Tuesday, July 31, 2007

BritBlog Roundup on the radio

Last night I gave a short interview to BBC Radio Five Live about BritBlog Roundup 128, which was hosted on this blog on Sunday.

You can find the interview (it's mainly about floods and self-abuse, as I recall) on the station's pods & blogs site.

Jackie Ballard's new job

Jackie Ballard, the former Lib Dem MP for Taunton and current head of the RSPCA, has been named as the new chief executive of the RNID - now the Royal National Institute for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People.

More details on the Third Sector website.

Ali Miraj: A different angle

The BBC reports that Ali Miraj has been dropped from the party's list of potential parliamentary candidates following his attack on David Cameron.

It is easy to sympathise with him, particularly as his charge that Cameron is obsessed with PR is clearly justified.

But Eaten by Missionaries, which comes to you from Watford where Ali Miraj was the Tory candidate last time, casts a different light on the affair:
This latest outburst doesn’t surprise me much. Although many of those Watfordians who met him during the last general election campaign testified that he was charming and articulate, others who spoke to him at any length on policy issues seemed to consider him lightweight.

When under pressure he emerged as both extremely sensitive to criticism from opponents and unable to accept that if he attacked political opponents (the Lib Dems mainly), he could hardly complain if he met a response in kind.

The odd thing is that he clearly believed that after a disappointing result for the Conservatives in Watford – finishing third when elsewhere in Hertfordshire they were gaining seats from Labour – he should be a shoo-in for a safe seat. Or even a peerage.

Michelangelo Antonioni dead

Yesterday it was Ingmar Bergman. Today it is Michelangelo Antonioni.

And it's another excuse for an iconic movie image. This time it's David Hemmings in Blow-Up.

Incidentally, judging by his memoirs, Hemmings had no more idea what was going on in that film than the rest of us:
I had a costume fitting that same afternoon, where they threw a pair of white jeans and a green corduroy jacket at me. And for the first time, I was allowed to see the script and was given a copy to take away.

As soon as I was out of the building, I dived into the nearest pub, probably didn't even notice its name, ordered what I've always called a PoG - a pint of Guinness - which I didn't remember drinking, opened the script and buried myself in it. I read it three times from cover to cover before I rang Jane and told her.

"What's it like?" she asked eagerly.

"God knows," I said, shaking my head rather like the Maestro. "I don't understand what the hell it's all about."

George Galloway to stand in Blackburn?

The Lancashire Evening Telegraph reports:
Renegade anti-war MP George Galloway is considering standing against Jack Straw in his Blackburn constituency at the next general election.

After uprooting Labour's Oona King in London's Bethnal Green seat at the last election in 2005 Galloway promised to only serve one term.

Kevin Ovenden, spokesman for Galloway, said that he was now considering whether to stand again as an MP and if so where.
Thanks to Harry's Place.

Iain Dale's top 100 UK political blogs

Last year Iain Dale published a guide to political blogging and named his top 100 UK political blogs. For the 2007 edition he is not choosing the list himself but throwing it open to a popular vote.

Hmm. Iain's is a Tory blog with a predominantly Tory readership. No doubt the blogs chosen will reflect this. And I know from having just edited a BritBlog Roundup that there are a lot of shouty right-wingers out there.

Still, we Lib Dems may as well do our best to influence the vote. So do send your list in to Iain.

Since you ask, this blog came in at no. 30 last time.

Lembit: Lord Bonkers first with the news

Back in May, Lord Bonkers revealed that Lembit Opik was living, not just with Gabriela, but with several members of her family:
“Have you met Gabriela?” he asks. “And this is Monica, her sister. And this is their mother Margit. This is Margit’s cousin Florian. And this is Florian’s great uncle Dmitri and some of his sons. And their families. And I am not sure who those others are."
Other sources are only just beginning to catch up with this story. Digital Spy reports:
Lib Dem MP Lembit Opik has been forced to welcome Gabriela Irimia's twin sister into his home.

The politician was thrilled when fiancée Gabriela agreed to move in to his country cottage in Montgomeryshire, Wales. However, her mother Margit became concerned that Gabriela's sister Monica would be lonely without her - so Lembit has now decorated the spare room so that both Cheeky Girls can stay with him.

Monday, July 30, 2007

More English whisky

The BBC tells us:
The first whisky distillery to be built in England for over 100 years opens its doors to visitors next month but none of them will be able to taste a drop.

The English Whisky Company is to open a visitor centre at its £1m East Harling distillery in Norfolk on 18 August.

Production is well under way but the whisky has to mature and cannot be sold until at least Christmas 2009.

However, they will be able to see master distiller Iain Henderson at work.
But it is not clear that it is the first English distillery to be built for a century. I pointed readers to Lakeland Distillers back in a posting made in March of last year. And that company's website says:
Lakeland Distillers are building a single malt whisky distillery at Staveley near Kendal. With a small production capacity, we will be producing the first ever Lakeland Single Malt.

The distillery is situated on the banks of the River Kent, England’s fastest flowing river, using high quality barley. Every malt whisky has it’s own unique character depending on the ingredients used, the cask used for storage and surrounding environment.

The conditions at Barley Bridge are similar to the Highland region of Scotland. Lakeland single malt will be very special, the first ever to come from the English Lake District.
Maybe the Staveley distillery is not finished yet. Or maybe the BBC has got carried away.

Anyway, we wish both establishments the best of luck.

Ingmar Bergman dead






This is a note to direct you to an excellent tribute on the BBC website. But mostly it is an excuse to reproduce this still.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

BritBlog Roundup 128

A warm Liberal England welcome to this week’s collection of all that is best in the British blogosphere.


The Story of the Week

It is not the death of Shambo, which inspired an Audenesque effort on jewcy.com.

It is not the release of the last Harry Potter book, despite a pungent satire from The Daily Mash.

It is not Oscar the cat who can predict death, of whom Norfolk Blogger makes satirical use.

It is not even the admirable campaign by Dan Hardie to have Iraqi interpreters who have helped our forces to be given asylum in Britain. Do read his posting.

No, it’s…


The Floods


Ruscombe Green reports from the frontline in Gloucestershire:
Promises made by Severn Trent about providing bowsers and replenishing them have not materialised. Severn Trent clearly have lessons to learn from this - as probably we all do - of 59 bowsers promised for the affected area in Stroud District, less than 50% have been provided and around half of those provided have no water now.

And Blood & Treasure reminds us that natural disasters always get more media attention when they occur in the South of England. A familiar point, but one that cannot be made too often.

Why were these floods so bad?

Mr Eugenides (author of the ode to Shambo mentioned above) has little patience with a claim by Jackie Ashley that it is all down to man-made climate change. And Bishop Hill thinks he has found something odd about the statistics used to demonstrate that change.

MKNE Political Information emphasises the importance of soil conditions and changing farming practices. (He links to a post by me, so who is to say he is wrong?) While Paul Kingsnorth thinks we have briefly been shown man’s true place in nature.

There is one place is the Cotswolds that escaped the floods. Peter Black notes a letter in the Daily Telegraph asking why farming in Ambridge has not been affected. But I did detect one of the famous Archers “topical inserts” in this morning’s omnibus.


Sexual poltics

Suz Blog notes the conviction of two people for the “honour killing” of Surjit Athwal, whose brother she knows:

Over the years what happened to her has haunted me. Every time another so called 'honour killing' was mentioned on the news it made me think about her.

Philobiblon gives us a fascinating history of the air hostess and the sexual and even racial poiltics behind the role as we used to know it. Cheap air travel may not have done much for the environment but it has stopped airlines using the looks and docility of their female staff as their major selling point.

