Saturday, March 31, 2007

A glimpse of the 1980s

My older readers may recall that when Bernie Winters's double act with his brother Mike split up in the late 1970s, he took to appearing with his dog Schnorbitz.

Wikipedia records:
Schnorbitz once fell into a swimming pool at Terry Scott's house, only to be rescued by Barbara Windsor.
Aren't show business people lovely?

Friday, March 30, 2007

When Dora Bryan was too sexy for America

We all know that Hollywood films of the 1940s were sexy while their British counterparts were more concerned with cups of tea, don't we?

Not a bit of it.

I once wrote about A Matter of Life and Death and mentioned that it was cut for moral reasons when it was released in the USA as Stairway to Heaven.

Now I have discovered that another of my favourite films of the period, Carol Reed's The Fallen Idol was also trimmed for the American market. Betsy Sherman wrote at the time of the film's revival there last year:
Why was the film altered for its American release? Joseph Breen, of Hollywood's self-policing censorship body, objected to a comic relief passage. Phil has run off into the night and is brought to a police station by a constable. A streetwalker named Rose (Dora Bryan) is cracking wise to the desk sergeant and the shaken-up little boy gravitates to her. When the cops ask Rose to help them question Phil, she struggles, amusingly, to assume a maternal role. Breen ordered Reed to excise references to the fact that she's a prostitute being booked. Now, happily, Rose has been restored to her tawdry glory.

Gaping liked a landed guppy

Today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News.

If there had been room I would also have had a go at the Labour backbenchers (Simon Carr calls them "bench-monkeys") who cheered Brown's tax cut and asked why no one would tell jokes about Hitler as lightly as we now tell jokes about Stalin. Presumably it is more acceptable to be a mass murderer if you are a socialist.

How to Budget

The old hands say the initial reaction to budgets is always wrong. A chancellor who is unpopular on the day will turn out to be right in the long run. A budget that goes down well at the time never looks so impressive in retrospect.

Gordon Brown's latest effort shows the truth of this. The headlines in the next day’s papers – at least in Rupert Murdoch’s papers – were favourable. In the chamber the gloss lasted for about 20 minutes, but that was enough to floor David Cameron.

Replying to the budget is the most difficult task the leader of the opposition faces. He has respond immediately without notice of the speech. William Hague used to be brilliant at it – much good that did him at the ballot box – but David Cameron was awful. Jokes about Stalin will only get you so far.

The gloss went off Brown's budget as soon as Ming Campbell rose to speak. As everyone knows, David Laws had spotted what the Tories missed: the cut in income tax was financed by scrapping the 10 per cent band, leaving many low earners worse off.

That Gordon Brown finds this acceptable tells us two important things about him. The first is that he wants to control people’s lives. His defenders say low earners will not lose out because they benefit from tax credits. But this emphasises the extent to which Brown is an old-fashioned socialist – taking money from the poor, then returning it to those of whom he approves.

The other Brown trait this budget displayed was that of he overgrown schoolboy. Not just the bitten nails, but also the way it put short-term cleverness over long-term strategy.

Yes, his tax cut left Cameron gaping liked a landed guppy. But he was really doing the Tories a favour.

For years any talk of tax cuts has been met with the argument that they mean cuts in services – children arriving barefoot at school without any breakfast and so on. Suddenly it is possible to talk about tax cuts again, and that will make the Tories’ life a lot easier.

Another interesting question is how the Lib Dems should react in this new climate, but I appear to have reached the bottom of the page.

BritBlog Roundup: Another reminder

All nominations by Sunday lunchtime please.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Home Secretary to be split into two

Today the government announced that the John Reid is to be divided into two.

Whitehall sources say that it has been recognised for some time that Mr Reid is "dysfunctional" and that his sprawling career is too complex to have belonged to just one man.

In future there will be two John Reids.

One will concentrate on being the unctuous defender of the realm against terrorism. The other will be the erstwhile drunken brawler who used to admire the Soviet Union and hang out with Radovan Karadzic.

Coldplay and Paddy Ashdown

Yes, its trivia time again.

David Martin, who was the Tory MP for Portsmouth South between 1987 and 1997, has been beaten by the Liberals in three different constituencies.

He was the unsuccesful Tory candidate against Paddy Ashdown in Yeovil in 1983, lost his seat to Mike Hancock in 1997 and was beaten by Stephen Williams in Bristol West in 2005. He also lost to Labour in Rugby & Kenilworth in 2001.

It may be of some consolation to him that he is the uncle of Coldplay's Chris Martin.

For Fawkes's sake

So you missed Guido Fawkes's less than impressive performance on Newsnight last night?

Don't despair. Chicken Yoghurt has the video and Gudio Fawkes 2.0 has a transcript.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Caldon Canal under threat?

I have written before about the way that agricultural subsidies monopolise government spending on the countryside - and our canal system in particular.

Things may be even worse than I realised.

On Tuesday Charlotte Atkins, the Labour MP for Staffordshire Moorlands, initiated a Westminster Hall debate on inland waterways in the West Midlands. In her speech she talked about the plight of the Caldon Canal:
In reality, however, the future of the Caldon canal is far more dismal. As a cul-de-sac, it does not have the same status as the canals on the north-south through route on the national waterways network. Many ofthe structures on the Caldon have been awaiting maintenance for years. In the light of current funding cuts, those works are likely to be postponed for even more years. For instance, piecemeal repairs have been made to the Hazelhurst aqueduct and embankment over the last few years rather than the necessary major work that was planned. Its structural failure could easily cause the Caldon to be closed, which would have far-reaching effects for the local economy and the entire canal network.

We should remember that the Caldon was reopened by a dedicated band of volunteers back in 1974, and there is a real risk that, within living memory, whose who reopened the canal could see it close again.
That would be a tragedy.

The Caldon Canal starts in the unlovely centre of Stoke on Trent - as far as it has a centre - and ends in the beautiful Churnet valley. It makes a wonderful walk, and the far end is so remote that for a good stretch the canal is accompanied in that valley by the river and a steam railway, but no road.

New Dirk Bogarde website

Today the Dirk Bogarde estate launched an official website devoted to his life and acting career.

The background to it is explained in an article from this morning's Independent:

When Sir Dirk Bogarde, the matinée idol, star of European art-house cinema and author, died eight years ago, he left more material than most for any would-be biographer.

On top of over 60 films and 14 books, including several bestselling volumes of autobiography, there were cupboards packed with letters, photographs and film scripts left at the flat in Chelsea, west London, where Bogarde spent his final years.

It was left to his nephew, Brock Van den Bogaerde, to deal with them. He decided that before despatching any material of note to institutions for study by future generations, he should put together a website that would serve researchers and fans alike. The plan was to include everything "from magazine covers to his views on acting, his role in British cinema, in European cinema, in theatre and every book he ever wrote. It was such an enormous life, it really needed a website to put it all in perspective," he says.

The resulting 600-page site, www.dirkbogarde.co.uk, is launched today on what would have been Bogarde's 86th birthday. It offers a reminder of the literary as well as the acting output of the star of films including The Blue Lamp, Darling and Death in Venice, but also a glimpse into the private world of one of the 20th century's more complex leading men.

