Sunday, June 30, 2024

Knepp Rewilded: A short film

A couple of weeks ago I went to see the film Wilding, which was inspired by Isabella Tree's book on the remarkable transformation of the Knepp Estate.

This short film tells the same story, though it's still worth a trip to the cinema to see Wilding and its beautiful wildlife photography on a wide screen.

Guardian quotes Lib Dem sources: Tory support is "collapsing" in the South

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I don't want to spread false optimism, but a remarkable story went up on the Guardian website this afternoon:

The Liberal Democrats are increasingly confident they can beat the Conservatives in large parts of southern England, including the two Oxfordshire seats formerly held by David Cameron and Boris Johnson.

Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, spent Sunday campaigning in Bicester, where the party believes it can defeat the Conservative candidate, Rupert Harrison, a highly regarded economist and one-time adviser to the former chancellor George Osborne.

Davey’s visit was part of a strategy that has seen the party roam further into safe Tory territory as the campaign has gone one, buoyed up by polls that show it picking up support across large parts of the south and south-east.

A party source said: “We’re really encouraged by what we’re seeing in the final stretch of the campaign. Tory support seems to be collapsing in southern England and we’ve continued to pick up support.”

The report goes on to say the Lib Dems will spend the last days of the campaign targeting Labour voters in seats where their party finished third in 2019.

GUEST POST Councillors changing party: general election update

Rather to his surprise, Augustus Carp finds himself offering an update on the latest trends in councillors changing party.

I am not particularly good at political forecasting.  I had expected a quiet summer, with just a slight peak in the number of local council defections in the run-up to the local elections in May. 

Well, it’s only been eight weeks since then, and a grand total of 115 councillors have changed their political allegiance one way or another.  Some have had it changed for them, by way of expulsion or suspension. 

In any event, that’s a net figure of 85 defections once movements in different directions are taken into account; those changes are bound to have an impact on the leafletting, canvassing and telling operations of the parliamentary candidates in those areas.

Clearly, the general election has caused a number of people up and down the land to reassess the way they want their political ideals to be made manifest. Five councillors have resigned in order to stand as Independent General Election candidates – three Conservative, one Labour and one Lib Dem. 

A Tory in Sussex has gone Independent having publicly supported a Labour parliamentary candidate, and in a famous case discussed in this forum, an East Anglian Lib Dem has been expelled for supporting tactical voting with a little too much enthusiasm.  

A net 29 Conservatives have left the party that saw them elected, but that number is exceeded by the 43 who have left Labour. The Lib Dems have lost eight, the Nationalists four and the Greens one. Six Conservatives have joined Reform, including four who have formed a group in Tendring, which covers the Clacton constituency. 

Most defectors seem to join a new party after a few months as a notional Independent (broadly defined) but there have been six instances of councillors immediately changing Party labels – two from Labour to Lib Dem, one from Tory to Lib Dem, one Tory to Green and one each way Labour to Tory or vice versa. 

The Conservatives and Lib Dems have both (on paper) lost control of councils as a result of defections, but it’s the Labour Party who seem to be nurturing nascent opposition groups within their bosom – new Independent groups have formed out of the Labour Party in Flintshire, Hackney, Kirklees and Worthing.  

Anyway, here’s a forecast – depending on what happens after 4 July, the number of councillor defections is either going to decline slightly or accelerate out of all proportion, depending on the Conservative Party’s relationship with Reform. Who knows, I might have to start counting MP defections as well.

Augustus Carp is the pen name of someone who has been a member of the Liberal Party and then the Liberal Democrats since 1976.

Della Reese: If It Feels Good, Do It

This is a brilliant record, and one I thought I'd always known. But why I know it is a bit of a mystery, as  it wasn't a hit in the UK or even the US.

If It Feels Good, Do it was first recorded in 1971 by Hog Heaven, who were Tommy James and the Shondells minus Tommy James. It was written by Mike Vale, a member of the band, and recorded with a loose, jam-band feel.

Della Reese's version came out the same year, and was released again in the UK in 1974 after it had become a northern soul classic.

It wasn't a hit then either, but apparently Alan Freeman had never stopped playing in on wonderful Radio 1. So maybe I should thank Fluff for this song

Della Reese, who was 40 when she recorded it, enjoyed a long career as a singer and an actor.

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Stuntwatch: Promise of final-week "big surprises" from Ed Davey

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Chloe Keedy from ITV News filed a report from Yellow Hammer 1, Ed Davey's election battle bus, as it began a final five-day tour of Liberal Democrat prospects from John o' Groats to Land’s End.

John o' Groats is in Jamie Stone's Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross constituency, which is nominally an SNP seat under the new boundaries.

Land's End is in the St Ives constituency, which Andrew George hopes to regain for the Lib Dems.

And there are many promising seats in between.

And the really hot news from Yellow Hammer 1? Keedy writes:

On the campaign trail in Edinburgh on Saturday, Sir Ed Davey was trying out his circus skills.

There may only be a few days to go, but I’m told that the Lib Dems’ stuntman-in-chief still has a couple of big surprises up his sleeve.

Friday, June 28, 2024

John Pardoe endorses Ben Maguire, the Lib Dem candidate for North Cornwall

Ben Maguire is the Liberal Democrat in the North Cornwall constituency. Today he tweeted this endorsement from John Pardoe.

A sweet young thing asks: Who is John Pardoe?

My early Liberal heroes were David Penhaligon and John Pardoe, who both sat for Cornish constituencies.

Pardoe won North Cornwall from the Conservatives in 1966 and held it until 1979. From 1970 until he lost his seat, he was the Liberal Party's treasury spokesperson, and was known for his pessimistic view of the prospects of the British economy. As it was the Seventies, he generally proved to be right.

It's 45 years since Pardoe was defeated in North Cornwall, perhaps as a victim of Jeremy Thorpe's antics. Though he has resurfaced from time to time - notably, in 1987, when he was the manager of the Liberal-SDP Alliance general election campaign - he is pretty much a forgotten figure today.

