Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Write a guest post for Liberal England

This is a reminder that I welcome guest posts on Liberal England.

And as you can see from the list of the 10 most recent guest posts below, I am happy to consider a wide range of subjects.

If you would like to write a guest post yourself, please send me an email so we can discuss your idea.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Explaining the internet to Amber Rudd

With thanks to Louis Barfe on Twitter.

Shrewsbury conman who faked life as international showjumper left victim to 'survive on pasta’

The Shropshire Star wins our Headline of the Day Award.

The story below turns out not to be funny, but then that is true of many of these superficially amusing headlines.

Tim Farron: Defecting Labour MPs would be "generals without armies"

Tim Farron has given a characteristically frank, even ingenuous, interview to the Evening Standard.

As a veteran (I almost wrote survivor) of the Alliance years, I was particularly interested in these comments:
Labour friends keep inviting Farron to see Limehouse, the new Donmar Warehouse play about the formation of the SDP. Perhaps remembering that struggle, no Labour MPs have asked to defect yet. 
“Much as I love them, they’re all generals without armies, and I’m interested in armies. At this time when anything can happen, why couldn’t the best thing happen? That’s the Lib-Dems taking their place.”
Politics today can feel very like the early 1980s, so I am relieved that Tim is not planning to turn the Liberal Democrats into a tribute act.

This confirms my judgement that, despite that boyish exterior, he has got every big decision as leader right.

He is also shrewd on the fall and rise of his predecessor:
The 2015 unofficial message — “it would have been worse without us” — was a tough sell, he concedes, but “absolutely works now”. He says Nick Clegg even gets cheered at universities. “Brexit has been a reset button in British politics.” 
Other, more personal, insights from the interview come when he talks about religion:
Are people in public life afraid to talk about religion? “Yes. In America you’ve got to invent a faith to be taken seriously; in the UK you have to pretend not to have one. You shouldn’t be ashamed.”
and here:
And when I ask about his greatest mistake (expecting him to name abstaining on a gay marriage vote), he instead says: “I wish I had reached out more to Charles Kennedy when he stepped down. It was an unimaginably hard time for him. I regret that more than anything.”
But, above all, I am pleased that he found time to name-check one of my early football heroes:
His conversation is littered with football similes. Labour under Corbyn is “like when you replace a good centre-half with a non-leaguer — suddenly there’s no proper defence”. In the coalition, the Lib-Dems were “Chopper Harris — clearing every ball off the touchline”.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Watch a film of the 1967 Manchester Gorton by-election

Konni Zilliacus, the Labour MP for Manchester Gorton died In July 1967. Granada TV was there to film the resultant by-election.

Click on the still of Terry Lacey above to watch it on the British Film Institute website.

Kenneth Marks, the Labour candidate, held the seat with a much reduced majority. He was to represent Gorton until 1983, when he retired from the Commons and Gerald Kaufman moved over from Manchester Ardwick. (Much of his old seat was included in the redrawn Gorton.)

The Conservative candidate was Winston Churchill, grandson of the wartime prime minister.
He later sat for Stretford between 1970 and 1983, and then for Davyhulme until 1997.

Note his vision here of Britain finding a new world role through its leadership of a united Europe.

Attracted, no doubt by the Churchill name, Margaret Thatcher gave him preferment in the early years of her leadership, but he proved too much of a loose canon and was to remain a peripheral figure.

The Liberal candidate - that's his picture above - was Terry Lacey. One of the Young Liberal vanguard, he was later to join the Labour Party.

Also standing were the Communist Victor Eddisford and the author John Creasey.

The latter had once been a Liberal candidate and I have blogged about his political career.

The BFI blurb for the programme says:
Taut editing and innovative use of sound speaks of 1960s TV documentary luminary Denis Mitchell’s involvement in the film – he is credited as executive producer.
Look too for some atmospheric shots of industrial dereliction.

And the views offered by the voters are not so different from those we hear 50 years on.

Conservative members no longer believe in the Union - or Conservatism

These days everyone has tablets and smartphones and there is free wifi everywhere.

