Thursday, February 29, 2024

The deep-level shelter at Belsize Park tube station

Before I found the Isokon Building just down the road, I came across this structure om Haverstock Hill, just south of Belsize Park tube station.

I decided it must be for ventilation, but thought it a bit lightweight if it was intended to ventilate the Northern Line.

When I got home and looked it up, it turned out I was right on both counts. It was for ventilation, but what it ventilated was a deep-level air-raid shelter.

The London Transport Museum has a page about these shelters:

With London suffering major air raids during the Second World War, the London Underground became a natural source of shelter. During the intensive bombing of the Blitz between September 1940 and May 1941, deep-level Tube stations sheltered thousands every night. 

With more air raids anticipated and London Transport adept at tunnelling deep underneath London, a clear idea presented itself. The British government commissioned London Transport to build deep-level shelters with the sole intention of protecting civilians. In doing so, London Transport made another major contribution to saving lives in wartime. 

On the event, air raids became less of threat in 1942 and 1943, but they came into use in 1944  and when Hitler deployed his V1 flying bombs ('doodlebugs') and V2 rockets.

If you want to know what the shelter was like, then go to the 28 Days Later urban exploration forum. It has photographs from a visit there which show that it is remarkably well preserved.

The shelter tunnels were used for commercial document storage, but I believe they are currently empty. I did wonder if the BT van in my photo is a sign of some new use being made of them.

Incidentally, there was a second access shaft to the shelter - for safety there would have to be - and you can find it on Haverstock Hill north of the station, behind Costa Coffee.

Liz Lynne - the future MP who was in The Mousetrap

Embed from Getty Images

Andrew Teale produces a local by-election preview every Thursday, and today's edition also includes the parliamentary contest in Rochdale.

His exhaustive history of that town's elections provides our Trivial Fact of the Day: the former Liberal Democrat MP and MEP Liz Lynne once appeared in Agatha Christie's record-breaking play The Mousetrap.

I think I already knew this, and an Agatha Christie wiki shows that she played the role of Miss Casewell in 1986.

Also in that 1986 cast was David Lloyd Meredith, better known (to me at least) as Sergeant Evans from Softly Softly: Task Force.

Agatha Christie fans may be interested in a recent spoiler-free edition of the podcast  All About Agatha that looks at The Mousetrap. It includes an interview with a member of the family of Dennis O'Neill, the boy whose death inspired the play.

The Lost King libel action comes to court

I've blogged before about Richard Taylor's intention to sue the makers of the film The Lost King over the way he is represented in it. Taylor was deputy registrar of the University of Leicester at the time of the dig that found the remains of Richard III.

The case has now come to court.

BBC News reports:
Steve Coogan is being sued for libel by a university official who claims he was made to look "devious" and "weasel-like" in a film about the discovery of Richard III's remains.

Richard Taylor has started legal action against the comedian, who was a writer and producer of The Lost King.

Mr Taylor said he was unhappy about the way his character was portrayed.

The report goes on to give more detail: 

A hearing at the High Court, on Thursday, was told Mr Taylor was bringing legal action against Mr Coogan, his production company Baby Cow, and Pathé Productions.

William Bennett KC said his client Mr Taylor was presented as being "dismissive, patronising and misogynistic" towards Ms Langley.

In written submissions, the barrister said: "The relevant context is the 'good versus bad' narrative, which runs through the film.

"Ms Langley is portrayed as the gutsy underdog heroine struggling against opposition and the claimant as the arrogant villain.

"He not only takes steps to make sure that people do not know about her role but takes the credit, which was rightfully hers, for himself and the university."

Mr Taylor, who is now chief operating officer at Loughborough University, was also shown as a "devious, weasel-like person" and a "suited bean-counter", Mr Bennett told the court.

The barrister later said Mr Taylor was portrayed as "mocking" Richard III's disability and "linking physical deformity with wickedness or moral failings".

Mr Bennett added: "It's a straightforward, plot-driven film where everything that is said and done matters."

Mr Coogan, who did not attend the hearing, and the two production companies are defending the libel claim.

 I don't know if it's possible to prejudice civil proceedings, but for now let my just say...

The case continues.

We were Vikings once: British primary schools in the Sixties

A few years ago it was the French who had the secret of parenting: their children ate up their vegetables and didn't get ADHD.

Now it's the Scandinavians, hitherto envied by the British for their tasteful interior design and more adventurous sex lives.

The other day Helen Russell wrote a piece for the Guardian to promote her book How to Raise a Viking – The Secrets of Parenting the World’s Happiest Children.

Those secrets, it seems, include lots of outside play, family meals and singing together in schools.

The more I read Russell's article, the more the enlightened world of child-raising she described reminded me of my own primary school days in the Sixties - particularly of my first primary, which was one of those post-war Modernist schools that Hertfordshire went in for and had enormous playing fields, and seems to have been demolished without leaving a photograph to show it was ever there.

I don't think it is just nostalgia that makes me say that this was one of those rare decades when the English rather liked their children.

Ever since Jim Callaghan's 'secret gardens' speech at Ruskin College in 1976, education has been at the mercy of politicians. Reform has followed reform, with many of them deserving scare quotes.

The right attacks progressive ideas because that's what the right does. While the left's lack of confidence in its own economic ideas has led them to intervene in schools instead.

