Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Photographing of Cats







Walking home this afternoon I came across a cat sitting beneath a sign saying "Albany Mews".

Geddit??!!??

Being a cat, Albany moved as soon as I got my camera out.

Blogging style and ettiquette

I have a post on Liberal Democrat Voice about blogging style and etiquette.

It is part of an "Introduction to Blogging" series. You can read all the contributions so far on another page on Lib Dem Voice.

More on the Watford playground row

A reader has written to me with some more of the background to the row about Watford Borough Council and its adventure playgrounds:

Perhaps Watford Lib Dems were guilty of summoning up folk demons, but they felt very much already present. There have been a range of problems at this adventure playground in which health and safety and child protection play their part.

So it’s partly just a case of it being a practical problem having parents loitering around when children are actually in the care of the council (parent tells off someone else’s child whose parent arrives at end of session to find child is upset and then remonstrates with council staff etc.) and whose behaviour was becoming a practical management issue.

Partly it is health and safety – parent goes unauthorised into staff area to make cup of tea, child follows them and gets scalded, parent of scalded child threatens to sue council.

And partly it is child protection – not fear of paedophilia but custodial parent fearful that with unrestricted access of adults to play session non-custodial parent might come along and take child away.

The play area is in a white working class area - the type of voters parties get accused of ignoring and who feel disempowered and not listened to. The parents can also display some challenging behaviour when attending these adventure playgrounds.

So maybe the staff who handled it directly or the politicians were culpable in not saying to the parents "Your behaviour is causing us problems so you’re not welcome any more." But in fact this was a case where sheer common sense practicality, H&S and child protection all merged into one another. Conveying this in the right way was hard.

But the message seemed to be accepted except by a couple of people, one of whom is a disgruntled former council employee. And when the press got hold of the story the council tried to outline the practicalities, but it’s the bits that can be portrayed as being about paedophiles that get reported.

Dorothy Thornhill’s blog post reflected this feeling of not being able to do right for doing wrong. It was a response to, rather than a cause of, the controversy, and a comment on media hypocrisy rather than on the issue itself.

Of course, the last time Watford had a paedophile controversy, it involved the council rebutting accusations that its new glass-fronted leisure centre and swimming pool offered an open invitation to paedophiles to stare at the children in the pool from the street.

The same reader says the bad coverage for Watford Lib Dems arose from a local paper story that omitted any reference to the difference between these adventure playgrounds and conventional playgrounds.

This was picked up by a news agency who took the local story verbatim and passed it to national papers, who in turn ran it without contacting the council to discuss the background and details. Stripped of its local context, the story took on a different aspect entirely.

Happy Halloween

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

My views on Halloween were given in a Calder's Comfort Farm column for the New Statesman website this time last year:

I’ve got no time for Trick or Treat. It’s just demanding money with menaces and, in the South of England at least, a recent import from America. Worse, paranoid modern parents insist on accompanying their children, trailing behind them with big soppy grins.

A Penny for the Guy was more my style: good, honest begging with a token creative effort thrown in. Children spent hours shivering on street corners before blowing themselves up with fireworks. That sort of thing builds character.

But I liked this Lolcat.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Government sacks David Nutt for telling the truth

Professor David Nutt has been sacked as the government's chief drugs adviser because he refused to champion ideology over research findings.

This development will come as no surprise to anyone who remembers what happened in the Commons in February after Professor Nutt published an article in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

I concluded in a House Points of the time:

this incident tells us something important about the government. New Labour came to power claiming it was interested in “what works” and not hamstrung by ideology.

The truth, as Jacqui Smith demonstrated, is that to get on today you have to stick to a narrow range of acceptable views. Step outside it and you will be attacked.

Substitute "sacked" for "attacked" and that moral holds for today's development too.

Incidentally, Tory backbenchers were outraged by David Nutt's article back in February too.

That question time also reminded me of a story involving a horse rider and drugs.

House Points: It's Taser time

Beat that "My Liberal Democrat News hasn't arrived yet" misery with this week's House Points.

Q&A on Tasers

Monday was Taser day, with both Norman Baker and Chris Huhne raising the subject at home office questions.