Mind the Gap! does not like Beth Ditto’s Guardian columns. (Well, it’s a change from people slagging off Polly Toynbee.) And Tim Worstall is pleased to see the back of the Equal Opportunities Commission.


Sport

Doctor Vee thinks the decision not to punish McLaren for just happening to have copies of the plans of their major rival’s car is good new for Formula One racing. Well, it’s certainly good news for McLaren.

Meanwhile in Yorkshire, Ballots, Balls and Bikes poses 20 questions to Ken Bates over the way he won back control of Leeds United. And Chris and Glynis Abbot record that a West Riding man has won a North Riding duck race. I foresee trouble.


Stuffed animals

Always a popular section, this one. Two entries this week: an exhibition in Paris (My Paris, Your Paris) and an incident in a London toy shop (The Purple Pen…).


The naughty bits

And this is the section that this Roundup will always fall open at.

“If you don’t leave that alone, Master Onan,” said Nanny, “one of these days it will drop off.”

But it turns out that history has libelled poor Onan and that he was not a devotee of Madam Palm and her five lovely daughters. The Daily (Maybe) has the evidence.

Madam Arcati looks at George Galloway’s assault on Richard Desmond in the Commons. Even reciting the names of some of Desmond’s magazines turned out to involve unparliamentary language. But then, as Right for Scotland points out looking at Galloway’s record, there are worse things to be than a pornographer.

Conservative Party Reptile takes exception to an article by Peter Singer on the Guardian’s Comment is Free blog. Singer disapproves of Second Life because people may use it to express sexual fantasies of which he does not approve.

And Matt Wardman finds he shares a name with the Mr Gay UK 2002 Leeds heat winner.

We’ve done sex, as it were, so it’s time for drugs: Ministry of Truth is not impressed by the new clamour against cannabis.

There’s no rock’n’roll, though.


World tour

It’s time for those sturdy individualist postings that resist any system of classification.

We start in Greece, where On an Overgrown Path looks at the career of Mikis Theodorakis. Then on to Ramsgate with Drawing Breath.

In London we take in the travails of house sharing in Cricklewood, with My Thoughts Exactly, and then look at the fortunes of two children with Random Acts of Reality. And then on to Oxford, A Liberal Goes a Long Way and some sunflowers.

Finally we visit the Western Front (quiet, isn’t it?) where Investigations of a Dog is using Google Maps to find World War I trenches.


Politics

It can’t be put off any longer, I am afraid.

Skipper sees no swift end to David Cameron’s current problems and Strange Stuff explains why his jaunt to Africa came to no good end. Apparently it’s all the fault of the EU.

But then bloggers tend to blame a lot of things on the EU. The Devil’s Kitchen has chapter and verse on what the Unholy One thinks is wrong out in Brussels, and An Englishman’s Castle wants a referendum on the Consti… sorry, Reform Treaty.

Paul Flynn, one of the better blogging MPs, offers character sketches of two recent Welsh Secretaries.

Burning Our Money argues that the process of “teaching to the test” is becoming ever more firmly embedded in state education. Nation of Shopkeepers marks the 21st birthday of Inheritance Tax.

Picking Losers tells the Tories how they can stop Gordon Brown stealing their clothes (wear loon pants, perhaps?) and Liberal Burblings thinks there will be no snap election.


Blogging

And so to our final section, where the Roundup threatens to disappear up its own HTML code.

Matt Wardman has some good ideas for promoting your blog through the local press. He has also compiled a very useful catalogue of recent BritBlog Roundups and where they can be found.

Look for details of the new BBC podcasts too.

Meanwhile, Iain Dale is compiling a new Top 100 Blogs list and invites your votes.


Farewell

So there you have it. Another week in British blogland.

Next week’s Roundup will be at Philobiblon.

Don’t forget to nominate your favourite postings before next Sunday afternoon. Just send an e-mail to britblog [at] gmail [dot] com giving the link.

Goodbye.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Summer of British Film: Thrillers

You've already missed The Lady Vanishes and The 39 Steps, but there is plenty more to enjoy this week in The Summer of British Film.

I recommend Carol Reed's Odd Man Out. It stars James Mason as a dying IRA gunman and has all the expressionist camera angles you would expect in a film made in Reed's heyday. And it reassuring to see that in those days the IRA stopped for a cup of tea before going out on a mission.

Of the films I have not seen before, Clash by Night, a 1964 release with Peter Sallis as the leading criminal ("Have you got the shooters, Gromit?") looks promising.

The BBC is also showing Hell Drivers, which I wrote about here when it was shown last year:

It deals with dangerous practices in the road haulage industry, and is rather more involving than that makes it sound, even if the footage of lorries careering around corners is rather too obviously speeded up.

But this film's glory is its cast, and lovers of cult TV and of old British films should certainly watch it or tape it.

Two moments stand out. One is the climax: the hero is Stanley Baker, and he is involved in a lorry chase at the end of the film. (I cannot recall if he is the hunter or the quarry.) The other lorry is driven by Patrick McGoohan and his passenger is William Hartnell.

That's right: The Prisoner and Doctor Who in the same cab.

For Man from Uncle fans, there is also an appearance by David McCallum early on.

The other great moment is a table football game near the beginning of the film in which the four participants are:

- Gordon Jackson
- Alfie Bass
- Herbert Lom
- A young Sean Connery

Yes, James Bond is in it too.

And when are the films on?

  • Odd Man Out: Wednesday 1 August, 11.35 a.m.
  • Hell Drivers: Wednesday 1 August, 11.50 p.m.
  • Clash by Night: Thursday 2 August, 1.35 a.m.

All on BBC2 .

Friday, July 27, 2007

BritBlog Roundup: Another reminder

Another reminder that Liberal England will be hosting the next BritBlog Roundup.

If you would like to nominate a post to appear in it, please send an e-mail to britblog [at] gmail [dot] com giving the link by next Sunday lunchtime.

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.

Last week's BritBlog Roundup can be found at Clairwil.

Word of the Week

There can be only one winner. A word that no one had heard of a week ago.

Well done, bowser.

The fingerprinting of children in schools

Today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News. I mention Leave Them Kids Alone. Action on Rights for Children is very good on this issue too.

Being fingered

A few months ago a Liberal Democrat press release announced: “Sarah Teather opposes school fingerprinting”. If you thought she meant messy art lessons, think again.

For, as Greg Mulholland told the Commons on Monday, 3,500 primary and secondary schools now use biometric data to run libraries and canteens. To this end, around 750,000 children have been fingerprinted.

Should we worry? Do we need this Mulholland campaign? (Call it a Mulholland drive if you prefer.)

Listening to Jim Knight, the minister who replied, the answer is no. Schools databases don’t store fingerprints. Technology turns each print into a number, and that is what is kept.

Visit www.leavethemkidsalone.com/ and you find a different story. The databases store 300 bytes of data that form a map of each child's fingerprint. So you can see the danger that children’s data will be stolen or haunt them years later.

On the day of Greg’s debate, the government announced guidelines for schools. They say prints should only be used for the declared purpose, must not be passed to anyone and should be destroyed when the child leaves the school.

But they are silent on parental consent. Many of the 3,500 schools took prints without consent. Children as young as five have had their dabs taken on the pretext of a game of spies.

Given how efficient children are at losing things like swipe cards, you can see the attraction of using fingerprints. But we should not encourage schools to do so, despite the pressures from industry. (There millions to be made from kiddyprinting.)

Defending the fingerprinting of his pupils, one Yorkshire headteacher said: "All the measures to do with ID cards will possibly invade their privacy even further … and I would see us as getting them ready for the world in which they will have to live."