It's easier to propose yet another reform of the curriculum than to talk about the need to restructure the economy, which is what the left used to do.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Free travel for local residents after Bridgnorth Cliff Railway reopens on Monday

Good news from Shropshire: the Bridgnorth Cliff Railway will reopen on Monday after being out of use since December 2022.

And good news for local residents: they will be able to enjoy free travel on it until 8 March.

The railway's engineer Barry Evans told BBC News:

"I think over the past 14 months we have found out how much it means to the town. It's been a big loss.

"It's cut down on revenue into the town, cut down on tourism, which affects everything in Bridgnorth."

Reopening of the privately owned railway has been made possible by the town council's decision, taken after a local poll, to spend £750,000 on repairs to a stretch of wall that it owns.

The Isokon Building, Belsize Park: How's this for a backstreet find?

I like to wander the back streets of towns and city suburbs because, or so I claim, you never know what you are going to find. 

Down in London to see Liberator friends yesterday, I spent the afternoon exploring Belsize Park. And I think I proved my point.

This is the Isokon Building in Lawn Road, which The Modern House describes as being "widely recognised as one of the finest achievements of Modern Movement architecture".

It was completed in 1934, and at first was something of an experiment in communal living. The flats had their own kitchenettes, but there was also a communal kitchen and dining room. This later became a fashionable restaurant.

Famous residents included the émigré Bauhaus architects Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, and László Moholy-Nagy, as well as Soviet spies. These included Arnold Deutsch, who recruited Kim Philby.

Agatha Christie lived here during the war, yet people still insist on calling her books cosy.

The building was sold by the original owners in 1969. It was bought by the New Statesman magazine, which sold it on to the Borough of Camden three years later.

By the time it was Grade I Listed, the building was near derelict. As Ignant puts it: "By the time of the renovation only two people lived there, together with rats, owls and pigeons."

Its new owners Notting Hill Housing Trust arranged a complete restoration in 2003-4. The result was the beauty we see today.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Hear Joni Mitchell play a lost Leicester Market Place pub in 1967

What a find! And what a performance! Here's an hour-long bootleg recording of Joni Mitchell singing at the White Swan in Leicester on 16 September 1967.

The White Swan (sometimes called Ye Old White Swan) was in the Market Place, tucked away behind the Corn Exchange. You can see some photos of this pub on its page at Pub History Project.

Paul Simon also played The White Swan, which was demolished in 1973.

There's a great Twitter thread about unlikely Leicester concert venues by The Chisit, and you may also enjoy my post about The Latin Quarter, a short-lived venue in the city where the young David Bowie and Elton John both played.

The Joy of Six 1207

Gaby Hinsliff reviews Tom Baldwin's biography of Keir Starmer: "The kind of overly simplistic working-boy-made-good stories politicians are coached to tell about themselves on the campaign trail invariably hide complicated subplots, in this case about those who will always be vulnerable or left behind in the most upwardly mobile families. If Keir Starmer still seems frustratingly hard to pigeonhole, maybe that’s ultimately our problem, not his."

"In almost every recent by-election, Reform have underperformed compared to what the Brexit Party's vote share in 2019 and current national voting intention would predict," say Paula Surridge and Sophie Stowers.

"Benefit sanctions imposed by the Department for Work and Pensions have become harsher amid the cost of living crisis, according to newly released government data - with the average penalty lasting a week longer in 2023 than in 2019," reports Chaminda Jayanetti.

Anthony Broxton on how middle-class voters fell out of love with Clement Attlee's Labour Party after 1945.

Polly Pullar celebrates the revival of the pine marten: "From a once detested varmint that polarised people’s perceptions, to an ambassador for an ecologically richer Scotland, the pine marten offers a glimpse into what else might be possible with a change in our attitudes."

"For two long decades, Australian rugby has rotted from its head office to its heartland. The once-proud and powerful code is fractured in so many places, in so many ways, few believe it can be rebuilt." Angus Fontaine dissects the crisis in Australian rugby union.

Photo by Dani Kropivnik

Sunday, February 25, 2024

The 10 best Shropshire hills

Just a little Shropshire hill porn while I plan my holidays.

CPAC: Liz Truss among the Nazis

Embed from Getty Images

NBC News reports on CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference), the US event addressed by Liz Truss last week:

At the Young Republican mixer Friday evening, a group of Nazis who openly identified as national socialists mingled with mainstream conservative personalities, including some from Turning Point USA, and discussed so-called “race science” and antisemitic conspiracy theories.

One member of the group, Greg Conte, who attended the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, said that his group showed up to talk to the media. He said that the group was prepared to be ejected if CPAC organizers were tipped off, but that never happened.

Another, Ryan Sanchez, who was previously part of the Nazi 'Rise Above Movement,' took photos and videos of himself at the conference with an official badge and touted associations with Fuentes.

Other attendees in Sanchez’s company openly used the N-word.

Something to remember if Truss turns up at the Cenotaph in November.

Bob Marley: Judge Not

From The Islander: My Life in Music and Beyond by Chris Blackwell:

I put out several Bob Marley songs and Wailers songs in the UK, where I had a deal with Leslie Kong to distribute some of his records via Island. I was living in the London in 1963 when I first heard Judge Not. 

Looking back, it's a remarkable, inspirational record, especially when you think about what Bob would go on to achieve. He recorded it the very month that Jamaica gained its independence. 

