsed

It will soon be 10 years since a surviving length of Ludlow's medieval town walls collapsed, but there is still no sign that it will be repaired.

Andy Boddington writes on his blog:
I visited the site on Friday. I am shocked by the state of the collapsed area. There are sycamores and a buddleia growing out of the rubble of the collapsed wall. All vegetation needs removing as a matter of urgency to prevent further damage to the wall. 
Tomorrow Ludlow's town council will discuss the walls, but will do so without the press or public present.

As Andy says:
This long saga needs to end but frankly I am not confident of it being resolved and the wall rebuilt within five years. The cost to the town council will be astronomical, perhaps up to third of its annual budget.

When the walls collapsed in 2013, there were a wide range of heritage grants available. With the tightening of public finances, and set to get tighter according to the latest Chancellor this weekend, it will get much more difficult to get a grant.

Liz Truss must have been a bad councillor too

Journalists tend to be snobbish about politicians who begin their careers in local government, but being a councillor provides a first-class political education.

In particular, it forces you to test whatever values and favourite policies you have acquired against real-world problems that are not of your choosing.

So far so good. I typed that a couple of days ago, intending to add the observation that Liz Truss would not be such a callow ideologue if she had served as a councillor and post it.

Then I told myself that I was being silly. Truss had served as a minister and cabinet minister of years, so she has plenty of experience. I deleted the draft post.

Luckily, yesterday morning I heard the latest The Rest of Politics podcast, in which everybody's favourite ex-Tory, Rory Stewart, remarks right at the end:

"You can hide as a cabinet minister. It's very, very easy to hide, particularly if you're a trade minister or a foreign minister. You get to take photographs in front of flags with dignitaries, you don't really have to deliver on policy and the prime minister carries the can."

Feeling much happier, I put this post up. Almost at once, a reader reminded me that Truss had been a councillor in Greenwich for four years before she got to Westminster.

So I took the post down again.

I pondered how to make sense of this contradiction as I wandered Market Harborough in autumn sunshine this afternoon. And I think I've got it.


She must have been a bad councillor too.

Thank you.

Leonard Cohen: Tower of Song

In 2016 Leonard Cohen wrote a final letter to his friend and muse Marianne Ihlen, who was dying:

Well Marianne it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.

And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.

Cohen died later that year.

Friday, October 14, 2022

The Joy of Six 1081

If satire were going to bring the Conservatives down, it would have done so a decade ago. Still, it keeps our spirits up and Euan McColm is in good form here: "Plaudits, too, for Jacob Rees-Mogg, who hit the airwaves a day later. The secretary of state for business has created a character for the ages, part Christopher Robin, part 1950s hangman. Beneath a plummy and polite exterior lurks the terrifying stench of menace."

Harry Shukman reports from the Ukip conference: "Today, fifty members of Ukip fit into the function room of a country pub outside Skegness, and there are plenty of empty chairs. The guest list barely stretches onto a second sheet of A4. There is talk of policies and history and electoral success but the room gives off the impression of a village cricket AGM instead of a party that recently took four million votes in a general election. Without Farage and without Brexit, Ukip is bereft."

Lucy Scholes praises The Glass Pearls, a forgotten novel by Emeric Pressburger about a Nazi war criminal hiding in plain sight in the streets of Pimlico.

Robert Hugill enjoys an evening of queered 18th-century music.

"My father took the following photo of Baldwin’s Gardens in 1949. The view is looking down towards Gray's Inn Road. In the early years of the war, the area suffered from the impact of several high explosive bombs and the effects of these can be seen to the right of the street." Baldwin's Gardens runs from Gray's Inn Road to Leather Lane and is a street I remember from Liberator paste ups long ago. This is a typically interesting post from A London Inheritance.

London's first UFO was spotted over St James's Park and Bloomsbury by a well-known physician called Cromwell Mortimer in 1746. Ertan Karpazli has the story.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

GUEST POST A newspaper for and by Leicester people

Reece Stafferton reveals the plans for the Great Central Gazette, a not-for-profit newspaper for Leicester launching in 2023.

Leicester - a city which was served by a sole regional newspaper until a few months ago - is on the brink of change. 

I’m helping to launch the Great Central Gazette: a not-for-profit newspaper, written by and for local people in Leicester. 

Our ambition is to hold power to account, work with the community to fix big issues, and partner with local groups to present journalism workshops for anyone hoping to learn new skills. 

It’ll be run as a co-operative, a type of model where members get to vote on how the business is run. We begin publishing early next year.

Why are we doing this? Well, ideally, journalism would represent everyone. 

We should be able to tell our stories with our own voices and come together as a community to amplify disadvantaged, marginalised and under-represented people. We need newspapers created with and for the people who feel like they’re being let down by existing media.