But I started blogging in an era when internet cafes were important to the citizen journalist.

You found them in every town, usually in the poorer quarters where overseas students gathered and wanted to make cheap phone calls home.

Many were not cafes at all – you could not even get a coffee – and I wouldn’t have logged in to any accounts involving money in them. But I do miss that heroic era of blogging.

I remember sitting in an internet cafe in King’s Lynn in 2009 and writing this post:
This insalubrious watering hole, just across the road from where I am writing this, is King's Lynn Conservative Club. 
Note the flag that is being flown outside. Until a very few years ago it would have been unthinkable for it to have flown anything but the Union Jack. 
Is this a sign that the average Conservative member, in this part of Norfolk at least, no longer feels much affection for the union?
It seems I was on to something.

Paul Goodman has an article in The Irish Times discussing a Conservative Home  and University of Winchester survey of Tory members:
We surveyed more than 700 Tory party members, and what we found was remarkable. 
Twenty-nine per cent said that the break-up of the union would “finally end the unreasonable demands on England to provide ever-greater financial and political concessions to Scotland”. 
If one added those who believe that this development would “have no real significance for the remaining parts of the UK” and those who think that “any problems could be managed”, that total rises to 66 per cent. Only 33 per cent of respondents said that it “would inflict serious damage on the power, influence and well-being of the remaining parts of the UK”. 
In other words, two in three of those Conservative Party members are sanguine about the end of the union. And more than one in four seem happy for it to happen.
Somewhere behind this shift from unyielding support for the Union lies a deep social change in the Tory Party.

The Conservatives used to speak for people who had a comfortable stake in things as they are. For that reason, as well as perfectly respectable philosophical ones, they were averse to change.

I remember a Labour-supporting friend who was in North Devon during the 1979 general election campaign speaking with something close to awe of the acres of good suiting on the platform at the Conservatives' meetings.

But the party does not look like or feel like that today.

The Tories have discovered ideology and, even more, they have discovered grievance. They are less the party of people with an interest in maintaining the status quo than the party of people who believe they have been cheated.

The culprits vary - immigrants, experts, the European Union, latte-drinkers, refugees, the BBC - but the feeling is widespread.

Only radical action, those members and activists believe, can remove the hurt and see justice done.

All political parties have an element of this about them, but there is something particularly strange about a Conservative Party that no longer believes in Conservatism.

That disjunction lies at the root of the mess Theresa May's government is about to make of the country.

The mystery of the wife beater who says he is about to sign for Leicestershire

A shocking story from The Pool:
What would a cricketer use to beat his wife? 
The answer is as obvious as it is devastating. Mustafa Bashir, 34, who plays for a local cricket league in Oldham, Greater Manchester, used his bat as part of vicious attacks against his wife, 33-year-old Fakhara Karim, in which he also poured bleach down her throat, grabbed her neck to the point she thought she would die, tried to break her fingers and slapped her so hard she fell unconscious. He threatened to kill himself before telling her that he wanted her to kill herself and suggesting that the full force of his bat could do exactly that. 
Yet, despite his actions, Manchester Crown Court today has ruled that Bashir will not face jail because the judge has deemed the victim not to be “a vulnerable person”. 
Passing an 18-month jail term suspended for two years, the judge has ordered Bashir to attend a “building better relationships" workshop, pay £1,000 in costs and banned him from contacting his wife.
Why wasn't he sent to prison?

According to the Daily Mail:
In mitigation Bashir's lawyer Hugh McKee said: 'He has continued to play professionally in a local cricket league but of some importance certainly to him is if he is allowed to keep his liberty he will be employed by Leicestershire as a professional. He was about to sign the contract when he was arrested.' ... 
'This was a relationship he wanted to keep alive but whatever she did or whatever he thought she was doing let him to lose his temper and to behave in the way described. He has continued to work, and he has a second job and potentially a very good job doing what he has always done - ie playing cricket.'
And Judge Mansell QC was impressed by this plea:
'With regard to the mitigating factors I am not convinced of your remorse for her, but you are sorry for the position you find yourself in over the last two years. Your current partner is supporting you in court and she complains of no violence. You have employment prospects of being employed in cricket for Leicestershire Cricket Club.'
He went on to say that "It is a very fine line between imprisonment and a suspended sentence."

