Friday, August 22, 2014

Six of the Best 459

David Higgerson rightly criticises the Local Government Association for its press campaign rubbishing freedom of information legislation.

Moscow dreamt of transforming southeastern Ukraine into a client state, but the Kremlin's plans are fraying as Kiev pushes back, says Anna Nemtsova on Foreign Policy.

"I really fear that higher education is moving down a slippery slope where the fetish for the best ratings and indicators ensures that we merely hold student’s hands, rather than ignite interest in their own studies," says Alister Scott on The Conversation.

Dave Cooper writes on Echoes of the Past about falling in love with Kate Bush at the age of 5: "Usually my pocket money was spent entirely on sweets or an occasional ice lolly, but I didn't mind in the least that the last month's worth of accrued funds were all spent on a record instead - after all, it was the Angel Lady. This probably set an important precedent for me, as the vast majority of my 'pocket money' has been spent on music ever since."

The Beatles want to sexually hypnotise you into Communism, warns Amber Frost on Dangerous Minds.

"What gives this book staying power is the fact that it inspired better books by later authors, and that it is the first to set out the post-apocalyptic coming-of-age formula that still defines much of the genre more than a century later." The Finch & Pea on After London by Richard Jefferies - "the first modern post-apocalypse novel".

Baby penguin at Scarborough's Sea Life Centre is back on its feet thanks to special trousers

Our Headline of the Day Award goes to York's The Press.

Broad Street station, London

Looking at this photo, it is remarkable that this forgotten London terminus survived for another 14 years after it was taken in 1972.

I can remember, on a summer Saturday in 1983 or 1984, being the only passenger on a train when it arrived here.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Channel 4 to screen Nick Clegg drama in run up to general election

From the Guardian website:
Channel 4 is to air a political drama about Nick Clegg in the run up to next year’s general election. 
Coalition will explore what Channel 4 describes as the “emotionally wrought, politically-charged and often frenzied moments” leading up to Clegg’s decision to go into government with David Cameron. 
The one-off, 90-minute drama is to air early next year and looks into the backroom politics, compromises and wrangling that took place after the 2010 election failed to produce a majority.
But who will play Nick Clegg? I hear you ask.

According to the report, no decision has yet been made as to who will play Clegg, but "suggestions include Chris Addison and David Morrissey". It does not say who has made the suggestions.

Coalition will be directed by Bafta-winning Alex Holmes and produced by Cuba Pictures.

The run up to the election will also see the release of The Riot Club, a film inspired by David Cameron and Boris Johnson's membership of the Bullingdon Club.

Later. The Independent says:
A rival Coalition television drama, 5 Days In May, based on former Labour minister Andrew Adonis’ account of the 2010 negotiations, is also planned. The rights were snapped up by World Productions, the company behind the BBC police drama Line of Duty.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The Minister for Elf

Another week at Bonkers Hall draws to a close. Judging by today's entry, that is probably just as well.


You find me on the terrace again, looking out upon my coverts. If it is the Elves of Rockingham Forest in there, it is high time they met Norman Lamb.

Do I hear you ask why? Because he is the Minister for Elf, of course.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

  • The elves in my covert
  • An inflatable Julian Huppert
  • Spotting a wrong 'un
  • The Liberal Detective Agency
  • The Bedroom Tax and the Hall
  • When sheep went through the lobbies
  • Wednesday, August 20, 2014

    A woman lathe operator at Imperial Typewriters

    Last summer I blogged about the former Imperial Typewriters factory in Leicester. That tale, with its racial politics, union militancy and outmoded products, tells us something important about Britain in the 1970s.

    This striking photograph must have been taken inside that factory.

    Off-duty black Leicestershire officer stopped and searched 30 times

    A depressing story from the Leicester Mercury:
    A black Leicestershire Police inspector has revealed he has been stopped and searched by fellow officers around 30 times while he was off duty. Inspector Nick Glynn told BBC Leicester he has often been subjected to the controversial policing practice by colleagues from other forces.
    The good news is that Inspector Glynn, who already advises Leicestershire Police on the use of stop and search powers, has been seconded to the College of Policing - a national body which oversees police training - to help reform the way they are used across the country.