Britblog Roundup: A reminder

Don't forget to nominate your favourite blog posts of the weeks for Sunday's roundup.

But how do I do it?

Details here.

Don't ask me, Tompkins

Yesterday's Commons education select committee report on bullying was right to insist that schools take the problem seriously.

Most of the media coverage concentrated on the suggestion that children should be involved in suggesting suitable penalties for bullies in their own schools.

I wonder if I am alone in seeing this as a bit of a cop-out.

Yes, children are often capable of being more mature and sensible than we ordinarily allow them to be. Yes, they have to learn to take on adult responsibilities and this might be a good way of doing it.

But on the whole adults know better than children - if they didn't, there would be no point in sending children to school. So shouldn't it be adults who are making these decisions?

And isn't one of the reasons that bullying flourishes the unease that teachers and other adults feel about asserting authority? Encouraging them to slough off responsibility on to the children is not going to help matters.

Pussy Galore (Lib Dem)

The Guardian has a respectful interview with the wonderful Honor Blackman. As it says:
Blackman is that rare thing, a thinking, Lib Dem-supporting former Bond girl.
And her Liberalism goes back a long way, as an earlier posting of mine records.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Adam Curtis and Isaiah Berlin

Having previously welcomed Adam Curtis's series The Trap as "television for grown ups" I now have to express my disappointment with the third episode in particular.

It took Isaiah Berlin's distinction between positive and negative liberty, and argued that the West had embraced the latter concept as a philosophical bulwark against Soviet communism during the Cold War. Further, is still the ruling philosophy of the Blair and Bush governments today.

Much as I admire Berlin, it is impossible to deny that the standing he enjoyed during his lifetime was bound up with the Cold War. But to argue that Tony Blair is motivated by a belief in negative liberty is simply bizarre.

As Not Saussure writes:
Much of Blair’s legacy, it seems to me, is precisely a demonstration of precisely how a doubtless well-meaning determination for positive liberty can lead to a huge growth in arbitrary authority, intolerance and hierarchy, both at home and abroad. We will make you happier and more secure, whether you want to cooperate or not, which is why all these CCTV cameras, ASBOs, summary penalties and ID cards are for your own good, if only you’d bloody well realise it…..
After all, this programme went out in a week during which the government had proposed criminalising those who do not stay in education until they are 18.

But Curtis's account of Berlin's ideas was inadequate too. As the same Not Saussure article reminds us, Berlin did not present negative and positive liberty as polar opposites. Nor did he argue that any attempt to reform society would inevitably end in tyranny.

For this reason Curtis was wide of the mark when he ended his series with the words "Isaiah Berlin was wrong. Not all attempts to change the world for the better end in tyranny." All Berlin asked was that we should be aware of the dangers in such attempts.

There is a deeper point here. The two greatest liberal thinkers at work in twentieth-century Britain were Berlin and Karl Popper. While both were reformists, they were convinced anti-revolutionary thinkers.

Popper's follower Bryan Magee gives a good summation of the reasons behind this position in his Confessions of a Philosopher:
There is a situational logic to revolutions. Disparate groups unite to overthrow an existing regime, but once they have succeeded in doing so the cause that brought them togther has gone, and they then fight one another to fill the power vacuum that they themselves have created. These internecine struggles, usually savage, among erstwhile allies perpetuate the revolutionary breakdown of society far beyond the overthrow of the old regime, and delay the establishment of a new order.

The population at large begins to feel threatened by unending social chaos, and in these circumstances a strong man who can bring the warring factions to heel and impose order comes forward and meets with widespread support, or at least acquiescence. Thus a revolution carried out in the name of civil liberties, or equality, or to bring a tyranny to and end, will itself end by putting into a Cromwell, a Napoleon or a Stalin.

All revolutions are uncontrollable, and all revolutions are betrayed. It is in their nature that these things should be so. This fact makes belief in violent revolution as a means of changing society not only irrational and delusory but profoundly immoral.
All very reasonable, you might think. Yet the Left in Britain is still drawn to these adolescent fantasies of political revolution, which is why its members so often dismiss profound liberal thinkers like Popper and Berlin as Tories or extreme right-wingers.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Unfortunate Headline of the Day

From the BBC:
Man loved murdered wife "to bits"

BritBlog Roundup visits Liberal England

Back in the late Middle Ages Tim Worstall established the BritBlog Roundup - a selection of the best posts of the week in the British blogosphere.

He gave up hosting it a few weeks ago, and since then it has been hosted on a different blog each week. On Sunday it will be here on Liberal England.

If you would like to nominate a post to appear there, please send an e-mail to britblog [at] gmail [dot] com giving me the link.

Any posting from a British-based blog or British-born blogger made this week can be be nominated. And, yes, you can nominate something from your own blog.

Yesterday's Roundup can be found at Clairwil. And links to all the previous ones can be found on Tim's site.

Return to the Lewes Arms

Last week I wrote about the campaign to restore Harvey's beers to The Lewes Arms.

For those who fancy another round, I recommend yesterday's Nick Cohen column in the Observer or Disgruntled Radical.

Norman Baker, the Lib Dem MP for Lewes, has also spoken on the subject.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Dan Rogerson: Maturing nicely

A press release on his own website reveals that the Liberal Democrat member for North Cornwall is chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Cheese.

Nice to see a fellow Lib Dem taking up such an important position.

Lord Bonkers adds: In my young day this position was held by Lord Wensleydale.

Tributes to Bob Woolmer

Besides my own, I have come across two more nostalgic tributes from politicos of my generation: Paul Linford and Craig Murray.

Happy birthday to me

Today is my birthday. I don't like to complain, but it is going to be 23 hours long.

Even so, I am not one of those who goes on about the need to have British Summer Time all year round. Just remember what it is like getting up for work on 4 January or so, and then think what it would be like to have to get up an hour earlier.

Besides, it was tried in the 1960s and proved unpopular. Every time the subject comes up, the BBC uses a clip from the era showing children walking to school in the dark, bundled up against the cold and looking rather quaint now. I always reflect that I must have looked like that.

That makes me feel old. Far more than having a birthday does.

BritBlog Roundup

This week's selection can be found in the salubrious setting of Clairwil.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Obliged to pretend to like it

My House Points column from yesterday's Liberal Democrat News.

I have a feeling I have written this one several times before, and the limit of 375 words always seems to mean that I hit the bottom of the page just as I am starting to get somewhere interesting. So let's take the argument a little further.

The dwindling of the sort of informal authority exercised in the past by parents, teachers and other public servants has not led to an upsurge in freedom. Instead it has led to demands that the state licenses new figures to take over these roles. But because the state cannot possibly take on such a complex task, these new forms of authority are experienced as arbitrary in that they are either ridiculously lax or unreasonably harsh - just like the worst kind of parents.

Anyway, here is the column.

The crime scene

The bright young things at Cowley Street have set up a website (www.homeofficewatch.com) to "chronicle the adventures of a beleaguered department". It's not hard to see why.

