Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Munira Wilson scores with Word Cup reference at PMQs

Called to ask Rishi Sunak a question on free school meals at today's prime minister's questions, Munira Wilson, the Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham, was ready with a killer topical reference.

I suppose the real problem with parents who struggle to feed their children is that they lack aspiration. Otherwise, they would be sending those children to expensive private schools.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

What Popper did and didn't say about the paradox of intolerance

I’m pleased to see Karl Popper back in fashion. Because he was an important critic of Marxist thought, he has generally been lumped in with Conservative thinkers by the left and so ignored by the people who should read him.

But there is a danger that those who like the sound of Popper from the image above, but have read no more of him, will misunderstand him. 

And I don’t just mean that they will take him for a twinkly-eyed professor like Shorofsky in Fame. In reality, Popper was, by all accounts, not an easy man to deal with. His students were given to renaming his best known book The Open Society and its Enemies as The Open Society by one of its Enemies.

No the danger is that the image dos not tell you the insight that the free criticism of ideas is vital for both the conduct of science and the maintenance of political liberty is at the heart of Popper’s philosophy. He makes an unlikely champion of censorship. 

Popper’s formulation of the paradox of tolerance is found in chapter seven of The Open Society and Its Enemies, which deals with Plato’s treatment of political leadership in The Republic.

In this discussion Popper identifies two paradoxes: the paradox of freedom and the paradox of sovereignty.

The paradox of freedom shows the dangers of defining democracy as the implementation of the will in the people. For the people may choose to give power to a tyrant and, as Popper comments, this is not just a theoretical possibility: “it has happened a number of times.”

Plato sees this paradox as undermining the case for democracy. Popper prefers to defend it by offering a more pragmatic definition of it. He suggests that a democratic government is one that can be got rid of via institutional means rather than bloodshed.

The second paradox Popper identifies is the paradox of sovereignty. This turns out to be the other side of the coin of Douglas Adams’ observation that:

It is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.

For Popper writes that all theories of sovereignty are paradoxical: 

For instance, we may have selected ‘the wisest’ or ‘the best’ as a ruler. But ‘the wisest’ in his wisdom may find that not he but ‘the best ‘ should rule, and the best in his goodness may perhaps decide that ‘the majority’ should rule.

Which brings us back to the paradox of freedom. 

Or as Douglas Adams might have put it: “the people most suited to rule will, ipso facto, not wish to do so.”

The paradox of tolerance is discussed in a footnote on this discussion of paradoxes. There Popper writes:

Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. 

 In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. 

We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.

So what do we make of all this?

Putting Popper’s brand on the paradox of tolerance risks going too far. He was not the first to identify it and, though he admits its validity, it is not central to his argument in The Open Society and Its Enemies.

Popper is concerned that the opponents of tolerance may resort to violence, not that they may express intolerant views.

Popper’s first instinct when faced with such people is to “counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion”.

Where he does support the suppression of the intolerant is in the face of threats of violence and threats to overthrow of the state or system of government. Following Popper’s formulation, it would, for instance, have been fully justifiable to act against those planning the attack on the Capitol in Washington in January 2021.

But most people I see using this image are citing Popper merely in support of silencing people whose views they do not unlike – whose views they find intolerant.

You may think Popper took the danger posed by such people too lightly, but you will have to argue for that position from your own resources, because Popper would not have supported you.

'There appears to be a dog in court!': Lawyer's barking mad pet crashes Shrewsbury hearing

As it so often does, the Shropshire Star wins our Headline of the Day Award.

And it has given me an excuse for posting another clip from Crown Court.

Monday, November 28, 2022

A stretch of the Market Harborough to Rugby line was electrified

The viaduct in this video once carried a loop line built so trains coming off the Market Harborough line into Rugby station did not cross the West Coast Main Line on the level.

What I didn't know until I watched this is that the line from Rugby to Clifton Mill, the first station on the line to Harborough, was electrified. 

This, says Warwickshire Railways, was to allow electric locomotives coming off southbound trains at Rugby to get back to the north end of the station to take over diesel-hauled trains from Euston without holding up traffic.

If this is getting too complicated, then just enjoy the footage of the viaduct.

The line from Market Harborough to Rugby closed in 1966.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

The Joy of Six 1093

"The Homes for Ukraine scheme, which has housed more than 100,000 people in Britain since the start of the war, is now at risk of collapse. Without early and drastic intervention, the scheme will compound rather than ease the suffering of the Ukrainian families it was meant to help." Keir Giles explains what has gone wrong with the government's effort to help war refugees from Ukraine.

Eleanor Rylance remembers helping a young mother of two children living in appalling housing conditions: "We should be viewing this as a national scandal, not demonising young and vulnerable people living in terrible housing stock."

The Guardian interviews the clinical psychologist Richard Bentall, a penetrating critic of conventional views of mental illness.

Gale Sinatra and Barbara K. Hofer explode five myths that fuel the rejection of science.

"Morgan was superficially a 'swinging London' movie – made by a man who was, to the best of my knowledge, not heavily involved in the hedonism of the time: his main hobbies were gardening, collecting art and playing bridge. Yet he and writer David Mercer tapped into the fierce debates, associated with the radical psychiatrist RD Laing, about whether insanity can sometimes be a “rational” response to a mad world." Matthew Reisz on his father Karel's contribution to post-war British cinema.

The Britten Pears Archive examines the composer's rich creative relationship with the boys' choir from the state-sector Wandsworth School.

Lindisfarne: Meet Me on the Corner

Younger readers will know Lindisfarne, if they know them at all, for making a record with Gazza and for Christmas concerts that have a reputation for being a bit Jimmy Five Bellies.

But it wasn't always like that. At the start of the Seventies they were a highly regarded band with a talent for producing catchy singles with a folk rock tinge.

As well as Meet Me on the Corner there was Lady Eleanor and, though it wasn't hit, Fog on the Tyne, which came to be their best-known song (with or without help from Gazza).

