Thursday, July 24, 2014

David Ward, Gaza and tweetcrime

If I lived in Gaza I would...

If I lived in Gaza I would what? If I lived in Gaza I wouldn't be me. I certainly wouldn't be a middle-aged British Liberal Democrat.

So there was something silly about David Ward pondering what he would do if he lived in Gaza. Whatever that conflict there is about, it isn't about you, David.

Still, David has not been half as silly as some of his critics. Last night Conservatives took to Twitter to demand his instant expulsion from the party:"

One bladder-on-a-stick called Nadhim Zahawi has even written to the Metropolitan Police calling for David to be prosecuted.

If anything,  it is Zahawi who should be prosecuted - for wasting police time.

And David, in his cack-handed way, was making an important point: anti-terrorist and police operations can be counterproductive. We have examples of that - internment without trial in Northern Ireland; police us of stop-and-search powers - much closer to home.

You may not agree with these arguments when they are used, but it must surely be possible for someone to advance them without being expelled or prosecuted.

One amusing thing this affair is done is show us that the right is just as politically correct as the left. Force them to encounter an argument they don't like and don't normally here and they will nor argue back: they will try to silence you.

You can tell something odd is going on when Spiked emerges as the voice of reason. Under the headline "Let Lib Dems commit 'tweetcrimes'" it says:
David Ward, Lib Dem MP for Bradford East, is not sharpest of political tools, but his tweeting over the past 24 hours has been an expression of his political views. ‘The big question is - if I lived in #Gaza would I fire a rocket? - probably yes’, he wrote on Tuesday. And then in a follow-up tweet, he tried on Kennedy cliché for size: ‘Ich bin ein #palestinian - the West must make up its mind - which side is it on?’ 
It’s not big, and it’s definitely not clever, but it is a genuine expression of Ward’s political views: he thinks Palestinians are being oppressed by the Israeli state (or ‘the Jews’, as he referred to it last year), and he thinks the West needs to come down hard on Israel. So far, so right on. 
But what has been astonishing is the response of the Tories. Not only have they, like Labour, sought to make a big deal of Ward’s flight of imaginative sympathy after which he concludes that he, too, would be firing rockets at Israel if he was David Ward born in Gaza, now battling Israel, rather than David Ward born in Lincoln, and now boring in Bradford. No, the Tories have gone one depoliticising step further and suggested that Ward’s mal mots are not only a bit simple; they’re possibly illegal.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Interviewing Ed Davey at the Social Liberal Forum conference

If, as Paul Walter suggested the other day, Ed Davey is the Liberal Democrats' climate change bulldog, then he is a very polite bulldog: a bulldog who is all over his brief as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

After interviewing Tim Farron, I met Ed Davey, along with Paul Walter, Caron Lindsay and Mathew Hulbert. We met in a cool room somewhere upstairs in Amnesty International's new headquarters during the Social Liberal Forum conference on Saturday.

If not a bulldog, then Ed was certainly bullish. He is clearly delighted with Liberal Democrats achievements under him, and Chris Huhne before him, at Energy.

He set these out - notably the increase in electricity generation from renewable sources - in a recent article for Liberal Democrat Voice.

One of the things we talked about was how we make the sure the party gets the credit it deserves for these achievements and take the campaign forward at the next election.

Ed believes we need a few clear points to emphasise and suggested, a little gnomically, that the energy policy our last conference passed gives the basis for this. I suggest you read it again carefully.

Paul Walter has given a full summary of what we talked about. You will see that I asked about nuclear power - as a Liberal of a certain age, I still find it hard to come to terms with our change of policy here, even if it a change that many prominent environmentalists have made too.

Others have not made it. When I told someone from Leicester Friends of the Earth about this interview, he suggested I ask Ed why we need a Civil Nuclear Constabulary but not a Civil Wind Farm Constabulary or Civil Solar Power Constabulary.

Ed reminded me that Chris Huhne had promised there would be no subsidy for nuclear power, as I suggested, but no special favours. The price nuclear generators are guaranteed may look high, but he believes it will look less so when the new capacity comes on stream.

Behind my faulty recall of Chris's promise lay a puzzlement that energy has to be subsidised at all. Aren't heat and power among the most basic of human needs with a guaranteed permanent demand?