Presumably, the prospect of Bashir turning out at Grace Road helped the judge come down on the cushier side of that line.

But Leicestershire County Cricket Club has issued this statement:
Leicestershire County Cricket Club are aware of stories that have been published this morning regarding Mustafa Bashir. 
The club are bemused by these stories. Any references to Mustafa Bashir signing or being approached to sign for Leicestershire County Cricket Club are completely false. The club have never spoken to Mustafa Bashir or an agent, nor offered a contract to the player.
All very odd.

But then Judge Mansell QC has Leicester-related previous in such cases.

Over to the Manchester Evening News from May of last year:
Leicester City player Danny Simpson WILL be able to celebrate with team-mates in Thailand AND attend the title winners party after a judge lifted a court curfew which would have kept him home-bound in Salford. 
Judge Richard Mansell QC, sitting at Manchester Crown Court , said it would ‘damage team spirit’ if Simpson were unable to join fellow players on the Thailand trip. 
Simpson, 29, of Swinton , first ended up in the dock after a police officer walked into his home and caught him ‘strangling’ Stephanie Ward - the estranged mother of his child - after they argued in the early hours of December 29, 2014 and she called 999.
So, if you find yourself up in front of Judge Richard Mansell QC on a domestic violence charge, my advice is to tell him you are about to make your debut for Leicester Tigers.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Phyllis Nicklin: Harborne, 1961

© University of Birmingham

As I wrote when posting a video about her work, Phyllis Nicklin was staff tutor in Geography in the University of Birmingham's Department of Extra Mural Studies in the 1950s and 1960s.

She died in 1969, leaving behind thousands of colour slides she had taken for her classes. Many show a city in the throes of redevelopment.

Some of those slides have been scanned by the university and can be reproduced for non-commercial purposes.

So here is a cycle shop in Harborne photographed in 1961.

A search on Google Street View shows that the building still stands on the corner of Vivian Road and Greenfield Road. It is occupied by The Crossway.

Six of the Best 678

"I am running the London Marathon on the 23rd of April 2017 to raise money for COSMIC (Children of St Mary's Intensive Care). You can make a donation here. Here is why I am doing it." In an unbearably moving post, Mark Thompson tells the story of his son Olly's short life.

Catherine Bearder explains why the Liberal Democrats want to let Britons keep their EU passports after Brexit: "Many young people are desperate to travel Europe and seek out opportunities to study, meet new people, learn languages and new skills. Can the people who voted Leave deny their children, grandchildren and their grandchildren’s children the right to do this?"

George Eaton argues liberals should avoid fatalism, as France, Germany and the Netherlands suggest there is nothing inevitable about the right's advance.

A profile of Arron Banks by Martin Fletcher makes revealing reading.

David Ingram reports that Twitter is exploring a subscription-based model: "Twitter is conducting a survey 'to assess the interest in a new, more enhanced version of Tweetdeck,' spokeswoman Brielle Villablanca said in a statement on Thursday."

Today WHSmith shops are known for their shabbiness. As Building Our Past shows, it never used to be like that.

Spencer Davis Group: Every Little Bit Hurts

This Spencer Davis Group cover of a song first recorded by Brenda Holloway comes from Their First LP, which was their first LP.

As the album was released in July 1965, Steve Winwood was 17 at the most when he sang this and presumably played piano and organ on it too.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Marching for Europe

I was never the greatest enthusiast for European federalism, but I always feared that leaving the European Union would embolden all the worst forces in British politics. And it seems I was right.

So I spent today, my birthday, on the march in London

It was good to meet old Liberal Democrat friends and new people. I found myself marching with the niece of Neil Hannon from the Divine Comedy.

And do not underestimate the pleasure of walking down city roads that have been closed to traffic.