English rock rarely celebrates English places, but not only is Fog on the Tyne inspired by local geography, but so is the name of the band itself.

The only other English bands I can think of who chose such names were Fotheringay (though the village name was chosen for its connection with Mary Queen of Scots and the modern spelling is Fotheringhay) and, sort of, The Merseybeats.

No doubt there are others...

Saturday, November 26, 2022

How No Room at the Inn launched John Osborne's theatre career

If you thought you'd heard the last of No Room at the Inn, you were mistaken.

This was the play by Joan Temple that, like Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, was inspired by the death of Dennis O'Neill, a 12-year-old foster child, in 1945.

After No Room at the Inn had cleaned up in the West End, it went on a national tour, though without its star, the awe-inspiring Freda Jackson.

As there were so many children in the cast, the company needed a tutor for them to make up for the schooling they were missing. 

That role was taken by a young man keen on a career in the theatre - he even fancied writing plays. And he used it as a route to becoming an assistant stage manager and then a member of the cast.

His name? John Osborne. He was the archetypal Angry Young Man of the Fifties and the author of the epoch-making play Look Back in Anger.

Counsels' opinions on the Lib Dem definition of transphobia

One of Mark Pack's initiative in his first term as Liberal Democrat president was to ask the party's disciplinary subgroup to produce a definition of transphobia.

It was duly produced and adopted by the party. You can find the text and links to useful additional material in a Lib Dem Voice post from 2020.

Since the definition was adopted, doubt has been expressed about how legally watertight it would prove if the party were to use it as the basis for disciplinary action.

For that reason the party has commissioned an opinion from Guy Vassall-Adams KC, You can read it online together with the supplementary advice that he was later asked to submit.

A member of the party's' board commissioned a second opinion from Karon Monaghan KC and this can also be found online.

I'm not aware that these links have appeared on a Lib Dem blog yet, so I have posted them here.

Newspaper reports tensions between Lib Dem councillors and party executive in Derby

An investigation is under way into allegations made by the executive committee of Derby's Liberal Democrats, which has led to the resignation of committee members. The resigned committee has written and appealed to senior figures in the Liberal Democrat Party urging them to take control of Derby City Liberal Democrats "to avoid further damage to party reputation, as well as its mental and physical well-being of its members".

So Derbyshire Live (the website for the Derby Telegraph) reported earlier this week.

The paper says the committee's letter lists eighteen grievances and it prints seven of them.

Its report ends:

Derbyshire Live approached Councillor Ruth Skelton, leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Derby City Council, who referred us to the press office at national party headquarters.

A press statement said: "There are investigations underway and we cannot comment pending those being completed."

Derbyshire Live has also approached the resigning committee for any further comment.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

The Joy of Six 1092

"Since February, an isolated former RAF base near the village of Manston, in Kent, has been used by the Home Office to warehouse migrants reaching England’s southeastern shores on small boats. These are desperate people fleeing conflict, persecution, immiseration, environmental degradation and other crises. Most of them claim asylum. They all deserve better." Joseph Maggs argues that Manston refugee camp is a "politically manufactured crisis": the foreseeable result of government policy towards the vast majority of the global poor who are unable to access "safe and legal routes" to the UK.  

Stephen Glenn explains why he is not watching the Qatar World Cup.

George Cunningham on the challenges facing the Lib Dems' federal international relations committee. He lists getting the party leadership back on track concerning Europe among them.

Social media accounts from far beyond the city stoked tensions between Hindus and Muslims in Leicester at the time of this autumn's riots, says The Indian Express

"Many of the songs were suggested to the band by A.L. Lloyd, the self-taught folklorist who went on to become co-founder and artistic director of Topic Records and co-compile The Penguin Book Of English Folk Songs with Vaughan Williams. Mike Waterson once called him "a guru to us"; Lloyd also directed the subject matter of their songs. "We sang one and he said, 'Mm, we shan’t use that one. It’s too subservient.'" Judge Rogers on The Watersons and the re-release of their album Frost and Fire.

Bobby Seal presents a list of his favourite psychogeography books of 2022.

Harborough's Neil O'Brien stars in the Guardian's Commons sketch

This morning Labour's Angela Rayner asked an urgent question to the minister for the cabinet office on the procurement of personal protective equipment during the Covid pandemic.

But it wasn't that minister who came to the Commons to answer it: it was a junior minister from the Department of Health and Social Care, Harborough's own Neil O'Brien.

Why he got the gig I don't know, but John Crace in the Guardian suggests:

His schoolboy error had been to answer his phone.

And boy does Crace have fun with him:

So it was a queasy-looking O’Brien who turned up for the UQ. A man who looked as if he had spent the previous couple of hours throwing up rather than trying to prepare some answers.

Having watched his performance on Commons TV (it starts at 10:37:16) I can confirm that this is unfair, but only a little. O'Brien is not an commanding  performer at the despatch box.

And the government's performance on procuring PPI isn't impressive either. If it had cut corners to secure supply from established providers of PPE, that would have been entirely understandable. 

But contracts were given to people with no record in the field, some of them with worrying political connections, and much of what it bought turned out to be unusable.

There are many questions to be answered here and O'Brien gave convincing ones to few of them.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Princes Street: Edinburgh's lost railway terminus

Closed to passengers in 1965 and largely demolished by 1970, Princes Street was once the Edinburgh station for Glasgow, Carlisle and most English cities.

But British Rail wanted rationalisation, and though Princes Street had a street-level entrance, the rather subterranean Waverley was larger, more central and had access to the East Coast Main Line. So Waverley was chosen to be Edinburgh's only principal station.

Jago Hazzard doesn't find much of it left today, but you can see some photographs of Princes Street station in the Edinburgh Evening News.

You can support Jago's videos via his Patreon page.

Leicestershire leg spinner Rehman Ahmed called up by England after three first-class games

The 18-year-old leg-spinner Rehman Ahmed has been called up to England's squad for the series against Pakistan after just three first-class games for Leicestershire.