But clearly not in North Cornwall, where his endorsement is still thought valuable.

He is also remembered in Calder's Sixth Law of Politics, which holds that every Liberal Democrat leadership election is a rerun of the 1976 Liberal Party contest between Pardoe and David Steel.

I first pointed to the importance of that contest in a post here from 2014:

One candidate (Steel) was orthodox, sensible and just a little dull. The other (Pardoe) was more charismatic, more open to new ideas and just a little unreliable in his judgement.

So in later contests Paddy Ashdown was a Pardoe and Alan Beith was a Steel. And Chris Huhne was a Pardoe and Ming Campbell and then Nick Clegg were Steels. In all these cases I voted for the Pardoe.

It doesn't always work: in 1999 there were five candidates. I suppose you could make a case for Charles Kennedy being a sort of Social Democrat Steel, but a clear Pardoe failed to emerge.

Can we project this pattern back into past? I don't know, but it tempting to see Asquith as a Steel and Lloyd George as a Pardoe.

And was Jo Grimond a Steel or a Pardoe? He seems to have combined the better qualities of both.

Anyway, I'm pleased to see that John Pardoe is still around.

The Joy of Six 1242

"Between 2012 and 2019, austerity was responsible for an estimated 335,000 excess deaths. The rate of prescription of antidepressants in England has doubled since 2011: nearly 20 per cent of adults now take them. The average height of children who grew up under austerity fell relative to European benchmarks." William Davies on 14 years of Conservative rule.

Guy Shrubsole analyses Labour's environmental policies.

Naomi Fisher says we’re in the middle of a cultural clash in the way that we understand mental health: "The way that we understand distress is deeply rooted in our culture and time, but it doesn’t feel like that to us. We tend to think that the way we understand things now is the right way, superior to previous generations and other cultures."

"On the May Bank Holiday weekend, I was walking with a group of refugees. We managed a couple of short strenuous climbs, a gorge scramble and long open stretches along the contours of the hills. The walks were tiring and testing, and the wind, rain and sun took turns to blast us. But they were joyful and exhilarating walks. I saw people stretch out their arms and point their faces up to the sky as I do. Their eyes sparkled and their smiles broadened with the beauty and the expanse of it all." Stella Perrott believes the beauty and health benefits of the countryside must be shared with everyone, regardless of background or financial status

"Went the Day Well has been praised for its stark realism, including hostage-taking, numerous close-ups of shootings, threats to execute children and the murder of an elderly vicar during a church service.  Some critics find this surprising in the context of wartime propaganda.  But this is perhaps to misunderstand the film’s purpose, which was surely instructional as much as it was morale boosting." Jeremy Burchardt watches Went the Day Well?, Cavalcanti's 1942 masterpiece.

Emine Saner talks to Cyndi Lauper: "The song Girls Just Want to Have Fun wasn’t written by Lauper, but she changed the lyrics and the feel of the song and it became a huge hit. Suddenly she was famous, but isolated."

Thursday, June 27, 2024

All Saints, Brixworth: A mighty Saxon church

Following my visit to Brixworth last week, here's a video about the village's remarkable Saxon church.

Social class: Another column for the Journal of Critical Psychology, Counselling and Psychotherapy

More about the JCPCP on the Egalitarian Publishing site. I've slightly lost the thread of which issue which column has appeared in, but this one has certainly been published. In fact, I don't remember writing parts of it.


The progress of the working-class grammar school boy and the estrangement from his background it brought about were once such a theme of English letters that it was honoured with a Monty Python sketch inverting it. 

A coal miner returns home to his playwright father and receives a cold welcome:

“Hampstead wasn't good enough for you, was it? You had to go poncing off to Barnsley, you and your coal-mining friends.”

The grandfather of this school of writing was D.H. Lawrence, and I was studying his novel The Rainbow for A level when David Storey’s Saville won the Booker Prize. Our teacher talked of Storey’s debt to Lawrence and suggested we considered reading his novel.

Saville introduced me to David Storey, whose early life encompassed elements no novelist would dare combine. At one time, Storey’s posthumous memoir A Stinging Life reminds us, he was studying fine art at the Slade in the week and supporting himself by taking the train north at the weekend to play rugby league for Leeds.

Fashions change, and a few years ago I saw Andy Miller from the Backlisted podcast exclaiming online that Saville had won the Booker Prize yet he could find no one who had read it.


Writing for the online publication Too Little / Too Hard, Rachael Allen recalls being the first in her family to receive any kind of schooling after the age of 14:

At Goldsmiths, I did not meet the children of cleaners or shop workers. I met the children of landlords, the children of airline pilots, and actual princesses, the children of executives at mega pharmaceutical companies, people so wealthy they owned their own charities. I met the children of TV personalities and doctors, barons and writers.

And she goes on to record a revelation that many of us have experienced:

One of my most eye-opening experiences as a working-class person moving into educated and middle-class spaces was the correction to my misconception that wealthy people are clever. I held onto this misconception for longer than I should have, because, at university, and then into my professional life, I was surrounded by the rich.

The English are indeed likely to confuse an upper-class accent with intelligence – a failing that more than one contemporary comedian has exploited to land a more serious column. But Allen says her working-class father reads more than anyone she knows, giving himself a summer to read War and Peace and then everything around Tolstoy and Russian literature he can find. She grew up with him pointing out flowers, leaves, and trees in the Latin that he had taught himself over the years as an amateur naturalist.

My own class background is complicated – my mother once claimed to have “gone from rags to rags in one generation” – but when I was a poor teenager, I was still able to pass as middle class. The disadvantage of this was that, in an instance of the same fallacy, it did not occur to any teacher that I might be having problems. 


