Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Who is the oldest Liberal Democrat peer?

When Lord Mackie of Benshie died last month, I asked who the oldest living former Liberal MPs are.

With some help from readers, I came up with this list:

  • James Davidson (b. 10 January 1927)
  • Elizabeth Shields (b. 27 February 1928)
  • Eric Avebury (b. 29 September 1928)

  • Then, the other day, Joshua Down emailed me:
    Your recent blog post about the oldest surviving Liberal MPs prompted me to think about the equivalent people in the House of Lords. As far as I know there isn't a single source of birth dates as there is for former MPs, which makes it a bit more challenging. 
    As it happens though, the Telegraph recorded that Lord Ezra, sometime chairman of the National Coal Board, was 96 yesterday, making him about five months older than Lord Mackie by my reckoning. He is still sitting, unlike Lord Hutchinson of Lullington, who's 99 but retired from the House some time ago. I have no idea who would be in third place on the list.
    I did however find that Lord Tanlaw, like Lord Mackie a member of the Scottish Liberals though subsequently a crossbencher, is the third most senior life peer by date of creation. He is also, exotically, descended from the last White Rajah of Sarawak!
    Can any other readers help to compile an authoritative list of the oldest Liberal Democrat peers?

    Top of both these lists, of course, should be Lord Bonkers.

    In his foreword to last year's Liberator songbook, he shared the secret of his longevity:
    I strongly recommend that you either bathe regularly in the spring of eternal life that bursts from the hillside above what used to be headquarters of the Association of Liberal Councillors in Hebden Bridge or get your hands on the cordial sold by the Elves of Rockingham Forest.

    Monday, March 02, 2015

    Bobby Henrey 66 years after The Fallen Idol



    Insomnia can have its advantages. In the small hours of this morning I came across this video of a Mr Robert Henrey addressing the Greenwich Retired Men's Association.

    Robert Henrey turned out to be the child actor Bobby Henrey, some 66 years after he shot to fame for his performance in Carol Reed's The Fallen Idol.

    Listening to him today there is no hint of the gorgeous French accent he had as an eight-year-old, but his voice still sounds more English than East Coast American.

    The Fallen Idol is one of my favourite films, though I suspect I may have seen it once too often.

    This morning I also came across a really good blog post about it by The Nitrate Diva:
    The fact that a twitchy, rather selfish child has to navigate this labyrinth of moral quandaries not only heightens the suspense, but also hints to what extent these kinds of human heart dilemmas bewilder us all and reduce us to little more than children. 
    When Phile cries out, “We’ve got to think of lies and tell them all the time!” at a key tense moment of the film, he’s actually articulating the code of the adult world, a protocol of deception, running the gamut from genteel fibs to half-truths to full-on backstabbing. 
    Like his character Phile, Bobby Henrey also encountered an adult world far too soon. The French-born only child of two writers, he grew up in the bomb-shattered London of World War II. No wonder he had the attention span of a “demented flea,” with bombs going off around him during his formative years! 

    Archaeologists open mysterious lead coffin found at Richard III site



    The Leicester Mercury reports:
    Archaeologists have opened a unique and mysterious lead coffin which was discovered just metres from the grave of Richard III. 
    The casket - the first of its kind to be unearthed in Leicester - was found at the Grey Friars dig site, in August 2013, one year after the bones of King Richard III were exhumed. 
    It contained a set of female remains, which experts carefully removed and studied after transporting them back to the University of Leicester. 
    They found that the occupant was an elderly woman, who could have been an early benefactor of the friary – as radiocarbon dating shows she might have been buried not long after the church was completed in 1250.
    The commentary on this video suggests that the lady in the coffin may be connected with Nevill Holt, which is now accepted by most commentators as being the prime model for Bonkers Hall.

    Mohammed Emwazi and Tony Blair go to school

    The Telegraph reports:
    Nicky Morgan, Education Secretary, has ordered an investigation into the school attended by “Jihadi John” after it emerged a third Islamist fighter was taught at the same north London academy. 
    Choukri Ellekhlifi, a contemporary of Jihadi John at Quintin Kynaston academy, was killed fighting with terrorists in Syria in 2013 after joining up with an al-Qaeda group. 
    The disclosure comes after The Telegraph reported that another former pupil at the St John’s Wood school, Mohammed Sakr, had died fighting for al-Shabaab, an affiliate of al-Qaeda in Somalia. 
    Their deaths and the fact Mohammed Emwazi, the true identity of ‘Jihadi John’, attended the school, will raise questions over what measures had been put in place to tackle the radicalisation of Muslim teenagers.
    Quentin Kynaston? That rings a bell.