Friday, March 24, 2017

King William IV pub, Kingsthorpe, to become private house

When I was in Kingsthorpe on Saturday I thought the William IV had the look of a pub that was not going to reopen.

Sadly I was right, as the Northampton Chronicle & Echo confirms today.

The paper quotes the local Liberal Democrat councillor Sally Beardsworth:
"It's always a shame to see a community lose one of its assets. The closure and sale of the King Billy was handled badly by Enterprise Inns. 
"At least it's been sold to somebody who lives in the village who will have some respect for it. I'm glad it hasn't been sold to any developers and it won't be used for some dreadful block of flats. 
"As a pub, it was central to our annual village fete in the summer and I will miss it for that."
Up the road, the Queen Adelaide, named for William's better half, is still thriving.

Lucky Gordon and Island Records

Chris Salewicz has written a terrific obituary of Aloysius 'Lucky' Gordon, a minor player in the Profumo affair, in the Guardian.

In there is something quite unexpected:
On his release, Gordon discovered that the founder of Island Records in Jamaica, Chris Blackwell, had issued a comedy album about the Profumo affair. 
Gordon tried to hustle money from Blackwell and, while the entrepreneur was immune to his efforts, he did offer Gordon a job as a cook at the Island Records studio in Notting Hill. 
Spirited, witty, but never without an air of menace – or a bag of ganja – Gordon proved an asset to Blackwell, who noted that “Lucky’s energy was very important in helping to establish the right vibe at the studio”.
Given that the Spencer Davis Group and Traffic were signed to Island, and that this blog's hero Steve Winwood was known for his consumption of 'wacky backy' in those days, I suspect I am not putting two and two together and making five.

Whatever the truth of that, when Bob Marley settled in London in 1977, Gordon moved into his Chelsea house to prepare the food.

A remarkable Liberal Democrat gain - and the Uncle books

Last night Peter Pilkington gained the Dunster and Timberscombe ward of West Somerset Council for the Liberal Democrats:

Lib Dem           174 - 49.7% (+49.7)
Conservative    115 - 32.9% (-26.7)
Green                38 - 10.9% (-29.6)
Labour               23 -  6.6% (+6.6)

According to Mark Pack, "the two times previously the ward was up for election since it was created there wasn’t even a Liberal Democrat candidate".

Dunster is known for its castle, yarn market and station on the West Somerset Railway.

While Timberscombe has a claim to fame that is close to the heart of this blog. It was for many years the home of the Revd J.P. Martin, author of the Uncle books.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Woman drove with men lying on bonnet outside SAS camp in Credenhill, Hereford Magistrates Court heard

The Ludlow & Tenbury Wells Advertiser provides our Headline of the Day.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Mason Crane becomes New South Wales' first overseas player for 30 years

"It is hard not to be excited at the prospect of a young leg spinner in the England test team," I wrote towards the end of the 2015 season.

That young leg spinner was Mason Crane of Hampshire and remarkable things have happened to him since then.

Crane played 12 County Championship matches and took 49 wickets, albeit that they were a little on the expensive side at 45 runs each.

This winter he was sent to play grade cricket for Gordon District Cricket Club in Australia.

There he excelled, taking seven wickets in an innings three times. So well did he bowl that he was picked for New South Wales.

True, the state's best two spinners, Nathan Lyon and Stephen O'Keefe, were playing for Australia in India. But Crane became the first overseas player to be picked for New South Wales since Imran Khan in 1984/5.

Most recently he has being playing for South against North in the slightly odd series of three one-day games that the ECB has arranged in Dubai.

In the last of them he took four wickets for one run to remove the North middle order and win the game.

All very promising. If Crane does go on to have a serious test career, remember you read about him here first.