    Are modern bowlers really faster?

    On Test Match Special a few days ago talk turned to the subject of fast bowling. The consensus was that there were many more fast bowlers around in the county game 20 or 30 years ago - most of them, of course, from overseas.

    But Jon Agnew said that the modern bowlers are convinced they are faster than anyone who has gone before them. Aren't today sprinters and throwers better than their predecessors?

    Let me offer a couple of pieces of evidence in favour of the idea that bowlers were faster 20 or 30 years ago.

    First, George Ferris. He was an Antiguan fast bowler who played for Leicestershire in the 1980s. He was quick - often too quick for the comfort of county batsmen.

    I remember watching him play for the Leicestershire against Warwickshire in 1987 - one of the last county championship games staged at Hinckley. Warwickshire batted first on an unseasonably cold day and, with the exception of Geoff Humpage, seemed relieved to get back into the warm after Ferris had blasted them out.

    Yet, such was the strength of West Indian fast bowling in that era, Ferris did not win a single test cap. I am convinced that he would walk into their test team today.

    Jon Agnew, incidentally, was playing in that game and foretold his future career by leaning back over the boundary boards at long leg and chatting with the crowd. And the Warwickshire team, with Dennis Amiss and Norman Gifford, looks like something from another age.

    Second, take a look at the video above, which I am alarmed to find is almost 40 years old. John Snow and Peter Lever were both well into their thirties in 1975, but they look to be tearing in. Are Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson really faster than this?

    A word of caution: some bowlers do look faster live than on television. I always think of Chris Old and Steve Watkin (who had a brief England career) in this category. So maybe it is possible to look faster on television than you really are.

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: When sheep went through the lobbies


    How charming it must have been to see our own Duncan Hames carry his infant son Andrew through one of the Commons voting lobbies! Let me add at once that reliable observers agree that it was young Andrew who was cooing and not Duncan.

    Hearing of this incident put me in mind of some of the characters I encountered during my own time in the House. There was one old Tory who always carried a spaniel under his arm when he passed through to vote, while one of our chaps maintained that he had been granted the Freedom of Westminster and was thus entitled to drive a flock of sheep wherever he chose while in the borough.

    The feeling in the Usual Channels was that, while allowing the spaniel to vote could be winked at, insisting that all the sheep were counted was Going A Bit Far. Nevertheless, had this practice not been allowed on one occasion at least, Mr Gladstone’s Second Home Rule Bill would not have got as far as it did.

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

    Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

  • The elves in my covert
  • An inflatable Julian Huppert
  • Spotting a wrong 'un
  • The Liberal Detective Agency
  • The Bedroom Tax and the Hall
  • Tuesday, August 19, 2014

    Our Mother's House, ghost signs and Liberal News

    I have blogged before in praise of the 1967 film Our Mother's House and its score:
    Away from the film Delerue's music is pleasant, but in context I know of no score which so alters the mood of its film. Our Mother's House is a dark story of a family of children who conceal the death of their mother to avoid being taken into care. Just as the deception is about to be discovered there absentee father turns up and we discover things are not quite as they seemed. 
    This could have been a distasteful film, yet the music - innocent, lilting, compassionate - lifts it into a different sphere altogether. In doing so it gives Our Mother's House a claim to be one of the most important British films of the 1960s. 
    Like another domestic horror of the period, The Nanny from 1965 (both films feature the excellent Pamela Franklin), it shows children fighting against oppressive adult authority and the weight of the past.
    The short extract above features one of the film's young stars, Louis Sheldon Williams, who is of further interest to this blog for two reasons.

    First, because he grew up to have an interest in the ghost signs that this blog sometimes writes about - see this Guardian article about him from 2003.

    Second, because the Sheldon Williams family were good Liberals. In particular, his mother Ann used to write a weekly column for Liberal News in the sixties, just as I did for its successor Liberal Democrat News in the noughties.