That may explain why I shall never be Energy Secretary. Ed is - and a mightily impressive one too.

Perhaps his talents lie more in persuasion in small meetings than in platform oratory, but he is now an important figure in the party.

Russia: Cameron gets tough

Farewell to Dora Bryan

Dora Bryan has died at the age of 91. She had a long life, made difficult later on by illness. As the BBC tribute suggests, she specialised in scene-stealing cameos rather than great roles.

We have already seen her as Rose, the tart with the heart of gold, in The Fallen Idol. So here she is as the mother at the start of A Taste of Honey. She also took part in cinema's greatest train chase in Great St Trinian's Train Robbery.

Trivia fans may be pleased to learn that one of the children singing the song is Hazel Blears' brother.

James Fox, Mick Jagger and Cecil Beaton on the set of Performance

Read more about Performance elsewhere on this blog.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Understanding the Putin regime in Russia

Two of my favourite bloggers have been looking at the nature of the Putin regime.

Craig Murray writes:
The immediate cause of the MH17 disaster was a missile shot by pro-Russian forces who mistook it for one of the military aircraft they had been regularly shooting down. It is a terrible tragedy – and tragically not unique. There have been several such events in my lifetime, including the USS Vincennes incident and the Soviet downing of a Korean airliner. 
The problem is that Vladimir Putin has revived the Soviet cult of perfectionism – the idea that the state simply cannot make a mistake. That Putin-backed forces could commit an error is therefore unthinkable, as that would imply that Putin made an error in backing and supplying them. 
Putin cannot make errors. We have therefore seen a stream of desperate propaganda stories emanating from the Russian media, such as the allegation that it was the government in Kiev attempting to shoot down Putin himself. These narratives are aimed at the domestic Russian nationalist audience, but are accepted by the small band of ardent Putin supporters in the West.
And Cicero's Songs writes:
The scale of the human rights breakdown under Putin is now so complete, it is legitimate to ask, in the twenty-first century, "if Russia has such a warped structure that it simply can not be a free society, should the country even continue to exist?" 
For there is little doubt, that even without the 14 other Soviet Republics, Post Soviet Russia remains an Empire both in fact and in spirit. For example, there are over 185 different national groups, speaking over 100 native languages in the Russian Federation, of which 27 have some official status, although only Russian is designated as the state language. Although Russification, official and unofficial, has continued, the percentage of the population that is ethnically Russian is in steady decline- Russia is growing more diverse and not less. 
That goes for the economy too. Many people, used to the glitz and obvious wealth of Moscow and St. Petersburg can be totally shocked by the contrast, not merely with the seedy and run down state of most other cities, but the dire poverty that exists even in the rural areas close to the capital. Russia has one of the largest wealth gaps ever seen in human history, with brutal poverty literally within sight of the richest individuals on the planet. 
But such astonishing inequality is the result, not of entrepreneurial graft, but of the capture of the natural resources of the country by a self-selected criminal class. Rent seeking and exploitation are the watch words of this mafia, and it has crushed the vast bulk of the population. The creative and intelligent class are driven to the margin or seek better lives outside the stultifying control of the Kremlin propaganda machine.

Frank Furedi: Paranoid Parenting 13 years on

Frank Furedi published his Paranoid Parenting in 2001.

In today's Independent he looks at what has happened over the ensuing 13 years. He does not paint an encouraging picture:
In 2001, when I published my book Paranoid Parenting, I was genuinely surprised to discover that virtually all experiences associated with childhood came with a health warning. 
At the time, Paranoid Parenting documented the growing tendency to extend adult supervision into every aspect of children's lives. It was apparent that the outdoors had become a no-go area for many youngsters and that the majority of parents did not even allow their offspring to walk to school on their own. 
The idea that children were too vulnerable to be allowed to take risks had already become entrenched. That was bad enough. But since the turn of the century, the regime of child protection has become steadily more pervasive and intrusive. The relentless erosion of children's freedom has been paralleled by the constant tendency to politicise parenting. 
During the past decade or so, the banning of a variety of activities associated with children's life has acquired a relentless dynamic. I still remember, when in February 2007 after a group of children were suspended from school for throwing snowballs, an angry mother writing to me to ask: "What will they think of next?" 
Regrettably, the obsessive impulse to regulate children's life ensures that the next target of child protection is already on the horizon.