In reality, current local newspapers in the city don’t go far enough to spark positive change. This is, in part, because they’re owned by a handful of wealthy individuals and organisations. 

Some of the reporting they do is good, but these newspapers used to care about the community. They informed, safeguarded, and grew every facet of local life. 

They’ve now transformed into money-making schemes. The newsroom’s dominating voice has become advertising income. A newspaper’s revenue is proportional to the number of website clicks it receives. Journalists write dozens of pieces a day to get our attention, and they use clickbait and strikingly non-local subject matters to do so. That isn’t sustainable.

The consequences of this is that the quality of journalism isn’t as it should be, with recycled press releases and paid for advertorials becoming the norm. 

The current model fails to represent people without a voice, prevents newspapers from investigating stories in detail, and generally doesn’t offer any solutions to the problems facing the city.

We’re not the first to attack the status quo. At the Gazette, we’re inspired by other independent media outlets like the Bristol Cable, who are running a co-operative model in their city. 

On our patch, we will cover unreported local news, showcase the history of Leicester, unpack stats and data, hold debates and open discussions, publish comment from local people, publish investigative features with solutions at their core, profile interesting people doing good in the community, and give a platform to the arts, literature, independent film and more.

The Gazette is in its infancy, but it’s ready to grow. Independent media, like The Gazette, are one of the fastest growing media industries in the UK. Chip into our crowdfunder, running until 14 November, to support our mission. 

Reece Stafferton is helping to launch the Great Central Gazette. You can follow him on Twitter.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Alexei Sayle in conversation with Frank Cottrell Boyce

Recorded at the Liverpool Philharmonic in April 2016 when he had recently published his second volume of autobiography, Thatcher Stole My Trousers. The first was titled Stalin Ate My Homework.

Blair's a Fucking Bastard has yet to appear.

A new article on Brian Eley, the only British chess champion to appear on Crimewatch

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Fiona Pitt-Keithley has written a new article about Brian Eley, the former British Chess Champion who skipped bail in 1991 while charged with sexual offences against boys. 

He died in Amsterdam in April, having kept one step ahead of the authorities for over 30 years, even if the life he led there doesn't sound much fun.

Pitt-Keithley sets out what is known or suspected about Eley and concludes:

This is a long story though I still cannot find out all the facts. But there are substantial rumours. His victims are said to include one extremely famous British chess player as well as many others well enough known on the chess circuit. If only half of these rumours are true, there are probably more than a hundred victims.

I might have written it off as police incompetence that he was not picked up the couple of times a policeman gave his exact location to Crimestoppers or when Stuart Conquest also attempted to report it to the Dutch police. But there is the strange matter of Eley’s picture being taken off the Interpol site, something neither South Yorks police or Interpol are prepared to explain. ...

Nobody else wanted to write this story which is why I am putting it out here. I would like to ask a favour of his many victims. Go to the police. Tell them what happened to you if you haven’t done so already. Put it all on record. Let the police and the ECF [English Chess Federation] and perhaps eventually the general public find the size of this story. For those who have made witness statements already ask South Yorks police about the case. You as victims may have some right to info that I do not have as a mere journalist. 

I will also ask a politician to look into the situation of why the police did not pick him up and why his name was taken off the Interpol Wanted list. It is important that other paedophiles are not given a free pass just because they have been useful in other matters to the authorities. Their victims deserve better.

Three candidates standing for Lib Dem presidency

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Nominations have closed for the Liberal Democrats' internal elections and there are three candidates for party president:

  • Lucy Nethsingha
  • Mark Pack
  • Liz Webster
There is just one nomination for vice-president: Amna Ahmad.

You can find the list of people nominated for the various party committees on the Lib Dem website.

Today is the 150th anniversary of Ralph Vaughan Williams's birth

Ralph Vaughan Williams was born 150 years ago today.

The Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, one of his undoubted masterpieces, was first performed in Gloucester Cathedral as part of the Three Choirs Festival of 1910.

As far as I can recall, at BoxmoorPrimary School we had only two records to listen to: this and Morning by Grieg. Luckily, I fell in love with the Tallis Fantasia.

It was also one of the pieces of music - this very recording - that my mother enjoyed listening to in her final days.

Halifax horror error as stunned husband and wife both wrongly 'declared dead'

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What this? Rough work at the mortuary in West Yorkshire?

No, the story turns out to involve what was once the Halifax Building Society, which is now part of the Bank of Scotland, which is now wholly owned by the Lloyds Banking Group, and a couple from Stratford-on-Avon.

And it wins the Birmingham Mail our Headline of the Day Award.