On Monday, pressed over recent knife murders, John Reid appealed to anyone who knew anything to ring Crimestoppers and then gave their number. This seemed odd given his audience: any MP with evidence would surely have contacted the police already. Worse, he got the number wrong and had to correct himself in a later answer.

But there is something about crime that exhausts governments. A dozen years ago John Major wanted us to "condemn a little more and understand a little less" while New Labour was promising to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. On Monday the Tories were full of talk of the consequences of family breakdown, while Reed warned them this came dangerously close to excusing criminality.

The Liberal Democrat response has been the We Can Cut Crime! campaign, which, inevitably, has a website too: www.wecancutcrime.com. This emphasises the sort of practical measures our councillors have been taking up and down the country and avoids the worst of the rhetoric that plagues the debate on crime.

All good stuff. But there are deeper questions here, and they make politicians of all parties nervous. Certainly, Black commentators seem happy to talk about a lack of parental authority and question the influence of rap music - areas where others fear to tread.

There is nothing new about young people loving music that shocks middle-aged politicians. What is different today is that those politicians feel obliged to pretend to like it.

And authority? It's worth asking whether the spread of government into more and more areas of life undermines other sources of authority. Last week Beverley Hughes unveiled a national curriculum for children under five. Every nursery, childminder and reception class in England will have to monitor children's progress towards a set of 69 "early learning goals", recording them against more than 500 development milestones as they go.

Such moves are defended on the grounds that children need the best possible start in life. But why do we always think that means increasing the role of the state and diminishing the standing of parents?

From Shropshire to Fleet Street

Exciting news: Mr Davy's parsnip appears on page 2 of today's Guardian.

Lovers of Shropshire vegetables should also read this.

Woolmer murder: Jamaican police call in help






"While on vacation at a resort hotel in the West Indies, Miss Marple correctly suspects that the apparently natural death of a retired British major is actually the work of a murderer planning yet another killing."

For my tribute to Bob Woolmer click here. For more on Miss Marple click there.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Lewes Arms

There is an article in today's Guardian on the battle for the Lewes Arms in, naturally enough, Lewes.

Greene King has taken the pub over and is refusing to sell everyone's favourite local bitter Harvey's. The locals have got up a petition, which the town's Lib Dem MP Norman Baker has signed, and are maintaining a picket. According to the Guardian, this is succeeding in persuading most people not to drink at the Lewes Arms until the brewery agrees to sell Harvey's again.

The article contains a piece of disingenuity that is remarkable even by corporate standards. It quotes a written statement from the head of the Greene King pubs division:
All over the country, brewers sell their own beer in their own pubs - it's a practice as old as the pub itself. We recognise that some of our customers at the Lewes Arms don't accept this practice, but we are proud of our wonderful beers and proud to sell them.
But locals are quite happy for the pub to sell Greene King beers. What they want is for it to sell Harvey's as well.

It happens that I know the Lewes Arms from the days when a friend lived in the town. I even arranged to hold a meeting of the Malcolm Saville Society there once.

It is an eccentric and quirky pub - perhaps a little self-consciously so, but I wish the campaigners well. Here is a link to the website of The Friends of the Lewes Arms, which the Guardian fails to provide.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Trap: An interview with Adam Curtis

Blairwatch has an interview with Adam Curtis, whose three-part series The Trap is showing on BBC2 at the moment.
What I'm trying to argue is that we have adopted, both our politicians and ourselves to an extent a narrow economic idea of what freedom means and that's based on the idea that the individual is free once his or her wants or needs are simply satisfied and is free just do what he or she wants.

Other Ideas of freedom are actually about changing the world both individually or collectively and transforming it and having the power to do that which is freeing yourself from the constraints, I don't know, scarcity or political oppression, all sorts of things. But really there are many, many different ideas, and much wider ideas of freedom. That's what I was trying to say.
Thanks to Not Saussure.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Ming right, Blair wrong on taxation

Before today's budget came prime minister's questions, when the Guardian reports that the following exchange took place:

Sir Menzies Campbell's turn - is the PM "disappointed" that the wealth gap is greater under him than Mrs Thatcher?

"He is absolutely wrong," counters Mr Blair - the wealthy are wealthier but those at the bottom have done very well. "Yes, we haven't penalised high earners but those at the bottom have done well."

Sir Ming is undeterred - "how can it be fair" he asks, that the lowest earners pay a higher proportion of their wage in income tax than the highest?

He's simply incorrect, Mr Blair repeats.
Except that Sir Ming was quite right.

As Richard Murphy says:
It’s staggering that after 10 years on office he doesn’t realise that what he said is wrong and that Ming Campbell is absolutely right. The data is here - published in Parliament. The lowest decile pay 42.6% of their income in tax. Their average income is £8,376 The highest decile pay just 34.9%, less than the fifth to ninth deciles it should be noted. Their average income is £84,357.

What a legacy for a Labour Prime Minister.
Thanks to Tim Worstall.

A great Shropshire Star headline

Gardener finds ugly vegetable

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

You stupid knuts

Cruel "animal rights activists" want to murder Knut, the world's cutest bear cub.

They must not be allowed to succeed.

Meanwhile, there is time for an old joke...

Mummy, am I a polar bear?

Yes dear, you are.

Mummy, are you sure I'm a polar bear?

Yes dear, I'm sure.

Mummy, are you really really sure I'm a polar bear?

Yes dear, I'm quite sure. Now why do you keep asking?

'Cos I'm bloody freezing, that's why.

Where are they now? Paul Marsden

The former Labour/Lib Dem/Labour MP for Shrewsbury has written a book: The Blackfriars of Shrewsbury: History of the Dominican Friary.

If anything can bring you back into this blog's good books it is contributing to Shropshire local history.

Reader's voice: But are you sure it is that Paul Marsden?

Liberal England replies confidently: It says so in Wikipedia, so it must be true.

Pine martens on Skye

A fascinating story from the BBC:

A species of wild animal which used the Skye Bridge to cross from the mainland to the island has spread faster than expected, experts believe.

Pine martens first arrived on Skye shortly after the bridge opened in 1995, according to Roger Cottis of the Scottish Wildlife Trust.

He said the population had spread nine miles (15km) south and west from territory near the bridge.

But it may not be good news:

"They are a predatory animal. Certain birds and small animals are vulnerable and there will be an impact.

"On the mainland, the birds and animals have come to terms with the pine martins' presence - there is an equilibrium.

"But on Skye there could be potential for changes. It will be something we will be monitoring."

Unnecessary Question Mark of the Week

I ask Lembit what it was like growing up in Northern Ireland with an umlaut?
A pity, because apart from that it is a good line.

And it comes from a good interview with Lembit Opik from the Belfast Telegraph. It is conducted by Deborah Ross, but for once in her work it is more about its subject than, er, Deborah Ross.

Unlikely Quotations of the Day

Like Ireland vs Zimbabwe, it's a tie.

There's Alexis Rowell, a Lib Dem councillor, with:
It's not often I find a reason to disagree with Polly Toynbee.
And there's Randy from Big Brovaz with:
We entered Eurovision because we thought it was about credible acts.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Toby Flood's grandfathers

Serious political thinkers look away now: it's time for some more trivial connections.