    Sure enough, I find that I blogged about an ill-fated visit to Quentin Kynaston school, as it then was, by Tony Blair in 2006.

    The late Simon Hoggart also wrote about that visit:
    A deputy head wandered about, trying to persuade the children to go home. He had a walkie-talkie and a badge. In my day deputy heads had pipes and leather patches on their elbows. This guy looked like a bouncer.

    Paddy Ashdown and Maajid Nawaz on the need for a liberal voice to counter extremism

    Sunday, March 01, 2015

    The Wantage Tramway



    A little Edwardian transport porn for a Sunday evening. I know what you like.

    Wikipedia explains:
    The Wantage Tramway Company was a two mile tramway that carried passengers and freight between the Oxfordshire town of Wantage and Wantage Road Station on the Great Western Main Line. 
    Formed in 1873 to link Wantage Road station with its terminus at Mill Street, Wantage the line was cheaply built parallel to what was then the Besselsleigh Turnpike, and now the A338. 
    The tramway closed to passengers in 1925 and to goods traffic in 1945.
    Better still, the photo shows the tram approaching Grove Bridge over the Wiltshire & Berkshire Canal.

    Eclection: Nevertheless



    Eclection were a short-lived Sixties band, perhaps most notable for the fact that Joni Mitchell suggested its name and for what its members went on to do.

    Trevor Lucas and Gerry Conway formed Fotheringay with Lucas' girlfriend (and later wife) Sandy Denny.

    Perhaps more unexpectedly, Georg Hultgreen was later known as Georg Kajanus, and enjoyed chart success in the mid-1970s with the much poppier Sailor - a sort of very poor man's Roxy Music.

    As to Eclection themselves, Rob Young in his Electric Eden describes them as "a fairly pedestrian beat group with shades of Jefferson Airplane or The Byrds". Others have compared them to The Mamas & the Papas.

    There is another parallel to be made, particularly because several of the band's members came originally from Australia.

    That is The Seekers. They are largely overlooked now, but they were hugely popular in Britain in their day.

    Six of the Best 496

    "Nemtsov spoke for the Western Russia, as opposed to the Scythian one of Stalin and Putin. He believed in rule of law and rule of the people and he held in contempt those who have subverted and stolen Russia for their own personal greed." Cicero's Songs on the murder of Boris Nemtsov.

    Nick Barlow is rightly unconvinced when told he should "shut up and deliver leaflets".

    "I wonder what in 100 years from now it will be, London. The city that privatised itself to death. Abandoned to nature, maybe, the whole place a massive, feral version of that mimsy garden bridge over the Thames currently being planned by the giggling classes. Poor London, the ancient and forgotten metropolis, crumbling slowly into an enchanted urban forest." Great stuff from Ian Martin.

    More signposts to our dystopian future can be found in a book review by John Lanchester. It seems the robots are coming.

    Black and blue? Gold and white? Kevin Loria shows our perception of colour has a long, culturally determined, history.

    Richard Micallef salutes Peter Osgood, the King of Stamford Bridge, who died on this day in 2006.

    Saturday, February 28, 2015

    A Skin Too Few: The Days of Nick Drake



    Thanks to Dangerous Minds for posting this video.

    He writes:
    Other than a few childhood home movies, no film footage of Nick Drake exists. So director Berkven had to create a sense of Drake through other means. That he succeeds is quite remarkable. 
    He is enormously helped by Nick’s mother Molly. Her own music uncannily evokes her son’s and creates a deeply emotional dimension to A Skin Too Few.
    I blogged about Molly Drake a couple of years ago.

    Alistair Carmichael doesn't quite rule out a leadership bid



    BBC News has a report headlined:

    Alistair Carmichael rules out Lib Dem leadership bid

    But when you read Alistair's quote below it, you can detect a little wriggle room if you want to:
    "I have got a family that still includes school age children. And the commitment that it takes to be party leader in modern politics is enormous. 
    "My family already miss out on a lot just by virtue of the fact that I'm an MP and I'm a minister and I'm away from home every week . 
    "At least I feel that they miss out on a lot, they might feel differently."
    So perhaps there was something in Lord Bonkers' tip after all?