It was as ska as anything at the time, quite modern, a sign of the Jamaican self-determination that was gaining momentum by the minute. You can hear young black Jamaica's hope and optimism, the kind of spirit and power the British had consistently tried to suppress for centuries.

But, at the time, Judge Not did not strike me as anything major. It was just another of those records beginning to pour out of Jamaica. In fact, it came to me in a jumbled box of imported records from Kingston, misattributed to 'Robert Morley'.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Christopher Brasher goes to the Hallaton bottle kicking

Click on the image above to go to the BBC Rewind website and see a 1964 report by a bemused Christopher Brasher on the Hallaton bottle kicking.

This is in essence one of those football games between villages that claim medieval roots and are the ancestors of modern football and rugby. Wikipedia calls these contests 'folk football', which I rather like.

Brasher, incidentally, interviews Jack Stamp, founder of Market Harborough's most celebrated undertakers.

Read more about bottle kicking on the Medbourne Village website.

Friday, February 23, 2024

"Take this plane to Cuba": The golden age of hijacking

I remember the phrase "Take this plane to Cuba" from my primary school years in the late Sixties and early Seventies. You would, as I recall, hear it as a punchline in comedy sketches or see it as a caption on newspaper cartoons.

To understand why the phrase was so widely known, you can read a 2016 article on Vox by Libby Nelson:

The hijacking of EgyptAir Flight 181 on Tuesday morning, when a man claimed to be wearing a suicide vest and demanded to be taken to Cyprus, was surely terrifying for the 64 people on board. But after it came to a conclusion on a Cyprus runway with the arrest of the hijacker, the safe release of the passengers, and no bloodshed, what was most striking was how retro the whole drama seemed.

Before 9/11, this is what hijackings were like: Individuals driven by personal gain or idiosyncratic requests diverted planes to places they weren't supposed to go. These hijackings ended with inconvenience, not with mass tragedy.

And this type of hijacking happened with stunning frequency in the United States. Between 1968 and 1972, more than 130 American airplanes were hijacked. Sometimes there was more than one hijacking on the same day. In a 2013 book, The Skies Belong to Us, Brendan I. Koerner, a contributing editor at Wired magazine, dubbed the period the "golden age of hijacking."

The hijackers, or "skyjackers," wanted flights to communist Cuba, or millions of dollars in ransom, or maybe just an outlet for their rage and frustration. And for years, airlines largely gave in, fearing that customers would find metal detectors at the airport more off-putting than the possibility of a midair diversion.

That site also has the video of a (not terribly funny) Monty Python sketch that I have posted above.

Or, as I first did, you can listen to the podcast American History Hit's episode on D.B. Cooper & the 70s Hijacking Craze.

L.P Hartley was right: the past is a foreign country.

The Joy of Six 1206

Timothy Garton Ash argues that it’s time for Europe to get serious about a Ukrainian victory: "On their own, countries such as the Czech Republic and Denmark can’t possibly do what it takes to enable Ukraine to hold off Russia. As the US fatefully hesitates, this requires Europe’s big boys – Germany and France above all – to step into the breach, rapidly buying that ammunition the Czechs have found; acting fast, unbureaucratically and at scale; and explaining to their publics why it’s vital that they do."

"Jewish people are, not surprisingly, as diverse a group as any other. They do not think alike. They do not all agree when it comes to politics. They don't share the same perspective on issues such as Zionism, the future of Palestine, Israel's current leadership (the anti-Netanyahu protests in the last year underline this) or the approach towards Hamas." Andrew Page says, rightly, that there must be no room of antisemitism in the Liberal Democrats.

Believing in conspiracy theories can be deadly. Ted Conover has the tragic tale of a mother with no backcountry experience who took her sister and 13-year-old son to live off the grid on a 10,000-foot mountain during a Colorado winter.

Modernism in Metroland on the 1964 buildings that have gone on to be lauded as classic designs and listed, as well as influencing future architects.

Ravenser Odd was a short-lived island in the mouth of the River Humber. It rose from the sea in the early 13th century and had sunk beneath the waves again by 1360. The National Archives give us intriguing glimpses into its brief and turbulent life.

Richard Williams has been to the Yoko Ono: Music of the Mind exhibition at Tate Modern: "Like a lot of people wandering through the rooms, I found myself smiling a lot, and occasionally laughing out loud at something like a 1962 work called Audience Piece to La Monte Young, in which the 20 performers simply lined up across the stage and stared at the audience until the audience left."

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Pat Pocock recalls England's tour of India in 1984/5

This was David Gower's first tour as England captain, and he hit upon the novel idea of taking the two best spinners available to him. The selectors took some convincing - Edmonds was too bolshie, Pocock too old - but he got his way and won the series.

As we're told at the start of the interview, Pocock had long gaps between his clumps of test appearances. I once heard him say that, over their long careers, he and John Emburey had very similar figures for runs conceded and wickets taken. But Pocock had achieved those figures in significantly fewer overs.

In other words, he was a little bit more attacking than Emburey and a little bit more expensive. It will come as no surprise to followers of English cricket that the selectors always went for Emburey.

Finally, let's remember the great Peter Tinniswood and his suggestion that the Irish dramatist Seán O'Casey wrote Juno and the Pocock.

Danny Chambers and Bobi, the world's oldest ever dog that wasn't

Danny Chambers is the Liberal Democrat PPC for Winchester, where we finished less than a thousand votes behind the winning Conservative at the last election.