As the Guardian points out, if he is selected for one of the three tests he will beat Brian Close's record to become the youngest ever England test player and also become the first Leicestershire player given an England test cap since James Taylor in 2011.

The paper also quotes the England coach Brendon McCullum:
"We know he’s not the finished article and has raw potential, but Ben, myself and the rest of the coaches like how he approaches his game. The experience of being part of the squad in Pakistan will be hugely beneficial for him, and he will add to the makeup of our squad."
McCullum's caution was being justified as he spoke. Ahmed recorded figures of none for 73 off eight overs today as England posted 501 for 7 against England Lions off only 79 overs. And older readers will remember Ian Salisbury being called up to the team unsuccessfully after joining the England party as a net bowler.

Still, it's easy to see what England like about Ahmed. He had a successful under-19 world cup, is quicker through the air than Matt Parkinson and scored a century in his third county championship game.

Sooner or later England will need a white-ball replacement for Adil Rashid, and it may be that role which Ahmed is really auditioning for this winter. You can see him in T20 action in the video above.

I wish him well, and like Adil Rashid and Mason Crane, he now has a label on this blog. I hope it will see many posts.

Strong evidence that Tory MPs expect to lose the next election

Embed from Getty Images

Two prominent young Conservative MPs with majorities of over 4000 have decided not to contest the next general election.

At 34, William Wragg is already chair of a Commons select committee and a vice-chair of the 1922 Committee. But faced with the prospect of defending a majority of 4423 over the Liberal Democrats in Hazel Grove, he has thrown in the towel.

And Chloe Smith is 40 and has already served in the cabinet, even if it was only for six weeks under Liz Truss. Her majority over Labour in Norwich North is 4738 and, again, she has announced she will not be fighting the seat at the next election.

The theory in Westminster is that both, despairing of their chances of holding seats with majorities that size, want to find a second career outside politics while they are young enough to record comparable achievements in it.

Or as an unnamed Conservative MP put it to the Mirror:
"Anyone with a 6,000 majority is gone - it could be higher, it could be 8,000 or it could be 10,000."

"It will be worse in the North East than in the Midlands. These are the Red Wall voters who trusted us and we f***ed up, essentially."

Monday, November 21, 2022

Watch Vera Duckworth guard Miss Marple

In the Crown Court story Evil Liver, Joan Hickson had great fun playing an eccentric old lady accused of attempting to murder her neighbour.

While she was in court, a guard played by Elizabeth Dawn kept a close eye on her.

That's right: you can watch Miss Marple being guarded by Vera Duckworth.

I can't embed the whole video here, but if you click on the still above you will be taken to YouTube to watch it.

Be warned: the story takes an unexpected turn in the middle. Except, once you know that the screenplay was written by Ngaio Marsh, one of the queens of the whodunnit, it may not be as unexpected as all that.

The Joy of Six 1091

"The UK government is acting like it is running a developing market economy in the late 1990s, the kind with an immature financial system and untrusted currency, ordered by the Washington institutions to tighten both monetary and fiscal policy at once." Freethinking Economist spells out the scale of the Conservative government's failure.

Danny Shaw examines the crisis in our prisons: "The prison population has increased by about 2,500 in the past 12 months and is continuing to go up - 81,423 this week - but at the same time there has been a drop in the number of frontline staff."

Chris Stokel-Walker on what we may lose: "Twitter has become integral to civilization today. It’s a place where people document war crimes, discuss key issues, and break and report on news."

A disagreement about blogging! In 2022! Democracy Coma is not impressed by Lib Dem Voice's editorial policy.

Conrad Brunstrom wants promises to lose their central place in politics: "Governments around the world make iron-clad promises all the time, break those promises, ignore the fact that they've broken those promises, and still get re-elected. Yet the rhetoric of '“iron-clad' commitments persists perhaps because there remains a market for it."

"Visitors will also get to see some of the lesser known stories of treason, including that of Richard Roose, sentenced to death by a most unusual means in 1531, and Wolfe Tone, whose oration at his trial by court martial in 1798 is considered one of the foundational moments of Irish history." Mark Valladares has been to the Treason: People, Power and Plot exhibition at the National Archives. (Don't google Roose unless you're made of stern stuff.)

Innocent Sinners: Another film about children and bombsites

Thanks to Talking Pictures TV and its catch-up site Encore, last night I watched another film about children and bombsites.

Innocent Sinners came out in 1958, which makes it later than any of the films discussed in the long post Children and bombsites in post-war British films I wrote for a blog carnival on British films in September. (It is, though, based on a Rumer Godden novel published in 1955.)

The first thing to say is that it's a very good film. With their  strong personalities and odd names - Lovejoy, Tip and Sparkey - its central characters are typical of the Rumer Godden children I have seen in other films.

And the director Philip Leacock (I will admit I had him hopelessly mixed up with the Canadian writer Stephen Leacock until I sat down to write this) has a way of making children touching without a hint of sentimentality - his film The Kidnappers is another example.

For me the most interesting thing about Innocent Sinners is that its central character is a girl. When she starts planting a garden on a bomb site, it is rubbed out by a gang of boys who tell her that girls have no business there.

This gendering of space (hem hem) is implicit in these films, in that almost all the children we see are boys, but rarely is it spelled out like this.

Tip, the leader of the gang, makes amends by finding her a better site within a bomb-damaged church and becomes caught up in the garden project himself.

The film is also interesting in that it shows that, while respectable society sees the bomb-site children as a "gang", the sites in fact give Lovejoy and Tip a bit of privacy away from their inadequate homes.

And the enemies they encounter there are not the murderers who pursued Andrew Ray in The Yellow Balloon or Jon Whiteley in The Weapon, but mundane forces like magistrates and  residents' associations. 

There is indeed a class element to the film, with the working-class children's encroachment upon an affluent square setting up its denouement. 

All ends well. thanks to a Dickensian act of philanthropy - as befits the only bomb site film with a girl at its centre, we have a benevolent spinster to thank rather than the usual benevolent bachelor.