In much the same spirit schoolmasters used to say “You’ll thank me for this one day, Tompkins,” while reaching for a favourite cane.

It is easy to conclude that fingerprinting is the future and we are powerless to resist it. Labour makes just this mindless equation between that computers and modernisation. But if we do not use the institutions of government to shape society as we want it to develop, what is the point of politics?

Houston we have a drink problem

The BBC reports:

A panel reviewing health issues at Nasa has found that US astronauts have been allowed to fly while intoxicated at least twice, an aviation magazine says.
See Aviation Week for the full story.

Lord Bonkers adds: There was never any question of This Sort Of Thing when Raymond Baxter became the first Englshman in space in 1953. He enjoyed the occasional pint of good ale, like many of his countrymen, but the fellows at Woomera never saw him the worse for drink.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The cat who can predict patient deaths

The story of the day has been the tale of Oscar. As the BBC tells it:

A US cat that is reportedly able to sense when a nursing home's residents are about to die is baffling doctors.

Oscar has a habit of curling up next to patients at the home in Providence, Rhode Island, in their final hours.

According to the author of a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, the two-year-old cat has been observed to be correct in 25 cases so far.

Staff now alert the families of residents when he sits down next to their ailing loved one.

This news item comes from a paper by Dr David Dosa: "A Day in the Life of Oscar the Cat". It is a lot more interesting than most academic journal papers.

The story has also been used to more or less satirical effect in the Lib Dem blogosphere by Ed Maxfield and Norfolk Blogger.

Floods in Witney







The Leader of the Rwandan Conservative Party inspects the damage.

Tenbury toilets trashed

The Shropshire Star reveals another victim of the floods: the Victorian public lavatories in Tenbury Wells:
Shropshire Star reader Ian Little ... said: “The recently refurbished historic Victorian Toilets in Tenbury Wells were destroyed this morning.

“Although they have stood for a hundred years and were completely undamaged by the recent floods, they were no match for the might of Malvern Hills District Council.”
Alex Foster will be devastated.

Tory Rwanda trip: Exclusive








"Iain Dale, I presume."

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Boris Johnson latest

Autolycus puts his doubts about Boris Johnson's candidacy for Mayor of London nicely:
Johnson's a bit of a Wodehousian throwback (albeit with a chin): he comes across like Tuppy Glossop, but I think he's a bit of a Roderick Spode on the sly.
Meanwhile in the Guardian, Patrick Barkham has taken up my recommendation that everyone interested in the London elections should read Andrew Gimson's biography of Boris.

And he may have saved you the trouble of reading it yourself by reproducing some of the choicer extracts:

"Boris's favoured pace is the amble," states his Eton school report, when not lambasting his "fecklessness" or "disgracefully cavalier" attitude. His great journalistic mentor, Frank Johnson (no relation), judged him to have "too little command of detail to become a politician". He was sacked from the Times for concocting a quote. His peers' verdict on his stint as the Telegraph's Brussels correspondent range from the querulous "he made stories up" to the contemptuous: "a complete charlatan".

When he turned to politics, Johnson's Conservative comrades were similarly scathing. A senior backbencher called him a "blithering idiot". Another was "staggered by his economic ignorance".

BritBlog Roundup: A reminder

This is a reminder that Liberal England will be hosting the next BritBlog Roundup.

If you would like to nominate a post to appear in it, please send an e-mail to britblog [at] gmail [dot] com giving the link by next Sunday lunchtime.

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.

Last week's BritBlog Roundup can be found at Clairwil.

Lawless Ludlow latest

The Shropshire Star has an update on the story of the alleged brawl at Ludlow Town Council:
The Ludlow Town Council clerk suspended on full pay after being involved in a fracas with a councillor will not be prosecuted in a criminal court, it was revealed today

There is nothing vibrant about Estuary English

One of great hurrah words amongst the Guardian-reading classes is "vibrant".

For instance, urban comprehensive schools are always described as vibrant. Even if this is not just another way of saying "ill-disciplined", you can't help thinking that if you are trying to study then calmness may sometimes be a more useful quality than vibrancy.

There is also a spot of racism in there somewhere - the variety that sees the native British as irredeemably dull and anyone from an ethnic minority as inevitably possessed of an exciting, colourful culture. It's the sort of dumb but well-meaning view that talked about "calypso cricket" in the 1980s when the West Indies were the most ruthlessly professional team in world sport.

I spotted a new use of the word "vibrant" in the Guardian yesterday. Lyn Gardner wrote about the difficulty the BBC is having in casting an adaptation of the 1930s-set Ballet Shoes because it is hard to find nicely spoken middle-class children any more.

Gardner welcomes this, comparing the rise of Estuary English to the emergence of actors like Tom Courtney and Albert Finney. But this is nonsense. The realist films of the 1960s greatly expanded the range of accents to which we were exposed. The curse of Estuary English is that it makes everyone sound the same.

One reason the Guardian is always apologising for printing "bored of" rather than "bored with" is that its younger staff pronounce "of" and "with" almost identically.

So it was extraordinary to see Gardner write:
My own children's less-than-perfect vowels are far more vibrant than mine, and I enjoy sitting on the top of buses and listening to the banter of teenagers whose patois often has the rich inventiveness of anything written by Shakespeare.
Because Estuary vowels are anything but vibrant.

In the mean time, if you see a woman sitting behind a group of teenagers on the top deck of a bus with a soppy grin on her face, it is probably Lyn Gardner.

Name of the Day

Today's award is made posthumously to Lazarus Levy, who also has the doubtful accolade of being Sharon Osborne's grandfather.

All this is revealed in the Daily Telegraph obituary of her father Don Arden, which is also worth reading for his pithy opinions on the pop musicians he worked with in the 1960s.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Summer of British Film

Great news. The BBC is about to start a season of classic British films. As its website says:

Each week starts with British Film Forever, a seven-part series presented by Jessica Stevenson (Shaun Of The Dead) examining British film by genre. Featuring over 200 exclusive interviews with leading actors and directors including Sir Michael Caine, Sir Anthony Hopkins and Kate Winslet.

To complement British Film Forever, BBC TWO is dedicating its schedule to the nation's finest films by screening around 70 British films.

There is also a full listing of films being shown.

Child depression drug use soars

A Commons written answer to a question by David Laws has revealed an enormous increase in the prescription of psychiatric medication to children.

The BBC reports it as follows:

The number of prescriptions handed out to children under 16 for depression and mental health disorders has quadrupled in a decade, official figures indicate.

GPs in England wrote more than 631,000 such prescriptions for children in the last financial year, compared to just 146,000 in the mid-1990s.

But at the same time, figures suggest the rate of mental health problems in the young has not changed markedly.

And David draws exactly the right political moral from this:
"I think it is a major concern that drugs seem to be prescribed so easily these days to children of school age.

"In the past, not only were there not as many of these types of drugs on the market, there was an assumption, I think, that people would try to get to the source of the problem, rather than simply prescribing drugs."

Malcolm Saville on the 1947 floods

I had an e-mail today from someone at a television company who had read this blog and wanted to know if I would go on air to talk about the 1947 floods. But I was busy with the day job and, besides, know little about them. All I have done is post links to sites which will tell you the history.

If I do know a bit more than most about the events of 1947, it is because my favourite writer as a child was Malcolm Saville. A sort of thinking child's Enid Blyton, he set his adventures in real English landscapes and used the natural disasters of the post-war years as background.

The floods of 1947 inspired his story The Luck of Sallowby - a hunt for a Saxon battleaxe which baddies are after too, of course.