London's termini in the fifties, sixties and early seventies

London's Termini in the 50s, 60s & Early 70s from Lewisham Bill on Vimeo.

I have a book on Romney Marsh, published in the early 1960s, that has a photograph of the new nuclear power station at Dungeness.

While the power station itself still looks modern, even futuristic, the cars parked outside seem quaint and comically bulbous. In short the power station and the cars look as though they come from quite different eras and it feels strange to see them together.

I get the same feeling from this video of trains at London termini with a contemporary soundtrack. The pop songs sound much more modern than the trains look.

Anyway, here is 44 minutes of sheer pleasure. And if anyone read my mention of Broad Street the other day and thought I had dreamt it, you can see the station at 32:42 and then enjoy a short trip along its viaduct north out of the City.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Calls for new Solicitor General Robert Buckland to resign

From the Swindon Advertiser today:
Swindon South MP Robert Buckland is facing calls to stand down from his new role as Solicitor General after it emerged he was found guilty of professional misconduct but failed to disclose it to the Prime Minister. 
It relates to a race hate crime in 2007 where a Wroughton schoolboy was left with severe brain injuries following a vicious attack by a group of 13 Asians. 
Both the victim, Henry Webster, and four of the attackers were pupils at Ridgeway School at the time, where Mr Buckland, a former barrister and part-time judge, was a governor.
While conducting the internal investigation, he was not acting in a legal capacity but as a governor so should not have been speaking to barristers involved in the case to secure information. 
The MP requested to see hundreds of pupil witness statements from another barrister in the criminal trial of Amjad Qazi, who was jailed for the attack. 
In 2011, Mr Buckland, along with Robin Sheallard, were found guilty of breaching the code of conduct of the Bar of England and Wales for illicitly obtaining the papers which he had no entitlement to see. 
Although they were both guilty, there was no fine and both were allowed to continue working in the profession.
According to the Advertiser, Mr Buckland has said there was no malicious intent for his actions and he believed he was acting in the best interest of the school.

The paper quotes him as saying:
“It is a matter of public record that in May 2011, I was found to have committed a minor breach of the Code of Conduct of the Bar of England and Wales. I was not suspended or fined and continued to practice and sit as a Recorder. This finding was removed from the Bar records after two years and therefore I was not required to declare it upon appointment as Solicitor General.”

Six of the Best 452

"Moscow gave these weapons to the frankly low grade forces they have created in the Donbas without thought for the consequences. That those consequences have proven to be so dreadful simply underlines the brutal and arrogant stupidity that has become the hallmark of Putin's policy." Cicero's Songs says Putin must pay the price for his brutal incompetence.

What You Can Get Away With argues that one member, one vote is not a magic wand that will solve the Liberal Democrats' problems.

Bits of Books, Mostly Biographies looks at the fall of the Conservative MP Sir Ian Horobin, a case with contemporary resonance.

Alex's Archives marks his 500th post with some reflections on why he blogs.

"I wondered too whether Trescothick ever envies the man who took his place all those years ago? Might he not (illnesses aside) be happier away from the limelight where the cameras are generally in the hands of friends and admirers?" Backwatersman watches a former test hero bat at Northampton while Alastair Cook struggles for England.

An unfulfilled dream of the theatre maverick Joan Littlewood is finally set to be realised, reports the Guardian.

A Labour government would cut spending as much as the Coalition

Yesterday Labour's national policy forum confirmed that an incoming Labour government would keep to the Coalition's spending plans for 2015-16. An attempt to commit Labour to abandoning those plans was defeated by 125 to 14.

So next time you see a Labour politician, blogger or tweeter demanding more spending on something, you can ask them what taxes they would raise or cuts they would make elsewhere to fund it.

I certainly would not defend all the Coalition's spending decisions. I think the cuts to local government have been too severe - in fact, given that the worse is still to come, I wonder if it will be politically possible for those cuts to be made in full.

But what this vote does mean is that Labour wants to have any intellectual credibility then it is going to have to curb its reflex reaction of promising more spending on every issue that comes up. That will not come easy to most Labour activists.