Toby Flood, England's new fly half, comes from a theatrical background. Both his grandfather's enjoyed long acting careers.

His father's father Gerald Flood appeared in many cult shows of the 1960s and even made it into Dr Who in the 1980s. I remember him as Flashman's father - a character unknown to Thomas Hughes - in the BBC's flagellomaniac adaptation of Tom Brown's Schooldays from 1971.

His mother's father was Albert Lieven a German actor who, according to the IMDB, "fled the Nazis during the war years, only to portray Nazi menacers in British films". He appeared in many films, the best known being The Guns of Navarone and the best being The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.

Cricket (and Dr Who) fans may recall that Patrick Troughton's grandson Jim Troughton has played cricket for England in one-day internationals.

The Amersham Martyrs

Sunday's Time Team made a brief reference to the Amersham Martyrs. These were Lollards who were put to death for their beliefs in the 16th century.

You can read the full story in a RandomPottins posting from last May.

Bob Woolmer

Another of the sporting heroes of my youth has died. There is an obituary of Bob Woolmer on the BBC website:
When news of his death first came through, I was with Michael Holding at the Melbourne Cricket Club here in Jamaica.

The devastation written on the former West Indies bowler's face spoke volumes for the impact Woolmer made on the game and people he came into contact with.
As Liberal Legend wrote yesterday, he first came to prominence as part of the successful Kent team of the late sixties and early 1970s. He first appeared for England in 1972, in one of the first one-day internationals.

In those days he was seen as an all-rounder, but when he made his test debut in 1975 it was soon clear that his seamers were not test class. His batting, however, was. His test figures - 1059 runs @ 33.09 - do not do justice to his calm presence at the crease. At his best, Woolmer had something of the broad-bottomed authority of his mentor Colin Cowdrey.

If Woolmer had not joined World Series Cricket after the 1977 Ashes he might well have formed an important part of Mike Brearley's all-conquering side alongside the young David Gower and Ian Botham.

I saw Woolmer play on a cold April day at Canterbury at the start of his last season in 1984. After that he devoted himself to coaching and became one of the very best.

Five Thoggers

Iain Dale has tagged me as a Thogger - or Thinking Blogger.

Now I have to choose five other bloggers who often cause me to think about what they have written. They, in turn, have to nominate five more...

Here are my five, avoiding people I know have already been tagged by someone else:

Saturday, March 17, 2007

From Wiveliscombe to Barnstaple

Yesterday's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News.

Identity crisis

I have always had a problem with the Christmas story. Not the wise men or the shepherds or the virgin birth, but the idea that the Romans would make every one return home for a census. I’m sure their empire was run more efficiently than that.

It is harder to have such faith in this government. As preparation for the introduction of identity cards, all new passport applicants will be interviewed by the Identity and Passport Service.

That means that each year some 600,000 people will have to travel to their local passport interview centre. Except it may not be local at all.

Which is where Jeremy Browne’s adjournment debate on Monday comes in. The Lib Dem MP for Taunton is an opponent of identity cards, but he was complaining there is no passport interview centre planned for the town. The result will be a great deal of inconvenience for his constituents as they are forced to travel.

It may be, as the song has it, six miles from Bangor to Donaghadee. But it is 28 miles from Taunton to Yeovil and 36 miles from Taunton to Exeter – that’s an hour and 20 minutes on the bus. It’s also 34 miles from Wellington to Yeovil and 38 miles from Wiveliscombe to Barnstaple.

Then Jeremy moved on to population figures. Did you know the population of the Taunton Deane District is around 102,000? That it is 11,730 for Chard and 10,000 for Minehead?

What this cornucopia of statistics showed is the numbers who are going to be caught in the net of the Identity and Passport Service, even in its early days, and the trouble to which they will be put.

Jeremy’s enthusiasm left little time for a ministerial reply. But then that minister was only Joan Ryan.

She is not as bad as Sally Keeble, who used to lean right over the dispatch box , read her brief word for word and cast occasional glances up through her hair. She looked like a timid forest creature who had just heard there was an owl on the wing. But Ryan is deeply unimpressive.

She clearly believes the government need only whisper the word ‘security’ for everyone to fall in line. We shall see.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Your cut out and keep guide to spiralling Olympic costs

Courtesy of the BBC:
  • 2003: Consultants Arup put total cost of building and staging the Games at £1.796bn
  • 2003: Tessa Jowell launches bid in May telling MPs it will cost £2.375bn - including a 50% contingency
  • 2005: Bid succeeds in July with "prudent" estimate of preparing for games of £2.4bn
  • 2006: Tessa Jowell says Olympic Park costs up to £3.3bn
  • 2007: Olympic Park budget now at £5.3bn - including regeneration and infrastructure
  • 2007: Total budget, including contingency, security and tax, reaches £9.35bn

Column of the day: Simon Jenkins

Congratulations to Simon Jenkins for making a three-course meal of the hand that feeds him. His Guardian column this morning attacks that newspaper for a supplement it carried on Wednesday:
The section ominously carried no advertising, but was not headed "advertising supplement". Yet it was paid for by the government's Housing Market Renewal Partnerships - which agreed the synopsis - to boost the controversial Pathfinder housing policy. In return for a large sum of money, the agency was offered pre-sight of the copy to "correct inaccuracies". In effect, it secured sympathetic coverage. None of the writers (nor the Guardian's readers) was told of this, or that their fees were being paid, in effect, by the Blair government. Some were given to understand that they were writing for the Observer.

The supplement was laudatory of the nine Pathfinder housing clearance projects in the Midlands and north. This potential honeypot of £5bn of public money (half an Olympics) was launched in 2003 to "kick-start" the renewal of down-at-heel cities. This admirable ambition was vitiated by the method chosen, to assemble and demolish Victorian inner-city neighbourhoods for sale to private architect/developers. The option of using the money to give repair grants to residents, or confront the horror of clearing postwar housing estates, was not pursued. Developers demand cleared sites, as with the green belt. The Pathfinders' job was to find and clear them.

Green is the colour

The Guardian reports:
Chelsea have banned celery from Stamford Bridge and ordered fans to stop throwing it during matches after the Football Association launched an investigation into instances of salad tossing at their recent matches.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Eric Gill and Broadcasting House

The first transmission from Broadcasting House in London took place 75 years ago today. The BBC website has a pleasing selection of photographs to mark the anniversary.

This seems a good moment to repeat an anecdote about the sculpture of Prospero and Ariel by Eric Gill that graces the front of the building.

History reports that when it was first unveiled people were of the opinion that the young Ariel was - how shall we put it? - too well endowed. Indeed, John Knight records that a Labour MP - a Mr G. G. Mitcheson - argued that the figures were offensive to public morals and decency and asked the Home Secretary if he would instruct the Metropolitan Police to remove them.

Legend has it that Sir John Reith then consulted one of the governors, Dr Montague Rendell, who was a former public school headmaster and presumed to be an authority on such matters. Dr Rendell pronounced and Gill was obliged to take a chisel to his creation.

The BBC itself says that there is no "hard evidence" that this tale is true. But it certainly ought to be.

Those Labour rebels in full

Sigh. I wish I knew the names of all the Labour rebels in the vote on replacing Trident.