But the real enemy is the weather. Here is a passage of description from the book:

Now they were close against the wall they saw it was only a few inches higher than the rising water which stretched before them in a turbulent brown lake, whipped into waves by the gale. And these waves beat against the wall ceaselessly and the spray from them blew over the top and drenched the bags and settled in pools on the tarpaulins and made the blue clay slimy and almost unmanageable.

The sky was full of rain again but they knew now that even if it did not rain in the Fens the danger was coming from the water which fell many miles away in the Midlands and in Bedfordshire, and that the swollen rivers were still rushing down to the plain while the wind which fretted these floods into the banks, made a menace which it was very hard to fight.

So they worked on with them men, laughing and joking with them, until a shout and disturbance about fifty yards away broke the rhythm of their toil. They looked round to see that the water had found a weakness in the wall and was gushing through the cracks between the bags like a fountain. There was another similar leak nearer to them on their other side, and now the gangs plastered these leaks with clay without waiting to bag it.

J. K. Rowling eat your heart out.

Monday, July 23, 2007

How we have made the floods worse

Inevitably, there has been a lot of talk about global warming and climate change. But human action has made the current floods worse in two more tangible ways.

The first is through changing agricultural practices. Here is an extract from a speech that Lord Renton of Mount Harry - who, as Tim Renton, was a Tory minister and chief whip - made in the House of Lords, on 18 December 2001:

One cause of the problem in the South Downs is without doubt the effect of intensive agriculture, especially as a result of the sowing of winter cereals. They are often sown on steep slopes which are unsuitable for such crops. The ploughing and winter sowing lead to soil erosion and the rainwater then carries silt and debris down the hills. Small gullies turn into big ones and in October and November in particular, the rainy season, the water floods off the hills on to the flood plains and into the towns.

It is essential to have new environmentally sensitive agreements which leave the land fallow during winter and encourage farmers to leave the autumn stubble. That will revert to grass or remain as stubble so that the land continues to act as a sponge, a moisture absorber, rather than what has been described as "sponges turned into draining boards" allowing the water to run off the hard compacted land on the hills that has been sown and down on to the flood plains.

Because of the season of the year, this may not have been a factor in the current floods, but it has certainly been a factor in other recent floods.

The second is through the concreting over of front gardens in the cities. In September 2005 the environment committee of the Greater London Assembly published a report entitled Crazy Paving: The Environmental Importance of London Front Gardens (.pdf format).

The report says:

Perhaps the most worrying impact of hard surfacing on this scale is the increased burden that is placed on London’s underground drainage system by the run-off of rain from hard surfaces.

There has been much publicity about the dilapidated state of London’s underground drainage system, which was constructed by the Victorians in the 1850s and has suffered a chronic lack of investment ever since. These sewers are designed to carry a combination of sewage and rainfall. The more ground is covered by impermeable hard surfaces such as concrete or paving slabs, the less rainfall will soak into the ground and the more will run into underground drains.

At times of heavy rainfall, the drainage pipes overflow and the contents are discharged into London’s rivers. This not only results in raw sewage being discharged into the river, with associated impacts on life in the river, but at times of very heavy rainfall it can result in localised flooding when rivers burst their banks.

The experience of the flash floods of August 2004 in west London provides a dramatic picture of what this might mean – hugely expensive and significant damage to our streets and our homes, loss of clean water supply, and the overflow of raw sewage into the Thames with all its consequences for the environment and public health.

So there at least two ways in which recent changes to the urban and rural environment have made the current floods worse. The government should address them as a matter of urgency.

Have aliens landed in Shropshire?

Probably not, but the Shropshire Star has a fascinating photograph.

Iraqi translators working for British forces

Dan Hardie writes:
Since British troops occupied Southern Iraq in the spring of 2003, thousands of Iraqi citizens have worked for the British Army, the Coalition Provisional Authority (South) and for contractors serving UK forces.

There is now considerable evidence that their lives, and the lives of their families, are at risk: some former workers for the British have been murdered, and many others have fled to neighbouring countries or gone into hiding in Basra.

The British Government, for whom they were ultimately working, has not offered them the right of asylum in the UK. This is morally unacceptable.
He is starting a campaign on the subject. Full details on his blog.

The floods of 1947


Earlier this month I wrote about the 1947 floods. Now everyone is drawing parallels between them and the current flooding, it is worth pointing out that my original post was wrong in implying that the 1947 floods only affected the Fens.

As these links show, they also affected the Thames Valley and York.

Quote of the Day

Or of yesterday by now. It comes from the BBC's coverage of the extraordinary last day of the British Open.

This usergroup message records it:

Most entertaining comment of the day though goes to Padraig's son.

Right at the very end of the BBC coverage they showed a close up of his father showing him the trophy.

He asked "Can we put ladybirds in it?"

Sunday, July 22, 2007

BritBlog Roundup

This week's selection of all that is best in British blogging can be found grazing in the lush pastures of Clairwil.

Next week's Roundup will be posted here at 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 the link by next Sunday lunchtime.

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.

Paul Keetch out of hospital

It has not made the Hereford Times yet, but Colin Ross reported on Friday that Paul has been discharged from hospital.

British film locations

The BBC website has an A-Z of British films (or rather some of them) with links to information about the places in which they were filmed.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Lord Bonkers on the aftermath of Ealing Southall

Lord Bonkers writes exclusively for Liberal England:

I learn from authoritative sources that David Cameron is planning to seek asylum in Rwanda. I have to say that I am not at all surprised.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Grant Shapps in the Portaloo

More on the Tory fallout from the Ealing Southall by-election, this time from the blog of the Daily Mail's Benedict Brogan:
In its jollier moments, the Bullingdon Club - members: D Cameron, G Osborne, B Johnson - liked to lock wayward guests in a Portaloo and roll them down a hill. And today I suspect Mr Cameron would like to do the same or worse to whoever it was who talked him into betting the farm on Ealing Southall. The noises coming from the floors below me here in the Commons suggest the person who thought it was a brilliant idea to put "David Cameron's Conservatives" on the ballot paper is first in the queue. Word is Grant Shapps and Francis Maude were the ones who devised the strategy and sold it to Dave.

Tory MP: "Our Ealing Southall campaign may have done lasting damage"

Mark Field, the Tory MP for the Cities of London and Westminster, has written a devastating critique of the way his party fought the Ealing Southall by-election. You can find it on the ConservativeHome website.

A few tasty morsels:

The centralised imposition of a Sikh candidate, who first became associated with the Party ten days before the by-election was called and whose most recent political activity had been attendance at a Labour Party fundraiser in mid-June, always had the makings of a fiasco. The way in the sensitivities [sic] of local Tory activists were bypassed amounted to contempt towards our supporters and the electorate at large.

This potential calamity was clearly spelt out by local folk as soon as the normal candidate selection process was discarded in favour of CCHQ adopting the photogenic son of a prominent local businessman with no previous links to the Party. Our consequent attempts to woo the Sikh vote in Southall by exploiting divisions which have wracked the local Sikh and Hindu communities for decades also struck many as blatant opportunism.

For sure the defection of five local Labour councillors, all Sikhs and whose ringleader was someone who only days before had failed to secure the Labour nomination for the by-election, made for good headlines at the start of the campaign. However, it became increasingly evident that the Conservatives had been manipulated by this dissident group, who were misleadingly presented to the public as having defected on ideological grounds.

Fair taxation of the wealthy

It's Friday so it must be time for my House Points column from Liberal Democrat News.

Loopy tax

When Vince Cable persuaded last year’s Conference to accept his new tax package - scrap the 50p rate, more green taxes, close loopholes for the rich - I had two reactions. The first was that he was probably right. The second was that it would be hard to sell it to the voters.