He turns up in today's Guardian in a story about Bobi, a Portuguese mastiff who died last year, supposedly at the age 31 years and five months. He was briefly listed as the world's oldest ever dog, but Guinness World Records has now withdrawn its recognition.

As the Guardian story reveals, some people always had their doubts:

Just days after Bobi's demise, Danny Chambers, a vet and council member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, suggested that claims the dog had lived more than three decades were false.

Chambers said that, of the 18,000 members of the Veterinary Voices group he runs, "not a single one" of his colleagues believed Bobi was actually 31 years old.

"This is the equivalent of a human living to over 200 years old which, given our current medical capabilities, is completely implausible. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and no concrete evidence has been provided to prove his age," he said.

I'm not convinced this story will have an impact on the contest in Winchester, but it does give me the chance to post this notably green campaign video from Danny.

Write a guest post for Liberal England

I enjoy publishing guest posts on Liberal England. So drop me a line if you've got an idea for something you could write for this blog.

As you can see from the list below, I accept posts on subjects far beyond the Liberal Democrats and British politics.

I'm happy to entertain a wide variety of views, but I'd hate you to spend your time writing something I wouldn't want to publish. So do please get in touch first.

These are the last ten guest posts on Liberal England:

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Former MP Gordon Birtwistle says he can win back Burnley for the Lib Dems

Gordon Birtwistle, who was the Liberal Democrat MP for Burnley between 2010 and 2015, has been chosen to fight the seat again at the coming general election.

And interviewed for the Burnley Express, he says he believes he has a chance of winning:

Speaking to the Burnley Express from his home of more than 40 years in Burnley, the grandfather-of-five said the Conservatives had made a mess of the country’s economy, and believed he was in a two-way fight in Burnley with Labour candidate Oliver Ryan.

The 80-year-old, who has said he is fighting fit, believes a large chunk of Burnley’s Asian population will vote with his party in response to Labour’s handling of the Gaza crisis.

He also described the town’s first Tory MP in a century, Antony Higginbotham, as "very average" and said that he was "nowhere to be seen" on the streets of Burnley.

Birtwistle has represented the Coal Clough with Deerplay ward on Burnley Borough Council for 40 years.

Former Lib Dem councillor from Harrogate arrested over tweets

The Stray Ferret reports that Pat Marsh, a Liberal Democrat member of North Yorkshire Council until she was suspended from the party after tweets she sent came to light, has been released from custody after being arrested yesterday.

It quote a statement from North Yorkshire Police:

"A woman who was arrested in connection with an investigation into anti-semitic 'tweets' shared on X has been released under investigation whilst enquires continue.

"She was arrested yesterday (Tuesday, February 20) on suspicion of displaying threatening, abusive, or insulting written material with intent or likely to stir up racial hatred.

"An investigation is underway however it is likely that enquires will take some time. Updates will be provided when appropriate.”"

Marsh chairs the council's Harrogate and Knaresborough area committee.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Andrei Tarkovsky's Ivan has been sanctioned by the British and American governments

The later careers of child stars can be an interesting, even tragic, study. Outcomes can vary from being a distinguished art historian (Jon Whiteley) to drug addiction and anonymous burial in a pauper's grave at 30 (Bobby Driscoll).

I've found a new disappointing outcome for a former child star: being sanctioned by the UK and US governments.

Andrei Tarkovsky's Ivan's Childhood would be a good nomination for the best first film by any director. It tells the story of a young orphan who acts a scout for the Soviet army on the Eastern Front in the second world war. He fights off attempts to send him to military school until he undertakes one mission too many and does not return.

Ivan was played, to universal acclaim, by Nikolai 'Kolya' Burlyayev, who has been acting and directing in Russia ever since. He has become increasingly associated with Vladimir Putin and was elected to the Russian parliament in 2021.

The result is that you will find his name on both the UK and US lists of people who have been sanctioned over their support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

If you watch the video above you will just see the opening scenes and then the titles - that very Sixties idea made it to Russia.

Go to YouTube and you will see the whole film - and a wonderful film it is. It is beautifully photographed and has all of Tarkovsky's symbolism and dream logic, but you also get a proper story about the war.

h/t Thomas Stern on Twitter.

The Joy of Six 1205

"The rule of law is being eroded because parliament is weak. The Executive is able to ride roughshod over political processes because legislators obediently follow the party-line. This majority needs to be diluted by replacing the First-Past-The-Post voting system with proportional representation, which holds out the possibility of creating an effective opposition in parliament. A written constitution must rebalance the powers of the government with those of the people and the judiciary." Prem Sikka argues that the rule of law has been captured by class interests and proposes a very Liberal Democrat solution.

Katharine Swindells reports on the legal loophole that leaves thousands of children in hostels, but not recorded in official data, because their accommodation is owned by local authorities.

"This gradually diminishing division between adults and children permeating deeply into western society, creating problems that we flail within, finding it difficult to diagnose what exactly is wrong, and how we might try to fix it." Pam Jarvis calls for an end to kidulthood.

Alwyn Turner on the Edwardian mystery of the hooded MP and the Eastbourne murder: "Horatio Bottomley ... didn’t identify the MP in question, only saying that he was a 'wealthy and degenerate representative of an important English constituency'."