Sigh no more. Labour Watch has the list.

Mawhinney caught with his draws down

Plans to decide every drawn Football League game with a penalty shoot out have been universally condemned by my fellow Lib Dem bloggers.

David Nikel thinks: "The thrill I used to get watching Northampton get battered for 90 minutes and end up scoring a totally undeserved last minute equaliser - cannot be matched." Norfolk Blogger thinks the Football League bosses are "pillocks". Tony Ferguson thinks it represents "the Americanisation of football".

Who could have come up with a stupid idea like that?

Step forward - to no one's great surprise - Brian, now Lord,
Mawhinney. The Chairman of the Conservative Party during the painful decline and fall of the Major government, he is now the Chairman of the Football League.

He is best remembered in Whitehall as the only minister who kept a photo of himself on his desk.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

"They are very naughty goats" says Mayor

News from Lynton.

Blue Peter Babylon

It's not just today's news story. As sausageNet says:
the programme has also had it’s fair share of scandal ... Most notably, Peter Duncan’s film career before he became a presenter, Janet Ellis had a baby out of wedlock (shocking I know! - especially as it was Sophie Ellis Bextor!), Michael Sundin’s death of an "unspecified illness" (AIDS), Richard Bacon taking drugs at the 40th Anniversary party and John Leslie … well, just being John Leslie!
And it does not even mention the fact that Valerie Singleton narrated Nudes of the World in 1961.

Top searching

Everyone else does it, so why shouldn't I?

Here are some of the more unusual searches that have led to people arriving at Liberal England in recent weeks...
  • joan hickson topless
  • stiperstones sex
  • the most bonkers cheese maker in England
  • newspaper deliverers in canal winchester
  • mike gatting naked
  • this horrible bastard blair
  • naked men melton mowbray
  • george formby one eye wooden leg
  • being smacked with a rolled-up radio times
  • south wales monastery elephant

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

London Lembit?

Could there after all be something in reports that Lembit wants to be the Lib Dem candidate for London Mayor?

Read Liberal Democrat Voice.

Peregrine falcons on Derby Cathedral

Last year peregrine falcons nested on Derby Cathedral and they are back this year. This blog will tell you all about it and will link to a webcam when it is in place.

Derby Cathedral has a pleasant eighteenth-century feel. It celebrates a God of light and reason, not of blood and vengeance.

South Africa criticises Mugabe regime

I supect this may be an important development:
South Africa, seen as Zimbabwe's most important neighbour, broke its usual silence on the government in Harare to state its concern.

"South Africa urges the Zimbabwean government to ensure that the rule of law including respect for rights of all Zimbabweans and opposition leaders is respected," Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad said.

Keep your cock under control

Nice to see Market Harborough Magistrates Court making the national press. But the fowl in the dock comes from just over the county boundary in Northamptonshire.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Happy birthday Googie Withers

The great British film actress of the 1940s is 90 today.

Thanks, Hooting Yard.

Karl Popper and Market Harborough

I don't suppose the great man ever came here, but I have found another of those connections which please me so much.

As I recorded recently, I have contributed the entry on Popper in the new Dictionary of Liberal Thought. Like many people, I first discovered his ideas through Bryan Magee's excellent short book in the Fontana Modern Masters series.

I knew from his Confessions of a Philosopher that Magee was evacuated to Market Harborough during the war. I now know - having bought his latest volume of memoirs Growing Up in a War - the he stayed with two families here. The first lived just around the corner from where I live now. The second lived just around the corner from where I lived as a schoolboy (and where my mother still lives).

He even mentions the little carpet warehouse across the road from my mother's house. In 1940 it was a factory making parachutes. And he used to buy sweets in the same corner shop as me.

A philosopher writes: It's a small world.

Thank you. There is a long profile of Magee here.

Cash for Honours yet again

And we're off again. The BBC is reporting this evening:

One of the PM's closest aides Ruth Turner wrote of her concerns that "Lord Levy had asked her to lie for him".

This emerged in court when the BBC was granted permission to report the reasons an injunction was served about a cash-for-honours news story.

The judge who granted the injunction at the police's request said "there is a substantial element of truth in what the intended BBC broadcast was to say".

Guido Fawkes suggests that the actual words used were rather stronger.

There were also a couple of interesting reports in the Sunday Times yesterday.

Going off the rails

Last week I wrote about the Wrexham, Shropshire & Marylebone Railway (WSMR) and its attempt to run a direct service from Shrewsbury to London. So far, had found itself stymied by the weird combination of private monopoly and centralised control that now runs Britiain's railways.

Now, reports the Shropshire Star, the company is trying again. But see what contortions it is being forced into:
The new plans do not affect the link from Shropshire, which will still go ahead, but WSMR trains will not take passengers to London from Wolverhampton, instead they will stop at Tamebridge in Walsall.

Mr Nelson said: “Nothing else has changed, except instead of carrying passengers from Wolverhampton to London we will be carrying them from Tamebridge to London.

“People travelling from Shrewsbury to Wolverhampton will be able to travel on our trains as they will stop at Wolverhampton, but passengers wanting to go London will not be able to get on."

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Don Taylor's The Exorcism

What is the most frightening television programme you have ever seen?

For me it is probably the episode of Sexton Blake in which the hypodermic-wielding villain measured Tinker for his coffin while he was still alive. Mind you, I may have been as young as seven when I saw it.

After that. it is undoubtedly a play I remember from the early 1970s. Two wealthy couples were spending Christmas in a country cottage - the second home of one of them. Gradually they become aware that they are trapped in the building and the red wine they are drinking has turned to blood.

Then one of the women goes into a trance and channels the spirit of a peasant woman who starved to death there a century or more ago. With her dying breath she cursed the rich and called upon the stones of the cottage to avenge her.

The programme ended with a news bulletin about a bizarre tragedy in which four people had been found starved to death seated around a table on which a large meal was set out...

This morning - having bought a book of Raymond Williams's television reviews from the early 1970s - I discovered what it was.

It was The Exorcism, written by Don Taylor and broadcast in 1972. I was only 12 then, but I am sure it would still terrify me today.

Television for grown ups

Congratulations to Channel Four for two programmes they showed this week. First The Great Global Warming Swindle (more background on Spiked): then Bring Back the Orphanage, which is discussed in the Guardian and on The ARCH Blog.

You don't have to accept the central thesis of either of these programmes to be pleased that ones like them can still be made and shown.

With a new series from Adam Curtis - The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom (preview here) - starting on BBC tomorrow, for once we are being spoilt with intelligent television.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Stealing childhood

Back in October 2005 I quoted an article by Andrew Martin which argued that the infantilisation of men has destroyed our concept of boyhood:
It's strange, given their fatal consequences for boyhood, that cars should often be referred to as "boys' toys". The word "boy" is being taken away from boys, to be used as an arch substitute for "man". Footballers have a "bad boy" reputation; and what did that Wonderbra advert say? "Hello boys."