    Wellington to Craven Arms disused railway 2


    Part 1 took us from Wellington to Buildwas. This second part takes the journey on to Much Wenlock.

    Which recalls the old joke:
    "My wife comes from Shopshire." 
    "Much Wenlock?" 
    "I get my share."
    I once wrote about the Wenlock Olympian Games in the New Statesman.

    Friday, February 27, 2015

    "There are more ways than one of getting close to your ancestors"



    Eric Portman and Sheila Sim in a scene from Powell and Pressburger's A Canterbury Tale.

    Why haven't tuition fees deterred young people from going to university?


    This tweet, which I sent from platform 2 at Leicester station this morning, has received an extraordinary (for me) number of retweets. I think that is in part because Owen Jones was one of the first people to retweet it.

    But this is not the argument that was most often deployed against introducing and then increasing tuition fees.

    Those who opposed them said that fees would deter young people from going to university. But today we are told that there are more students in British universities than ever and, in particular, more students from poorer backgrounds.

    So why have tuition fees failed to deter people from going to university?

    I can think of three possible reasons, though no doubt there are more.

    The first is that young people are optimistic. Even if tuition fees are a burden, they assume that they personally do well, get a good job and have no money worries.

    The second is that the new system really is better than the old one and young people have realised this and gone to university without a care.

    The third is that it is now next to impossible to get an interview for many jobs without having a degree. So however bad the system is, young people have to put up with it.

    I fear this last reason may be the most powerful and that the phenomenon of graduates in non-graduate jobs will becoming an increasing problem in future years.

    What prevented the press from exposing Jimmy Savile's crimes

    Former Sunday Mirror editor Paul Connew explains on The Drum:
    It was a disastrous combination of Britain’s draconian libel laws (generally so beloved of celebrities with unsavoury secrets and lawyers well aware of ‘star-struck’ juries), victims intimidated by Savile's celebrity status and powerful connections plus police indifferent to (or themselves intimidated by) allegations against the rich and powerful ... that conspired to protect Savile and other VIP abusers.

    Thursday, February 26, 2015

    An early Adam Curtis documentary on system building



    Thanks to Dirty Modern Scoundrel for pointing us to this video. It dates from 1984.

    As the blog says:
    The documentary itself is a rather straightforward forerunner to his more complex classics such as A Century of the Self and the Power of Nightmares. 
    It's lacking his voice (it's narrated instead by reporter David Jones) and his trademark crazy soundtrack but otherwise many of the Curtis tropes are here: suspicion of those in high places and the whiff of institutionalised corruption and conspiracy. But the style feels more like an episode of Panorama rather than his later authored pieces. 
    Still, there's great interviews with T. Dan Smith, Kenneth Campbell and particularly Cleeve Barr, and some amazing archive footage.

    National Union of Boot and Shoe Operatives building, Leicester


    I read in the Leicester Mercury last week:
    An iconic symbol of Leicester’s industrial past and radical working class traditions has been given listed-building status following a campaign to preserve it. 
    The former Boot and Shoe Operatives Union Building, in St James Street, off Humberstone Gate, has been designated as a Grade II-listed building. It follows a campaign by the Leicester Group of the Victorian Society. 
    The 103-year-old building, designed by city architects Harrison & Hattrell in the final year of Queen Victoria's reign, survives largely intact. 
    Dr David Holmes researched the city’s boot and shoe industry as part of the Victorian Society's application to conservation watchdog, English Heritage. 
    He said: “The building was threatened with conversion to flats which would have destroyed its fine interior. 
    "We are particularly pleased because it is unique in Leicester as being the only major national trade union headquarters in the city."
    So on Saturday I went to photograph it. It is a pleasing building, very much of its era. You can find it off Humberstone Gate in Leicester, behind Sainsbury's and across the road from the Spiritualist church.

    The fact that the headquarters of the National Union of Boot and Shoe Operatives was in Leicester probably explains a bit of local political history.

    In 1945 the Harborough constituency was won for Labour by Humphrey Attewell, who was a full-time official with the union.

    I remember a comment by John Shaw, who was a Labour councillor from Lutterworth while I was on Harborough District Council.