Nicholas Wroe talks to the organisers of a new William Blake exhibition: "Yes, he was a great English artist just as he was a great English poet, but despite the fact that during his lifetime he barely left London and never left England, he was also subject to wider European intellectual and creative currents."

"Down by the railway tracks, hemmed in by streets of little houses, is this caravan encampment. Some of the dwellers in the old vans claim to be of pure Romany stock. Their ancestors came, so they say, year after year in the long ago when all around was Surrey countryside." A London Inheritance goes in search of the six Battersea locations covered in a 1951 book on Curious London.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: His mother’s rosehip vodka makes an excellent Molotov cocktail

The King of the Badgers pops up here from time to time. As I've explained before, the name comes from the Revd J.P. Martin's Uncle books, while his character comes most from the badger who appears in T.H. White's The Book of Merlyn. He, in turn, must owe a debt to Kenneth Grahame.

Lord Bonkers' old friend, however, surprised me here by contributing some bitter political comment that is all his own.


You find me in the state sett of the King of the Badgers. Time was, I would have brought a bottle of Auld Johnston, that most prized of Highland malts, with me, but the Dowager’s rosehip vodka blows a fellow’s socks off (whether he is wearing sock suspenders or not). 

The King is in a dark mood: “I hear that Jeremy Corbyn has called for peace talks between the badgers and the gunmen who are culling us. I expect his followers think this makes him a saint. If there are talks, I know what will happen. In one year or perhaps two, the gunmen will turn their attentions to the foxes or the weasels. Then Corbyn will call for peace talks between them, and his followers will think that makes him even more of a saint.” 

Though the King is careful to keep the hotheads among the younger badgers in check, he has no intention of abandoning his guerrilla campaign against the cullers. It happens that his mother’s rosehip vodka makes an excellent Molotov cocktail.

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

Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

Monday, February 19, 2024

Compensation to victims of the Jesus Army may total £10m

The disbanded, Northampton-based cult The Jesus Army is back in the news today. The Northampton Chronicle & Echo reports that the compensation to be paid to survivors of abuse within the cult may reach £10m.

I blogged about the Jesus Army a few years ago, and the Chronicle & Echo gives a brief history of it today:

Originally set up by founder Noel Stanton in Bugbrooke in 1969, the Jesus Army was a cult-like religious movement, which attracted thousands of members who lived together in close-knit, rural communes. Mr Stanton remained at the helm of the organisation until 2009 when he died.

In 2017 the new leader Mick Haines said, in a speech, he had become aware of “serious allegations” about Mr Stanton.

More allegations of financial, emotional, physical and sexual abuse from both children and adults have surfaced. In 2019 Chronicle & Echo reported some 200 claims had been made.

A number of people have been convicted of carrying out abuse at the Jesus Fellowship Church, which has since issued an apology.

My reason for blogging about this today is that I recently came across a comprehensive online archive on the Jesus Army.

Studying it you find t hat some people had serious doubts about the Jesus Army from the start. Here is a reader's letter to the Chronicle & Echo dated 28 October 1986:

Probe this group

While not always accepting the political views of Mr Michael Morris MP, I agree with his recent call for a government inquiry into The Jesus People at Bugbrooke.

Having heard and listened to many frightening experiences concerning their very obscure methods of the teachings of Christ, and having recently heard through the papers, that a second cousin of mine who did join this group has killed himself I hope that Government sees the seriousness of such a group operating here in the United Kingdom and acts fast.

One of the skills the traditional Conservative MP was expected to possess was the ability to spot a wrongun when he saw one, and Michael Morris certainly possessed it.

And then there was an article by William Dalrymple in the Independent Magazine for 8 April 1989. William Dalrymple the historian would have been only 24 at the time this was published, but I do think he was the author. This blog's hero Ian Jack was the editor of the Independent Magazine in those days and was known for identifying and encouraging young talent.

Dalrymple catalogues some of the allegations against the Jesus Army, including their involvement in a number of deaths. Then he goes to have dinner at the group's community house in Bugbrooke, finds them to be charming people and wonders what all the fuss has been about.

This is a legitimate article to write - if a controversial group is in the news, go and meet them and see what they're like. But if the Jesus Army were a sinister cult - and that's exactly what it turned out to be - it was hardly going to reveal this to him over dinner. Dalrymple does not come across as sufficiently aware of this.

And then he takes a wrong turn:

England is now, at root, a deeply secular society where extreme expressions of fundamentalist belief are frowned upon. The hostility that the Jesus People have aroused in many quarters reflects the fact that most people now find strong religious convictions utterly incomprehensible. 
According to Dr Eileen Barker, a sociologist of religion at the London School of Economics, the term brainwashing used against sects like the Jesus People is now nothing more than a metaphor to explain strong religious convictions by people who find them inexplicable: 

'Today people find it very difficult to accept that someone could be prepared to sacrifice everything that is normally regarded as important for an idea. There is a fundamental problem of communication. Neither side can understand the other; they have a totally different world vision.'

Everything Dalrymple and Barker say here may be correct, but it has no relevance to the truth or falsity of the allegations against the Jesus People.

As Karl Popper says somewhere, how we come up with a scientific hypothesis is a question of human psychology: it has no bearing on that hypothesis's truth or falsity. 

Similarly, an investigator may be driven by a hatred of religion, but you still have to examine the evidence he puts forward. You can't dismiss allegations of abuse just by psychoanalysing the person who makes them.

