Monday, March 30, 2015

General election wildlife latest

Larry the cat confronts a sniffer dog and a fox runs down Downing Street.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Michael Roper on growing up in the shadow of the First World War

The Victorians get an unfairly bad press. They did not cover table legs because they thought them indecent. That was a joke 19th-century Britons made about the more prudish Americans.

And I am convinced that the British obsession with respectability and emotional repression dates not from the Victorians but from the early decades of the 20th century.

It may even date from after the First World War.

You know those little shrines that appear today where someone has died in a car crash? The ones that people tend to find a bit unBritish?

Backwatersman (aka the blogger across the road) once wrote a post showing that they existed during in the First World War:
I’ve recently been reading (or partly re-reading) “Vanished World“, the first part of the autobiography of the Northamptonshire author H.E. Bates (b. 1905). I came across this: 
“even a child couldn't escape the eventual insufferable gloom of the holocaust that every morning was reflected in the long columns of the dead, wounded and missing that darkened every newspaper and still more intimately in the little mourning shrines set up in every street with their own lists of agonies and pitiful jam jars of flowers” 
and a little later: 
“the effect of those long, black, mortifying lists of killed, wounded and missing that filled column after column of every morning newspaper had made a searing impression on me that has never left me; nor can I ever forget the little improvised street shrines decorated, as one still often sees in little Italian cemeteries, with faded photographs of the dead and a few jam jars of fading flowers.”
If British emotional repression was a reaction to the losses of the First World War, then the moving video above may provide more evidence,

I was in the audience for this talk by Michael Roper, live-tweeting it as part of my day job.

Professor Edgar Jones' fascinating talk on shell shock, which I posted last year, was given at the same event.

Peter Preston looks back on David Steel's byelection victory

Peter Preston's Observer column today is about the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of David Steel's byelection victory in Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles. Preston covered the contest as a young reporter:
We’re used to seeing politician as spads, special advisers without a life away from greasy polls. We’re used to alienation, distrust, the greater snarling Paxo. 
Were things kinder and gentler half a century ago? Not exactly: Brown and Hailsham, for two, could dish it out. Jeremy Thorpe was already a sly, smiling rogue. 
But on the doorsteps and in the village halls there was a connection beyond curled lips. Byelections mattered to editors. (I wrote 14 dispatches from the Borders.) A whole pack of hacks followed events day by day. 
No one set much store by opinion polls. If you wanted – whether as a reporter or a candidate – to find out what was happening, you needed to talk to people, to greet and meet.
I am also reminded of Judy Steel's Tale from the Tap End, which I once reviewed for Liberal Democrat News:
Ultimately ... a political biography stands or falls by the quality of its anecdotes. My favourite in Tales from the Tap End concerns an old lady to whom Judy Steel was introduced during the 1965 by-election. "I’m so glad to meet you,” she said. “We’ve always been a great Liberal family. My brother Sandy won the Border Burghs for Mr Gladstone in 1886."

Jethro Tull: A New Day Yesterday

A great video of Jethro Tull in their bluesy prime.

Fillimore East was a music venue in New York's East Village.

In a The Local East Village article, John Mayall recalls:
If you played there, you did feel like you were a part of something whereas the bigger places, of course, everybody gets lost in the shuffle. Stadiums are stadiums, it loses the intimacy. So because of the size of the place it was just about right. It held a lot of people but not too many people that you couldn’t feel that connection with the artist.
Its owner Bill Graham, says the article:
long maintained that the Woodstock Festival dramatically changed the rock concert industry. As performers’ fees skyrocketed, only arenas and stadiums could afford to book the rock stars of the 1970s
Today it is a bank.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The press outside Cowley Street during the Coalition negotiations

A couple of photos taken on Monday 10 May 2010 while the Coalition negotiations were going on. Suddenly the Liberal Democrats were of interest to the world's press.

As a sign that we were now an important party, a couple of gorillas in suits appeared in reception at Cowley Street to vet visitors. When I took the photo from inside the building I thought they were going to arrest me under the Official Secrets Act.