Class, which once held a central place in our political discourse, now competes with other sources of injustice. The Conservative MP David Johnston once wrote about his time running social mobility. recalling a firm which, while it thought itself fully signed up to the concept, nevertheless raised queries like: 

“Our clients need us to have worldliness and you get that by travelling the world. So how will the young people you work with be able to demonstrate it?"


“They’ll be alongside the children of high net-worth individuals who we’re teaching how to invest the assets their parents gave them, so you’ll have to send us someone suitable.”

Johnston would watch banks professional service firms fall over each other to hire black graduates if they were privately educated and from professional families:

These young people were deemed to have the requisite social capital they claimed their “clients expect from us”. If, however, you were the sort of black young person my organisations typically helped – poor and from a council estate – enthusiasm waned.

All these companies, said Johnston, would talk on their websites about valuing diversity, but diversity of social background was not tend to be high on their agenda. You could be black or white, but you had to be middle class.

Without the right social connections you will never break into the circles where the best jobs are on offer. Andy Burnham was mocked when he spoke of the problems in this he had still faced with a Cambridge degree – hadn’t been in the cabinet before he was 40? – but then he had found an alternative network in the shape of the Labour Party.


I saw a tweet from another female academic, Professor Amanda Vickery, the other day:

Found Saltburn unpleasant. Brought back memories of being working class at uni. Am decades from that & obvs privileged now, but still recall that any time I said "no my father was a bricklayer & no we never went skiing", boys would launch into the Monty Python sketch.

There’s little doubt which sketch that was, though the Four Yorkshiremen were originally seen in an earlier television programme, At Last the 1948 Show, and the sketch was written and performed by Marty Feldman, Graeme Garden and Tim Brooke-Taylor, as well as John Cleese. You know, I think we’ve found a hill I will die on.

A radical reading of the Four Yorkshiremen is possible – we are laughing at the self-aggrandisement of the rich as they tell increasingly incredible stories of their own childhoods – but Vickery’s fellow students found the very idea of poverty amusing and old fashioned. It’s become just one more of those odd notions that private school pupils tease one another out of holding so they can be sure of fitting in.

Which may be why, if British novelists wrote of nothing but the experiences of the bright poor boy in the Fifties and early Sixties, they now seldom mention the working class at all.

Sunak should not resign as Tory leader after he loses the election

He has not, God knows, been much of a leader, and it's not even certain that he will be returned for Richmond and Northallerton next week, but Rishi Sunak should not resign the Conservative leadership if he loses the election.

Martin Kettle makes the point in the Guardian today:

He should wait until at least after the autumn party conference before making any announcement, to allow the Tories some time for reflection and, if possible, to change the leadership election process. 

And Kettle links to a whole article on the subject that he wrote back in March:

Many Tory MPs seem to take it as read that Sunak, if he loses office, will do the same thing.

He should not do so. Instead Sunak should stay on as Conservative leader if he loses the election. He should prepare the ground for staying on with trusted colleagues. He should then stand at the Downing Street lectern and say responsible leaders do not just jump ship. He should say it is his duty to see the party through a period of necessary reflection. He could even say what Callaghan told Labour MPs in 1979: “There is no vacancy for my job.”

But he needs to have a plan for what he can bring to opposition as well as a plan to then leave later. Here, Michael Howard could be the model. Howard stayed five months after losing the 2005 election before resigning. This had important consequences. The leadership election process was rethought, though not as radically as Howard wanted, and the shadow cabinet was reshaped. This allowed younger faces to catch the spotlight. The result was the election of David Cameron.

The first weeks of a new government can set the tone of a whole parliament. In 2010, because Gordon Brown resigned his party's leadership immediately after leaving Downing Street, Labour had no one to challenge the growing narrative that it had "maxed out the nation's credit card". It was still having this claim hung around its neck at the 2015 general election.

So the Tories need to remain in the debate following their coming defeat and not spend all their energies on a leadership election.

But all this sounds far too sensible for the modern Conservative Party, so expect an immediate resignation with civil war to follow.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Labour orders its candidate against Nigel Farage to leave Clacton

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An extraordinary story from the Guardian:

Labour has been accused of "not putting up a fight" against Nigel Farage in Clacton after the party’s candidate was instructed to leave the constituency after "distracting" from Keir Starmer’s campaign.

Jovan Owusu-Nepaul, 27, who works for Labour’s equalities team, was installed by the party last month to contest the seat, weeks before Farage changed his mind and decided to stand in the Essex constituency.

Owusu-Nepaul has since been "seconded" to the West Midlands, while the local campaign in Clacton said that it had been banned from printing leaflets, blocked from using campaigning software and had access to the campaign’s social media overriden, with posts deleted on X.

If I lived in Clacton, I think I would hold my nose and vote for the Conservative candidate Giles Watling in an attempt to keep Farage out of parliament.

I have noticed Owusu-Nepaul getting attention on Twitter, though, if only for his dashing dress sense.

It seems that getting attention was his crime. According to the Guardian report:

A campaign source said Labour headquarters had been angry with the traction Owusu-Nepaul was getting. “At one point [Jovan] was getting more retweets than Keir Starmer. The officials were furious with him and said he was distracting [from] Starmer’s campaign,” they said.

No doubt Freddie and Fiona would thoroughly approve of this action, but I don't.

"You see the world through a different lens": Ed Davey interviewed by the Big Issue

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Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey has been interviewed by Greg Barradale for the Big Issue in a way that skillfully combines the personal and the political.

You mention making that switch to PIP. I can imagine knowing you’re about to have to interact with the DWP in that way might be quite a source of stress for you and your son.

I’ll confess it’s my wife who did most of the work. I’m not sure if I really want this published, but the real thing for us was more the distress of having to say how disabled he was. You essentially have to say all the things you can’t do. For a parent, having to set out in hard detail all the things John can’t do, and will never be able to do – quite hard I have to tell you.

You know, it’s what the law says, and we did it. But that’s the hard bit for us. To be honest, we weren’t worried about not getting it because John’s so disabled it’s not a question, he was always going to get it. 