But what is a Taser?

So we’re using this patronising question-and-answer format are we? Tasers are weapons that use an electric current to disrupt the voluntary control of muscles in the people they are fired at. They deliver a massive charge of 50,000-volts and have been used by British police officers since April 2003.

Why should we be worried about them?

As Norman Baker pointed out, Tasers have been implicated in the deaths of more than 300 people in the United States. Amnesty International considers that the use of the Tasers in many of these cases was excessive, amounting in some cases to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Look into it further and you find that in America there have been cases of pregnant women and children as young as six being Tasered.

What did the minister say in reply?

He said Tasers had been used in Britain 4818 times up to March 2009, and no serious injuries or deaths had been reported. That is because the government has issued guidance to police forces, which “allows strong regulation of the use of Tasers”.

What do people do with these regulations? Stick them down the front of their shirts?

That’s more like it. This format might work after all.

But really it’s no laughing matter. In Canada, Amnesty has documented 17 cases where individuals have died after being stunned with police Tasers. In Australia an officer fired a Taser 28 times into a man who died minutes later.

Now the makers of the weapon have issued guidance advising police officers to avoid shooting suspects in the chest, saying it could pose an extremely low risk of an “adverse cardiac event”.

But in Britain Tasers are issued only to police officers trained to use firearms, aren’t they? So there’s no need to worry.

That was the case when they first came in, but Jacqui Smith was keen they should become standard issue for all officers. It’s no wonder Chris Huhne talked about “the slippery slide towards US-style armed policing in this country.”

Whatever happened to Jacqui Smith?

Opposition grows to Aylestone Meadows development

The Leicester Mercury has returned to the plans to build sports facilties on the wildlife haven that is Aylestone Meadows. I wrote about this last month.

The Mercury says:
The Leicester Friends of the Earth group has now joined a range of other campaigners, politicians and residents to submit an objection to the planning application.
This gives me an excuse to publish a photograph of the tearooms at King's Lock, which I mentioned in the original post.

Viz and the London Review of Books

There was a treat in yesterday's Guardian: the Diary was in the charge of a competent journalist. And Michael White had a winning lead story:

It is a national disgrace. The week may pass with scarce acknowledgment that two of the nation's cherished literary magazines are celebrating their 30th birthday within days of each other – not even a joint service at St Paul's, despite their shared interests.

The London Review of Books began as a supplement to its New York sister just as the Thatcher era was emerging. It now sells 44,000 copies among the progressive intelligentsia – the sort of people who so dislike Labour.

Founded two days earlier in Chris Donald's bedroom at the parental home in Jesmond – the progressive quarter of Newcastle – was Viz, hand-stapled and sold in pubs for 20p. It mocks politicians too. At its peak Viz sold 1.2m, but still shifts about 80,000 at a yuppie £3 a pop.

I have not missed an issue of either publication for years. They used to have something in common in that neither appeared that regularly. The LRB comes out fortnightly and in its heyday Viz appeared every two months. As Private Eye shows, if a magazine is good and does not appear too often, you look forward to each issue far more eagerly.

Mind you, the LRB isn't as funny as it used to be.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Watford Lib Dems are to blame for their bad press over playgrounds

Later. There is some informed local comment in a later posting on this blog.

I am all in favour of adventure playgrounds. My heroine Lady Allen of Hurtwood wrote in 1975:

Since I first grasped, in Copenhagen, the magic potential of adventure playgrounds, I have spent much time and effort getting them accepted in this country. The hard struggle of the early years is now largely forgotten. We were freely accused of being anarchists or communists, and of undermining morals, as my press cuttings vividly show. It took years of site-snatching, money-raising and propaganda before we could begin to prove that it is rewarding to welcome the exuberance of the young.

It is a great delight, now, to find that the ideas behind our endeavours are generally well accepted, and that many understanding and dedicated people are prepared to join in the work so that young people people can have a fairer deal.

Times have changed since then, and not to the advantage of the adventure playground movement. So I have been delighted to learn from the current controversy that Watford Borough Council are still running adventure playgrounds.