So I was pleasantly surprised by the press coverage when the policy was launched last week - there was even talk of “the lowest tax rate since 1916 when Britain’s last Liberal Prime Minister was in 10 Downing Street."

Part of the launch was a Commons debate the Liberal Democrats called on Monday under the title “Fair taxation of the wealthy“. (We had wanted “Taxation of the super-rich“, but the authorities would not wear it.)

Vince Cable, Steve Webb and Julia Goldsworthy set out our case. In Britain today the poorest 20 per cent pay a higher proportion of their incomes in tax than the richest 20 per cent. Private equity companies pay tax at 10p in the pound and their cleaners pay at 20p in the pound. Non-domiciliary status allows billionaires to live in the country and not pay tax at all.

In fact, when it comes to the City this government has been pursuing policies not so far from those adopted in Far Eastern tax havens. And London is getting the skyline to prove it.

Labour’s reply was in the hands of Andy Burnham who, as the new Financial Secretary to the Treasury, leaves you wishing there were a grown up in charge. He deployed Gordon Brown’s tactic of steamrollering all opposition with statistics.

And any statistic would do. Economic growth rates. Child and pensioner poverty. Gross Domestic Product. Michael Vaughan’s career average. Annual rainfall figures in Cropwell Bishop… They were all there.

Yet the unfairness of the current taxation system should worry Labour every bit as much as it worries us. If people think the way the state raises money is unfair, they are unlikely to vote for high public spending.

And the Tory line? Well, they disagreed when we attacked the present situation and disagreed when the government defended it. As ever, it is hard to say what the Tory line is.

Those by-election results in full

Well, the votes for the major party candidates at least. You can find the full results on the BBC site.

Ealing Southall
Virendra Sharma (Lab) 15,188 (41.48%, -7.28%)
Nigel Bakhai (LD) 10,118 (27.63%, +3.19%)
Tony Lit (C) 8,230 (22.48%, +0.91%)

Sedgefield
Phil Wilson (Lab) 12,528 (44.77%, -14.11%)
Greg Stone (LD) 5,572 (19.91%, +8.02%)
Graham Robb (C) 4,082 (14.59%, +0.19%)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Tories trailing in Ealing Southall

BBC Newsnight and Labour blogger Chris Paul agree.

Later. They were right.

BBC: No charges on "Cash for Honours"

If the BBC report is true, it seems to me that Guido Fawkes will have no alternative but to resign.

Pleasing Trivial Fact of the Day




The Liberal Democrat peer Eric Avebury owns Silbury Hill.

Mayor of Ludlow: "I have no idea what is going on"

Like most mayors, you may reason. But she is talking after a brawl is alleged to have broken out after the last meeting of the town's council.

Incidentally, the Shropshire Star report of that incident is now a lot more detailed than when I first linked to it.

Tory hypocrisy over defecting councillors

In Ealing Southall the Conservatives have been crowing about the Labour councillors who have defected to them from Labour. No one has mentioned those councillors resigning to fight by-elections because they have changed party.

Oddly enough, the Tories take a different view when someone defects from the Conservative Party.

Nick Yates was elected as a Tory councillor for Brighouse on Calderdale Council. He resigned the Conservative whip several months ago to become an Independent, and yesterday it was announced that he was joining the Liberal Democrats.

How did his former colleagues react? You guessed it.

The Yorkshire Post reports:
Coun David Ginley (Warley) said: "I don't understand why people have the impertinence to stand under one colour and then defect.

"I think he should stand under his new colours.

"I always thought he was a man of principle and I am surprised that he doesn't want to. I think we ought to have a by-election. Unfortunately I think Nick is a lost cause.''

Coun Grenville Horsfall (Skircoat) added: "It's ridiculous isn't it. He was elected on a Conservative ticket and in my mind he should carry on. Everyone is up in arms about it. The electorate elected him as a Tory and he should respect that.''
OK, so Tory councillors seldom represent the intellectual flower of our nation, but the hypocrisy of this is still enough to make you blink.

Those long summer holidays

It seems it is not only CentreForum that disapproves of long summer holidays for poor children. Conor Clarke was at it in the Guardian this morning:
But summer vacation isn't just harmful; it's deeply unfair. That's because it affects economically disadvantaged students the most. Wealthy kids already start school with boatloads of educational advantages - like parents that can help them with homework, pay for private instruction or shuttle them off to a variety of wonderful and edifying after-school activities. Poor students don't, and at no point is this difference more stark - and at no point do its consequences grow more quickly - than during summer.
Of course, some youngsters cannot cope with long summer holidays. The same issue of the Guardian reports the death of a public school boy at Polzeath in Cornwall, and goes on to say:
The boy's death, which is not being viewed as suspicious, follows a week of alcohol-fuelled violence at the north Cornwall resort, which attracts up to 1,000 public schoolboys and girls early in the summer holidays.

The resort, and the nearby village of Rock, became popular among well-heeled teenagers celebrating the end of term after Prince William and Harry partied there in their teens. Locals have branded the public schoolchildren "snob yobs" or "terrier toffs", and local police, who use two dedicated police officers to patrol the area between 10pm and 3am, have banned alcohol and issue dispersal orders to try to prevent beach parties.

In the past week there have been 17 arrests, eight fixed penalties for disorder and three drugs warnings. Revellers have ransacked a makeshift beachside police station and vandalised three cars and a police van. A teenager also fractured his skull in a fight with rival schoolboys. Three schoolboys may be charged.

The police officer leading the inquiry, Detective constable Nigel Hoare, said the death of George Frewer "was always going to happen ... because of what goes on in Polzeath every year. It is a terrible tragedy."
I wonder who will be the first to call for summer classes for children from rich families?

House Magazine Parliamentary Awards

Lionel Zetter lists some of the winners from last night's ceremony:
  • Backbencher of the Year - David Taylor;
  • Opposition Politician of the Year - Ian Paisley;
  • Minister of the Year - Ian Paisley;
  • Peer of the Year - Lord Ramsbotham;
  • International Statesman - Al Gore;
  • Political Commentator - Nick Robinson;*
  • Parliamentarian of the Year - Lord (Geoffrey) Howe.
* Commiserations to Iain Dale, who was nominated in this category. One day a blogger will win it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Ealing Southall postal vote totals published by Telegraph blog

From the Ministry of Truth:

With everything else that’s gone on around the Ealing Southall by-election and mere hours before the polls open, you’d think there was nothing left to be said until the result is announced tomorrow night.

And you’d be wrong, because just when you thought you’d seen every last twist and turn, Jonathan Isaby pops up at the Telegraph and manages to drop himself and the Tory Party right in the shit with a blog post (now hastily removed) that appears to contain a criminal breach of the Representation of the People Act.

This story has just been on Newsnight too.

Cerne Abbas before Homer

Judging by the number of people visiting this blog today, there is a lot of interest in the figure of Homer Simpson that has appeared next to the Cerne Abbas giant.

I have done a little research on your behalf, and it turns out that the giant may much less ancient than a lot of people assume.

As Stones of England says:

The first reference to this figure dates back to 1694: a payment in the Cerne Abbas churchwarden's accounts of 3 shillings towards the re-cutting of the giant. The first written reference is by John Hutchins in his Guide to Dorset, 1751, but no one knows exactly when or who first cut the Giant.

Recently, the historian Ronald Hutton stated that it was cut in the 17th century by the Lord Holles' servants. In fact, it's unusual that, unlike the Uffington White Horse, there is no reference to the Cerne Abbas Giant in Medieval documents.

During the Civil War (1644 - 1660), Lord Holles was Lord of the Manor but his estate was sequestered and mismanaged by his steward. Maybe then his servants, in this period of chaos, cut the giant in the hillside.