    I know that from studying the wonderful bound volumes they used to keep in the Liberal Democrat News office. I hope they are now in good hands.

    Chris Rennard will face no further disciplinary action

    Sky News reports this evening:
    Lord Rennard will face no further disciplinary action over claims of harassment by four women, the Liberal Democrats have said. 
    The party said its Regional Parties Committee had decided not to proceed with the disciplinary process against the peer and lifted his suspension after meeting this week. 
    The committee met to consider whether the party had been brought into disrepute by statements made by Lord Rennard, or on his behalf, following publication of a report by Alistair Webster QC into the allegations against him.
    That report is a little confused because, as the third paragraph makes clear, the remaining charges against Chris Rennard did not concern allegations of harassment but his criticism of party procedures.

    Radical Bulletin in the latest issue of Liberator sums up the situation well:
    Is there no limit to the Lib Dems ability to cock-up everything related to the accusations made against Lord Rennard ... ? 
    The mishandling has pulled off the remarkable achievement of seeing both Rennard's accusers and supporters lose confidence in the processes used.
    That though is now dangerous, since the Regional Parties Committee ... has said Rennard should remain suspended from membership for criticising party procedures. 
    Since even Nick Clegg has done that on several occasions, rigid enforcement of this would leave the party with few members.
    Whatever one thinks of Rennard, the idea that anyone can be suspended from Lib Dem membership for criticising party procedures is as absurd as it is repellent.
    Later. ITV News has the text of Chris Rennard's statement.

    Chris Morris shows how to deal with people who do not get satire

    Facebook, BBC News tells us, is testing a new feature that warns users of satirical content posted from sites like the Onion.

    But there is another and better way of solving this problem, as Chris Morris once demonstrated.

    Thanks to Neil Bomb'd on Twitter.

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: The Bedroom Tax and the Hall


    I never liked the sound of this ‘Bedroom Tax’, not least because I have so many of the things myself. So I was glad to hear Clegg say the other day that no one will be forced to pay it unless they have turned down a move to another house.

    For myself, though a place with only a hundred bedrooms would be more manageable at my time in life, I cannot see me leaving the Hall – I would miss the lake, the haha and the triumphal monuments to Liberal by-election victories.

    Besides, I am in advanced negotiations about holding a time trial along the main corridor here when ‘Le Grand D├ępart’ comes to Rutland next year.

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

    Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

  • The elves in my covert
  • An inflatable Julian Huppert
  • Spotting a wrong 'un
  • The Liberal Detective Agency
  • Monday, August 18, 2014

    Special train marks 150th anniversary of Hammersmith & City Line

    The 150th anniversary of the opening of the Hammersmith & City Line was celebrated with special workings on two Saturdays earlier this month.

    Metropolitan Locomotive No. 1, Metropolitan Milk Van, the Chesham Set, the 1920s Sarah Siddons electric locomotive and the restored Jubilee Coach 353 made up the special train.

    Thanks to

    New light on Peter Righton

    Tom Bateman's story on the BBC News site: Paedophile Peter Righton advised Home Office on policy gives me a reason for writing about a figure who is more sinister than anyone likely to be charged under Operation Yewtree - even Jimmy Savile.

    Like Savile, he seems to have enjoyed licence to visit every institution and speak to every child in the country.

    There was also an item about Righton on this morning's Today programme - it starts at around 1:35:00. It featured Ian Pace, whose blog is required reading for anyone interested in the revived concern over historic child abuse.

    I don't know how much new information Tom Bateman has come across, but the frustrating thing about this affair is that Righton's crimes and influence were known about 20 years ago. If you have a strong stomach you can watch a documentary about him from June 1994.

    And Spotlight on Abuse - another valuable site - has the text of a report on Righton that was written the year before that.