I can quite see that to have parents staying with the children at such playgrounds would go against their ethos, so the council is quite in order to ask them to leave. As an eminently sensible posting on Dorothy Thornhill's blog makes clear, this has nothing to do with paranoia about paedophiles or Criminal Records Board clearance.

So far so good.

Trouble is, that is not the only posting Dorothy has written on the subject. There was an earlier one which disappeared for a while but has since reappeared. In it she wrote:
Imagine what those same papers would say if a child was snatched from the playground and we were accused of allowing free access of adults onto our site. Or worse still one of those adults was using it to acquire knowledge of and groom other children - yes sadly it happens we all know that. Again, we would rightly be pilloried.
If you add to this what Dorothy told the Daily Telegraph:
"Sadly, in today's climate, you can't have adults walking around unchecked in a children's playground and the adventure playground is not a meeting place for adults."
then you can't really blame the press for reporting the story the way they did. If you tell the world that a decision was made because of fear about paedophiles then that is what the world is likely to believe.

In today's Britain it is very hard to tell people they can't do something - parents or anyone else. So it is tempting to summon up folk demons like elf n'safety or paedophiles in support of what you are doing.

But this tactic can rebound on you, as it has in Watford.

More on the closure of the Pump and Tap

A reader on the impending closure of the Pump and Tap pub in Leicester:

Just thought I’d let you know the bridge & pub latest. John Husain of the Pump & Tap has been given his marching orders by DMU [De Montfort University] – he’s to be out by the 27th of November, and the pub will close for good a few days before on the 22nd.

John has only just been told this, and broke the news to us and his employees last night. Within the terms of his lease he (and indeed everyone else) expected a minimum of three months notice, but DMU have decided to throw him out at the end of his term on the 27th. Correct in law, but wrong in spirit – his staff will be without jobs (and with little warning) over Christmas, and the P&Ts Christmas day festivities, which the place is famous for in the area, won’t be going ahead.

It’s very sad, and DMU could have gone about it in a far better way. Everyone involved is surprised the period of notice is so short, but it doesn’t look like there’s anything we can do about it. I have a feeling the demolition of the pub will begin very shortly after the 27th.

Why Guido Fawkes was acting as Nadine Dorries's bagman?

Back in September I asked why Paul Staines (aka Guido Fawkes), the self-styled scourge of all politicians, was acting as a bagman for a Tory backbencher.

This afternoon Paul Waugh offered a possible explanation:
Some of Mr McBride's money will end up in the pocket of his nemesis, one G Fawkes. As part of the £2,500 costs, it seems that Paul Staines (the man behind the beard) charged Ms Dorries' lawyer Donal Blaney £75/hour for serving the legal letter on the former Number 10 man.

Heston and the four London airports planned in the 1930s

A fascinating paragraph in Wikipedia:
During the late 1930s, the British government had been studying the future of air transport and airports in the London area. It had been decided that London would be served by four airports - Croydon, Heston and new airfields at Fairlop in Essex and Lullingstone, Kent.
Fascinating stuff, but is it all true?

I have written about Croydon airport before and Heston is well documented (the quotation above comes from its Wikipedia entry). Heston was distinct from the earlier Hounslow Heath and later Heathrow airports, both nearby, and it was to Heston that Neville Chamberlain returned in 1938, proclaiming "peace in our time".

A little research suggests that the City of London wanted to develop an airport at Fairlop but the government opposed the idea.

Lullingstone is a fascinating site. Development was certainly planned there, but all that is left to show for it is the ghost of a railway station that never opened.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Obscenity in Arnold Schwarzenegger letter


From the New York Times:

In an apparent attempt to infuse the dry work of government with a dash of manly brio, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California recently issued a veto statement that contained a message — and not a nice message — that some interpret as a put down of the bill’s author.

The message is hidden and can be seen only by reading the printed version of the veto statement. By taking the first letter of each line, beginning with the third line, two words emerge: The first is obscene, and the second is “you.”

Nick Clegg interviewed by The Third Estate

The Third Estate has an exclusive interview with the Liberal Democrat leader:

“None of these choices are easy, at any time,” he says. “But we’ve got to be straight with people about what can be afforded right now. I’ve set out a radical programme that would make our society fairer, and give every child – no matter their background – the best chances in life. We know that at the moment a poor, bright child will be overtaken by a better off, less intelligent child by the time they’re seven years old.