Fraudster escapes from high-security prison after forging bail letter

Who could have foreseen that?

Anyway, Metro wins our Headline of the Day Award.

An extended trailer for Coalition

This looks fun - tonight on Channel 4 at 9.

Happy Birthday, Dirk Bogarde

Dirk Bogarde was born on 28 March 1921.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Liberal Democrats revive the kerb drill

Back in the 1960s, before the touchy-feely, child-centred Green Cross Code was thought of, we had the kerb drill:
"At the kerb, halt! Look right, look left, look right again. If all clear, quick march!"
Now, with the poster above, the Liberal Democrats are trying to revive it. Could there be a grown up in charge of our campaign after all?

You can see the drill in action in this first Ministry of Information film:

And see an adult being taught it by a squeaky-voiced Forties child in the second.

Six of the Best 501

Tim Oliver says Liberals must stand up to Russia over Ukraine.

"I very much welcome the decision of the Supreme Court that letters written by Prince Charles to Ministers should be published." Peter Black explains why.

George Packer on a St Petersburg gathering of right-wing extremists from Europe and the US: "There’s a little Putin in everyone, forever picking at old scabs, whipping up team spirit, settling scores—us against them, a hateful sort of love. Acknowledging these things is the only antidote to being governed by them."

"The notion that ticklish conversations must be scrubbed clean of controversy has a way of leaking out and spreading. Once you designate some spaces as safe, you imply that the rest are unsafe. It follows that they should be made safer." Judith Shulevitz deplores the sheltering of students from scary ideas.

Cristina Hartmann explains why it took so long for The Great Gatsby to be recognised as a masterpiece.

"I have told my son he ain't fucking playing snooker, because I love him too much." Sam Knight profiles the genius that is Ronnie O'Sullivan.

Church Stretton Library swept away in a tide of management speak

Church Stretton Library is tucked away behind the town's church, housed in a former school. I have written more than one post on this blog there.

Today the Shropshire Star reports that it is to be moved to a site that will be less convenient for many of the people who use it.

Maybe this decision has been forced upon the council by the reduction in government funding - and the officers' report quoted in the Star eventually gets round to saying that - but you have to wade through a sea of management bullshit first:
The decision was made this morning by Councillor Steve Charmley, Shropshire Council's portfolio holder for business growth, ip&e, culture and commissioning. 
Before the meeting, officers at Shirehall recommended he should proceed with the plan – in a report officers Michael Lewis and Kate Garner recommended the plans for the move saying it will "create a modern, sustainable and accessible library service in Church Stretton that reflects the council’s vision for a transformed library service as well as maximise revenue savings for the council".
Reader's voice: You obviously feel strongly about this.

Liberal England replies: I do, but I also have this rather nice picture of the library I wanted to use...

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Scarthin Books is falling down

Alarming news from Cromford and the BBC:
A bookshop once named as one of the best in the world could fall down unless £10,000 can be raised for structural repairs, say its owners. 
Four steel columns need to be installed at Scarthin Books, in Cromford, Derbyshire, to support the weight of about 100,000 books over four floors.
Scarthin Books (seen here across Cromford Pool - it's the shop with the awnings next to the chapel) is crowdfunding money for the work via its website.

Not only is it one of my favourite bookshops, it was due to play an important part in my plan to move the Lords and Commons to Arkwright's Mill in Cromford.

In which I am mentioned in the Independent

My story about Nicky Morgan having a book published by the eccentric Bretwalda Books made it into Andy McSmith's Independent Diary this morning.

I even got a mention there myself. Along with paying my respects to Richard III, that made it an enjoyable birthday morning,

Writing it the other day led me to rediscover this blog's Rupert Matthews label.

I had forgotten just how much entertainment is to be found there. Do click on it yourself if you want some fun.

Paying my respects to Richard III

Alarmed by stories of long queues, I arrived at Leicester Cathedral at eight this morning. That proved early enough to beat the rush and it took me only an hour to pay my respects to Richard III and leave.