    As it says:
    This document below was written by the retired child protection expert who was the source of Tom Watson’s October 2012 PMQ about “a powerful political paedophile ring”. 
    It was written during the 1993 investigation into Peter Righton, a child care expert who was part of a network of paedophiles that had infiltrated children’s homes and schools across the UK. Sir William Utting, acting on behalf of the Department of Health, requested a report on the Righton case from the Director of Hereford & Worcester Social Services Department. 
    The report should have found its way to the Secretary of State for Health, Virginia Bottomley. 
    The document reproduced here: ‘A Personal Viewpoint’, gives recommendations for what should have happened to expose the national paedophile network that Righton was part of. 
    Instead, the investigation was shut down, Righton died a free man, and most of his fellow abusers were never exposed and brought to justice.
    No one seems quite sure what the new inquiry on child abuse is for, but one thing it could usefully investigate is who saw this report on Righton and why they did not act on it.

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: The Liberal Detective Agency


    Little Steel, by contrast, has a lot of explaining to do, as he was informed long ago that Smith was far from being the clean potato. “We were a political party not a detective agency,” he has taken to whining about those years before we merged with the SDP Party. I am afraid conscience bids me explain why this is nonsense.

    In the mid 1970s, when we were at something of a low ebb, I went to Steel and said: “As the politics is not going so well these days, we need a second string to our bow. What about all this crime you read about in the newspapers? We Liberals are intelligent fellows and should be able to help bring the bad hats to book.”

    And so the Liberal Detective Agency was born. With Alan Beith’s sleuthing, Clement Freud’s pioneering work in psychological profiling and Nancy Seear’s willingness to play bad cop to David Alton’s good cop, we enjoyed no little success. The money the agency made was ploughed back into the party’s campaigning, with the result that we survived the 1979 general election in better shape than any commentator had dared predict.

    I fear for Steel’s reputation when this comes out, and come out it will, as I am in advanced negotiations with an independent moving television production company about bringing the tale to the screen. I only hope he finds his missing locus before it is broadcast.

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

    Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

  • The elves in my covert
  • An inflatable Julian Huppert
  • Spotting a wrong 'un
  • Six of the Best 458

    Lincoln Cathedral
    John Prescott is widely regarded as one of the funniest politicians on Twitter. But, asks Peter Black, is he really responsible for his own Twitter feed?

    "As I plod through my 20s, I've noticed a strange phenomenon: The music I loved as a teenager means more to me than ever—but with each passing year, the new songs on the radio sound like noisy nonsense." Mark Joseph Stern writes about the psychological basis of musical nostalgia for Slate.

    The flooding of Mesolithic Doggerland and the emergence of Lincolnshire are mapped by Caitlin Green.

    "The tiger stalked its way into the street where a curious boy, around nine years of age, reached out to stroke the back of the strange creature that had appeared before him. In an instant, the tiger whirled and gripping the boy’s shoulder in his jaws, ran off down the street in the direction of the docks." The East End explains the existence of a statue to be found near the entrance to Tobacco Dock.

    Different Shades of Green watches Tom Abell make an impressive debut for Somerset.

    Jennie Rigg has a recipe for an extremely boozy bread and butter pudding.

    Sunday, August 17, 2014

    St Leonard's Mill, Winchelsea

    Jon followed the directions and soon found that the town finished as abruptly to the north as it did to the south, although on this side the slope of the hill was more gradual. He went through a gate into an elm-fringed field, climbed a stile and found himself looking over flat country which stretched away into the blue distance of the Sussex Weald.
    The field before him fell away sharply in one place, and at the topmost ridge of the hill stood the gaunt, black ruin of a mighty windmill. There were no sales on this mill, and from where he was standing the sky showed through the timbers of the roof. 
    Malcolm Saville The Gay Dolphin Adventure (1945)
    According to Wikipedia, St Leonard's Mill, Winchelsea, was built on a site nearby in 1760. By 1823 it had been moved to the site of the old St Leonard's church, which stood outside the town walls of Winchelsea.

    It remained a working mill until the 1890s, after which it fell derelict and was restored more than once.

    St Leonard's Mill blew down in the Great Storm of 1987 - and I fear those elms are long gone too.

    Boris Johnson and the interplanetary resistance

    On the London Review of Books blog, Daniel Marc Janes points out that fictional namesakes for politicians are not hard to come by. (I once wrote a column about George Osborne and Vanity Fair myself.)