The Guardian reports Ed Balls as saying after the vote:
"We will balance the books, deliver a surplus on the current budget and get the national debt falling as soon as possible in the next parliament."
That is pretty much what Tim Farron said when we bloggers interviewed him on Saturday. I wondered if it was not too fiscally constrictive, but his position is fast emerging as the new orthodoxy.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Leicester tramlines and wires in 1949

Getty Images UK captions this:
A Police motorcyclist from the Leicester City Police Force stops the traffic for school children to cross the road safely.
But it also shows the wires and tracks of the city's tram system, which closed the year this photo was taken.

Garry Kasparov on how to deal with the Putin regime

The former world chess champion and brave liberal wrote as follows for the Wall Street Journal in March after Vladimir Putin had seized the Crimea from Ukraine:
If the West punishes Russia with sanctions and a trade war, that might be effective eventually, but it would also be cruel to the 140 million Russians who live under Mr. Putin's rule. And it would be unnecessary. 
Instead, sanction the 140 oligarchs who would dump Mr. Putin in the trash tomorrow if he cannot protect their assets abroad. Target their visas, their mansions and IPOs in London, their yachts and Swiss bank accounts. Use banks, not tanks. 
Thursday, the U.S. announced such sanctions, but they must be matched by the European Union to be truly effective. Otherwise, Wall Street's loss is London's gain, and Mr. Putin's divide-and-conquer tactics work again.

Family: How Many More Years (You're Gonna Wreck My Life)

The greatest Leicester band of the Sixties was Family. Here they are filmed at the Speakeasy in London in late 1967. The combination of blues and psychedelia reminds you that they were playing in the same era as Traffic and Jethro Tull.

BBC Music says of them:
Family were an English rock band that formed in late 1966 and disbanded in October 1973. Their style has been characterised as progressive rock, as their sound often explored other genres, incorporating elements of styles such as folk, psychedelia, acid, jazz fusion and rock and roll. 
The band achieved recognition in the United Kingdom through their albums, club and concert tours and appearances at festivals.
This original line up includes the singer Roger Chapman, the guitarist Charlie Whitney (whom we have seen with Tim Buckley) and the bass player Rick Grech, who later joined Blind Faith, often described as the first super group, with Ginger Baker, Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood.

More about Family from Family Bandstand and the Roger Chapman Appreciation Society.

Interviewing Tim Farron at the Social Liberal Forum conference

Listening to Tim Farron’s Beveridge Memorial Lecture at the Social Liberal Forum (SLF) conference yesterday – the New Statesman has reproduced the full text – I was puzzling to work out who he reminded me of.

Then I worked it out.

Take this passage:
So, while the right argument for HS2 is about capacity not speed, the argument for HS3, 4, 5, 6 is about speed. A high speed link between Hull and Liverpool, through Leeds, Bradford and Manchester; from the West Country, from East Anglia to the Midlands, from Wales to the Midlands and the north, from Carlisle to Newcastle; connecting our great towns and cities to one another; connecting East and West as quickly and as seamlessly as we connect north and south, that is where our focus must be and we must start right away. 
It could almost be a passage from Jeremy Browne’s Race Plan – Britain needs modernising and massive spending on infrastructure is the way to achieve it.

It is reassuring to find leading figures of the economic and social liberal wings of the party sounding so similar, but there is an important difference here.

Jeremy is very much a London-as-a-world-city man, whereas at the heart of Tim’s analysis of Britain’s problems is that too much spending and wealth is concentrated in the South East of England.

Talking to him afterwards – in a bloggers’ interview kindly arranged by the Social Liberal Forum – he sees this concentration as being at the heart of the current housing crisis. There is plenty of land and even plenty of houses available outside the South East, it’s just that not enough people want to live there.

With massive spending on railways and broadband and regional airports we can stimulate development in the regions and take the pressure of the South East.

It’s not just investment that Tim wants to see for the regions: he also wants to see devolution of political power. In the interview – the other bloggers there were Mathew Hulbert, Caron Lindsay, Joe Otten, Mark Pack and Iain Brodie Brown – we discussed how this might be achieved. Should we go for devolution to regions or accept the more pragmatic solution of using existing cities and counties?

I asked Tim if he would be happy with neighbouring counties having different education systems. My reason for asking this was that, looking for somewhere quiet to work over the lunch break, I inadvertently found myself in a fringe meeting on education, called to launch a pamphlet by Helen Flynn, where Tim happened to be the guest speaker.