As a lover of Dickens I'm not worried by the ending, though you could argue that it's a little too pat. Should Tip be quite so overjoyed at being sent to a training ship? 

Still, in rejecting the celebration of the family that ends The Yellow Balloon, Innocent Sinners does acknowledge that some children who frequented bomb sites did not have much of a family to return to.

And it's a really good film: perhaps more interesting than any I discussed in my original post. I now want to read the Rumer Godden novel, An Episode of Sparrows, on which it was based.

I am afraid Innocent Sinners has already gone from the TPTV Encore site. But it's a film the channel has shown before, so it may appear again.

Finally, the (I hope) good news is that I have found a book with a chapter on these children and bomb site films, so when I have read it I shall write another post discussing what it says.

Later. A couple of weeks after posting this, I came across an interesting contemporary article about the casting of June Archer, who played Lovejoy.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

ABBA: Ring Ring

I remember when ABBA started to play Waterloo at the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest. My mother and I looked at one another: you didn't get proper pop songs on Eurovision.

Ring Ring was their follow up in the UK, but reached only number 32. (Waterloo had topped the charts.)

When they won Eurovision, ABBA credited Wizzard, and See My Baby Jive in particular, as an influence. I think you can hear a bit of Wizzard in the saxophone here too.

Then came I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, which again failed to trouble the top 30. It wasn't until SOS, which made number 6 in October of 1975, that they had a follow-up hit to Waterloo in the UK.

All of which confirms my memory that ABBA were by no means an overnight sensation. It took them 18 months to have a second big hit in the UK,

For years you had to pretend to hate ABBA to satisfy what Alexei Sayle calls the imaginary cool people in your head. My theory is that everyone always loved them.

Industrial steam at Leicester power station in 1971

Embed from Getty Images

Leicester's Freemans Meadow power station opened in 1922. All coal-fired operations ceased there in 1976, when a gas turbine station opened. That operated until at least 1989, but the Freemans Meadow site later became home to Leicester City's King Power Stadium

The power station was still using industrial steam locomotives internally in 1971, when this photograph was taken.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Punt PI investigates those two unsolved wartime murders in the West Midlands

Thanks to a comment from a reader, I have listened today to radio programmes about both the unsolved West Midlands murders I blogged about yesterday.

Punt PI, which ran to 10 short series, was a humorous documentary in which the comedian Steve Punt investigated just such mysteries.

Here are the links for the shows Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm? and Pitchfork Murder - Lower Quinton.

These are entertaining programmes that give a fair picture of how things stand with these cases without offering anything startlingly new, though there is a bit of a coup in the one on Bella. Broadcast in the summer of 2014, it interviewed a forensic biologist who examined the victim's remains. His name was John Lund and he was 101.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Walking London’s Civil War defences in Islington with John Rogers

From the blurb on YouTube

Waterfield Fort was at the top of St John's Street, exactly where Spa Green Estate stands today, linked eastwards by trenches running along Sebastian Street to a huge fort at Mount Mills off the Goswell Road. Westwards, the lines cut to New River Head's circular reservoir and on to Mount Pleasant, east of Black Mary's Hole and another city dump. In between, a covered walkway was cut up the hill that is now Amwell Street, to Islington Pond, which would soon became the extant reservoir in Claremont Square. 

The author, Guy Mannes Abbott, makes the link between this system of fortifications that stretched eastwards through Shoreditch and Whitechapel to Wapping, built to protect the fledgling English Revolution, and the Utopian aspirations of the municipal architecture of Berthold Lubetkin built in the old London borough of Finsbury. 

This video starts at the old Roman wall at Aldersgate then passes the Barbican. We then follow civil war line of communication from Mount Mills, just off Goswell Road, along Sebastian Street to Northampton Square, up St John Street to Spa Green Estate site of Waterfield Fort. We then walk through Spa Green to the site of the New River Head and down Rosebery Ave to Mount Pleasant Fort. The final stage of this classic London walking tour goes up Amwell Street to Claremont Square site of the Fort Royal. 

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

Unsolved wartime West Midland murders: Bella in the Wych Elm and Charles Walton

The West Midlands is haunted by two unsolved wartime murders.

In 1943 some boys up to no good in Hagley Wood, Worcestershire, found the remains of a woman in a hollow elm tree. Despite extensive inquiries, the police were unable to establish the identity of the victim or identify her killer.

Wikipedia takes up the story:

In 1944, a graffiti message, related to the mystery, appeared on a wall in Upper Dean Street, Birmingham, reading Who put Bella down the Wych Elm - Hagley Wood. This provided investigators with several new leads for tracing who the victim could have been. Other messages in the same hand appeared too. 
Since at least the 1970s, similar graffiti has sporadically appeared on the Hagley Obelisk near to where the woman's body was discovered, which asks the slightly modified Who put Bella in the Witch Elm?

The case has attracted much attention and speculation over the years, but the mystery has never been solved.

And in February 1945 the body of a farm Labour, Charles Walton, was found at Lower Quinton in Warwickshire:

The murderer had beaten Walton over the head with his own stick, had cut his neck open with the slash hook, and driven the prongs of the pitchfork into either side of his neck, pinning him to the ground. The handle of the pitchfork had then been wedged under a cross member of the hedge and the slash hook had been buried in his neck.

Or so Wikipedia says.

Walton's murder came to be surrounded with lurid tales about other locals believing he was a witch who had done them and his crops harm.

The spread of these tales was helped by Chief Inspector Robert Fabian - Fabian of the Yard - who wrote about the case extensively in his memoirs. Perhaps he wanted to talk up the dark forces arrayed against him because it was the only murder case he failed to crack in his police career.

I'm writing about these cases because yesterday I looked at my folder of electronic cuttings on the death of Dennis O'Neill and came across this from the Staffordshire Sentinel: the latest developments in the O'Neill case and the discovery of Charles Walton's body one above the other.