But I’ve worked for constituents who are on the margins, and it’s people who have conditions where they’re bad for one or two days a week and not too bad the rest of the time, but those one or two days a week occur every week. 

It’s those people who I have to sit down with, my team sit down with, and explain: ‘Look, you’ve got to say how you are on your worst day.’ People have got pride, right? They want to say how well they are. And we have to say: ‘Look, no, you’ve just told us that two, three, four days a week you can’t even get out of bed. You’ve got to set that down.’ 

I’m really conscious the process doesn’t do that, it’s trying to catch people out the whole time.

Ed says elsewhere in the interview: "To me, having been a young carer to having a disabled child, you do see the world through a different lens."

My memory of the John Major years is that two Conservative MPs decide to cross the floor to Labour, and both had experienced serious illness in  their families. That really does change your view of the world, as my mother's last years changed mine.

The Joy of Six 1241

"Along with a shortage of GP appointments and an excess of potholes in the roads, the issue exercising Henley’s well-heeled voters above all else is the state of the famous waterway sparkling just beyond the high street." Esther Webber looks at evidence that something is changing in the heart and soul of Tory England.

Chris Grey considers what the party manifestos say about Brexit and post-Brexit relations with the EU.

Julian Barnes says Britain must legalise assisted dying: "Most of us want to die with our personality intact, rather than have it swamped by blank misunderstanding; many fear a long process of dying, in which the body outlasts the mind, and indignity, humiliation and panic may ensue."

"When it comes to the England men's football team, the backing of fans, the press, pundits, and the country as a whole cannot be taken as a given. When the team does well, the whole country goes mad with excitement, but when it does badly the nation comes down on the players like a ton of bricks." Jan Dehn asks why the England men's football team plays so badly.

Katja Hoyer offers a German view of British humour: "I have never understood why so many Brits seem embarrassed about the German scenes when talking to me about them. Yes, of course Fawlty’s behaviour is ludicrous, but that’s the point. It’s the German family who are depicted as sensible and rightly offended by his antics. Exasperated they wonder at the end, 'How ever did they win?'"

No, the Black Death was not the result of a medieval pogrom against cats. Eleanor Janega explains.

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Peter Soulsby fears Labour could lose Leicester East to Keith Vaz

Sir Peter Soulsby, Leicester's elected Labour mayor, is not happy, reports the Guardian:

Keith Vaz could be re-elected as an MP because Labour is failing to highlight that he was disgraced in office amid drug and sex allegations, the Labour mayor of Leicester has said.

Peter Soulsby said he was “disappointed and frustrated” by his party’s complacency, which could allow the former Europe minister to win back his former seat of Leicester East.

Vaz, 67, is running a well-publicised and slick campaign as a One Leicester candidate to retake his old seat on 4 July in a multicultural area which is still reeling from Hindu-Muslim riots in 2022.

This weekend, Shilpa Shetty, a former Celebrity Big Brother winner and Bollywood actor, attracted a small crowd when she accompanied Vaz in an open-top Mercedes on a tour of local shops selling south Asian products.

If you want to know why the return of Keith Vaz would be unwelcome to many, I recommend the Controversies section of his Wikipedia entry.

Labour is diverting its activists away from Lib Dem target seats

Conservative fears of an electoral wipe out next Thursday will be deepened by analysis in the Financial Times suggesting that Labour is diverting its activists from Liberal Democrat targets in the South of England:

In the Lib Dems’ traditional west country heartland, Labour activists in Bridgwater, north Somerset, are being sent to Plymouth, an 83-mile journey that means passing at least four other constituencies.

Labour is also asking activists from nine seats across Surrey and Hampshire to campaign in the strong Tory seat of Aldershot. If the army town in Hampshire had the same boundaries back in 2019, the Conservatives would have won 57 per cent of the vote to Labour’s 22 per cent. The seat is not on the Lib Dem target list.

As the article says, there is no need for a formal pact between Labour and the Lib Dems, because there are so few seats where they are competing with one another.

Enlightened self-interest has been enough to ensure that anti-Tory votes are distributed as efficiently as possible.

Monday, June 24, 2024

Should the Lib Dems be more relaxed about members backing other parties' candidates?

Zoe Crowther has been to North Norfolk for Politics Home and found that some of the people out canvassing for the Liberal Democrat candidate Steffan Aquarone are Labour supporters:

"I would describe myself as left-wing Labour,” local resident Christine told PoliticsHome. Christine, like most of the people gathered here, has been canvassing for the Lib Dems over the last few weeks.

She said people in North Norfolk needed to vote tactically to defeat the Conservatives, as “Labour won’t win here, they’re really in the background”. In 2019, the Conservatives’ Duncan Baker won with 29,792 votes – followed in second by the Lib Dems with 15,397, and then Labour in third with only 3,895.

Describing herself as “more anti-Tory than pro-Lib Dem”, Christine explained that she had begun canvassing for the first time during this election, initially for tactical reasons – although as the campaign has gone on, she has found herself less convinced by Labour anyway. 

And she has nice things to say about both Steffan and Ed Davey.

It seems to me that such blurring of party boundaries is inevitable in an election where the country rouses itself to shake off a discredited government and is rather to be welcomed.

But not everyone agrees.

Over the border in Suffolk, Cllr David Beavan, deputy leader of East Suffolk Council, has been expelled from the Liberal Democrats for supporting Adrian Ramsay, the Green candidate who appears to have a good chance of winning the Waveney Valley constituency.

David, who has been a member of the Liberal Party and Liberal Democrats for 55 years, told Suffolk News:

It was with much surprise and sadness that I learnt second hand from a local member of this bizarre decision by head office, whilst I was busy canvassing for the party in North Norfolk last week – they have shot themselves in the foot.

“If I wanted to be dictated to by party officials, I would have joined the Communist Party – I will at least now still be free to say and think what I believe is right for Southwold and East Suffolk.” 