... many of the products aimed at boys are trying to hustle them on to puberty as fast as possible. Once you've got sex in the equation you can sell a magazine, market a car and target any product. Whereas boyhood ... Well, what is that? It's beginning to seem an increasingly mysterious, abstract realm, something existing frozen in time on the covers of the William books, like a distant, slightly troublesome memory, or a reproof to the way we live now.
I was reminded of this by an article on the BBC website today which discussed why boys no longer join choirs. It begins:

Boys tend not to join choirs because they think their singing voices "do not sound like boys", research suggests.

Dr Martin Ashley of the University of the West of England says they associate "boy" bands with adult voices.

David Icke and the Liberal Party

The other day I suggested that at one time David Icke was being lined up as Liberal PPC for the Isle of Wight. Valerie Silbiger has e-mailed to tell me that the truth was rather different.

It's true that Icke was once keen on the idea of being a Liberal candidate and made it clear that the Isle of Wight was the only seat he was interested in fighting. There was some difficulty in verifying that he was a Liberal member, and when he was interviewed as a candidate by London Region (where he lived), the panel found that he had little or no knowledge of the party or its policies and could therefore not be approved.

In those days Icke was nothing more than a personable young sports reporter, so it is possible that someone higher up in the party thought it would be a good idea for him to stand. But Valerie recalls that the Isle of Wight party was not keen on the idea.

The Strange Death of Liberal England

News reaches us of a pop group with this splendid name.

The unforgiving Guardian

There is something very unforgiving about the Guardian mind-set.

If, in your heyday, you failed to embody the views that are currently fashionable with the paper's writers, you will be condemned in death, no matter how long ago that heyday was.

A while ago it was Charlie Williams. Today it is John Inman.

The quietest post office under the sun

It's nice to see a report about a post office opening for a change. The Shropshire Star says:
A south Shropshire village has celebrated the opening of its new post office.

Customers were given free sweets by Clun sub postmistress Janet Bradbury at the new branch in Church Street.
We asked A. E. Housman to carry out some market research:
Clunton and Clunbury
Clungunford and Clun,
Are the quietest places
Under the sun.
Damn.

So farewell then Mark Littlewood

This morning's Independent confirms last night's reports that Mark Littlewood has resigned as Lib Dem press chief.

But the real offender is whoever came up with the idea of having Ming Campbell address his leader's speech to Gordon Brown. It was always going to be hard to spin that one.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Referred from Liberal England

In recent days this blog has appeared in a couple of other people's lists of top referrers.

Liberal England was 20th in Iain Dale's list for February and 16th in Paul Linford's list for January and February combined.

Trivial Fact of the Day

The country singer Kris Kristofferson once boxed as a light-middleweight for Oxford University against Cambridge.

Thanks to the Daily Telegraph.

Lib Dem Voice says Mark Littlewood has resigned

The Liberal Democrat media chief is reported to have resigned.

The young Michael Crick

The other evening there was a Newsnight report by Michael Crick about embarrassing photographs from the pasts of David Cameron and Tony Blair.

A school friend of Crick's later sent in a photograph of the young Michael which was shown on air. You can find it on the programme's website. They say they have "cleaned it up", whatever that means.

Anyway, here is the young Michael Crick. Not changed a bit, has he?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Bullingdon Matching Pairs

Bloggerheads has turned the photo they tried to ban into a card game: Bullingdon Matching Pairs.

Beware: it's addictive.

After the BBC injunction row

Now that the fuss has died down about the BBC and that injunction, there are a couple of good articles giving a considered view of the issues involved.

On Comment is Free Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger explains why the Attorney General's attempt to prevent the paper reporting the story fell apart. And on the BBC site Torin Douglas looks at some of the wider questions the affair raises.

Stalking Norman Baker badly

Our attention has been drawn to Norman Baker Watch, a site which seems to have been set up to damage the exemplary Lib Dem MP for Lewes. Given that its chief complaint against him is that he is too active on his constituents' behalf, I cannot see it working.

Liberal Democrat Voice suggests that the site's obsession with Parliamentary questions means it is being run from the office of another MP. That may well be the case.

Whoever is writing it does not know much political history. The site tries to embarrass Norman by noting David Icke's support for his campaign for a proper investigation into the death of Dr David Kelly.

If you are going to use Icke to embarrass Liberals, why not mention that at one time he was being seriously lined up as our candidate for the Isle of Wight?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Tory boy's drugs shame

A 19-year-old Tory councillor has been forced to apologise - for not taking drugs.

Wales on Sunday reports that Chris Chapman came to public notice when the Labour MP Paul Flynn mentioned his MySpace site in the Commons. According to the newspaper it used to read:
"I've evolved from a little whining pussy to a thrill-seeking wreckhead to a Conservative who still loves the wreck-ups."

He also cited a questionnaire posted on the site where the ear-pierced and spiky-haired councillor confessed to having taken drugs and stealing in the past year.
It seems the truth is less colourful. The paper says:
Wales on Sunday has learnt his 'drug-taking' amounts to no more than a painkiller for an injured shoulder. And his stealing exploits involved pilfering some sweets from his cousin. He has since offered to resign to local party chiefs.

Describing him as "a bit of a prat", one source in the Tory party yesterday suggested Rogerstone councillor Mr Chapman made the comments on the site - since removed from the web - "to make himself look like a man's man in front of his mates".

He added: "He is a bit of a Jack The Lad character. But he is absolutely scared stiff now, the poor so-and-so, absolutely wetting himself. He's like a rabbit caught in the headlights."
Thanks - rather improbably - to Labour Watch.

Turn again Lembit

This story does not make it on to the Daily Express's rudimentary website, but regular readers will know that I rely more upon the Shropshire Star for my news:
Liberal Democrats today dismissed as “highly unlikely” a report that Montgomeryshire MP Lembit Opik might bid to become the party’s candidate for London Mayor next year.

The report suggested that the Mid Wales MP was being touted as candidate for the job of trying to unseat Labour’s Ken Livingstone.

It said that his entry into the race would “liven the contest up” and would not harm his parliamentary career if he performed well.

A colleague was quoted in the Daily Express as saying: “The party is keen to have someone well known with charisma to stand for the job, and that’s certainly true of Lembit.”

Monday, March 05, 2007

BBC injunction: New developments

Tomorrow's Guardian thinks it knows what all the fuss has been about:

Detectives are investigating whether Lord Levy, Labour's chief fundraiser, urged one of Tony Blair's most senior aides to shape the evidence she gave to Scotland Yard, the Guardian has learned.

Police have been investigating whether Ruth Turner, the prime minister's director of external relations, was being asked by Lord Levy to modify information that might have been of interest to the inquiry. Officers have been trying to piece together details of a meeting they had last year. Ms Turner gave an account of it to her lawyers and this has been passed to police.

Thanks to Liberal Democrat Voice.