It was something of a celebration of the fall of Michael Gove and its heroine was the head teacher of Barrowford Primary School for her rather toe-curling letter. And, fairly or not, I gained the impression that those present had no great love of diversity in education.

When I asked Tim the question during his interview he said he would be happy to see different systems in different counties, but I am not sure his heart was in it. Still, he did make the important point that Michael Gove’s most far-reaching and questionable changes have been made in teacher training, not at the margins with free schools.

If I had been Jeremy Paxman, my first question about the speech would have been: “This is a leadership bid, isn’t it?” I am not sure how fair that would have been, but it was certainly how many members of the Social Liberal Forum saw it, jumping up to give him a standing ovation.

As to my own views, back in 2011 I wrote of him:
He is clearly a formidable campaigner, having turned Westmorland and Lonsdale into what looked very like a safe Liberal Democrat seat until the Boundary Commission got hold of it. He is young and personable, and he has other attributes that may be useful to someone standing for the leadership of the party in the future. He is Northern, did not go to public school and has not held ministerial office under the Coalition. 
So my feeling is that we should take Tim Farron very seriously. 
I still think we should, even if his oratory yesterday was not that impressive. Too many important lines were swallowed or thrown away. And he did not make the unpopular speech that I went on to ask for in that post.

Still, in singling out the way London dominates our national life Tim has identified an issue that is too little remarked and put himself on the right side of the debate.

It is also an issue that marks him out within the party and could mark out the party as a whole in a future election.

Viscount Tonypandy and Leo Abse

Today's newspapers say the police are investigating reports that the late Viscount Tonypandy - George Thomas, the Commons Speaker - raped a nine-year-old boy.

According to the Mirror:
His alleged victim, now aged 55, said: “I was raped by George Thomas in Cardiff. I was about nine. 
“He spent a lot of time at my house as my parents were good friends with him. Things started small but then got a lot worse. It has been with me all my life.” ...
The alleged victim, now living in Australia, said his foster parents were Labour Party supporters. He added: “We went on many campaigns for Harold Wilson, Jim Callaghan and George Thomas.”
Anyone who shares my weakness for political gossip will be familiar with the rumour that George Thomas used to pick up young men from sex.

The most authoritative account of this rumour was given by another deceased Labour MP, Leo Abse. It appeared in the American edition of his The Man Behind the Smile: Tony Blair and the Politics of Perversion, which was quoted in the Daily Mail the other day.

I seem to recall reviewing the British edition for Liberator, but Thomas was still alive when that came out. After his death Abse felt less constrained and added an extra chapter to the American edition, which came out with the less beguiling title Tony Blair: The Man Behind The Smile.

In it the worldly Abse describes George Thomas's terror of exposure and how he would sometimes help Thomas deal with the threat of blackmail.

He then writes:
But there were times when my advice had gone unheeded. While still a backbench MP, he asked me for a loan. The specificity and size of the loan, £800, aroused my suspicions. 
He poured out the story. I urged him to let me deal with this extortioner. But to no avail. That sum – the ticket and resettlement money which was to take the man to Australia – would, George insisted, mark the end of the affair. 
I had profound misgivings but I could see George was near breaking point. I gave him the money.
Given that Thomas's alleged victim now lives in Australia, one has to wonder whether Abse's £800 was used to settle the whole family there.

It was not blackmail, It was a way of Thomas getting rid of a potential scandal.

Abse does say that this incident took place when Thomas was still a backbencher, whereas the supposed rape seems to have taken place in the late 1960s or early 1970s, which makes the dates hard to reconcile.

But at the very least we know that Thomas regarded Australia as a place to dispatch people who threaten to become awkward.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Social Liberal Forum conference and a piece of railway history

I spent today at the Social Liberal Forum conference in London. It was held at Amnesty International's new headquarters in Shoreditch. (It must be new as my taxi driver was not certain where it was - he did explain how the city is run by the Masons though.)

Thanks to the organisers I interviewed Tim Farron and Ed Davey - I shall write those up for this blog shortly. The day was very well run, the venue was air conditioned and I met a lot of old friends and some new readers.

The photograph?