This seems to me an unfortunate decision by Lib Dem HQ, particularly when many party members are talking themselves into casting a tactical vote for Labour next week, and some of us find ourselves being asked to travel a hundred miles to reach the nearest target seat.

And the Lib Dems have been making moves towards relaxing the rigid boundaries of political parties.

Under Vince Cable we brought in the idea of being a registered 'Liberal Democrat Supporter' while Jo Swinson won the party leadership talking about creating a "Liberal Movement", which she presumably saw as being different from a traditional political party.

It's quite possible that East Anglia will find itself represented by MPs from five different parties. Should we Liberal Democrats be prepared to move with the times a little?

Nigel Farage's defamation action against the Mail is going nowhere

Says who? Says a practising barrister, that's who.

Following the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry has introduced me to the world of legal vloggers. And one of my favourites is Alan Robertshaw, whose YouTube account is Art of Law.

He provides legal comment on stories in the news, and you can watch his views on Nigel Farage's spat with the Daily Mail at the top of this post.

Robertshaw, who also teaches young barristers, provides more general comment on the law from time to time.

So you can enjoy his thoughts on the art of advocacy and on how to be the perfect witness.

The latter could be useful to anyone. I once gave a witness statement for the defence in a civil action, but the plaintiff died before the case was heard, so I never got my day in court.

The Joy of Six 1240

"There is no disguising the fact Sunak well knows when Williams, his ex-PPS, first learnt of the election date. The same, unsurprisingly, can be said of his director of campaigns, Tony Lee (Laura Saunders’ husband). But still the PM refuses to act, nobly cognisant of independent inquiries - but entirely ignorant of the episode’s raw politics." Josh Self says that if Tory England is dead, then Rishi Sunak killed it.

Peter Jukes sets out five questions that Nigel Farage needs to be asked about Brexit, Trump and Russia.

"Former Soviet states have not been expanded ‘into’ by NATO, but joined at their own request. The Kremlin attempts to present NATO as a Western plot to encroach upon its territory, but in reality the growth in Alliance membership is the natural response of those states to its own malign activities and threats." Ben Wallace on NATO, Ukraine and Russia.

Harriet Grant takes us to a Brighton primary school that is fighting to provide children with enough play: "We played football recently against a private school. Their children play football for an hour four times a week. How do they have time for that? It’s simple. Because they don’t have to do Sats."

June Thoburn argues that social workers need to understand their power: "One prospective adoptive parent told her, 'If the social worker says jump, I jump'. The fear of the social worker's power to remove children was present in all families she spoke with."

"The absolute avatar of this new generation of eccentric, hip, clever, spoilt, sexy, sometimes pretentious young actors was Donald Sutherland, a Canadian (and thus already an outsider) who had a career in the non-new, non-transgressive, sludgy cinema of the previous era (and in the theatre) but who really thrived once things got freaky in the 1970s." Steve Bowbrick pays tribute to Donald Sutherland.

Sunday, June 23, 2024

A walk round Brixworth in election season

It's tempting to say that Brixworth is dominated by its Saxon church, but really you have to go looking for it. As is common in Northamptonshire, the ancient village centre was bypassed by the later road network.

Anyway, here are some photos of houses near the church that I took the other day. You may notice that Jonathan Harris, Brixworth's councillor and the Liberal Democrat candidate for the Daventry constituency, is doing rather well here.

Summer's here at last! The first schoolboy wearing a skirt story is in

Just as it doesn't feel like Christmas is coming until we've seen a news story about a crap Santa's Wonderland, so it's not summer until the first boy has gone to school in a skirt as a protest against not being allowed to wear shorts.

And summer 2024 is here, reports the Kidderminster Shuttle, thanks to the head boy of a school in Worcester:

Nikita Tkachuk, who has just finished his GCSEs at Nunnery Wood High School, protested as he believes it is unfair that boys must wear long trousers during summer months.

He wanted the uniform to include tailored shorts but the school said it does not have plans to change its uniform policy at this time. 

The 17-year-old, originally from Ukraine and now living in St Peter's, had the support of his classmates when he turned up in the school skirt. ...

According to Nikita, the scorching heat during lunchtime made wearing long black polyester trousers 'unbearable.' 

He said, unlike girls who could wear skirts above the knee, boys attending Nunnery Wood School are required to wear full-length trousers. 

Mott the Hoople: All the Way from Memphis

I liked this when it was in the charts in 1973, but I never grasped what it was about.

Wikipedia says:

The song tells a story about a rock and roller whose guitar is shipped to Oriole, Kentucky, instead of Memphis, Tennessee. ...

The musician gets half-way to Memphis before he realises his guitar is missing. It takes a month to track it down. When he gets the guitar back, he is scolded by a stranger for being neglectful and self-centered with the phrase "rock-n-rollers; you're all the same". ...

The song reflects a weariness with the rock and roll life-style, including the strain of constant touring and the low public opinion of rock 'n' roll singers. This theme appears in the chorus, which is repeated with minor variations: "you look like a star, but you're still on the dole," "you look like a star, but you're really out on parole."

Ian Hunter's vocals looked forward to punk, yet he was a prewar baby - born on 3 June 1939.

His website suggests he is still going strong.

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Escaped pet donkey found 'living best life' with elk

BBC News wins our Headline of the Day Award.

As you can see from the video, the donkey is not, as I first thought, sharing a flat with an individual elk, but running free with a whole herd of them.

The commentary even suggests that he is the leader of the elk and once killed a mountain lion with his hooves.

Well done, Diesel.