    But he continues:
    In Agent of Chaos by Norman Spinrad (1967), Boris Johnson is the unlikely leader of the Democratic League, an interplanetary resistance movement fighting against the totalitarian regime of the Hegemony, which has turned the entire solar system into a surveillance state.
    Their political efforts are hampered by his bumbling nature. "Boris Johnson was quite willing to babble on – and did so at every opportunity – but the man was a fool."

    Swing Out Sister: Breakout

    Last night we discovered the unlikely story of the 1967 rock festival held at Spalding's Tulip Bulb Auction Hall.

    So this seems like a good day to offer you some more Linclolnshire music.

    Corinne Drewery, singer with the eightiestastic Swing Out Sister, went to school in Louth.

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: Spotting a wrong 'un


    One of the things I have acquired in my long experience of business and politics is the ability to spot a wrong ‘un. George de Chabris, Allen Stanford, Bernie Madoffwithallyourmoney… I wasn’t taken in by any of them. There are more poisonous varieties of wrong ‘un, of course, which is why Cyril Smith was one of a number of politicians, such as [names redacted on solicitor’s advice], whom I never allowed to visit the Home for Well-Behaved Orphans.

    Really, I should have smelt a rat the first time I met him, as he and his mother were huddled around the hearth of their terraced house in Rochdale, burning postal votes to keep warm. This was against any number of electoral laws (not to mention the Clean Air Act), but I have to confess I was impressed that every one I saw had been cast for the opposing candidate.

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

    Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary:
    • The elves in my covert
    • An inflatable Julian Huppert
    • Saturday, August 16, 2014

      Jimi Hendrix and the 1967 Spalding Rock Festival

      This short BBC documentary, presented by Benjamin Zephaniah, tells an unlikely but true story.

      Read more about the Spalding Rock Festival - rather wonderfully, it was held at the town's Tulip Bulb Auction Hall.

      The BBC, Jimmy Savile and Cliff Richard

      In view of the BBC's enthusiasm for live broadcasting the police search of Cliff Richard's flat, is is worth reminding ourselves of how they reacted when allegations were made against someone closer to home.

      Here is the statement it originally thought was an adequate response to the case of Jimmy Savile:
      The BBC has conducted extensive searches of its files to establish whether there is any record of misconduct or allegations of misconduct by Sir Jimmy Savile during his time at the BBC. No such evidence has been found. 
      Whilst the BBC condemns any behaviour of the type alleged in the strongest terms, in the absence of evidence of any kind found at the BBC that corroborates the allegations that have been made, it is simply not possible for the corporation to take any further action.

      Lord Bonkers' Diary: An inflatable Julian Huppert


      Not liking the sound of this Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill - "I am a Liberal and I am against this sort of thing," as my old friend Clarence “Frogman” Wilcock used to say – I attend a Westminster press conference where Clegg is explaining his support for it. I turn up early to be sure of a good seat, and who should I find arranging the stage set but his special advisers Freddie and Fiona?

      They are taking turns with a bicycle pump, attempting to get some air into a large balloon that has had a collection of bristles stuck on it. “Whatever is that, you two?” I ask. “It’s an inflatable Julian Huppert,” they explain. “Because everyone is being so unfair about Nick and seems to love Julian, we thought we would bring this along so Nick can hide behind it when he makes his case today. But it seems to have a slow puncture.”

      Just then the pump parts company from the valve in the inflatable Huppert, which proceeds to deflate with an all too familiar sound. “I am afraid you have Julian down,” I observe. “Though, come to think of it, perhaps he has let himself down?”

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

      Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary:

      Friday, August 15, 2014

      Cliff Richard in Serious Charge

      Our Ironic Film of the Day.

      This was Cliff Richard's first film appearance. He has only a small role, but he and Andrew Ray are about the only interesting things in the film.

      For the most part Serious Charge shows the inability of a certain kind of 1950s Britishness to cope with the emergence of the teenager.