Iain Sinclair: The last London

Iain Sinclair has an essay in the new London Review of Books - The last London - that is pure Iain Sinclair:
I loved the novelty, in the Thatcher years, of striking off through the conflicted Docklands to Woolwich, Tilbury, Gravesend, as an entropy tourist with a fetish for future ruins. 
I was writing a novel called Downriver and walking, in dialogue, with the cultural historian Patrick Wright, who lived close to me in Hackney. 
We explored the territory together: the Bow Quarter development conjured from the Bryant & May match factory, the weaver’s garret occupied by David Rodinsky above a decommissioned synagogue in Princelet Street, and the first speculative (and doomed) ‘Montmartre meets Montserrat’ restaurant on Dalston Lane. 
Wright managed to get an entire book out of a few hundred yards of old degraded Hackney – and, looking at the place now, you know he was on the money. Dalston Lane was the laboratory in which the wrong kind of future was being aborted: creative demolition, unexplained and uninvestigated arson attacks, compulsive façadism and glittering developments purchased by offshore investors. Dormitories for ghosts. 
And Hackney’s first Premier Inn, built on a site owned by a property company based in West Yorkshire, and finessed by Dexter Moren Associates, a firm of architects also credited with the glitz of the Shangri-La Hotel at the Shard. 
Wright’s book, A Journey through Ruins, was published in 1991. Coming back now to the true fiction of the street as it once was, I saw how prescient he had been, picking through the dirty footprints of Dalston Lane to sketch a firm outline around some of the predators lurking on the horizon. 
Looking hard at the proposed ‘curved glass walls’ of the ‘civic pleasure palace’ of the coming Hackney Town Hall, Wright conjured the excesses of Trump Tower in New York City. Intimations of the man himself. His boundless ambition and gambler’s belief in magic.
That, by the way, is a single paragraph in the original. There are writers who put less into whole books.

And Patrick Wright's A Journey Through Ruins is a wonderful book. It became a touchstone to me when I was writing my Masters dissertation on Richard Jefferies and the section on After London in particular.

Ukip's first MP charged with electoral fraud

From The Irish Times today:
Former Conservative MP Bob Spink, who defected to Ukip and became its first MP, has been charged with electoral fraud. 
The 68-year-old has been charged alongside a second man, 38-year-old James Parkin, over allegations that they submitted false signatures on Ukip nomination papers. 
The accusations relate to the local election for Castle Point Borough Council in south Essex, England in 2016.
The reports goes on to say that Spinks and his co-accused will appear at Ipswich Magistrates Court on 25 April.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Clayton West Station signal box

When I posted my photo of the last day of the Clayton West branch, I also linked to someone else's photo of the terminus.

I said:
If I am in it, I am one of people in the middle distance walking along the track towards the signal box.
I know that because I took this photo of it that day. In fact I was allowed into the box (as I also was at Redmire and the much busier Ilkley Junction). Those were the days.

Clayton West Station Cabin had already lost its nameboard. No doubt it had already gone to Collectors' Corner to be sold off to an enthusiast.

You can see a photo of it complete with name on The Signal Box.

Six of the Best 677

"This lack of engagement with any actual evidence permeates the entire piece. The widely understood phenomenon of induced demand (building roads creates more traffic) is dismissed as ‘anti-car environmentalism’, while any attempts to point out that issues might be linked are dismissed as ‘holistic (i.e. woolly) thinking’." Nick Barlow is not impressed by a new publication on the environment from Liberal Reform.

"Edinburgh City Council has employed a social return on investment model which concluded that for every £1 of investment in parks, around £12 of benefits are delivered, with a higher return when money is invested in premier central parks." Janet Sillett says we should celebrate the full value of parks.

Jennifer Brown, Jeannie Mackie and Yvonne Shell offer psychological, legal and clinical commentary on the Helen Archer (Titchener) attempted murder trial in Radio 4’s The Archers.

"If Take Me High failed to anticipate how briefly concrete would reign, it was prescient in foreseeing which direction the city would turn next. When Birmingham wanted to shake off its concrete-and-cars reputation it looked to its canal network to provide a new narrative. The redevelopment of Brindley Place took place in the early 1990s but Cliff had started the whole process off almost two decades earlier." Catherine O’Flynn on a prescient Cliff Richard film.
Jane Dismore on Pocahontas and the search for her bones.