It was such an English queue that you could buy a cup of tea as we snaked around the Cathedral Gardens, and someone close by was making a lot of money selling white roses.

When you got inside the cathedral, Richard's coffin, with its black pall and a servicemen at each corner, looked entirely regal.

We were a modern crowd, with phones and cameras and tablets - someone's phone went off with Call Me by Blondie as its ringtone while I was trying to be all solemn - but I like to think we did the King proud.

It has been a remarkable week for Leicester and Leicestershire. 

When the plans for taking Richard's bones around the Bosworth battlefield and the villages associated with it were announced, I wondered if it was a good idea. But it turned out to be an act of genius and I found myself ridiculously moved.

This, I think, had less to do with Richard III and more to do with the community involvement. Councillors, ex-servicemen, Scouts and Brownies... 

What we saw on BBC News and heard on BBC Radio Leicester was the sort of civic England you fear had been lost to modernisation and the turbo-capitalism.

Because the day was not about celebrating Richard III or the monarchy: it was about celebrating our pride in Leicester and Leicestershire. In the end, the day was about ourselves.

And then Richard's returned to Leicester in triumph, rather than naked over the back of a horse.

Let no one tell you that history cannot be rewritten.

Opening Sentence of the Day

The winner is the Derby Telegraph for:
The former landlord of a Derbyshire home where a man died from carbon monoxide poisoning has been declared the Green Party’s General Election candidate for Erewash.

Adrian Barnes is the Lib Dem mayoral candidate for Leicester

Adrian Barnes, a barrister, will be the Liberal Democrat candidate in Leicester's mayoral election. That election will take place on the same day as the general election: Thursday 7 May.

He told the Leicester Mercury he is standing because of the absolute lack of checks and balances in the city:
"There are Labour MPs, a Labour council and a Labour mayor and it's just a nonsense and I think people are now ready for a change."
It has also been announced that Anita Prabhakar will be the party's general election candidate in the Leicester South constituency.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Stuart Mole to fight East Devon for the Liberal Democrats

When I joined the Liberal Party the Chelmsford constituency was one of our great hopes of a gain.

Stuart Mole fought it for us a five general elections from February 1974 to 1987. In 1983 he came within 378 votes of beating the sitting Conservative MP Norman St John-Stevas.

Now, as the Exeter Express & Echo reported last month, Stuart has been chosen to fight the East Devon seat for the Liberal Democrats in May's general election.

You can hear him make his case in this video.

Leicester Labour bickers while children are at risk

Over to the Leicester Mercury for a report on last night's meeting of Leicester City Council's overview scrutiny committee. The meeting was called to discuss a damning Osfted report on the council's children's social services department,

We join the report halfway through:
The meeting took an ill-tempered turn when Coun Kitterick asked Ms Craven to say when she had informally told the mayor about the problems she discovered in October shortly after her arrival. 
Sir Peter [Soulsby] attempted to answer the question but committee chairman Mohammed Dawood insisted the officer answer herself. 
Sir Peter then said: "Oh chair, honestly how silly can you get?" 
Coun Dawood said: "City mayor, you are so silly too."
As the great rugby referee Nigel Owens has been known to put it on such occasions: "You are both being very immature."

Advocates of the mayoral system argue that it provides leadership and accountability.

But when something goes wrong in Leicester, the city's elected mayor always announces that the blame lies elsewhere. Wherever the buck stops, it is not with him.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The second dig in Leicester's Richard III car park

This video looks at the second dig that took place at Leicester's most famous car park.

Some time after the bones of Richard III were discovered, University of Leicester archaeologists went back to the site to find out more about the friary in whose church Richard was buried.

I suspect this interested them more than finding the king.

Lord Bonkers gives an insight into Liberal Democrat fundraising

From the old brute's Diary a year ago:
From time to time I am asked by the leaders of our party to entertain a fellow at the Hall. “Give him the best of everything,” they tell me. “Bacon and eggs, shooting, Auld Johnston and so forth. Treat him right and he is good for a cool half million.”