      Lord Bonkers' Diary: The elves in my covert

      The start of another week at the Hall finds Rutland's most popular fictional peer in contemplative mood.


      It is high summer in Rutland. The meadows are alive with hamwees (or are they wheways?), Meadowcroft is patrolling his herbaceous borders lest an insect so much as look at one of his blooms and I hear the sound of music and laughter from one of my coverts. I had been about to send dogs in, assuming the local teenagers were up to no good in there with a transistor radio, but it may just be the Elves of Rockingham Forest and one does not want to fall out with those fellows.

      The Middle East is on fire and aeroplanes are shot from the sky over Ukraine, but as I gaze upon this idyllic scene I am reminded of the words of the poet Hardy put it: “Yet this will go onward the same/ Though Dynasties pass.”

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

      Thursday, August 14, 2014

      The Foxfield Railway Summer Steam Gala 2014

      Many years ago I spent a couple of days walking the Caldon Canal from the centre of Stoke out to Leek and Cheddleton flint mill - then the head of navigation.

      I can remember listening to a tribute to Kenneth Williams as I walked and hearing Wet Wet Wet's rather wet version of With a Little Help from my Friends on the jukebox in a Leek pub on the first evening. All of which dates this walk to May 1988, when I was a councillor and still working for Golden Wonder in Market Harborough.

      On the second night I stayed at a farm above the canal at Cheddleton and the next morning I had to turn my mind to getting home.

      It occurred to me that, though I did not have the relevant map, if I set off in the right direction I would hit the Stoke to Derby railway line at some point. And as there are plenty of intermediate stations on this line, I would probably be near one.

      Sure enough, I arrived at Blythe Bridge from which I could catch a train home via Derby.

      But just before I got to Blythe Bridge I came across the Foxfield Railway. I had not heard of it, but it turned out to be a preserved colliery line specialising in industrial locomotives.

      Enjoy the video.

      Paddy Ashdown foresees the end of Iraq and rise of Kurdistan

      I recall Denis Healey saying amid the turmoil in Eastern Europe at the end of the 1980s something to the effect that it was not the settlement of 1945 that was breaking down but that of 1918.

      And as the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia disappeared from the map, it became clear he was right.

      On the Guardian website (and I assume in tomorrow's paper) Paddy Ashdown suggests that a similar process is now taking place in the Middle East:
      What is happening in the Middle East, like it or not, is the wholesale rewriting of the Sykes-Picot borders of 1916, in favour of an Arab world whose shapes will be arbitrated more by religious dividing lines than the old imperial conveniences of 100 years ago.
      As part of these changes, Paddy foresees the Kurds in northern Iraq (bolstered by Western aid) breaking away to form an independent state.

      When I was secretary of York Liberal Students around 1979-80 we had a recruiting leaflet. One of the causes it backed was an independent state for the Kurds.

      This policy had been inherited from officers who had since left university, but we kept it on the leaflet - even if none of us could have pointed to where Kurdistan would be on a map.

      Whoever wrote that leaflet probably envisaged Kurdistan breaking away from Turkey rather than Iraq, but I thought of it when I read Paddy's article.

      Charles Masterman's war

      The new issue of Liberator has a First World War theme and includes this article by me. The way it is presented in the magazine suggests that some of the direct quotes from Horne were my own work, but my debt to his article is made clear here.

      Masterman's war

      Charles Masterman is an attractive figure among Edwardian Liberals.

      Before being elected an MP in 1906, he undertook social work in the London slums and worked a journalist. His best book, The Condition of England, captures his temperament well. Though ardent for social progress, he had a melancholy streak and could look beyond politics for salvation, quoting the 19th-century nature mystic Richard Jefferies more than once.

      Masterman was responsible, as a junior minister, for putting Lloyd George’s National Insurance Act of 1911, which laid the foundations of the welfare state, through the Commons.

      This meant spending hour after hour at the dispatch box as the Conservatives fought over every line of the bill. It also won him the hatred of the Tory press and every reactionary voice from the British Medical Association to the headmaster of Eton.