Crown Court was always on television if you were off school in the 1970s. Ivan Kirby examines a case in depth.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Philosophy's trolley problem has been solved

Wikipedia explains the trolley problem:
The trolley problem is a thought experiment in ethics. The general form of the problem is this: There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. 
You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person on the side track. 
You have two options: 
  1. Do nothing, and the trolley kills the five people on the main track. 
  2. Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person. 
Which is the most ethical choice?
That entry says the problem was introduced by Philippa Foot in 1967, but I did not come across it when I studied moral philosophy a dozen years later.

There were similar puzzles around, which were designed to embarrass utilitarians. Their theories obliged them to make one choice while, it was argued, our moral intuitions told us that the other choice was right.

I was never sure how much those moral intuitions were worth in the abstract. Do we really know what we would feel in an extreme situation? Sacrificing a few troops to save many more must quickly come to feel moral in time of war.

Anyway, I hope this young man has solved the trolley problem and that ethics will take a more interesting turn as a result.

Top commentator says Lib Dems could cause a political earthquake

"For some time there has been a gap in the market on the centre-ground of politics," wrote Rachel Sylvester behind The Times paywall this morning:
Tory modernisers hoped they could seize this territory and Labour moderates contemplating forming a new party to occupy it. 
Perhaps, though, the hole will be filled by the Lib Dems.
As evidence she offers our recent successes in council by-elections and are growing membership:
Many new recruits are former Labour supporters, who are disillusioned with the direction in which Mr Corbyn is taking the party, especially over Europe. 
A recent "action day" in the Labour leader's own Islington North constituency was a great success.
She also writes about the party's improving finances, which will be less familiar news to most Lib Dem members:
Money is also starting to flow in from business people who fear the economic consequences of leaving the European single market. 
In the last quarter of 2016, the Lib Dems for the first time raised more money than Labour, securing almost £2 million. It was only the beginning of a transfer of allegiances and funds. 
I am told that at least one wealthy donor who gave to Labour under Mr Blair has contributed to the Lib Dems in the past few weeks and the party is in discussions with several others ... 
"A few years ago it was car-boot sales, now famous international business figures are prepared to talk to us and introduce us to their friends," says one slightly astonished strategist.
Also this morning, the Sun reported that Tory MPs in Devon and Cornwall are lobbying Theresa May against an early election as they are afraid the Lib Dems would take their seats.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Kingsthorpe New Churchyard Pocket Park

There was a wedding going on at St John the Baptist, Kingsthorpe, so I couldn't look round it. People can be so selfish.

But I had its graveyard, now a pocket park, to myself.

It was a spring day and somewhere nearby I could hear trains on the Northampton loop of the West Coast main line.

I have reproduced these photos in colour to preserve the feel of spring. Besides, if you print photographs of old graveyards in black and white you may see more than you wish.

Call it pareidolia if that comforts you.

"It will be a good thing for Ukip when the MEPs are gone" says its national chairman

Richard Billington, the chairman of Harborough Ukip, didn’t just email his own thoughts to a mailing list that included people outside his party.

He also attached notes of a meeting with Ukip’s national chairman Paul Oakden.

That meeting, according to a tweet from Dan Martin, the Leicester Mercury’s political correspondent, took place in Melton Mowbray on 5 March.

Dan has already tweeted a couple of gems from them and today more were published by Guido Fawkes.

Headed “These notes MUST NOT be put on social media,” they reveal that Oakden hates social media and believes all Ukip candidates should close their accounts: “It just causes more grief.”

And according to Dan Martin, Oakden said:
“It will be a good thing for Ukip when the MEPs are gone. They tend to see themselves as elevated and get in the way of basic Ukip members processes at branch level.”
Dan reminds us that Oakden used to work for Roger Helmer.

And Billington himself offers the observation:
“Many people said quietly to me that it is a good job we didn’t win as Stoke is a serious black hole of degradation.  Let the crazy and quite unpleasant Labour MP have the seat with its much reduced majority.”