Nicky Morgan's peculiar choice of publisher

The Loughborough Echo reports that Nick Morgan - secretary of state for education and the town's MP - has written a children’s activity non-fiction book about Loughborough during the Civil War.

Good for her, but it's the book's publisher that interests Liberal England.

In 2011 we blogged about the Bretwalda Books title "Britain - A Post Political Correctness Society" by Bill Etheridge. You can see its cover here.

When he wrote the book Etheridge was a Conservative, but he left the party after he and his wife were photographed with golliwogs on their Facebook page.

Today he is a Ukip MEP. He was last heard of last August, advising his new party's young activists to copy Hitler's style of oratory.

Bretwalda Books books is run by Rupert Matthews, who has provided this blog with much entertainment over the years.

Channel 4's story on Colin Baker and Richard III

There is been a lot of interest in this tweet today, but as far as I can tell it is old news.

Because Channel 4 is talking about the film Finding Richard. This was first mentioned on Liberal England in February of last year and we posted the trailer here in December.

This certainly seems a more likely theory than the confused one The Version has:
The film will shoot this week and will be submitted to the Cannes Film Festival in early March.
What today's tweet means, I suspect, is that Channel 4 is going to show Finding Richard.

That is good news. So let's enjoy the trailer again.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Six of the Best 500

Peter Oborne reviews Blair Inc. by Francis Beckett, David Hencke and Nick Kochan - an investigation of the former PM's business dealings since leaving office. "The authors reveal that Azerbaijan helps to fund Progress, the Blairite pressure group inside Labour."

"The polling station is a kit of essential parts, like a field hospital, erected inside another building. Also like a field hospital, it is governed by very exact procedures, and is capable of coping with sudden rushes of people interspersed by longeurs." Election Aesthetics looks at an institution we politicos depend upon but take for granted.

Nick Barlow is blogging like a god at the moment. Here he brings us some prominent columnists' response to the eclipse.

English Buildings on the charming Looking Round London by Helen Carstairs from 1938 or thereabouts.

Hy-Brasil - the lost phantom island to the west of Ireland - is sought by Mysterious Universe.

"As a captain he led by example – Dave Mackay never left the pitch without having given every ounce of effort possible and he demanded nothing less from his team mates. But, his leadership was not merely a matter of fist shaking exhortation: his greatest attribute as a captain was that all the players he played with wanted his good opinion." The Immortal Jukebox pays tribute to a football legend who died recently.

Fire extinguisher factory left burning for 30 minutes as firefighters could not find water

The Independent wins Headline of the Day.

Don't worry: the fire was in Chicago.

Traffic: Gimme Some Lovin'

The Glastonbury Festival did not become a regular event until the 1980s, but it began to take a fixed shape in 1971 with the first appearance of the Pyramid Stage.

And the festival was filmed, as Glastonbury Fayre, by Nicolas Roeg and David Putnam.

Rob Young writes in his Electric Eden:
Viewing the film Glastonbury Fayre, and photographs of what went on inside that enchanted boundary, is like seeing some superimposition of William Morris’s Earthly Paradise, a sanctuary for post atomic-war refugees, and the Glastonbury Zodiac remade as a gigantic bed-sitting room. A transient city of tepees, cellophane sheets and splayed guy ropes. 
Charred cauldrons bubble over blazing log fires; queues snake around outside soup kitchens; the Union Jack flutters with the ying and yang; women cradle kittens and hold wild flowers to their lips; babies crawl alongside basking dogs; couples shyly slink to the edge of a copse. 
Hell's Angels sport mirror-sheen Wehrmacht helmets; flowers are tucked into headbands or drawn on torsos; spliffs are puffed and passed around; Hare Krishna devotees chant over tamburas; pipe-pulling or denim clad vicars join throbbing circles of Jesus-haired dancers. 
Impromptu spontaneous music ensembles band together and march through the site with fifes and drums. Baked revellers clatter empty coke cans together, bash tambourines, blow recorders, tin whistles; ocarina; greet the morning sun with yoga, ivy wreaths and hands clasped in prayer. A wrecked car lies half-buried in a makeshift grave. You can almost smell the mingled aromas of charred corn cobs, veggie burgers, natural body odour and humming latrines. 
Above all, there are outbreaks of decidedly unEnglish nudity and hedonistic dancing, whether to Fairport Convention’s electric jigs, or to the 4/4 power stomp of Traffic’s ‘Gimme Some Lovin’’, or the shamanistic space ritual of Hawkwind.
You can see those photographs on the UK Rock Festival site's pages for Glastonbury 1971.