The Sentinel did not know it, but because feeling about the case was running so high in Shropshire the trial of the couple accused of killing Dennis O'Neill was to be transferred to Stafford. Which is why that paper's reports give the fullest accounts of the trial.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

The Joy of Six 1090

Stumbling & Mumbling looks into the supposed fiscal "black hole": "The Tories, aided by much of the media, are trying to pull a con trick. They want to present spending cuts as a technocratic necessity when they are in fact a political choice."

"Children living in bad housing are more likely to have respiratory problems like coughing and asthmatic wheezing, to be at risk of infections, and to have mental health problems. And by increasing the likelihood of missing regular school, these health problems, in turn, had a detrimental impact on their education." Taj Ali lays bare the lethal consequences of Britain’s slum housing.

"As usual, rape survivors are being treated as suspects rather than victims, when it’s the perpetrators’ lives who should be placed under the microscope." Lydia Spencer-Elliott on the revelation that rape victims' therapy notes from pre-trial counselling can be handed to police and the accused's legal teams during investigations.

Jonathan Haide says the past 10 years of American life have been uniquely stupid and explains why.

"The architectural roots of the Victoria Centre are firmly embedded in the modern movement of the mid-1950s and its ambitions for the urban renewal of British cities. The development was however ultimately a product of opportunism and a misplaced belief in the capacity of a private developer to successfully achieve such renewal without a high degree of publicly-led planning and oversight." Municipal Dreams visits Nottingham as one major development reaches its 50th year.

Amanda Petrusich celebrates the boundless energy of the Spice Girls as their film Spiceworld enjoys a 25th-birthday reissue.

Bobby Moore stars in our Trivial Fact of the Day

It will soon be 30 years since Bobby Moore, England's captain when they won the World Cup in 1966, died at the age of only 51. 

What I didn't know until today were his middle names. He was christened Robert Frederick Chelsea Moore.

Anyway, here he is keeping England in the game against a great Brazilian side in the 1970 tournament.

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 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.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Professor Colin Rallings tips nine councils as potential Lib Dem gains next year

In an article on the Local Government Chronicle site, the magazine's elections specialist Professor Colin Rallings names nine councils as potential Lib Dem gains in 2023:

  • North Devon Council
  • Teignbridge DC
  • Harborough DC [hem hem]
  • West Lindsey DC
  • South Oxfordshire DC
  • Guildford BC
  • Stratford-on-Avon DC
  • South Gloucestershire
  • West Berkshire

He says:

"I can’t see them falling back next year unless there are toxic local issues which tend to become apparent nearer the time."

The article also cites research by John Curtice that was first published in the Journal of Liberal History:
He found 2022 “represents the party’s best local election performance” since before the coalition. 
It was "still well short of what the party regularly achieved between 1993 and 2010" and its support tends to be higher in 'remain' voting areas, making it "wrong to assume the party has put all of the legacy of Brexit behind it.", ...

For example, there has been limited progress in the party’s former south-west heartland, which despite historic Lib Dem support voted strongly for leave in 2016.
So there is reason for some optimism about next year's elections, but the boffins expect the advances we make to be in areas of existing strength.

Shreyas Royal, 13, breaks British record for youngest ever grandmaster result

Photo: English Chess Federation  

Some good news for a change. At the age of 13 Shreyas Royal has broken the British record for the youngest ever grandmaster performance. 

On Sunday he completed a score of seven points from nine games in the €15,000 Bavarian Open at Tegernsee, Germany. He won six games, drew two and lost only to the top seeded player, the four-time champion of Ukraine Anton Korobov.

As Leonard Barden explains in the Financial Times:

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, England was briefly the No2 chess nation behind the former Soviet Union, but the golden generation grew old and there has been no new English player in the world top 100 since Howell and Gawain Jones emerged in the late 1990s. Royal has just shown that he has the potential to change that.

More immediately, he has a serious chance to score two further norms and complete the requirements for GM before his 15th birthday in January 2024. That would place him among the select group of 40 grandmasters who have earned the title at age 14 or younger. A glance at the list shows that many of them are among the current stars of world chess.

Four years ago I blogged about the struggle of Shreyas Royal's family to stay in the UK.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

How the Lib Dems lost a council seat in Ed Davey's constituency

Last week the Liberal Democrats lost a seat on Kingston Council in a by-election. I've not seen much discussion of this in Lib Dem circles, but then with the closure of the party newspaper, the instinctive loyalty of Lib Dem Voice and the decline of blogging generally, it's hard to find much Lib Dem discussion at all.

But an article from the On London site tells us much of what went on in the contest in Green Lane and St James ward, though it omits the fact that this corner of the borough was safe territory for us until a former Lib Dem leader of the council was convicted of possessing indecent images of children.

Anyway, this is what On London says about the contest - KIRG stands for Kingston Independent Residents' Group:

The Green Lane & St James contest was easily distinguished from a ray of sunshine. On 30 October the Labour and Lib Dem campaigns issued a statement criticising what they called divisive campaign tactics, referring to a leaflet circulated by KIRG’s councillor Giles making allegations about Rafiq in his capacity as external affairs officer of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. The Conservative and local Green parties associated themselves with this denunciation.

The Ahmadiyya are a minority strand of Islam, who are targets both of Islamophobia from non-Muslims and denunciation from some Muslim bodies as not being properly Islamic. They are a familiar presence in south west London, being active in promoting the Quran to people in the streets.

On London, no doubt fairly, says the impact of this leaflet is hard to judge and that during the campaign there were also concerns about such local issues as cycle paths and green spaces, and a lingering ill-will about the council’s closure of the Kingfisher Leisure Centre.

It was also difficult for Lib Dems to make the argument that Kingston needed a 44th councillor from our ranks, when we so dominate the council already. (That's first past the post for you.)