The Tories will still be suffering from Boris Johnson's premiership years from today

Embed from Getty Images

One sign  the Conservatives think they are going to lose the election is the number of their MPs who have chosen to retire rather than defend their seats.

The Guardian reported this morning:

So far, 90 of 650 sitting MPs have announced they will not be seeking re-election. Of those, 14 are former secretaries of state – 11 of them Tory – and nine are select committee chairs.

This is the highest number of departing MPs since 2010, with more retirements expected to come. The exodus is greater on the Tory benches, which are on track for their biggest wave of departures since the 1997 Labour landslide.

Disappointingly, the report doesn't give the number of Tories standing down, but a tweet from Dick Newby this morning said that so far 58 of their MP have thrown in the towel.

Of course, some retirements because of age or disenchantment are inevitable, but the higher numbers this time suggests there are plenty of Tories who don't fancy a spell in opposition or are resigned to defeat and want more time to look for a new career.

The number of former Tories secretaries of state standing down, says the Guardian, is worrying the party:

One Tory source said: “There’s this question of how much experience the new intake will have … We’re grappling with two huge foreign affairs crises. Where are the foreign affairs experts?”

I can help them with that question: Boris Johnson drove them out of the Commons. The Conservative Party will still be suffering because of that years from today.

The Tories may find that lack of expertise is not the only problem with their new intake. As I suggested last month:

the average Tory activist is now less likely to be a pillar of the local business community than a keyboard warrior or social media troll.

GUEST POST The Lib Dems approach the general election in a far weaker position than in 1997

However many seats the Liberal Democrats win at the next election, the patchiness of their support and their lack of a clear 'third party' profile will remain a serious problem, argues Anselm Anon.

The results from the Wellingborough and Kingswood by-elections were no great surprise. At first glance, by-elections in this parliament look similar to those in 1992-97, with a Conservative government running out of steam, and the Labour Party widely expected to win the next  General Election, and the Lib Dems also making gains.

In 1992-97, there were 18 by-elections, with four Lib Dem gains from the Tories. In this parliament, there have been 21 by-elections so far, also with four Lib Dem gains from the Tories. (There were no Lib Dem defences in either case.)

But looking more closely at the results illustrates the extent to which the Liberal Democrats have collapsed as a national political force. Jonathan Calder’s observation from 2015 onwards that "the Liberal Democrats need more good third places" remains the case.

Let’s look at the two sets of by-election results beyond the headlines, thus excluding the Lib Dem gains and also three seats where the Lib Dems didn’t stand. These were North Down in 1995 (in Northern Ireland), Southend West in 2022 (after the murder of Sir David Amess) and, in effect, the extraordinary case of Newham North East in 1994 (which deserves a post of its own).

This leaves 12 results from 1992-97, and 15 results thus far from 2019-24.

In 1992-97, the Lib Dems were second in 4 seats, third in 7, and fourth in 1 (a Scottish seat won by the SNP). This is just what we’d expect from a healthy third party. 

In 2019-24, the Lib Dems have been third in 2 seats, fourth in 7, fifth in 2, sixth in 2, and seventh in 2. 

Out of 15 results, they have been beaten nine times by the Greens, and twice by the Yorkshire Party – both parties which share many sensibilities with us. In addition, the Lib Dems have been beaten 9 times by far-right parties, twice by far-left parties, and twice by independents.

Of the two third places, one was the City of Chester, and the other was Mid-Bedfordshire. 

In Mid-Beds, a third place of 23 per cent was gained only at the expense of an enormous effort. City of Chester was a straightforward Labour hold, with the Tories remaining in second, and Liberal Democrats in third on 8 per cent. This would have been an unremarkable Lib Dem performance in 1992-97, but was among the best in this parliament. In the remaining by-elections that we haven’t won since 2019, we secured between 1 per cent and 4.1 per cent.

The Lib Dems are failing to inspire liberal-minded voters, let alone more pragmatic supporters, outside a few areas of existing strength. (John Curtice demonstrates this in relation to national polling, rather than by-elections.) It is becoming much harder to present the Liberal Democrats as the junior anti-Tory party, in a more crowded political marketplace. (This was never appealing ideologically, but has had electoral benefits.)

However many seats the Liberal Democrats win at the next General Election, the lack of a national network and a clear ‘third party’ profile will remain a very serious problem. It will be very difficult to grow in the future, especially against Labour incumbents, or in areas where the Greens (and potentially others) have developed a profile. 

Even the most optimistic aspirations for the General Election will not take the party back to 1997 in political terms. The challenge of moving on is cultural and intellectual, rather than narrowly electoral.

Anselm Anon has been a member of the Liberal Democrats since the 1990s.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Past Christmases and old friends

It's not only Lord Bonkers who will be glad of some new characters to write about after the election. Though as to how many there will be...


As ever, Christmas here at the Hall was a highlight of my year. The swelling of our parliamentary party through by-election victories saw some new faces around the table – I was, for instance, able to enjoy a valuable conversation with Sarah Dyke about the latest approaches to liver fluke. 