Friday, June 21, 2024

The social cost of Just Stop Oil's stunts

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I don't look at the Spectator much these days, but Stephen Daisley makes an important on Just Stop Oil's stunts:

It is not true that spraying orange cornflour on Stonehenge or chucking tomato soup on a van Gogh does no long-term harm. It undermines the unspoken system of trust upon which so many social arrangements are predicated. 
Every time Just Stop Oil pulls one of these stunts, it increases the likelihood that museums, galleries and heritage sites will put more distance between their wares and the general public. 
Places and objects that, at present, any ordinary member of the public can view up close and perhaps even interact with will eventually become sights to be peered at from a distance, behind protective screens or over the shoulders of burly security guards. 
There is a price to teaching public venues to be suspicious of visitors and it is a price we all pay.

Mr Asquith can sleep soundly in Sutton Courtenay churchyard

Yesterday the Liberal Democrats held two council seats in Oxfordshire. 

Because of ill health, Richard Webber had been forced to resign both the seats he held. They were the Sutton Courtenay ward of Vale of White Horse District Council and the Sutton Courtenay and Marcham ward of Oxfordshire County Council.

And both seats were held for the party in the resultant by-elections yesterday by Peter Stevens.

Andrew Teale will tell you all about the surprisingly industrial geography of the seats, but the village of Sutton Courtenay itself is on the Thames.

And in its churchyard you will find the tomb of a Liberal prime minister: H.H. Asquith. He chose to be buried at Sutton Courtenay rather than in Westminster Abbey.

He's not the only famous person buried there: you will also find the grave of a celebrated 20th-century writer.

Thursday, June 20, 2024

The Conservatives should have worried more about the Lib Dems and less about Reform

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Even now, the Conservatives have not understood that Ed Davey is a far bigger danger to their majority than Nigel Farage.

So says Martin Kettle in today's Guardian, and he's right.

The Conservatives' obsession with the voters they have lost to Reform has always been bad politics. It's also bad arithmetic.

In seats where the Liberal Democrats are the challengers to the Tories, every voter they lose to us reduces their majority by two. A voter lost to Reform reduces it by only one.

The Reform obsession, I suspect, arises because most Tory members now have little idea what Conservatism is and tend to think it consists in the aggressive English nationalism espoused by Nigel Farage. So it really hurts them when one of their own changes to supporting Reform.

As to the bad politics, Kettle has been to the village of Myddle in Helen Morgan's North Shropshire constituency.

It's a village I know well, so when I first blogged about the North Shropshire by-election (and note my headline Lib Dems to fight North Shropshire by-election - and they are right - how far we have come!), it was natural that I should use a photo of it.

I couldn't resist using one of those Ed-with-a-halo photos at the head of this post, but you can find my photo of Myddle at the bottom.

Anyway, Kettle reports from Myddle:

Morgan is an exemplary local campaigner, and in Myddle an impressive number of people recognised her when she stopped by. By far their most common concern was the local NHS. Many had stories of long delays to recount. 
None of the 40 or so people I spoke to said they would vote Conservative. “It would be outrageous if she doesn’t retain the seat,” Michael, a Myddle resident, told me.

And he says of Lib Dem target seats more generally:

Terms such as "middle England" or "middle Britain" are inexact, but they capture something emotionally meaningful about what these target electorates represent. They are not partisan places, but they have a belief in community, a conviction that the country could do better, including in their area, and they mostly have generous values. 
They have little in common with Reform. They are the middle-ground voters that government parties ignore at their peril.

Looking forward to a possible Conservative collapse at the election, Kettle says:

The Lib Dems are in line to win 38 seats, according to Ipsos this week, or 56 seats, according to Survation.

An outcome like this would ... say something profound about the kind of country that this still is – just about. It would say the claim that the real England or the real Britain finds its voice in the Conservative party as it currently exists, let alone in Reform, is dangerously untrue. 

As the most disruptive 10 years in political memory come to an end, it would say that Labour and the Lib Dems, between them, are the truer voice of middle Britain today.

"Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad," as Enoch Powell was fond of quoting.

Well, the Tories have driven themselves mad through their obsession with voters lost to Reform, and that madness could yet destroy them.

A podcast on Charles Hawtrey and the Carry On films

The latest edition of the Writers on Film podcast is well worth a listen:

Roger Lewis comes back to the pod to talk about his small masterpiece of biographical investigation, and fitting testament to a comic genius whose place in British cultural history is now assured. Charles Hawtrey, the skinny one with the granny glasses, was everybody's favourite in the Carry Ons - but who exactly was he? Up to now the man has remained a mystery.

Examining Hawtrey's origins as a child star and performer in revue and the Will Hay films, this wonderful little book looks at his career in radio and television, and then to the sad and slow decline of a belligerent recluse on the Kent coast. The high camp exuberance of his acting gave way to bitterness and alcoholism and if you asked Hawtrey for an autograph he'd be more likely to call the police instead.

Roger Lewis's short life of Hawtrey opens out like a Chinese box to address such issues as the nature of fame, neglect, loss, sexual confusion, Drambuie, betrayal, marine bandsmen, and fine cambric knickers trimmed with lace and blue ribbon. Its moral would seem to be that you don't necessarily turn out as the person you thought you'd become.

Lewis's book is Charles Hawtrey 1914–1988: The Man Who Was Private Widdle from 2002.

A recent appreciation by a blogger, Sam Young, says of it:

Lewis’s book is not a biography in the traditional sense. All biographical accounts have an agenda, regardless of what their writers may claim, but in Lewis’s case there is no pretence of objectivity. He writes as though in conversation, dispensing with neutrality in favour of unfettered opinion. 
The result is a writing style that’s as witty as it is catty (Lewis loves a wry bracketed or footnoted aside) but is never cruel. Quite the opposite, in fact. For all his sharpness of tone, Lewis writes from a place of profound affection for Hawtrey, as actor and individual.

Hawtrey, incidentally, is the station master whose misunderstood announcement sets the action underway in Powell and Pressburger's A Canterbury Tale.

And a final point. It's a little alarming for Malcom Saville fans that Charles Hawtrey, still playing child parts at the ago of 29, was David Morton in the 1943 radio adaptation of Mystery at Witchend.