Forgotten Titian sold in Market Harborough

Well, maybe. The BBC reports:

A forgotten masterpiece may have surfaced at a Leicestershire auction house after being mistaken for a copy.

Gilding's of Market Harborough described the painting of a black clad man as "18th century continental school" with an estimate of £300-£500.

But on the day a bidding war pushed the price to £205,000.

The buyer is believed to be from the London art trade and the picture is suspected of being by 16th Century artist Titian and worth upwards of £5m.

It's always nice to see Market Harborough make the headlines. And hello to Gilding's, our local auctioneers.

£10m Tory donor "deluded and insane"

This morning's Sun reports:
A mentally ill tycoon left his £10million fortune to the Tories so they could save him from a “Satanic plot”, a court heard yesterday.

Branislav Kostic gave the staggering donation — a Conservative Party record — in his will after suffering psychiatric delusions for 20 years.

Kostic, who died aged 80 in 2005, sent letters to ex-PM Margaret Thatcher and top Tories asking for help to battle “dark forces” trying to kill him.

But his family are now fighting to get the cash back in the High Court.
The Daily Mail, which rates the donation at only £8m, adds:
He willed his money to the Tories after stating that Margaret Thatcher was "the greatest leader of the free world in history" and that she would save the world from the "satanic monsters and freaks" who were conspiring against him.
He also wrote to David Mellor, which clinches it as far as I am concerned.

Thanks to ConservativeHome.

Later. The Guardian has the most detailed report.

Thanks to Liberal Burblings.

Tom Watson: Where's your big story on Ealing Southall?

Yesterday morning Tom Watson MP, the Labour supremo in Ealing Southall by-election wrote on his blog:
I’ve just received a phone call, that if true, will mark the most remarkable culmination to one of the most incredible by-elections I have ever worked in.
Since then he has made no reference to this phone call and failed to produce the promised revelation.

Maybe it was a wrong number?

Harry Potter is the Devil and Daniel Radcliffe is a porn star


Not my views, you understand, but those of the blog Hidden Ireland.

Some choice quotations:
On the 20th of July children will be taken from their loving homes, by their parents, at 12 o'clock midnight to take place in a satanic ritual. These otherwise normal people have lost all sense when it comes to the phenomenon that is Harry Potter.

Further sad proof of the terrible “Potter” effect is the decline of the young star who played Potter, Daniel Radcliffe, into little more than a porn star and a laughing stock. Radcliffe is now playing a part in the West End onstage where he appears naked before a live audience and simulates a sex act on top of a horse.

Parents seriously need to avoid letting their innocent children be taken in by the demonic and alluring world of Harry Potter. Of course it seems charming, it would hardly have worked quite so well if Potter had actually appeared as the Devil himself, but it is dangerous. Let the fate of its main star, poor Daniel Radcliffe be a warning.
I know it sounds like a parody, but it appears to be for real.

Mind you, Hidden Ireland is right about the CentreForum call for school classes on Saturdays for poor children:
Crush the dammed “think tank”, crush CentreForum, crush the schools, crush the state but do not crush the child. Do not take his Saturday away.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Headline of the Day

And the winner is the BBC's:
Anger at Kenya donkey nappy plan

Will you take a cheque, Tompkins?

Joining the Ancient and Worshipful Order of Bloggers involves swearing a sacred oath that you will never use the phrase "political correctness gone mad". That can present a problem when you come across a story like this one from today's Leicester Mercury:

A boy who broke into a primary school and injured himself swinging on a gate was received £5,700 in compensation.

The secondary school pupil, who was trespassing at night on school grounds, was hurt when the gate collapsed.

Leicestershire County Council had to pay money to the boy because they say they could not prove the gate had been maintained properly.
It is not as if a landlord had set his estate with man traps and spring guns. It is not as if the boy wandered innocently on to private land. If the facts are as presented, he was a secondary school pupil who broke into a primary school.

And does a council really have to keep detailed maintenance records for all its properties in case a burglar injures himself?

But before you start moaning about loony council or P******** C********** G*** M**, read further. You will see who the real villains are:
A city school head teacher said no-win, no-fee insurance claim companies were targeting schools, leading to rocketing insurance premiums.

He said: "Within the first week of starting to work at my school I was told to look back at a case where a boy had been injured seven or eight years ago and was trying to get compensation.

"There was another incident where the council wanted to pay out about £5,000 to a child who had fallen in the playground.

"It was only a minor injury and we'd dealt with it really well. If we start paying out that kind of compensation we are opening up the floodgates to compensation in the smallest of cases such as grazed knee or broken fingers."
The inevitable result of such commercial pressures and judicial rulings is that councils will make schools even more of a fortress than they are now. Benign activities like children using school playing fields for kickabouts out of school hours will become impossible.

As I have no doubt remarked before, the paradox is that the more rights we give children, the less freedom they have.

Paul Keetch latest

From the Hereford Times:

Doctors at the London Chest Hospital have today confirmed that Hereford MP Paul Keetch suffered a ventricular arrhythmia, a rhythm disturbance of the heart, whilst on a transatlantic flight to the USA on Sunday, 8 July.

Having undergone a number of tests, doctors are now planning to fit Mr Keetch with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator ICD, which is similar to a pacemaker.

While Mr Keetch may never suffer another abnormal heart rhythm again, he will be safe in the knowledge that he has a built in life saver, should he do so, his constituency office said this morning.

Colin Ross reads the Hereford Times too.

Mr Smulian's pussy

It is time for a look at Polo's Travels, the website maintained by the cat who looks after my Liberator colleague Mark Smulian.

Polo is rather proud of the galleries showing his travels around the world. But I am also fond of his notes on catspam.

Local politics - Shropshire style

From the Shropshire Star:
A fight broke out at a Shropshire town council meeting, leaving a 67-year-old councillor needing hospital treatment.

Councillor Tony Pound ... suffered cuts to his head, a swollen jaw and bruising and swelling to his neck in the fracas at a Ludlow Town Council meeting last night.

He was treated for his injuries in the accident and emergency department of Hereford Hospital.

The scuffle broke out at the end of a meeting of Ludlow Town Council’s markets, amenities and cemeteries committee and involved Councillor Pound and town clerk Paul Russell. Police are investigating.

Boris slams Polly, Polly slams Boris

First Boris slammed Polly.

Then, this morning, Polly slammed Boris.

Thanks to Tim Worstall.

CentreForum: Saturday lessons for poor children

The Times reports:
Children from poor families should be given extra lessons on weekdays and Saturdays to provide them with the levels of support enjoyed by pupils at private school, a controversial report will recommend today.
That report is Tackling Educational Equality. You can download a .pdf copy from the Centre's website.

I wonder if the authors have considered how extra lessons on Saturdays would be received by children from poor families? No doubt the sort of children who grow up to work for think tanks would love them, but I suspect the rest would be further alienated from the educational system.

Besides, whatever the problem is with our schools, it is not that our children spend too little time in them. A report on the BBC website today says:
Children in England and Wales have the shortest school summer holidays in the European Union.

With many schools about to begin a six-week holiday - there are schools on the continent which are shut for 16 weeks over the summer.

But there is little sign of a link between longer hours in the classroom and higher standards.

Schools in Finland, one of the most successful education systems, have been on holiday since the beginning of June.
And you have to add on top of this the modern enthusiasm for homework for even the youngest children.

Rather than trying to corral children into schools for ever longer, we should be asking why our schools make such poor use of the long hours they spend there already.

Now that really would be controversial.