"So we have to get in there right at the beginning, with smaller class sizes for 5-7 year olds, and extra support for children from the poorest backgrounds. We would give schools more money for taking on children from poorer families and that big injection of cash would make sure everyone had the best start in life. Then more children from disadvantaged backgrounds would have the opportunity to go to university later on.

"And yes, I want to get rid of the tuition fees system too – it’s just a question of when.”

Pump and Tap to close next month





The Leicester Mercury reports that the Pump and Tap, the popular pub next to Leicester's Bowstring Bridge, is to close next month ahead of likely demolition to make way for a new swimming pool for De Montfort University.

Bread saves south Shropshire from escaped rheas

Remember the escaped rheas that were terrorising south Shropshire?

The Shropshire Star has the latest news:
A trail of bread was used to lure a flock of 6ft birds, which had been running wild in the Shropshire countryside, back to their enclosure.
If rheas weren't so gullible they could take over the world.

The Rutland Bookshop, Uppingham





This is one of two secondhand bookshops remaining in Uppingham. The other is Forest Books a few doors away.

Elsewhere in the town, Goldmark in now purely a gallery - and well worth a visit if you like 20th century art. There was briefly another shop a few doors down from there (you can still see the books inside, which I suppose makes it a disused bookshop).

And there was a fifth shop, which fronted the market place and had a rear entrance in a yard opening off another street. I had forgotten all about until I came across the ornamental gates featuring books that used to guard that rear entrance.

The Rutland Bookshop specialises in country writers. As these include T. H. White and Richard Jefferies, a trip up its steep, narrow staircases can sometimes prove expensive for me.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

X-Factor: John and Edward are the British people's revenge on Simon Cowell

I have long held the view that Simon Cowell is destroying Western civilisation. Or at least that he is destroying popular music by draining every ounce of spirit and rebellion from it.

Up until now I had believed I was alone. But the news from Hello Magazine that John and Edward got most votes from viewers after the last X-Factor show has only one explanation.

The people of Britiain have turned against Cowell and are using John and Edward as their weapon.

Not that I watch it, of course.

G. K. Chesterton goes canvassing

From Chesterton's Autobiography, first published in 1936:

Charles Masterman used to swear with derisive gusto that when we went canvassing together, he went all down one side of a street and up most of the other, and found me in the first house, still arguing the philosophy of government with the first householder.

... it is perfectly true that I began electioneering under the extraordinary delusion that the object of canvassing is conversion. The object of canvassing is counting. The only real reason for people being pestered in their own houses by party agents is quite unconnected with the principles of the party (which are often a complete mystery to the agents): it is simply that the agents may discover from the words, manner, gesticulations, oaths, curses, kicks or blows of the householder, whether he is likely to vote for the party candidate, or not to vote at all.

Nothing has changed, but it is pleasing to find that Chesterton and Masterman were friends.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Greyfriars Bus Station, Northampton

The photograph shows the twin gaping maws of Greyfriars bus station in Northampton. You don't often get a maw these days, but Greyfriars has two of them.

I wrote about the bus station a few years ago, linking to a Guardian article of the time. There is also an article about it on the BBC website, with the excellent Richard Church, a Lib Dem councillor from Northampton, making the case for its demolition and an architect offering a selection of increasingly tenuous arguments for its retention.

Editor's note: Architects seldom travel by bus.

In that earlier posting I wrote about the bus station that Greyfriars replaced in 1976. A little research reveals that it was in Derngate on the site now occupied by the town's theatre. I suspect the photograph of the red buses on this page was taken there.

Britblog Roundup 245

This week's roundup can be found at Philobiblon.

Jersey senator Stuart Syvret seeks asylum in London

The Birmingham Post reports that Stuart Syvret, the Jersey senator, is staying at the London flat of the Lib Dem MP John Hemming and is planning to ask the British government for asylum and “protection from harassment” from the Jersey authorities.