Harry Fowler as Tom Ingles sounds a more convincing casting.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Living for years on one of the islands on Rutland Water

As we end our week at Bonkers Hall, his lordship turns his mind from the general election to the thorny question of what to do about Earl Russell's Big Band.

This is an opportunity to say that Meadowcroft, Lord Bonkers' besmocked gardener, has long since ceased to be a portrait of Michael Meadowcroft. Muttering away in his potting shed, the gardener has acquired a character of his own.

As to Clarence 'Frogman' Willcock, he appears to be a combination of Clarence 'Frogman' Henry, the American rhythm and blues singer and pianist, and Clarence Harry Willcock, the Liberal who declined to show his identity card to a police constable in 1950.


I was sorry to hear of the death of Clarence ‘Frogman’ Willcock. His hits ‘I Don't Know Why I Love You, But I Do’ and ‘I am a Liberal and I am Against This Sort of Thing’ could always be relied upon to get the young people up and cutting a rug at fundraising dances here in my Ballroom. 

Talking of which, I have finally bitten the bullet and told Earl Russell that his father’s Big Band was not scattered to ‘the round earth's imagin'd corners’, as I may have inadvertently given the impression, but has been living for years on one of the islands on Rutland Water. 

The aforesaid jazz musicians generally sport upon the shore in animal skins and play upon rude instruments of their own manufacture, occasionally accompanied by Meadowcroft (who can be pretty rude himself). Well, their next gig will not be on the shore but at the Royal Opera House, Oakham – I would have booked the skittle alley at the Bonkers’ Arms the other day, but there are rather a lot of them.

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

Earlier this week...

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

The old lead mine and railway at Snailbeach in Shropshire

The old lead mine at Snailbeach has cropped up here a few times, but it really is a remarkable site.

I'll be exploring it again myself later this summer, but for the time being here's a good video of the remains there.

The Joy of Six 1239

"The UK and EU cannot help but matter to each other. Regardless of the formal terms of the relationship, developments on one side of the Channel do affect what happens on the other." Brexit boredom is one thing, but there’s a real problem when Britain’s leaders won’t even talk about Europe any more, says Simon Usherwood.

Anusha Singh profiles Hina Bokhari, the new leader of the Liberal Democrats in the London Assembly. Hina is the first ethnic minority woman to lead a group at City Hall since its establishment in 2000, and also the first ethnic minority woman to lead a group in any of the UK’s devolved institutions.

"The idea that Labour’s electoral success depends on its ability to win back imagined hordes of socially conservative voters in the distant north and Midlands remains central to the party’s self-image." Alex Niven on the myth of the 'red wall'.

Hannah White argues that whether a government’s majority is enormous or merely substantial the more significant factor for democracy is the attitude a government takes to the role of parliament and the value of scrutiny.

Ben Highmore discusses the postwar adventure playground movement: "What if you gave children and young people their own space? A third space that wasn’t school and wasn’t home. Somewhere not orchestrated by obedience ... . A place where young people might have a great deal of autonomy in how they occupied the space and what they did with their time."

"Bringing psychoanalysis into the conversation explains so much, not only about Mitchell’s 1970s preoccupations, but about the looping, overflowing structure of her songs as the decade progressed. I wasn’t surprised to discover that Mitchell's own experiences with therapy were at best mixed." Ann Powers finds that the preoccupations of Joni Mitchell's work mirror those of American society throughout her career.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: He doesn’t ask them lots of damn-fool questions

This is more on message from the old boy, and I think he's safe from Freddie and Fiona - they would never read Liberator, where his diaries first appear.

You, however, look just the sort. It's the Liberal Democrats' combination of the New Statesman and Private Eye, and you can download the latest issue - that's no. 423 - free of charge.


Looking at the list of Liberal Democrats who have received the coupon from Freddie and Fiona, I find myself enormously encouraged. There’s a woman who has rowed the Atlantic, which will come in useful if we need to make a quick getaway from Westminster, and a veterinary surgeon. 

I won’t hear a word against Drs Winstanley, Tonge and Brand, but I have always rather envied my setters when I take them to our local vet. He doesn’t ask them lots of damn-fool questions or tell them they're drinking too much. If this fellow gets in, I shall see if he will take me on to his books. 

And don’t tell F&F, but I may visit Sutton Coldfield to cheer on John Sweeney, not least because he now wears what appears to be Tony Greaves’s old bobble hat. Perhaps it’s passed from Liberal to Liberal like a family heirloom and was originally owned by Lord Morley?

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

Earlier this week...

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Wilding: A film based on Isabella Tree's book

It occurs to me that three of the films I have seen most recently at the cinema have been documentaries: Eric Ravilious - Drawn to War, Made in England: The Films of Powell and Pressburger and - today - Wilding.

As the shortcomings of Steve Coogan's The Lost King show, dressing up a true story in a contrived drama does not necessarily do that story any favours. (You can download a good article on the film by Mike Pitts from the British Council for Archaeology site.)

But then I read fewer novels and more factual books these days too.

Anyway, Wilding looks beautiful, and if you liked Isabella Tree's book then you will certainly enjoy this film.

Lib Dems will get their kicks on the A30

George Parker and Anna Gross have been to Yeovil for the Financial Times, and who should they meet there but the leader of the Liberal Democrats?

Sir Ed Davey, Liberal Democrat leader, has claimed his party could unexpectedly win back a host of Conservative seats in its former South West heartlands, announcing a last-minute “Project A30” election offensive.

Davey told the Financial Times in an interview that some of the seats had previously been seen as “out of reach” but were now in range if the party managed to raise more money from donors for last-minute campaigning.

On a visit to Yeovil in Somerset, he declared: “The Liberal Democrats are back in the West Country.” The town lies on the A30 trunk road, linking London to Land’s End, with a host of Lib Dem targets on either side.