Yet, by the Library fire that evening, I could not help but think of past Christmases and old friends. Of how John Pardoe would come down from Cambridge to tell me all the bright young things in the Footlights were impersonating Selwyn Lloyd that year. Of how the Flying Belotti Brothers would entertain the village folk by throwing each other from trapeze to trapeze (and very often catching each other too – certainly, they flew through the air with the greatest of ease). Of Sugar Ray Michie, the best fighter, pound for pound, that the Parliamentary Party has ever produced. Of Geraint Howells – ‘The Big Friendly Geraint’ to all – and his delightful speckle-faced sheep, who were always happy to swell the numbers if a party committee threatened to be inquorate. Of Dutch Mulholland and all the other casualties of 2015. 

Let us hope this year’s election gives me more such endearing characters to write about.

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

Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

Sunday, February 18, 2024

The River Jordan in spate this afternoon

The Jordan is Market Harborough's second river. It rises near Desborough, flows through Braybrooke and Little Bowden, and joins the Welland near Market Harborough railway station.

In summer it can dry to little more than a trickle, but you should have seen it today.

The photo above shows the Jordan entering the Welland. Between them they have flooded the commercial car park across the road from the station.

And the photos below, I hope in the correct order, show my walk to the station from my house this afternoon.

The best summing up of Conservatism I know, but who wrote it?

Embed from Getty Images

There is a quotation that gives the best summing up of the Conservative view of the world I have ever come across. I think I saw it first in a tweet or blog post by James Graham,

It runs:

Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.

That encapsulates the instinctive approach of both our current government and of the small-town Tories I tangled with in my days as a councillor.

An article on Slate from 2022 gives its history.

This quotation is sometimes called Wihoit's Law and because of that it's sometimes attributed to the American political scientist Frank Wilhoit. Known for his book 1973 book The Politics of Massive Resistance, which chronicled Southern segregationists' efforts to resist Civil Rights-era court rulings, died in 2010.

The only problem with that attribution is that the quotation dates from 2018

It turns out that it was left that year as a comment on the blog Crooked Timber by a different Frank Wilhoit, a classical composer from Ohio.

Crooked Timber is a political blog written by academics and has a liberal and philosophical slant. I should read it more often.

The Lovely Eggs: My Mood Wave

This was probably something that would have been kinda popular in 1993

says a comment on YouTube. I suspect 1993 is the earliest year the writer can conceive of, because this would have been popular two or three decades before that. Yet it's a new single.

The Lovely Eggs are a duo - Holly Ross and David Blackwell - from Lancaster who have been around since 2006. 

They've been quiet lately, but Monorail Music explains what they've been up to:

It’s been four years since the world heard any new music from our heroes in psych-punk-power duo The Lovely Eggs. Four long years since the release of their Number 1 Independent Chart topper, ‘I Am Moron’. 
But it’s not like they’ve been lazy, oh no. They made their own TV series EGGS TV and hosted it on YouTube, they dueted with Iggy Pop, piled into their van and played a load of sold out gigs and festivals, spent two years fighting to save Lancaster Music Co-Op (a community rehearsal rooms and recording studio where they live), and then they got their heads down and wrote a new album…

And the same site says of My Mood Wave:

“My Mood Wave is kind of an internal thought monologue,” says Eggs singer and guitarist Holly. “It’s a brain on a surfboard, trying to navigate the barrage of daily shit that gets washed up each day. It’s a coping mechanism handbook for people who sometimes find the world too much.”

My Mood Wave has an uplifting contemporary feel, haunted by a West Coast retro vibe that pulses and shimmers with a gorgeously addictive melody that will float around your head for days.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Set in the deserts of Southern Rutland

The first time I ever met Lord Bonkers he warned me against the Dahrendorf lager, yet it remains a fixture at the Bonkers' Arms. Having seen some of the film he refers to here, I would certainly recommend a stiff drink of something before you attempt to watch them.


I watch the aforementioned Talking Pictures TV from time to time in the hope of catching one of my own Rutland Studios productions. They were, if I say it myself, made in full knowledge of the latest developments in Continental cinema – “if not nouvelle then certainly vague,” as one critic put it. 

Films I remember with particular affection include I’m a Jihadi, Daddy, an examination of terrorism in the Middle East starring Helen Shapiro, Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen. Then there was I’m a Spad, Dad, a tale of romance at Westminster across party lines; Carry On Chamberlain, a cheeky comedy about the travails of chief whip trying to lick her colleagues into shape; and Ice Cold in Oakham, a wartime adventure set in the deserts of Southern Rutland. 

Really the lengths some people will go to for a pint of that gassy Dahrendorf lager.

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

Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

Saturday, February 17, 2024

What replaced Desborough High Street? Nothing

Back to one of my current rabbit holes: the demolition of Desborough ironstone high street in 1970, which seems inexplicable to us today.

This video shows you the buildings that were lost and what replaced them. In many cases you find that nothing replaced them. 

Even Station Street, which was the town's second shopping street and left untouched, seems to have dwindled since the calamity of 1970

I can say here just what I said in a post about the 1958 British film No Trees in the Street:

I am reminded of what I wrote about Wheat Street and Wharf Street in Leicester's most notorious slum district:

all that life was swept away as though Wharf Street was the city's dirty secret. The district was not improved: it was destroyed.


Having cleared the slums decades ago, Leicester has found nothing to do with the area since.

You can see the same pattern in Nottingham, where the slums of The Meadows district were cleared and the area still feels empty today.