It turns out that Amnesty's HQ stands next door to a piece of railway history. Look closely and you will see that the train is on a new concrete viaduct and about to join an older brick one.

Back in 2007 I wrote about Broad Street, a lost London railway terminus. This brick viaduct used to carry the North London Line into Broad Street, but it was cut short at just this point to allow development of the station and trackbed.

The new concrete viaduct carries the East London Line, which used to be part of the Underground system and terminate at Shoreditch. That station has gone, but the new viaduct means  East London trains now run to Highbury & Islington or to Dalston Junction.

I remember sitting in a hotel in Bournemouth during my first Liberal Party Assembly in 1984  discussing, with David Gamper from Hackney Liberals, the possibility of reopening the intermediate stations on the viaduct into Broad Street. They had been closed because of wartime bombing and never reopened.

This discussion had a slightly surreal air as we were surround by some very Bournemouth blue- and pink-rinsed ladies playing bridge.

Broad Street did not survive much longer, but those stations have been reopened and are served by the East London Line.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The old school at Breedon on the Hill

The approach to Breedon on the Hill from the east is dominated by the church on its man-made cliff, but the first thing you see when you arrive in the village is this remarkable Victorian school. Your first impression is that it is forbidding, but it is tamed by further study.

British Listed Buildings gives its history:
The school was built [in 1874] by Charles Abney Hastings as a memorial to his wife, Edith. His name had been Abney but he took his wife's name Hastings either on their marriage or on her succession to the Scottish title of Loudon on the death of her brother, the last Marquess of Hastings. ... 
Abney Hastings was created Lord Donington in 1880. He built this school a year after purchasing the Breedon estates of the 7th Earl of Stamford and Warrington.
Today it is too near the main road the quarry to serve its original purpose and lies empty, but it remains a remarkable building.

What Tim Farron will tell the Social Liberal Forum conference

I am off to London for the Social Liberal Forum conference tomorrow. I hope to interview a couple of Leading Liberal Democrats for this blog.

Thanks to Huffington Post and the power of the press release, I can already tell you what one of them is going to say.

Step forward Tim Farron, who will say:
"There is no political market for a centre right laissez faire liberal party amongst the British electorate, or for a party that sets itself up as the permanent see-saw coalition partner. 
"To aim to be either would be to neuter our movement and invite electoral annihilation on the same scale of our friends in the German FDP who chose a similar path. To follow the FDP example would be to abdicate responsibility for our economy."
He will add:
Politics should be about positive plans for a better Britain, not fear and loathing for one tribe or another. We should want the British people to choose the Liberal Democrats for what we are for, more than who we are against,"
AndIn his speech, it seems, he will call for his party to :
"stake out the case for comprehensive liberalism based on a true understanding of what creates and what prevents freedom". 
"Laws that prevent you worshipping as you choose, living with whom you choose, reading what you choose curtail your liberties no more and no less than the poverty, the ill health and the inadequate education that robs you of your choices," he will say. 
"Never mind economic liberalism versus social liberalism," he will add. "I demand that Liberals should defend our citizens from all of those threats... our new consensus must be based on a belief in active, can do government whose focus is on tackling the biggest challenges we face in the confident belief that we can overcome them." 
Farron will also call for the government to set a target for "every breadwinner to be paid a living wage by 2020" to stop the "scourge of in work poverty" 
That makes a lot of sense to me, but do I detect an attempt to construct the sort of 'from log cabin to White House' narrative that might be appealing in a future party leader?

For the Huffington Post tell us that Tim will
tell delegates about his personal life story of growing up in a terraced house in Lancashire with "no heating, no holidays" and attack the "appalling rhetoric of Miliband and Osborne – setting the shirkers against the striver".
That sounds familiar, but did receive free school dinners? You don't outprole me that easily.

Six of the Best 451

Alex's Archives takes a scalpel to Liberal Democrat travails over the bedroom tax.

"He was right to emphasise the importance of diversity in education, right to champion the involvement of parents in starting schools and right to turbo-charge free schools." David Boyle, rightly, writes in praise of Michael Gove.

The only way to contain Moscow is to understand that there’s still a Cold Warrior in the Kremlin, says Jeffrey Lewis on Foreign Policy.

"Today Liberty announced it is representing James and Dana Haymore, who are being prosecuted for failing to ensure that their son 'regularly attended school' on the basis of six days absence." Good for Liberty.