Homer Simpson at Cerne Abbas

The BBC reports:
Pagans have pledged to perform "rain magic" to wash away a cartoon character painted next to their famous fertility symbol - the Cerne Abbas giant. 
A doughnut-brandishing Homer Simpson now adorns the hillside above Cerne Abbas, Dorset, next to the giant.
Well, their rain magic seems to be working well. But I am with Ann Bryn-Evans, "joint Wessex district manager for The Pagan Federation" (though I am sorry to hear that pagans now have managers):
"I'm amazed they got permission to do something so ridiculous."
Anyway, the BBC website has the picture you all want to see. Read on for more on the Cerne Abbas giant.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Boris Johnson: Essential reading

When the Tories chose Jeffrey Archer as their London Mayoral candidate in October 1999, I wrote in Liberal Democrat News:
the London contest now promises to be another embarrassment to the Tories. If you want a guide to the controversies of the next few months, invest in a copy of Michael Crick's Jeffrey Archer: Stranger than Fiction (Penguin, £8.99).
I don't expect Boris Johnson's campaign to self-destruct as quickly or spectacularly as Archer's did. But I will repeat my recommendation that you read a biography of the Tory candidate. This time it is Andrew Gimson's Boris: The Rise of Boris Johnson.

British casualties in Afghanistan

This morning's Daily Telegraph reported:

The rate at which British soldiers are being seriously injured or killed on the front line in Afghanistan is about to pass that suffered by our troops during the Second World War.

The casualty rate in the most dangerous regions of the country is approaching 10 per cent. Senior officers fear it will ultimately pass the 11 per cent experienced by British soldiers at the height of the conflict 60 years ago.

And how was this action presented to the British people? Let us remember the words of Dr John Reid in April of last year:
"We would be perfectly happy to leave in three years and without firing one shot because our job is to protect the reconstruction."

Fortnightly rubbish collections

MPs say that fortnightly rubbish collections are not right for every area.

The Department for the Environment says it is disappointed with their report.

I say that it is nothing to with either of them.

If central government doesn't allow local councils to decide how they collect people's rubbish, what will it allow them to do?

Looking at the Lib Dem blogs, Politically Restricted has a report headed MPs report on rubbish collections is backing for Southwark stance. But if the Lib Dems want the rubbish collected weekly in Southwark they should fight local elections on that platform. They don't need Westminster to tell them if they are right or wrong. That is a decision for the voters of Southwark.

Meanwhile, Norfolk Blogger asks Weekly bin collections instead of fortnightly - Are people prepared to pay for them? The answer, I imagine, is that some people are, some people are not and different councils will come to different solutions.

I suspect the truth is that weekly collections are suitable in urban areas (like Southwark) and that fortnightly collections are suitable in more rural areas (like most of Norfolk). But it is not a question with which central government or underemployed backbench MPs need concern themselves.

Uncle has a blog

Fans of the Uncle books by the Revd J. P. Martin will be pleased to know that Uncle now has his own blog

BritBlog Roundup 126

This week's selection of top British blogging hangs from The Wardman Wire.

Boris Johnson to stand

The BBC reports this morning:
Boris Johnson is to enter the race to be the Conservative candidate for London mayor in next year's election.

Mr Johnson, one of the best known MPs, told London's Evening Standard he wants to take on Labour's Ken Livingstone.

He told the paper: "The opportunity is too great and the prize too wonderful to miss... the chance to represent London and speak for Londoners."

Mr Johnson is likely to face a number of rivals to be Conservative candidate.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Adil Rashid and the history of English leg-spin

This blog has long entertained great hopes for Adil Rashid, the Yorkshire leg-spinner. He did not set the outfield on fire at Chelmsford, playing for England Lions against India, but time is on his side.

But if time is on his side, history isn't. Because it is an awful long time since England had a test class leg-spinner.

Chris Schofield was tried in 2000, playing two tests against Zimbabwe. In the first he didn't get a bowl: in the second he didn't get a wicket. He subsequently dropped out of county cricket, though this year he has been playing for Surrey and has even been named in England's preliminary squad for the Twenty20 world cup. Maybe his story is not over.

In the 1990s people had great hopes for Ian Salisbury, but he failed to make it as a test bowler. In the 1960s there was Robin Hobbs: in the 1950s Tommy Greenhough. Neither made the grade, though in four tests the latter took 16 wickets @ 22.31, which isn't so shabby.

So we are back to 1940s. Everyone remembers that Eric Hollies bowled Bradman second ball in the Don's final test, and his figures - 44 wickets @ 30.27 - are reasonably impressive. But it looks as though we have to go back to Doug Wright for an England leg-spinner with an extended test career. D.V.P. played 34 tests and took 108 wickets, though they did cost him nearly 40 runs each.

There may be names I have forgotten, and there have also been batsmen who bowled leg-spin a little too. One such is Bob Barber, and it is worth remembering that Mike Atherton was once a promising wrist spinner too. As a youngster, he once took 50 wickets in a season and won a Roses match before his back gave out and he stopped bowling.

So, while Adil Rashid is an exciting prospect, he has a lot of history to defy if he is to make it as an England bowler.

Dr David Owen: Expert on hubris

In his Guardian column yesterday Simon Hoggart revealed that David Owen has written a book on hubris. To anyone who remembers the Alliance years, this is far too funny to be true.

Still, as Hoggart wrote:

we buy cookery books by people who are famous for cooking, we'd take driving tips from Lewis Hamilton, and I see no reason why we shouldn't learn about overweening pride from Doctor Death.
So... The full title of the book is The Hubris Syndrome: Bush, Blair and the Intoxication of Power. Enjoy.

What was the threat against Tesco?

The Times says that the nature of the threat against Tesco "remains a mystery".

Judging by events in Market Harborough, it must have been a bomb threat. You don't close roads if you are afraid someone may have tampered with a jar of pesto.

Blog Posting Headline of the Day

Well done, The UK Daily Pundit:

Lib Dem by-election win could see Cameron resign

Iain Dale: Not the best source on the Lib Dems

Today Iain Dale has a story headed: Tories to Sue LibDems Over Ealing Leaflet.

But then he has also said...

A friend of mine from Yeovil was at a business lunch over the weekend and David Laws defecting to the Tories was the talk of the lunch.

And...
The spectre of jailed fraudster Michael Brown has returned to haunt the LibDems, who, according to Scotland on Sunday may not only have to repay the £2.4 million they took from him, but may also face a £2.4 million fine from the Electoral Commission.
And...

The Conservatives alleged that the LibDems have been illegally paying residents, through a corrupt prize draw system, to display their posters. The LibDems are accused or organising a £50 draw for a poster seen in a window and £250 when that poster is on a stake outside a home. Apparently in the first week of a by-election campaign their payouts are deliberately very generous with numerous winners. Word then spreads and everyone wants a LibDem poster up in the hope of cashing in. The only problem is that the practice is explicitly illegal.
To be fair, he did comment as follows on this last story:
I have to say I have never heard of this particular practice. There must be some rather compelling evidence for Grant Shapps to make this direct accusation.
Unfortunately, that evidence, compelling or otherwise, has not been forthcoming on his blog.

So if you can hear your teacups rattling, it is probably not Ming Campbell shaking in his shoes after reading Iain's latest story.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Tony Lit: Labour donor to Tory candidate

From the Daily Telegraph website this evening:

The Tory candidate in a key by-election is a Labour donor who posed just weeks ago for photographs at a fundraiser with Tony Blair, it can be revealed.

Tony Lit, 34, the wealthy head of an Asian radio station, became a member of the Conservative Party only days before he was unveiled as their surprise choice to fight the vacant seat of Ealing Southall later this week.

As they paraded him on June 28, Tory campaigners hailed Mr Lit as the perfect candidate, with good looks and charm and a high profile in the west London constituency, where they hoped he could secure a massive coup by routing Labour from the safe seat.