      He was lucky in his first biographer. Masterman’s wife Lucy, who was to survive him by 50 years, was later a parliamentary candidate herself and was active in the Women’s Liberal Federation in the 1970s, provided a portrait of “the vivid, tormented man I loved”.

      There are too many undigested extracts from her diary for it to rank as great literature, but besides its value as a picture of Masterman, it is an invaluable resource for anyone seeking to understand the big beasts of that Liberal government.

      For not only did Masterman serve under both Lloyd George and Winston Churchill, he and Lucy became friends of both families. So in her biography you will read Lloyd George’s recollection of his childhood:
      "If we kept the law about trespassing when we were children … we should have nowhere to play but a dusty strip of grass by the high road." I never remember during all our visit passing a 'trespassers will be prosecuted' notice without him remarking “I hate that sort of thing”. 
      And you will read what happened when Masterman, who had been on holiday in France and reading reports of the Siege of Sidney Street with increasing alarm, got back to London:
      He burst into Mr. Churchill's room at the Home Office with the query "What the hell have you been doing now, Winston?" The reply, in Winston's characteristic lisp, was unanswerable. "Now Charlie. Don't be croth. It was such fun." 
      Masterman was appointed Chancellor for the Duchy of Lancaster in 1914 at the age of 41. In those days any MP joining the Cabinet was obliged to resign his seat and fight a by-election – this requirement was abolished a few years later by the first Labour government.

      Because Masterman was identified with Lloyd George’s reforms – and because he had won the enmity of Horatio Bottomley and his populist John Bull magazine over a scandal where he was deemed to have shown insufficient zeal for investigating the mistreatment of boys in a reformatory – he had become a controversial figure.

      As a result, he was defeated in his Bethnal Green constituency and again at a second by-election in Ipswich shortly afterwards.

      It is easy to blame the Tory press, but it is worth pausing to reflect that reforms carried out on behalf of the people are not always popular with those people. If Lloyd George’s measures were such a leap forward, should Masterman not have benefited from being associated with them?

      The same paradox may exist for the National Health Service too. The other day I heard Tim Farron claim that William Beveridge had lost his seat at Berwick in 1945 because of a campaign against him by the British Medical Association, and David Boyle has told me that some working class people were wary of the NHS after its establishment in 1948. Certainly, the (admittedly very middle class) 1950 Ealing comedy The Magnet shows people proud their local hospital is run by a charity and not part of the NHS.

      At the very least, Charles Masterman’s career shows that policies that are right in the long term may be unpopular in the short term and that the usual description of him as an ‘unlucky’ politician does not tell the whole story.

      The Liberal Party gave up its attempt to get Masterman back into the House of Commons just as the First World War broke out. Instead, he was put in charge of Wellington House, the organisation responsible for British war propaganda.

      For many this has cast a shadow over his memory. As John Horne argued in History Today in 2002 (download a copy of his article), after the First World War was over public opinion was dominated by a backlash against the cost of victory and in particular against the industrialised killing of trench warfare. Scapegoats were needed to explain how this catastrophe had come about.

      Horne wrote:
      Propaganda was a key culprit. Liberals and socialists, in particular, considered the ‘people’ to be inherently pacific and rational. Ordinary individuals could only have continued the butchery of the Western Front because they were misled and ‘manipulated’. 
      Atrocity propaganda was held to be the prime example of this manipulation. The Labour MP Arthur Ponsonby argued that “the exaggeration and invention of atrocities soon becomes the main staple of propaganda”. He asserted that Allied governments had circulated
      stories of German ‘frightfulness’ in Belgium … in such numbers as to give ample proof of the abominable cruelty of the German army an so to infuriate popular opinion against them.
      The idea that German atrocities towards the civilian population when they invaded Belgium and France in 1914 were an invention of the Allied propaganda machine took hold to such an extent that many were slow to believe accounts of the Holocaust during the Second World War.