    He is still going strong, unlike many people from those days who have since died and had roads named after them.

    John told me that his own father, also a Labour activist, had said to him in 1945: "Well. son, that's the first and last time you'll see a Labour MP elected for Harborough,"


    Why Nick Clegg will hold on to Sheffield Hallam

    © Ashley Dace

    I have long argued that there is no prospect of Nick Clegg losing his seat. Most recently here:
     I am not worried that Nick Clegg will lose Sheffield Hallam. This is not so much that I believe Nick is immensely popular as because I cannot picture Labour winning a prosperous suburban seat like this.
    More recently still, Lord Bonkers has scotched the idea.

    Now I have come across an exhaustive analysis of political geography of Sheffield Hallam that supports my view too. It is on the All That's Left blog:
    Sheffield Hallam is far from the highrise towers and former steelmills of the Steel City. Whilst not all the seat is not rich ... overall Sheffield Hallam is one of the most affluent constituencies outside of the South East and it has the 70th highest median income of the 650 in the country – that is wealthier than Tunbridge Wells or David Cameron’s Witney. It has the lowest level of child poverty of any constituency in the land. 
    It is certainly one of the most highly educated seats in the nation: 60% of those of working age have a degree – that’s more than Cambridge. In 2001, the constituency had more people classified as professionals of any in the UK.
    But what about the disaffected student vote? Surely that will cost Nick dearly?

    All That's Left continues:
    A lot of the Liberal Democrats’ success here since 1997 has been put down to the student vote. Whilst there is a fairly large student population ... this is less than before the 2010 boundary changes. Those changes removed Broomhill ward, which includes the main campus of the University of Sheffield, and replaced it with Stannington ward to the north. 
    Now, it is Sheffield Central next door that is the student hotbed: 39% of adults there are in fulltime education.
    That's blog's conclusion ("with some regret") is that Nick "looks likely to continue to be Hallam’s MP".

    My conclusion is that most commentators forecasting a Labour win in Sheffield Hallam have never been there.

    Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceIt's just one poll, of course, but let's not forget that, despite the party's triumph at the last Euro elections, many commentators expected Ukip's vote to collapse in the run up to the general election. Maybe it will after all.

    Wednesday, February 25, 2015

    Wellington to Craven Arms disused railway 1



    Part 1 takes us from Wellington to Buildwas. As you will see, part of this stretch is still in use.

    Pauline Pearce selected as Liberal Democrat candidate for Hitchin and Harpenden

    The Evening Standard has the news that Pauline Pearce has been selected as Liberal Democrat candidate for Hitchin and Harpenden:
    Announcing her selection on Facebook, she said: "I would like to announce officially that I am the selected PPC candidate for Hitchin and Harpenden. 
    "Thank you to all the members who attended tonight, for their kind and very warm reception. I look forward to working with you all." 
    She added: "To my friends and family who encouraged me to keep going and have always got my back I love you all, but it's only just begun because I need your help now to knock some doors and help me on the campaign".

    Tuesday, February 24, 2015

    Disused railway stations in Bedfordshire



    Last week it was Devon: this week it is Bedfordshire.

    Note the huge sheds next to Cardington station. They once housed the airships R100 and R101.

    In his novel Dead Long Enough, James Hawes calls them "the Bedfordshire Pyramids".

    Ilkeston railway station: Newts cause further delays

    BBC News wins our Headline of the Day award.

    Monday, February 23, 2015

    A railway poster for the new Coventry Cathedral



    Getty dates this British Railways poster to 1957, but the new cathedral was started only the year before that so I suspect it dates from the early 1960s.

    As I once revealed, the model for the statue of St Michael ion the wall of the new cathedral was the economist Wynne Godley.

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: It might be worth sticking half a crown on

    Lord Bonkers concludes his survey of Liberal Democrat prospects at the next general election.

    Orkney and Shetland

    If the Liberal Democrats were to win only one seat at the next election, this would be it.

    There is, of course, not the remotest prospect of that happening, but it might be worth sticking half a crown on Alistair Carmichael as our next leader just in case.