But it has now emerged that, just a week earlier, he donated £4,800 to the Labour Party and attended a glittering Labour fundraising dinner at the Riverbank Plaza on London's Albert Embankment.

I suppose you could just about mount a defence along he lines that he was representing his company at the Labour dinner. But you would need a heart of stone not to laugh at this.

Photo stolen from Tom Watson.

14 Tesco stores closed after threats

And, having been shopping earlier this evening, I can exclusively reveal that Tesco Market Harborough is one of them.

In fact, there is more to it than that. Part of the town centre is closed to both vehicles and pedestrians.

The BBC has a report on the national picture.

Conrad Black and British politics

With Black's conviction, it is perhaps time to refer people to my earlier posting How Conrad Black ate the Conservative Party.

Keetch: "My heart stopped for at least a minute"

More news on Paul Keetch's recovery from the newspaper of the moment - the Hereford Times:

Hereford's MP says he's recovering by the hour from the mystery illness that struck him down on a trans-Atlantic flight on Sunday.

Speaking from his hospital bed this evening (Friday) he told the Hereford Times: "I am a very lucky man, twice over.

"If I had been asleep when it happened I would probably be dead.

"If I hadn't been on a flight with a defibrillator and medically trained staff, I would probably be dead.

"Tests are still going on to find out what is wrong with me but I know my heart stopped for at least a minute.

Friday, July 13, 2007

A ballroom dancer or snooker professional

Today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News.

Identity crisis

On Monday a woman Home Secretary took questions for the first time. It was a piece of parliamentary history, but passed off with little comment.

In part this was because Jacqui Smith had already made a statement after the recent attempted bombings. Yet it remains a mystery that, though she has achieved far more, Smith attracts little of the sisterly adulation that surrounds Harriet Harman.

And maybe having a woman in this role will make a difference. The questions covered the usual depressing litany - antisocial behaviour, terrorism, child pornography - but Smith did not promise a single new law in response.

Charles Clarke or John Reid would each have committed themselves to half a dozen new bills before the hour was up.

One problem Smith will have to tackle is one of her junior ministers, Liam Byrne. Dapper and balding, in an earlier age he would have been a ballroom dancer or snooker professional. Today, he is an expert on immigration.

And doesn't he know it? True, he has been doing that job for a while and Jacqui Smith is new to her post, so from time to time it is reasonable for him to whisper advice to her while MPs are asking their questions.

But Byrne does it every time. And he makes considerable efforts to be inconspicuous. In fact, he makes sure that everyone in the House sees how inconspicuous he is being.

So Smith promises to be a breath of fresh air, but don't get carried away. When Nick Clegg asked a full, detailed analysis of the costs of the identity card project from beginning to end, she gave a long, rambling answer that could have been paraphrased in one word: No.

It was good to hear Nick keeping up the pressure on ID cards. There is a danger that we will decide to be "realistic" and endorse the things just as the public comes to realise what they will involved. The long journeys to register and be photographed feel like the sort of humiliation that conquerors inflict upon a conquered people.

The more policies we have that differentiate us from the other parties the better. Long may opposition to ID cards remain one of them.

Paul Keetch out of intensive care

The Hereford Times reports:
Hereford MP Paul Keetch has been moved out of an intensive care unit at the London Chest Hospital.

The Liberal Democrat politician fell seriously ill while on board a flight to the USA on Sunday.

The Virgin 747 was turned back to Heathrow and Mr Keetch was rushed to the Royal London Hospital before being transferred to the chest hospital.

The Liberal Democrat constituency office in Hereford this morning confirmed that Mr Keetch had been moved out from intensive care, but said he remained in hospital where his condition was described as stable.

Will Boris Johnson stand?

Yeah but no but yeah but no.

What is going on in Ealing Southall?

The excellent Pickled Politics offers some pointers.

Should we be watching Sedgefield?

As I said on 18 Doughty Street the other night (hem, hem), when MPs resign to take highly paid jobs elsewhere, their party often does very badly in the ensuing by-election.

I also said that Tony Blair sometimes treated his constituency as no more than a film set - rushing up to Trimdon to announce he was going to stand down as prime minister and then resigning as its MP as soon as he had.

So maybe we should be watching the result in Sedgefield more closely. Up till now, this contest has been rather overshadowed by the defections and similar malarkey in Ealing Southall.

Certainly, Paul Routledge thinks so. He writes in today's Mirror:
The Tories, a poor second in 2005, are nowhere. But the Liberal Democrats are closing the gap rapidly on Labour.
Thanks to Liberal Democrat Voice.

Name of the Day

And to think the winner comes from right here in Market Harborough!

Well done, Ann Meatyard.

Lib Dems gain seat in Camden

The Liberal Democrats have won a local by-election in the Haverstock ward of the London Borough of Camden, gaining the seat from Labour.

The full result is at Liberal Democrat Voice. Well done, everybody.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Man-eating badgers in Basra

A fascinating story from the BBC:

British forces have denied rumours that they released a plague of ferocious badgers into the Iraqi city of Basra.

Word spread among the populace that UK troops had introduced strange man-eating, bear-like beasts into the area to sow panic.

But several of the creatures, caught and killed by local farmers, have been identified by experts as honey badgers.

The rumours spread because the animals had appeared near the British base at Basra airport.

UK military spokesman Major Mike Shearer said: "We can categorically state that we have not released man-eating badgers into the area."

Before you scoff, remember how badgers have undermined democracy in Southend.

Nostalgia corner: Nationwide

Let's face it: the 1970s had few redeeming features. There was Basil Brush, the keyboard player from Sparks and after that you are struggling.

But this article by Ian Jones on the Off the Telly site gives a fair account of the strengths and weaknesses of one of that decade's iconic programmes: Nationwide:

sometimes even nine or 10 million tuned in every night to see what Mike, Frank and Bob had been up to.

They found politicians being grilled by viewers across the regions; arrestingly graphic profiles of stud bulls; and live OBs from the Highland Games at Aboyne, the Ideal Home Exhibition in Olympia, and from Blackpool to celebrate the resort's 100th birthday. James Hogg spent 14 days castaway on a remote Scottish island, while Tony Gubba presided over a competition asking viewers to vote for their favourite piece of music for use as the theme to the 1976 BBC Olympics coverage, with £100 in premium bonds for one lucky winner.

The show also very purposefully went on the road, spending a week at a time coming completely live from one of the BBC's regional studios, beginning in January 1976 in Belfast. These jaunts gave the main team a chance to indulge in all kinds of adventures, epitomised by Barratt, Wellings and Masters' somewhat ludicrous attempts to sail the Nationwide boat along the estuaries of Norfolk. Indeed, other eponymous frippery soon followed, involving the Nationwide horse, allotment and greyhound.

Cable: 4p off income tax

When Vince Cable got the Lib Dem Conference to pass his tax proposals at last year's Annual Conference, my feelings were a) that he was probably right but b) it would be difficult to put over the new package to the electorate.

So I was pleasantly surprised by this morning's promise of 4p off the basic rate of income tax - and pleasantly surprised too by the press reaction to it.

Here is the start of the Sun's online report. What more could we ask for?
The Liberal Democrats promised a 4p reduction in the basic rate of income tax today.

And the cut would be paid for by hits on the super-rich and the biggest polluters.

The £19.2billion tax cut would reduce the rate to 16p - the lowest since 1916 when Britain’s last Liberal Prime Minister was in 10 Downing Street.

Party leader Sir Menzies Campbell said his proposed system was “fair, simple and green” and would benefit “the vast majority” of families.