But beware of getting the wrong impression of KIRG, As On London says:

In some ways KIRG is a classic localist party, trading on the rhetoric of being the authentic voice of the a community against the Westminster parties and picking up anti-Town Hall issues from every direction. But it is a bit different from others nearby, such as the long-established Merton Park residents or the Residents’ Association that runs Epsom & Ewell across the border in Surrey, which has a rather cuddly, even staid public image.

During May’s elections the KIRG attracted criticism for an aggressive populist approach to campaigning. Giles, a journalist, was manager of George Galloway’s rumbustious parliamentary by-election campaign in Batley & Spen in summer 2021 and has appeared on Galloway’s Sputnik programme on Russia Today (although he stressed to the Kingston Courier that he does not agree with Galloway’s anti-NATO views on Ukraine).

Florence Nightingale stars in Trivial Fact of the Day

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I don't know if this surprises you, but it surprised me.

We think of Florence Nightingale as a mid-19th century figure because of her rise to fame in the Crimean War. Yet she lived to the age of 90 and did not die until 1910.

Amazing story of 18-inch dueling dwarf who owned pair of trousers sold for almost £10k

Despite their fearsome reputation, the judges of our Headline of the Day Award can be a sentimental bunch. The local connection was enough to win this tale of Jeffery Hudson's trousers today's award, despite its questionable grammar.

"Did the story tell for £10k?" they asked, and "Can one be said to have owned a pair of trousers 'sold for almost £10k' if that sale did not take place until centuries after one's death?" Oh, and "Why have they used 'dueling', which is generally seen as an American spelling?"

Still, well done to the Leicester Mercury.

There's more about Jeffery Hudson on Strange Company blog. You can find his cottage near the railway station in Oakham.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Searching for Cathays Cemetery station

The long-vanished Cathays Cemetery station was built on the Cardiff to Rhymney line to bring coffins and mourners to the city's New Cemetery.

Best of all, it was built by the railway contractors Logan & Hemingway - Logan as in J.W. Logan, Liberal MP for Harborough and hero of this blog.

More videos from Bob's Rail Relics on his YouTube homepage.

Television footage of the old Boxmoor Primary School

I have blogged before about the old Boxmoor Primary School in Hemel Hempstead, which I attended between ages of 9 and 11, and even found a photograph and a drawing of it to post.

Now I have found it on a clip of archive television film too.

Put online to celebrate the BBC's centenary, the Rewind site makes available thousands of previously unavailable films reflecting life in Britain.

Searching for one about Boxmoor, I came across a 1987 film about the election of trustees of the Boxmoor Trust, which looks after a substantial area of common land in the Bulbourne Valley.

It's rather a silly report if I'm honest, but my ears pricked up when it mentioned The Steamcoach pub, which was almost next door to the school.

And then they showed the polling station for the elections. St John's church hall really was next door and where we had our dinners and put on fetes and nativity plays.

Even better, for a couple of seconds you can see the school. It had been closed for some years by 1987, but was still standing.

The school is to the left of the church hall - now The Boxmoor Playhouse - and the other side of the wall in the still above. Click on it to watch the whole report on Rewind.

GUEST POST Did the Russians kill President Kennedy?

Lee Harvey Oswald went to live in Russia in 1959 and returned to the US in 1961. Two years later he assassinated President Kennedy. Jack White asks if the most obvious theory about his motive is true. 

On 22 November 1963, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy is shot and killed in Dallas, Texas. Minutes later the spy chief of an intelligence agency telephones the head of station of a sister intelligence agency. Both men had met the assassin months earlier.

He asks the question of his counterpart whether the action had been taken. The coded reply was yes. Unknown to the two men, the telephone call is being listened to and transcribed. Now, nearly 60 years later, the transcript of that astonishing conversation has surfaced. 

My name is Jack White. I am an investigative historian. I find the documents overlooked by other historians. I discovered this explosive transcript, an authenticated document in an intelligence archive of millions of files declassified in 2017. 

Like most of the sensational documents I have uncovered in my career, it is a faded typewritten manuscript with little significance until you understand the people involved, those referenced, the time of the transcript and the context all have the highest significance. 

It was a document that prompted high-level immediate action and then inexplicably was buried deep in bureaucracy, never to be shown to the public Inquiry launched in 1964. Its existence was then overlooked for nearly 60 years.

The JFK assassination has given rise to the mother of all conspiracy theories - one that has spawned 20,000 books. A significant number of people in the US and around the world believe a conspiracy resulted in the murder of America’s most dynamic and loved president. This death is a mirror of our own beliefs and often reveals more about the writer than the subject. 

So who were the spymasters who made that suspicious cryptic telephone call just 20 minutes after the fateful shots?  The call, in coded conversation ,effectively asked "has the package been delivered?", "has the deed been done?"

Was the head of station at MI6 calling the head of station at the CIA. Was it the head of station of Israel’s Mossad phoning the head of station at the French DST?

No, the two men were the head of Cuban intelligence in Mexico City, Alfred Mirabal, who called the head of Russia's KGB spy agency, Valery Kostikov, at the Soviet embassy in Mexico City at 12.50pm.

Mirabal asked his Russian colleague “Has the suitcase been recovered?” to which his counterpart Kostikov simply replied “Yes.”

Both men had met Kennedy’s killer Lee Harvey Oswald in Mexico City at the Cuban Consulate and Russian Embassy two months before in September 1963. The call namechecks their colleagues who had also met Oswald, and the timing so close to the killing raises clear evidence of foreknowledge of the assassination by the Cuban Intelligence Service and KGB.

The evidence, including a copy of the Kostikov transcript and the flight records of Soviet diplomats whose movements shadowed Oswald's, along with overlooked evidence of his links to the KGB, points to a US Government cover-up at the highest level to displace blame away from Russia and Cuba at the most dangerous moment in the Cold War. This is a time when the missiles could have flown if the true facts had become known.

Did the Russians and Cubans really kill Kennedy? You can read more in my book Recovering Oswald's Suitcase, £12.99 paperback, £7.99 eBook.