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

    Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary
  • "Top Secret: Burn Before Reading"
  • The mint cake workers of Kendal
  • There can be no doubt that he was Terribly Sorry
  • The Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey Railway
  • Armed with pitchforks and flaming brands
  • He was never one to resort to underhand methods
  • I have no doubt she will hold her seat
  • Abuse inquiry into former Leicestershire home for sick children

    Last summer there was an investigation into an allegation that Jimmy Savile had abused a child at Roecliffe Manor, a convalescent home at Woodhouse Eaves in Leicestershire.

    That investigation could not substantiate the allegation, but suggested that sexual abuse probably had taken place there.

    Now comes news that a police investigation into the home, which closed in 1969, has been launched.

    There is a danger, I suppose, that Savile will become a sort of folk devil, supposed to have turned up at homes and hospitals all over the country and abused people. As today's news suggests, there was plenty of abuse where he was not involved.

    But it should be remembered that turning up at homes and hospitals is one of the things that the BBC paid him to do in a programme called Savile's Travels.

    Malcolm Rifkind is not fit to chair the intelligence and security committee

    A couple of days ago everyone hated the Telegraph. Now its sting operation on Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind, at least, is being celebrated.

    And rightly so. Not so much because it shows these two in their true colours as because it reveals how British politics works.

    Just as Chris Morris and Brass Eye revealed how celebrities and backbenchers endorse causes they know nothing about, so the Telegraph shows what often lies behind windy talk of "public service". Greedy men looking to fill their boots,

    But when we have finished being outraged or laughing at these two boobies, there is a serious point that must be addressed at once.

    Malcolm Rifkind is chair of the Commons and Lords' joint intelligence and security committee, yet he is happy to accept money from a Chinese company without having the most basic checks carried out on it.

    This is an act of such monumental folly that he must be removed from that role at once.

    Pompous, not half as clever as he thinks, a lowland Scot... Fans of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy will recognise Malcolm Rifkind at once.

    He is not George Smiley. He is Percy Alleline.

    The Garden Street Island, Leicester


    The Garden Street Island, a block of shops and a cottage on Belgrave Gate in the centre of Leicester. It was due to be pulled down for redevelopment, but after a campaign the city council has served a issue an Article 4 Direction.

    This means that the historic status of the buildings has been acknowledged and planning permission will have to be sought for any alterations.

    The Evington Echo explains the Garden Street Island's importance:
    This group of shops, cottages and outhouses were built c1815-30 and are typical of Leicester in the early C19th century. Although they are not architectural masterpieces, these buildings are an important part of Leicester’s social history. 
    What makes the Garden Street Island special is that it includes slums that escaped demolition in 1931. These one up one down cottages are on Garden Street and the former Garden Street Square (Court C, Garden Street). Apart from Cramant Cottages in King Street, these are the last surviving slums in Leicester. They are the only ones remaining which face onto a street. 
    The shops on Belgrave Gate are also an important part of the street scene and their demolition would also be a particular loss to the individual character of the City and its history. Linnett’s hairdressers and perfumery at 124 –126 Belgrave Gate was in business in 1835. Next door was the long defunct Brewer’s Arms.
    I went to photograph the properties on Saturday, and here they are in all their glory.

    Sunday, February 22, 2015

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: I have no doubt she will hold her seat

    Lord Bonkers continues his survey of Liberal Democrat prospects at the general election. Today he offers a short but optimistic post.

    Hazel Grove

    She is a delightful woman and I have no doubt she will hold her seat (wherever it is).

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

    Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary

  • "Top Secret: Burn Before Reading"
  • The mint cake workers of Kendal
  • There can be no doubt that he was Terribly Sorry
  • The Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey Railway
  • Armed with pitchforks and flaming brands
  • He was never one to resort to underhand methods
  • Joe Jackson: Breaking Us in Two



    A Sunday music video that is shot on a preserved railway. I think we have reached peak Liberal England.

    I have chosen two Joe Jackson tracks before: the wonderful It's Different for Girls and the quasi-classical Nocturne no. 4.

    Breaking Us in Two comes from his 1982 album Night and Day. It was a bigger hit in the US than the UK. I have always regarded it as a companion piece to the uptempo Steppin' Out on the same LP.

    The railway is the Keighley and Worth Valley. More than that, the video was shot at Oakworth , which was the station in Lionel Jeffries' film of The Railway Children.

    "Right away, Mr Jackson."

    The last moments of the New Walk Centre, Leicester


    With thanks to the Leicester City Council.