The martyrdom of St Wystan

In his biography of W. H. Auden, Humphrey Carpenter writes:
His elder brothers were called Bernard and John. By contrast his own first name, Wystan, was exotic; but it reflected one of his father's great interests in life. George Auden was a doctor of medicine by profession, but he was also widely read in many other fields, among them Saxon and Norse antiquities. 
This was partly the result of his having been educated at Repton school in Derbyshire, for the parish church there has a particularly fine Saxon crypt which attracted his attention when he was young. The church is dedicated to St Wystan, a Mercian prince who was murdered in the year 849 after he had objected to the uncanonical marriage of his widowed mother to his uncle - "a rather Hamlet-like story," remarked Wystan Auden. 
The story of St Wystan is recorded in a Little Guide to Shropshire, under the entry for Wistanstow, the place in the county where he was martyred. The author of the Little Guide was Wystan Auden's uncle, the Rev. J. E. Auden, and Wystan carefully preserved his own copy of it. He was very possessive about his first name; he said he would be "furious" if he met another Wystan.
Wistanstow is a charming village, not least because it is the home of The Wood Brewery and its tap, The Plough Inn. But Wistow in Leicestershire also claim to be the site of St Wystan's martyrdom - and the site of the miraculous growth of golden hair from his grave that first proved his saintliness. And I have always understood that it has the stronger claim: when the Church appointed a commission to investigate the claimed miracle, its members all came from the East Midlands.

So it was a surprise to read this in the Daily Telegraph review of Mick Sharp's book The Way and the Light: An Illustrated Guide to the Saints and Holy Places of Britain:
The churchyard at Wistow in Cambridgeshire, for instance, is the likely location of the 9th-century martyrdom of St Wystan. Each year on his feast day, human hair was said to grow through the churchyard grass. "But when I visited shortly after his feast," writes Sharp coyly, "the grass was neatly mown."
So three places claim to be the site of Wystan's martyrdom. Unless, of course, you know of any more.

More on Sir Mark Sykes

Intrigued by the man who may save us from bird flu, I looked him up on Wikipedia:
Mark Sykes was son of Sir Tatton Sykes, a 48 year old reclusive bachelor hypochondriac who was maneuvered into a most unsuitable marriage to an 18 year old girl by the bride's mother. They were never happy together and became less so as Lady Sykes descended into sexual promiscuity, drinking and heavy gambling. After spending large amounts of money paying off her debts, Tatton Sykes published a notice in the papers disavowing her debts and legally separating from her.
Blimey.

Inevitably, he was a friend of Aubrey Herbert.

BBC Injunction latest

Auntie is now permitted to report the following:

The e-mail which triggered the probe into an alleged Downing Street cover-up was sent by Number 10 aide Ruth Turner.

It was sent to Tony Blair's chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, and concerned Labour's chief fundraiser Lord Levy.

The injunction barring reporting of any details of the e-mail was amended on Monday so the BBC could say who sent the e-mail but not its full contents.

And the Sunday Herald said yesterday:
Scotland Yard's injunction against the BBC, preventing it from broadcasting new details in the cash-for-honours investigation, is expected to be lifted this week when a team of detectives led by the assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, John Yates, has completed a new focus of its inquiry.

Thought for the Day

For my fellow Lib Dem bloggers:
"A politician complaining about the Press is like a ship's captain complaining about the sea" - Enoch Powell.

Government still dodging on Iraq dossier

Where did the claim that Saddam was ready to launch attacks on British interests within 45 minutes come from? We were told that it was from intelligence, but there are lingering suspicions that it emanated from government spin doctors.

This morning Iraq Dossier has the following story:
Following up my investigations, Lib Dem shadow Foreign Secretary Michael Moore asked Margaret Beckett what would appear to be a straightforward enough question: "whether the first draft of the Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction dossier authored by John Williams makes reference to Iraq's ability to deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes."

Beckett responded with a classic non-denial: "There are no plans for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to publish Mr. Williams' draft document, extracts from it or to confirm details of the contents."
John Williams was a foreign office spin doctor. Draw you own conclusions.

And read Chris Ames (the man behind Iraq Dossier) on Comment is Free or in the New Statesman for more of the background.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Niles resists Mingmania

A splendid report from the front line in Harrogate.

The Sunday Telegraph on Goldsmith's injunction

It is probably worth noting that this morning's Sunday Telegraph puts together two points mentioned in my first posting on the subject and says:

A confidential Downing Street email was at the centre of the dramatic intervention by the Attorney General into the cash-for-honours investigation, it can be revealed.

Details of the email relating to one of Tony Blair's closest aides and a senior Labour Party fund-raiser had been obtained by the BBC which was preparing to read excerpts on air as evidence of a Downing Street "cover-up".

The email is understood to relate to Ruth Turner, the head of government relations, and Lord Levy, Labour's chief fund-raiser, who have both been arrested over the alleged awarding of honours in return for big loans to the party.

Scotland Yard sought the 11th-hour assistance of Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, amid fears that its year-long investigation was about to be undermined by the television broadcast.

Lib Dems spinning out of control

In the days when I regularly wrote Focus leaflets and letters to the local paper I generally tried to avoid mentioning our opponents by name. I reasoned that they got quite enough publicity as it was.

Whoever wrote the press release on Menzies Campbell's speech today does not believe in this rule. In fact he or she mentioned Gordon Brown no fewer than six times. But then the speech itself came across as being addressed more to the Chancellor than to the audience in the hall.

In the light of this, we should not complain too hard - entertaining as Joe Taylor's attempt is - if the BBC reports the speech under the headline "Sir Menzies seeks deal with Br0wn".

Things have moved on, however, and - as is the way with the BBC website - the story has been edited so the headline now reads "Sir Menzies sets tests for Brown".

It seems that the original story and headline flowed from a briefing from a "senior official", who blithely told BBC journalists that proportional representation would not be "a deal maker or a deal breaker" in negotiations to form a coalition in the event of a hung parliament.

The BBC story now includes the following paragraph:
But in a sign of disagreement within Sir Menzies' inner circle over the party's position, his chief of staff Ed Davey told BBC News 24 he "did not recognise" the source of the story.
This suggests that the "senior official" was not as senior as he or she led the BBC to believe. But where is the new professionalism we were promised from Ming's leadership?

Read more at Politicalbetting.com.

Four thousand holes in Reading, Berkshire

It's not only Don Foster who is in danger of collapsing into old mine workings. Yesterday's Guardian reported that:
A labyrinth of mines was created in and around Reading from the 18th century on to extract chalk for bricks. But over the next 200 years people forgot where most of the mines were and houses were built over many of them. Now mysterious holes have opened up across the town. Walls give off odd creaking sounds as foundations shift and, in extreme circumstances, bits of houses have vanished.
I do hope Reading Liberals have not lost any Focus deliverers recently.

Britblog Roundup on the road

This week's selection of all that is best in British blogging can be found chez Mr Eugenides.

Why the Attorney General sought an injunction

A report on the BBC website confirms that the Attorney General sought an injunction against the Corporation because the Metropolitan Police were concerned that a planned news story could compromise their investigations. The planned story focused: "on an e-mail between two members of Tony Blair's inner circle".

The BBC report also suggests that the investigations in question concern "allegations of attempts to pervert the course of justice".

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Thank you, Lord Goldsmith

Thanks to my posting on Lord G and his injunction, today is already the best day for visitors in the history of Liberal England.