You can follow Jack White on Twitter.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

The Joy of Six 1089

"This country has transformed children in care into commodities in a misery market. Then they discard them when they’re too old – usually at 16 to semi-independent accommodation, or as a 2019 report conducted by the all-party parliamentary group for runaway and missing children and adults put it, into a 'frightening, twilight world of unregulated semi-independent homes'." Daniel Lavelle says it shouldn’t be down to John Lewis’s Christmas commercial to stand up for children in care.

More and more ministers are handed top jobs for their loyalty rather than their competence. Alexandra Hall Hall considers what we can do about this democratic deficit.

Kamran Abassi says the General Medical Council, which is responsible for regulating doctors in the United Kingdom, must reform itself or die.

Opera is not elitist, argues Alexandra Wilson: "Calling opera elitist doesn’t make it more accessible to anybody. It’s a terrible sales pitch: how many people would be tempted to explore an art form they had been constantly told was elitist? Describing classical music in these terms plays straight into the hands of anyone looking for an excuse to cut school music lessons, reduce the amount of opera on TV or, yes, remove subsidies from arts organisations that bring joy to people’s lives and do a lot of social good."

Tim Walker remembers interviewing the British actor Harry Andrews. Until I read this piece I had no idea that Andrews was gay.

Chris Dalla Riva finds that key changes are employed much less frequently in number one hits from after 1990 and identifies the cause.

St Louis Union: Behind the Door

We've seen St Louis Union before. They were a Manchester rhythm and blues group and the best thing in the Spencer Davis Group's film The Ghost Goes Gear after the Spencers themselves.

We've also seen their keyboard player before. Dave Tomlinson later reinvented himself as Dave Formula and was a member of Magazine and Visage.

In 1965 St Louis Union won the Melody Maker National Beat Contest, beating The Pink Floyd, as they then were, among many other bands. 

Their first single was the Lennon and McCartney song Girl and reached number 11 in the singles chart in 1966. 

They had no more hits after that, but Behind the Door, their second single, is interesting too. It was written by Graham Gouldman, who was then writing for the Hollies and later a member of the successful Seventies band 10CC. And the flute on it makes them sound first like Traffic and then like Jethro Tull.

The band split in 1967. Wikipedia says that their lead singer Tony Cassidy went into teaching and became the youngest headteacher in the country.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Uruguay was the Qatar of the 1920s

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David Goldblatt writes on Qatar and the imminent football World Cup In the new London Review of Books.

He includes a fascinating parallel with an earlier host of the tournament:

We have been here before. In 1930, Uruguay was a country of fewer than three million people that had undergone an explosive economic and social transformation. It had grown rapidly on the strength of beef and agricultural exports, attracting huge numbers of migrants from Italy and Spain. It was also building South America’s most robust liberal democracy and its first welfare state. 

Having charmed Europeans while winning the football gold medals at the 1924 and 1928 Olympics (in Paris and Amsterdam respectively), Uruguay celebrated the centenary of its constitution in 1930 by hosting Fifa’s first World Cup. The Estadio Centenario, built in Montevideo to stage the final, was one of South America’s first concrete arenas; its capacious stands were arranged like the overlapping petals of an Art Nouveau flower.

Uruguay, like its neighbour Argentina, seemed set for prosperity after the first world war, particularly because of its beef exports. The brand Fray Bentos took its name from a port city in Uruguay where the meat was processed and shipped abroad.

But economic depression and the collapse of democratic government saw Uruguay fade from European view. Perhaps these South American nations would have fared better if the airship industry had flourished here.

A warm November feels more of a warning than a blessing

It's been a lovely day, but by mid November such weather feels more of a warning than a blessing.

In Leicester the prime position under the clocktower had been claimed by the anti-vaccination nutters, so the climate justice people assembled at the end of Humberstone Gate.

More power to them.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Colin Firth and John Fortune in Crown Court

Crown Court was the ITV daytime programme you watched if you were off school with a cold. Across four days, a trial was presented and a verdict then given by a jury of members of the public.

The stories were appealing, but what I did not appreciate when I first saw it was how extraordinary the cast often was. Week after week, rising young actors mingled with declining legends.

Take this clip from the 1984 story Citizens. The police constable giving evidence is Colin Firth in his very first screen role and counsel is John Fortune, seen in the long gap between his fame in the satire boom of the early Sixties and his rediscovery in Rory Bremner's shows of the Nineties.

The good news is that there numerous Crown Court stories to be found on YouTube, and I can also recommend Ivan Kirby's blog Fulchester Crown Court.

Harold Macmillan on why Oswald Mosley failed

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From Julian Critchley's memoirs A Bag of Boiled Sweets, published in 1994:

Macmillan greeted me gravely, and we lunched together. I noticed on the grand piano, among the clutter of signed photographs of heads of state in silver frames, a copy of Mosley's autobiography, which had just been published.

To make conversation, I asked Harold what he thought of Oswald Mosley. Immediately, he came to life: "Ah Tom Mosley, quite the most able man I have ever met, but quite mad. He came to me once and said 'Harold, I'm thinking of putting my people into black shirts.' 'Tom,' I replied, 'you must be mad. Whenever the British feel strongly about anything, they wear grey flannel trousers and tweed jackets.'"

A Historic 'Fish Lizard' Fossil Bombed by Nazis Had Copies Secretly Made

The people at Science Alert are celebrating their first Headline of the Day Award, even though the judges suspect the fossil had help in commissioning those copies.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Boy singer heckled on stage during Covent Garden opera

From the Guardian:

A heckler has been banned for life from the Royal Opera House after shouting “rubbish” at a 12-year-old actor during a production of Handel’s opera Alcina.

The incident occurred while Malakai Bayoh was singing his lines at the opening night of the opera on Tuesday.

Other audience members shushed the heckler, who left soon after.

Martin Kettle, who wrote the paper's review of the first night, equivocated over the heckler's motivation:

Jones’s dramatically poignant choice of a child alto (here a reedy Malakhai Bayoh) to sing the lost boy Oberto caused barracking from one single person that was quickly – and rightly – drowned in cheers from everyone else.