London Reconnections on the reawakening of the Caledonian sleeper.

Proletarian Democracy maintains that the Chuckle Brothers are two of the most successful revolutionary agents in the entire proletarian milieu: "The famous Chucklist catchphrase, 'To me, to you' is perhaps the most succinct expression of working class solidarity ever uttered against the parasitic capitalist ruling class of South Yorkshire."

Nick Clegg on Nigel Farage, tuition fees and making cups of tea for David Cameron

Thanks to Alex Harding-Last on Twitter.

Westminster's Secret Service: "A scandal involving small boys"

This is an extract from Michael Cockerell's 1995 documentary about the operation of the party whips at Westminster. You can watch the whole thing on Youtube.

The ingenuous Tim Fortescue, who was a Conservative whip between 1970 and 1973 (when Ted Heath was prime minister) explains how the system works - or at least worked in those days.

It may surprise my younger readers to learn that he sat for a Liverpool constituency.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Take your hands off our beavers

A beaver yesterday
Good news from the River Otter in Devon: one of the wild beavers living on it has given birth to three young.

When the beavers were discovered at the start of the month, it was announced that they would be trapped and rehomed in a wildlife park. The appeared to be an attempt by the Tory minister George Eustice to placate fishing interests.

A petition against this move was launched and, reading today's press coverage, there are hopes that the government will back down.

Good news: Criminals are getting more stupid

I once quoted the Labour peer Bernard Donoughue on this blog:
"I am reminded that a senior detective inspector from Maidenhead once explained to me: "You have to understand that the root of this country's law and order problem is that our police are a lot thicker than the villains."
But it seems times have changed. From the Leicester Mercury:
A burglar was caught after dropping his prison release papers during a break-in – on the day he was freed from jail. ... 
Alan Murphy, prosecuting, said: "At the scene were Graham's prison papers and other documents, including his photograph, which he may have dropped. The police had a lead straight away."
And from the Lancashire Evening Post:
A fire-eating magician was found to have a stash of sick child abuse images after he accidentally handed over the evidence to police to help them with another inquiry.
Don't have nightmares.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Liberal Democrats commit to bedroom tax reform

Danny Alexander writes:
“As a Liberal Democrat I want everyone to have the opportunity to have a secure and decent home. 
“We brought in changes to how housing benefit is calculated in the social housing sector with the best of intentions. 
“However, a recent report shows people are having to cut back on household essentials despite the help offered through Discretionary Housing Payments. 
“Therefore, we have reviewed our position so only those already in the social rented sector who turn down suitable smaller homes will see a reduction in their benefit. These commitments will be in the Lib Dem manifesto and we will push for it as government policy right away. 
“This change, combined with a commitment to build 300,000 houses a year in the next Parliament, will build on the progress we have already made to address Britain’s housing problem.”
That sounds about right to me.

The Saxon carvings and Renaissance tombs at Breedon on the Hill

Back to the church at Breedon on the Hill. This is the Breedon Angel, an Anglo Saxon carving believed to represent the Angel Gabriel appearing to Mary.

Great English Churches says it is "secreted away in the bell tower where only the privileged are allowed to see it". Ah, but I turned on the Calder charm and was taken up to see it by the excellent woman who was looking after the church that afternoon.

Other carvings of the period line the walls of the church. As that website says:
There are Greek and Byzantine influences to be seen and all of this should help to give the lie to the suggestion that between the departure of the Romans and the arrival of the Normans poor old England went through artistic “Dark Ages”.
And in the north aisle you can find tombs belonging to the Shirley family, who bought the priory at the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Vince Cable compared to Saruman from The Lord of the Rings

He was not trying to be complimentary, but the Conservative MP Richard Fuller - as quoted by the Evening Standard - wins our Imaginative Parallel of the Day award for this comment on Vince Cable:
"[It is] as if the Secretary of State sees himself as a real-world version of Saruman, that character in Middle Earth who came down with the best of intentions but unfortunately took the power unto himself and believed that he alone was benign enough and all-seeing that he could create a wonderful environment ... in which all would be good."

Joan Hickson was the greatest Miss Marple

I have said it before and I am going to say it again here: Joan Hickson was the greatest Miss Marple.