I wouldn't claim it was my best ever post, as I was largely passing on second-hand gossip. But I did have the story about the injunction being sought to avoid the investigation being prejudiced before BBC2's Newsnight did.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Cash for honours and the BBC injunction

Iain Dale sheds a little light:
I understand it is to do with an email that incriminates someone in a fairly drastic way. I do not know what the terms of the injunction are, but isn't this an injunction which the Labour Party should have asked for rather than Her Majesty's Government?

I am aware of the identity of the individual who is the subject of the email, but I think if I name them I'll probably be banged up at Heathrow on my return! And, dear reader, you wouldn't want that, would you?
Later. A number of bloggers are pointing out that the BBC originally accompanied their report on the injunction with a picture of Ruth Turner. It has since been taken down.

Others suggest an e-mail "with Lord Levy's fingerprints all over it".

Later still: The International Herald Tribune casts a little more light:
The Metropolitan Police said in a statement that there were concerns that disclosure of information would impede the investigation, and that Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, was acting "completely independently of government and in his independent public interest capacity."

Wait until the guards are drinking their cocoa

It's Friday, so it must be time for another of my House Points columns from Liberal Democrat News.

With friends like these...

Back in the 1970s someone observed what an advance for civilisation it was that German soldiers now had long hair and moaned about their rights. According to Liam Fox on Monday, things have gone further: Germany’s forces in Afghanistan are not allowed out at night.

That would have done for many old films. No need to build a glider or hide inside a wooden horse. You just wait until the guards are drinking their cocoa and walk out through the main gate. John Mills and Dickie Attenborough would have been looking for other careers.

Evidence to support Fox's claim is elusive, but there is no doubt that some NATO members are contributing far more to operations in Afghanistan than others. Canadian, Dutch, British and American troops are waging war in the south. Other nations confine themselves to the relatively peaceful north, send minimal numbers of troops or insist on going in when their Mums call them for tea.

Nick Harvey began by "reaffirming the Liberal Democrats' support for our operation in Afghanistan". But it is hard to resist the thought that one reason these nations are reluctant to involve themselves is that they have more sense.

It was particularly hard when Des Browne reminded the House of NATO's objective: "To ensure that the Government of Afghanistan, elected by their own people, can deliver government, security and economic prosperity to those people."

For Liberals, the important question behind this disappointment with the contribution of some NATO members concerns the prospects for greater European co-operation on defence. It is an appealing idea – particularly in the light of the near humiliation of our current relationship with the USA – and is resurfacing in the debates over whether Trident should be replaced.

Those of us with long memories are still scarred by David Owen’s eccentric scheme for an Anglo-French nuclear deterrent. As was suggested at the time, it would have been a good idea to try something less ambitious together first – like making cheese.

But European cooperation should not be rejected because of that. Neither is it being fairly tested in the impossible conditions of Afghanistan. Simon Carr suggested in the Independent that Browne’s objective will take four or five hundred years. Others thought he was being optimistic.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Virgin on the ridiculous

Simon Jenkins recently wrote in the Guardian:

In my youth I was a rail enthusiast and member of the board of British Rail. I was sure of the need to privatise the railway, to free managerial blockages and liberate its entrepreneurial spirit. But one thing was vital, to retain the vertical management crucial to operational discipline. If the railway were to be divided, it should be as in the old days, into integrated regional companies, with managers controlling assets, risks and balance sheets as one.

Between 1991 and 1993 this argument was lost. John Major, Norman Lamont and the transport secretary, John MacGregor, conceded the Treasury view that the route to greater rail efficiency led, via the City of London, to vertical fragmentation and internal subcontracting. The daily discipline needed to run a railway could be replicated by private incentives backed by contract law. The result was the Railways Act 1993.

The act was a blunder, a fiasco, a nonsense, intellectually grotesque, one of the worst passed by any postwar parliament. It was the classic work of stupid and arrogant men thinking that because they sat in London chatting to highly paid bankers and consultants they must know better than horny-handed sons of toil.

A good example of what is wrong with way the railways are currently run comes from my favourite newspaper, the Shropshire Star.

It is now some years since Shrewsbury has enjoyed a direct rail service to London. Indeed the service was ended just after a great deal of public money was spent building a new station at Telford. Nowadays you have to change at Wolverhampton to reach Telford, Shrewsbury and points beyond.

Recently, a new company - the Wrexham, Shropshire & Marylebone Railway - has been promoting the idea of restoring a direct service from London to Shrewsbury and North Wales. A good idea, you might think. Just the sort of entrepreneurial energy that privatisation was meant to set free.

Not a bit of it. As the Star reports:
Shropshire’s direct rail link to London has hit the buffers following objections from train giant Virgin.

The company bidding to restore non-stop services to the capital has announced it is scrapping its current bid and will now submit fresh plans.

Virgin Trains is objecting to the Wrexham, Shropshire & Marylebone Railway (WSMR) Company’s scheme to run trains to the capital.

The West Coast Mainline operator has a contract which protects it from competition on the line from Wolverhampton to London. It is also worried about extra services clogging up the busy route.

It means the Office of Rail Regulation, which oversees all train companies, will reject the WSMR bid, forcing it to change plans.
The irony, I am told by those who know about such things, is that the railways are now more closely controlled by Whitehall than they were during the Second World War. There was far more scope for innovation under dear old British Rail and its curly sandwiches.

Gordon Brown and slavery

Read Chicken Yoghurt on the subject:
How does Gordon Brown plan to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Britain? By reintroducing it.

IraqDossier.com

This website is dedicated to telling the truth about the British government's September 2002 dossier Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction - that it was, after all, "sexed-up" by the government's spin doctors. It will use contemporaneous documents, transcripts of oral evidence and freedom of information requests to reveal who really wrote the dossier, how it was "sexed-up" as a result and how the government covered-up the truth. It will also solve the greatest political whodunnit of the century so far: who put the notorious 45 minutes claim in the dossier?
Thanks to Iain Dale.

Sir Mark Sykes

Yesterday's Guardian had a report by Clare Dyer on a new attempt by scientists to understand bird flu:
A celebrated politician and diplomat who played a key role in the carve-up of the Middle East after the first world war is to be called on to perform a final service which could reap incalculable benefits for global health.

Nearly 90 years after his death, researchers hoping to find the best way of treating the predicted bird flu pandemic have been given the go-ahead to exhume the body of Sir Mark Sykes, 6th baronet and co-author of the Sykes-Picot agreement, which dismantled the Ottoman empire.
The point being that, as a wealthy man, Sykes was buried in a lead-lined coffin and therefore his remains are likely to be better preserved and offer more useful samples to researchers.

But what really caught the eye was the potted biography of Sykes that followed Dyer's report. Martin Wainwright wrote:
In shorthand, Sir Tatton Benvenuto Mark Sykes was the man who carved up Turkey and caught bird flu, but his 39-year life remains a monument to how much can be achieved in a short time: he was a senior diplomat, MP, father of six, Boer war commander, author of four books and manager of the biggest estate in Yorkshire.

In between times, he created singular sculptures, commissioned the finest Turkish room in the country at his stately home of Sledmere in the Wolds, and maintained a pile of huge Victorian churches donated to nearby hamlets by his eccentric father, also Sir Tatton. Sledmere burned down in 1911, when his father refused to take action until he had finished his pudding.