The seats Parker and Gross quote Ed Davey as mentioning are St Ives, North Cornwall, Honiton, Torbay, South Devon and West Dorset.

In Somerset, where Ed says we are "spoilt for choice", they list Yeovil and Taunton.

I suspect St Ives has always been seen as a good prospect, but it's good to see the party looking beyond the Home Counties now the campaign has passed the halfway point.

Three-legged lion makes record-breaking swim across a crocodile-infested river - for sex

Many thanks to the reader who nominated the Telegraph for this blog's Headline of the Day Award. The story may be behind a paywall, but the headline is in plain sight.

I had some clear-the-air talks with the judges yesterday evening about their insistence on choosing videos for my blog, and... here are Elton John and the Muppets.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Stabbing an iguana with a toasting fork

I'm loath to criticise my employer, but I'm not sure this is Terribly Fair. After I gained Market Harborough North in an historic by-election, I became quite friendly with my Labour opponent, who was a member of the Rutland Morris Men.

I went round with them one Saturday afternoon as they performed at a couple of village events, and I don't think I've ever drunk so much beer in my life.


Who should be in the Bonkers’ Arms this evening but our local side of morris dancers? We chuckle over the events of 23 April – the day before I flew to Rwanda. You may recall that Keir Starmer had written to Labour’s general election candidates urging them to “fly the flag” and mark St George’s Day “with enthusiasm”. 

Hence the arrival of a couple of unfamiliar faces on the village green that Tuesday, for what could be a more appropriate way of celebrating England’s patron saint than morris dancing? (Stabbing an iguana with a toasting fork, I suppose, but the villages where that rite is still observed are few and far between.) 

I’m afraid that, being morris virgins, our Labour visitors came off distinctly second best when the sticks began to fly. They may have limped away muttering about St George being Turkish and “cultural appropriation”, but it was good to see them Making An Effort.

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

Earlier this week...

Monday, June 17, 2024

The rediscovery of a lost industrial railway engine shed at Lamport

This is a wonderful discovery, and a reminder that even a chocolate-box estate village like Lamport - which I know so well it has its own label on this blog - has an industrial history.

Many more videos like this from Steve at LeiceExplore on YouTube.

The Joy of Six 1238

Anna Tarrant praises Ed Davey's celebration of fatherhood and says we are all better off when men do more of the caring.

"Looking back to that December morning in 2019 I don't think any of us could have imagined that it would come to this. That picture of Boris Johnson, arms aloft celebrating victory, was a painful one for those of us on the opposition benches. Five years later his ejection from the scene has not saved the party whose reputation he did so much to damage, and the divisions he encouraged threaten to engulf them." Christine Jardine asks if the Tories are facing the equivalent of the Liberal party’s 1922 election disaster.

"A decade ago, the Islamic State swept through northern Iraq and declared a ‘caliphate’ and soon after launched a genocidal assault on Iraq’s Yezidi minority, murdering Yezidi men and capturing woman and girls as sex slaves. Now, six years after IS was defeated, accountability for those horrific crimes is in doubt." Deb Amos on the failure of the international community to hold anyone to account for the Yezidi genocide.

Richard Carr reviews a new book on cross-party politics in Britain since the second world war - Clegg, Cameron and all.

Meth-Addict Fish, Aggro Starlings - not heavy-metal bands but the result of pharmaceutical compounds polluting the ecosphere. Patrick Greenfield reports on a worrying trend.

Philip Cowley and Matthew Bailey offer a history of fringe parliamentary candidates: "At the Crosby by-election in 1981 [Lt Commander Bill] Boaks shared the ballot paper with Tarquin Fin-tim-lin-bin-whin-bim-lim-bus-stop-F'tang-F'tang-Olé-Biscuitbarrel, although the returning officer took the understandable decision to shorten it to Tarquin Biscuitbarrel. Tarquin (original name: John Desmond Dougrez-Lewis) had his origins in a Monty Python spoof on election night coverage."

EXCLUSIVE: Man, 21, turned 'downhill' life around and now goes viral for teaching grannies how to box

Well done to the Mirror for winning our Headline of the Day Award.

The judges have again recommended a video to accompany this post. It's not that it's a bad choice, it's the principle of the thing. This is my blog.

But I shall have to make enquiries about the extent of their powers before I tell them to stick it up their wigs.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Two of my sturdiest gamekeepers on the Thames-Clyde Express

Lord Bonkers pretends he doesn't read this blog, but I see he's picked up my interest in the idea that there are big cats living wild in the English countryside. And I hadn't heard of the Gloucestershire Incident until now.

The orchard doughty, a rough club with which Lord Bonkers' gamekeepers are routinely armed, is named after Susan Doughty (who sometimes called herself Susan Orchard Doughty), who was Liberal Democrat MP for Guildford between 2001 and 2005.

And despite Lord Bonkers fervent belief, there is no truth in the rumour that Paul Tyler metamorphosed into the Beast of Bodmin whenever there was a full moon. 


If you ask my opinion, this ‘DNA testing’ is here to stay. Terribly Clever, don’t you think? News reached me the other day that traces of a big cat have been found on a sheep’s carcass in Cumbria. You will guess what my first thought was, but my agents have made extensive enquiries and established that Paul Tyler was nowhere near the lakes and fells at the time. 

As a result, I have alerted the ALDC to a possible hazard to deliverers with remote rural rounds and, remembering the unfortunate loss of a county councillor from Gloucestershire in David Steel’s day, dispatched two of my sturdiest gamekeepers on the Thames-Clyde Express to mind the aforementioned Farron until the polls close on 4 July.

Trust in God and don’t forget your orchard doughty, as Cromwell would have put it.

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

Earlier this week...

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Harborough Tories phone a Lib Dem councillor to ask him to help put up their posters

Red faces at Neil O'Brien's campaign headquarters this week...

It sounds as though the Conservatives' local campaign is going every bit as well as their national one.