And if you won't take my word for it, listen to Natalie Haynes writing on a Guardian blog a couple of years ago:
Hickson captured perfectly the fluffy ruthlessness of Jane Marple: she has wispy white hair like the mohair she's so often knitting with her softly clicking pins; the slight thickening of the voice when she's thinking; the real sense that she is, as Sir Henry Clithering describes her, "one of the most formidable criminologists in England. There she sits, an elderly spinster, sweet, placid, so you'd think. Yet her mind has plumbed the depths of human iniquity, and taken it all in the day's work". 
Hickson's Marple is neither Rutherford's buffoon nor McEwan's camp schoolmarm: she is a frail elderly woman who is simply unshockable and fearless. Jason Rafiel (Donald Pleasence) has her number: "She also has a mind like a bacon slicer." He is the one who nicknames her Nemesis, the goddess of retribution, in A Caribbean Mystery. And it is the measure of a good policeman that he can recognise her brilliance in spite of her old-lady mannerisms: Chief Inspector Fred Davy (the much-missed George Baker in At Bertram's Hotel) gets her immediately, whereas poor Chief Inspector Slack (David Horovitch in The Body in the Library) is a less good judge of character. 
Miss Marple's great gift is to have seen every facet of human behaviour in her village, St Mary Mead. Every new person, situation and crime is filtered through this knowledge: she is never surprised by anything. "Apparently, he's a … communist," whispers the vicar's wife of Edmund Swettenham in A Murder is Announced. "Well, yes," replies Miss Marple, thoughtfully. "Then he must be very lonely in Chipping Cleghorn."
Haynes also reminds us that the first episode of The Body in the Library (Hickson's first Miss Marple) was screened on Boxing Day, two days after the the final episode of The Box of Delights was shown.

They really don't make Christmas television like that any more.

Six of the Best 450

"Journalism is in remorseless decline. 30 years ago the quality newspapers would devote a page (a broadsheet page that is) to parliamentary proceedings. Now the best many offer is a facetious piece from the ‘lobby correspondent’ and the cartoon." Richard Kemp asks if democracy is dead or merely dying.

Trail by Jeory looks at new accusations of organised fraud at the count for the election of the mayor of Tower Hamlets.

"Here’s our choice. We wait and see whether a class of powerful pesticides, made by Bayer and Syngenta, is indeed pushing entire ecosystems to oblivion, or we suspend their use while proper trials are conducted. The natural world versus two chemical companies: how hard can this be?" George Monbiot calls for a global moratorium on neonicotinoids.

Greg Mulholland, Lib Dem MP for Leeds North West, writes on the party website about his debut for the Great Britain Veterans rugby league team.

Londonist discovers the Great Beer Flood of 1814, which claimed at least eight lives.

"He made his Middlesex debut at 16, making him the club's youngest player since 1949; and his first England Test ... at the age of 20. A year later, he became the youngest ever Englishman to 50 Test wickets. He was hailed as one of the finest young fast bowlers in the world." Steve Finn talks to CricInfo about his struggle to rebuild his cricket career.

Parrot and its owner stuck up a tree on Hull estate

The Hull Daily Mail wins Headline of the Day.

Thanks to Carl Minns on Twitter.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Now Jo Swinson is going to replace Vince Cable

Political commentators are agreed that Jo Swinson will get a Cabinet post in the autumn: it's just that they can't agree whom she will replace.

The other day we saw that both Alistair Carmichael and Ed Davey have been given the black spot.

Now David Maddox in The Scotsman has found a new victim:
This could be the moment when Mr Clegg considers the position of Vince Cable. The Business Secretary has been a thorn in Mr Clegg’s side throughout the coalition and may have been involved in the failed coup attempt organised by his close friend Lord Oakeshott. But most importantly, Mr Clegg now has an excuse to sack Mr Cable because of the botched privatisation of Royal Mail. Most ministers struggle to survive losing the taxpayer at least £1 billion. 
The timing could be significant. Cable is adored by the party faithful and sacking him before the Glasgow conference in autumn could see him become a focal point for members’ widespread unhappiness with Clegg’s leadership. Do it after the conference and Mr Cable would have less of a platform to lead a popular rebellion.
It's almost as if commentators don't always know as much as they pretend.