And you can also watch Traffic in my video. The crowd includes a kooky chick with a piece of pink plastic and the celebrity drug dealer Howard Marks.

This is the larger version of Traffic that toured in their later days. The bands includes Leicester's Rick Grech on bass and founding member Dave Mason on guitar.

Mason was thrown out of the band by Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi for writing "Hole in my Shoe", but made intermittent returns, He does not seem to be enjoying himself much here and these days tends to appear as the black-hatted bad fairy in films about Steve Winwood.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

King Richard III Day at the University of Leicester

I spent some time today at the University of Leicester's King Richard III Day. There was plenty of Medieval-type fun for the kiddies and three streams of lectures for the grown ups.

I listened to three lectures. Matthew Morris, who was the site director for the dig at Greyfriars, revealed just how fortunate it was that Richard III was found.

He revealed that the famous 'R' on the car park was much fainter than photographs make it appear - besides, the king was beneath the space next door. He did use the car park markings to align the first trench though.

When I spoke to him before the lecture, he suggested that my photo I like to believe shows the moment the king was found was probably taken an hour or before that. You can see the photo in a post I wrote to advertise this day beforehand.

Dr David Baldwin is a historian who, back in 1986, wrote a paper suggesting that Richard's bones were probably still at Greyfriars and speculating that archaeologists might one day find them. That makes my blog post from June 2012 look pretty tame, even though I wrote it before it was known that a dig was planned,

He explained that the local tradition that Richard's bones had been thrown into the River Soar at some point was always mistaken. Robert Herrick, who owned a house on the Greyfriars site in the early 17th century, marked the king's grave with a pillar inscribed 'Here lies the body of Richard III, some time King of England'. He would not have done that if everyone in the city knew it was no longer there.

As to the Princes in the Tower, Dr Baldwin suggested there is evidence that Edward V was ill before he disappeared from history. It may be significant that all the later pretenders claimed to be his younger brother Richard or even the son of the Duke of Clarence.

What is remarkable is that their fate never became known. Whoever was responsible for their deaths, both Richard III and Henry VII would have demanded to know the truth. And if they knew, then their inner circles wold have known. Yet even after those kings' deaths, no one ever revealed the truth.

He also suggested that Richard III probably surprised his contemporaries my seizing the throne. Recent historical precedents in England were for a young king's uncles to act selflessly. Richard may have feared for his position and influence if Edward V fell under the influence of his Woodville relations and, once he was bound upon his course, there was no way back.

Dr Richard Buckley, who was the lead archaeologist on the dig, talked about how Greyfriars fitted into the development of Leicester. The latest thinking is that Roman remains could be seen standing here as late as the 12th century, at which point the stones were reused to build the growing city. (Except at the Jewry Wall, of course.) Certainly, Medieval streets bend around the old Roman sites,

You can hear Richard Buckley talking on this them in a video I posted on this blog in 2012.

He also explained how alien it was to an archaeologist to be looking for a named individual. He said that none of the digs conducted at Leicester Abbey have looked for Cardinal Wolsey, who was buried.

If we ever did find him, he said, then cities like Ipswich and Oxford would try to claim him. As long as his bones are not disturbed, he will stay in Leicestershire.