You fear that motivation was simple racism, but if the heckler was protesting against the choice of a child to play the part he was displaying his ignorance.

Because the part of Oberto was written by Handel for a boy - in fact for a particular boy, William Savage:

Savage first came to prominence as a boy treble in 1735, singing in a revival of Handel's Athalia and in Alcina during the composer's Covent Garden season. The role of Oberto in Alcina was specially composed with his voice in mind and was added to the score at a later time in order just to cast him.

Orberto has two solo arias in the opera. There's a plaintive one in which he tells of his search for his missing father, and an angry one sung when he confronts the sorceress who has turned his father into a lion. (Well, it is an opera.)

As the programme for a Paris production of the opera says, the music suggests Savage was able to convey a full range of emotions, not just the innocence that children came to be used to display in opera.

But then Savage was 14 or 15 when he sang these arias at the premiere of Alina, and poor Bayoh is only 12.

I know this about Alcina because Aksel Rykvvin, who I think is the finest boy treble I have heard, included both arias on his first CD. I have included the defiant one here and you can also listen to the plaintive Chi m'insegna il caro padre? He too was 12 when he recorded these.

Martin Kettle has written a column about this incident, but ducks the question of the heckler's motivation and defends the practice of booing performers.

He makes operagoers appear much like the public school boys Rebecca West dissected in The Meaning of Treason:

While everybody knows Englishmen are sent to public schools because that is the only place they can learn good manners, it unfortunately happens that the manners they learn there are recognised as good only by people who have been to the same sort of school, and often appear very bad indeed to everybody else.

The Joy of Six 1088

The power of social media platforms in shaping the digital public sphere means they should not be in the hands of billionaires, argues Alex Krasodomski,

Adam Bienkov asks if the Conservatives have chosen another duff leader: "Sunak’s promise to lead a morally impeccable government didn’t even last a week. Having resigned from Boris Johnson’s government just four months ago over his handling of similar scandals, Sunak appears to be making exactly the same mistakes as the man he so recently abandoned."

"Constituency names are getting longer, and although this is less measurable, they are uglier and often less historically resonant." Lewis Baston on the Boundary Commission's latest proposals.

"The royal family’s problems around the merging of fact and fiction are partly of its own making." Philip Murphy says that if the Palace wants to complain about The Crown then it must be more open with its own records.

Ammar Kalia on the documentary that reflected his own experience of transracial adoption: "I didn’t want it to be a clickbait story of a white family with a black kid; I wanted to make the film that the 15-year-old me needed to see - acknowledging the difficulties, but also showing that how you started in life doesn’t have to dictate your present or future."

"The sheer, bizarre vehemence and intensity of The Draughtsman’s Contract confronts the viewer now in the same way as it did then, and whatever its indulgence, this is a movie which (rather magnificently) refuses to dumb anything down, always demanding the highest pitch of attention." Peter Bradshaw is dazzled by the re-release of Peter Greenaway's breakthrough film. 

Young Boozer wins Name of the Day

It's been a good week for Young Boozer. Not only has he been elected state treasurer of Alabama, a post he previously held between 2010 and 2014, he has also won our Name of the Day Award.

Thanks to a feline reader for the nomination.

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

Harborough less affected by boundary changes than expected

HFM News has the news about the Boundary Commission's final proposals for Leicestershire. The idea of a radical redrawing of boundaries within the county has been dropped, with the result that the Harborough constituency will keep its spine of Oadby, Wigston, Kibworth and Market Harborough.

As the trend has been at many boundary views now, the proposals would mean more villages will be moved into other constituencies. 

Fleckney, Saddington, Husbands Bosworth and the Kilworths would move into the South Leicestershire constituency, while villages in the north of the District, along with Hallaton and Melbourne, would become part of a new Rutland and Stamford constituency.

I'm happy to see this. The original proposal was that the Harborough constituency would have the same boundaries as the Harborough local government district. But that is a swathe of rural Leicestershire with few transport links.

Keeping the traditional Harborough constituency much as it is will also encourage the Liberal Democrats. In 2005 we came within 4000 votes of winning here, and these boundary changes look favourable to us.

All we have to do now is return the Labour Party to third place and establish ourselves the clear challengers once more,

You can read the final proposals for Leicestershire and make your comments on the county council website.

Nurse accused of amputating man’s foot for her family’s taxidermy shop

The Washington Post wins our Headline of the Day Award.

After thanking a reader for this nomination, the judges were heard muttering "only in America".

Tuesday, November 08, 2022

Gavin Williamson: The signs were all there

Here's Gavin Williamson addressing the 2017 Conservative Conference as government chief whip:

"I don't much like the stick. But it is amazing what can be achieved with a sharpened carrot."

This short clip doesn't do justice to the weirdness of his delivery of the whole speech.

In which I scoop Channel 5's documentary on Leonard Rossiter

Channel 5 recently screened a superior documentary on the career of Leonard Rossiter - you can watch it on its catch-up service My5.

If features a few clips from what it bills as a "never seen before interview" with Rossiter. Except that readers of this blog may well have seen the interview before, because I linked to it last year. Maybe that's how the documentary's researchers found it?

In that post I suggested Rossiter had a talent for turning up in films where you don't expect to find him, and the video above - from a 1967 Michael Caine thriller - is another example. There's even a little bit of Eric Portman in the middle as a bonus.

The documentary does not shy away from Rossiter's reputation for being a perfectionist and thus difficult to work with. But I suppose that depends on who you were.

I got talking with the theatre director Braham Murray at a Leicester event marking the 50th anniversary of Joe Orton's death. Murray had rescued the reputation of Orton's play Loot with a production in Manchester after it had flopped in the West End.

He mentioned Rossiter for some reason and said what a wonderful man he was. I referred to his reputation, saying something like: "They say he turned up word perfect on the first day and expected everyone else to be too."

At which Murray, always the director, bristled slightly and demanded: "And what's wrong with that?"