      Yet the true position is different. As Horne argues, the contemporary argument between the Allies and Germany was not so much about what the German Army had done but whether it was justified:
      There were official inquiries in Belgium, France and Britain, the last chaired by the Liberal peer Lord Bryce. The reports varied considerably in tone but all claimed that German soldiers had killed large numbers of civilians in cold blood and deliberately inflicted enormous physical damage. The German government responded with the White Book of May 1915. Curiously, this did not deny the ‘facts’ alleged by the Allies but argued that German actions were legitimate reprisals for the real atrocity in the German view – mass resistance by Franco-Belgian civilians in a war of francs-tireurs. 
      'Francs-tireurs' – free shooters – was the term used to describe the irregular military formations deployed by France during the early stages of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, and Horne cites research suggesting that the German military in 1914 was obsessed with the idea they would face such opposition again.

      The result was killing on a scale that is startling to readers raised on the idea that German atrocities existed only in Allied propaganda:
      Six-and-a-half thousand civilians perished, mostly in ten days in the second half of August. Deportations to Germany and the use of civilians as ‘human shields’ were widespread. Some 20,000 buildings (including whole villages) were burned down, including numerous historical and cultural monuments. In the worst incidents, scores or even hundreds of civilians were killed … The notorious destruction of Louvain, including the historic university library, with the death of 248 civilians, was the result of panic by German soldiers who, convinced that they faced a rising of the inhabitants, mistakenly fired on each other.
      Horne concludes that, though there was exaggeration and fantasy on the Allied side, the accounts of atrocities had their roots in the accounts of victims traumatised by the behaviour of the invading Germans.

      Similarly, Masterman gave widespread publicity to the Ottoman Empire’s attempted genocide of the Armenian people. There is no doubting the truth of those reports, yet you will still find the Turkish government denying the genocide and blaming the very idea of it on Charles Masterman.

      Masterman’s techniques were more subtle than Ponsonby allowed. Lucy paints a picture him insisting that all propaganda was factually based:
      It was within a month of his taking up the work that I saw him facing complaints not markedly different from threats from a prominent newspaper owner, afterwards ennobled, who was aggrieved that the “news” he had sent in on “atrocities” on Belgians, in particular the assertion that the Germans had cut the hands from a Belgian baby, had not been made use of … Masterman remained immoveable … “Find me the name of the hospital where the baby is and get me a signed statement from the doctor and I’ll listen” was all he would say. 
      Lucy’s biography was published in 1939, and it is interesting that by then she felt the need to put “atrocities” in scare quotes.

      The writers Masterman recruited to the Allied cause – Arthur Conan Doyle, Arnold Bennett, John Masefield, Ford Madox Ford, G.K. Chesterton, John Galsworthy, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, H.G. Wells and many more beside – make a mightily impressive list.

       He also commissioned an equally impressive list of war artists, with the result that the galleries of the Imperial War Museum remain one of the most rewarding places for lovers of 20th-century British art to explore.

      One triumph of Wellington House was the use of the figure of Edith Cavell, a nurse celebrated for saving the lives of soldiers from both sides without distinction, who also helped some 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium. For this she was arrested by the German authorities, court-martialled, found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. Despite international pressure for mercy, she was shot by a German firing squad.

      This year, when protestors understandably objected to the use of General Kitchener on a commemorative £2 coin to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, the alternative portrait they suggested was that of Edith Cavell.

      Masterman did return to Westminster in 1923 as MP for Manchester Rusholme, defeating a Conservative called John Thorpe - father of the future Liberal leader - in the process. He acted as something of a mentor to the numerous new Labour members, schooling them in parliamentary procedure and tactics, in a way that reminds the modern reader of Donald Dewar in the first reconvened Scottish parliament, where he was half first minister and half kindly professor.

      Along with so many Liberals elected in that brief revival, Masterman was defeated the following year. By then he was struggling with addictions to alcohol and prescription drugs and he was to die in 1927 at the age of only 54. Lucy passes lightly over his decline, but a later biographer, Eric Hopkins, tells you all and (perhaps more than) you want to know.

      Masterman remains a compelling figure for Liberals, and his period in charge of Wellington House was an honourable episode in a fascinating career.