Except that Desborough High Street wasn't a slum area. It was a thriving shopping area with buildings that should have been cherished.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Right up to the day they cut his head off

Heavens! I've seldom known the old boy so forthright. Freddie and Fiona did eventually relent and allow Ed Davey to apologise, but I doubt that has been enough to quell the passion in the village - or in Lord Bonkers' breast.


Did you see Mr Bates vs The Post Office? It shocked me, I will confess. If they can get away with treating Toby Jones like that, is any of us safe? 

In London on business this afternoon, I make time to beard Davey in his Westminster Office. “Don’t you think you should say you’re sorry?” I ask him. “It’s not as if anyone thinks it’s all your fault.” “It’s Freddie and Fiona,” he explains. “They won’t let me.” “Then you’d better find yourself some better advisers,” I return. “I have to tell you that it went down very badly in the village when Mr Patel was dragged off to gaol.” 

On the journey back to Rutland, I reflect on our strange way of always blaming a leader’s advisers rather than the leader himself. Parliament was saying Charles I was poorly advised right up to the day they cut his head off.

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

Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

Friday, February 16, 2024

The Joy of Six 1204

Paul Browne heard Oleksandra Matviichuk, the Ukrainian winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, address the Cambridge Union: "Perhaps the most chilling aspect of Russia’s occupation of Ukraine she described is the tens of thousands of Ukrainian children who have been abducted and sent to Russia for adoption and re-education. This makes Russian President Vladimir Putin, in her words, 'the biggest child kidnapper in the world'." 

Sian Norris and Sophia Alexandra Hall speak to a whistleblower about the impact on vulnerable young people of the increasing privatisation of foster care: "Andrew (not his real name) told us that, during his time working at a number of Independent Fostering Agencies, he was alarmed by their business model approach, with carers seen as profit generators and staff incentivised to get more children into care. Foster carers were referred to as 'gold bars', while children were 'treated like commodities'." 

Better the United Arab Emirates owning the Telegraph than Paul Marshall, argues Peter Oborne.

Maria Popova introduces us to the pioneering Scottish mountaineer and poet Nan Shepherd: "Shepherd does for the mountain what Rachel Carson did for the ocean - both women explore entire worlds previously mapped only by men and mostly through the lens of conquest rather than contemplation; both bring to their subject a naturalist’s rigor and a poet’s reverence, gleaming from the splendor of facts a larger meditation on meaning."

Caroline Davies enters a Dickensian world and talks to those who recover bodies from the Thames

"I investigate reports of big cats in Suffolk, I've received over a hundred of these over the past seven years. But while seeking testimony on Suffolk big cat sightings, a surprising number of unsolicited accounts of encounters with the phantom East Anglian hellhound Black Shuck seem to come my way." Matt Salusbury on the persistence of folklore.

That menopause gift bag and the strange disappearance of Avanti West Coast management

Embed from Getty Images

A gift bag designed for menopausal women working for Avanti West Coast has been denounced, fairly as far as I can see. as "'demeaning" and an "insulting gimmick" by the rail unions.

According to the Guardian:

The pack included a fan for hot sweats, a jelly baby sweet "in case you feel like biting someone’s head off", a tissue "if you’re feeling a bit emotional" and a paperclip "to help you keep it all together".

The cards and accompanying small items, including chocolate and teabags and a pencil "to write down things you might forget", were handed out to staff at drop-ins for menopause support conversations.

Which manager was responsible for this? After all, at a company like Avanti senior managers will earn many times more than rank and file staff because of all the responsibility they take.

Well, if you read Avanti's response to the Guardian, you will find that no managers were involved at all:

Avanti said that the packs ... were designed by the firm’s support group, made up of women who were themselves going through the menopause. 

Things go wrong and suddenly Avanti West Coast is an anarcho-syndicalist collective

The strange affair of the Brighton Labour councillors alleged to live in Leicester

There's an intriguing story in Rotten Boroughs in the current Private Eye about two Labour councillors from Brighton, Bharti Gajjar and Chandni Mistry, who have been expelled from the party amid questions about whether they live in the city at all. Both have roots in Leicester.

You can find more about the story on The Brighton Seagull:

When asking around the local party about councillors Gajjar and Mistry, words like 'mysterious' seem to come up. This rings some alarm bells, as most councillors tend to be active both in their party - having held local officer roles, or been an active campaigner - and in the community in other ways.

Like the Eye, the Seagull says the selection of Labour's candidates for the last Brighton and Hove council elections was taken over by the party's regional office:

Members were invited to apply to stand as councillors, but rather than applying to and being selected by the branches (which would allow them to choose in which ward they wanted to stand - and the ward's branch to choose whether they wanted them or not) they would be allocated to wards by the regional office.

This caused a great deal of frustration in the local party at the time, as members were understandably angry that their ability to vet the candidates, and exercise democratic control over the process, had been taken away. 

The regional office also took considerably longer to put together the slate of candidates than would normally be the case, with Labour's full slate only being announced in March 2023, a scant two months prior to the election. This made scrutiny - both internal and external - substantially more difficult.

According to the Seagull report:

As it was, according to Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Labour MP for Kemptown, they were only flagged when one of the councillors changed their listed address to one out of the city in September, after which questions were raised, the matter was escalated, and the whole affair came to light. 
Russell-Moyle told The Seagull that he's written to the police to request a fraud investigation be conducted.

Chandni Mistry has told the local press that she lives "in the heart of Brighton".