The newspaper says Syvret:

is facing prison after leaking a police report into an aborted investigation surrounding the conduct of a male nurse on the island. Mr Syvret will ask the British Government for legal asylum and “protection from harassment” from the Jersey authorities.

He says he fears that he will not get a fair trial for the alleged data-protection offences after being told that he could be barred from mounting a defence based on public interest.

Magistrates have made an order for his arrest after he failed to turn up to two hearings.

Stuart Syvret and John Hemming both blog, so you should be able to get the latest news directly from them.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Traffic: Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys



It is just about two years since I posted my first Sunday video (Rock el Casbah by Rachid Taha), so let me be a little self-indulgent.

The video runs for 10 minutes and even then you don't quite get the whole song in. It could be worse: the version on the Traffic On the Road album lasts for over 17 minutes (and its not the longest track either). Who said "noodling"?

This version comes from a concert in Santa Monica in 1972. You can buy the DVD
Traffic - Live at Santa Monica or watch other songs from it I have posted before: Freedom Rider and John Barleycorn Must Die. If you are patient I shall probably post them all eventually.

Playing here are Steve Winwood (piano and vocals), Chris Wood (saxophone - with wah-wah pedal), Jim Capaldi (tambourine), Anthony Kwaku Baah (bongos), David Hood (bass) and Roger Hawkins (drums).

There has been a lot of debate over the lyrics, but the consensus is that it is about being ripped off by the music business.

"Don't pretend not to understand, Ian"

I watched the repeat of Have I Got News for You yesterday evening. It was worth it for the moment when Grayson Perry was talking about art and Ian Hislop affected to be baffled by him.

What Perry said next was:
"Don't pretend not to understand, Ian"
Well said.

There is a style of argument that is so common amongst those who were educated at public schools that I suspect the Headmasters' Conference insists it is included in the curriculum.

When you say something they do not agree with, particularly something a bit left wing, they do not disagree with you: they act as though your argument is so baffling that they cannot make anything of it. Hislop does it all the time, though his conservatism is more cultural than political.

In future I shall use Grayson Perry's retort when faced with this tactic.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Leicester's Bowstring Bridge: The protest song

Northampton Bookshop







Thanks to TheBookGuide I discovered a recently opened secondhand bookshop in Northampton yesterday.

Northampton Bookshop can be found just out of the town centre in St Michael's Road, which is now largely a cavern between disused factories.

Visit the website to see why the Beatles were in the building in November 1963.

Thomas Hughes: Tennessee, Frome and the Titanic

The other day I likened David Cameron to Flashman, the bully from Thomas Hughes's Tom Brown's Schooldays. This has led me to discover three interesting facts about Hughes.

Fact 1
A commenter on that post mentioned Rugby, Tennessee, the colony founded by Hughes. Following that link, we learn:

British author and social reformer Thomas Hughes, famous for his classic, TOM BROWN'S SCHOOLDAYS, dedicated the Rugby Colony amid great fanfare on October 5, 1880. He envisioned his new community as a place where those who wished could build a strong agricultural community through cooperative enterprise, while maintaining a cultured, Christian lifestyle, free of the rigid class distinctions that prevailed in Britain. The idea for the colony grew out of Hughes' concern for the younger sons of landed British families. Under the custom of primogeniture, the eldest son usually inherited everything, leaving the younger sons with only a few socially accepted occupations in England. In America, Hughes believed, these young men's energies and talents could be directed toward community building through agriculture.

Fact 2
Thomas Hughes was a Liberal MP. He sat for Lambeth (1865–6) and for Frome (1868–74).

Fact 3
One of Hughes's daughters, Lilian, died on the Titanic in 1912.

Thanks to Wikipedia for these last two.

Nick Clegg's The Liberal Moment: Chapter 7

I said my last post on this pamphlet was the penultimate one. I was wrong. Because this one is about the "The Social Crisis" and I have just discovered there is another crisis after that.

I suppose the social crisis counts a milder, Liberal Democrat version of David Cameron's broken Britain. It seems to consist in the lack of social mobility in modern Britain, which Nick characterises as a lack of "fairness".

"Fairness" always seems such a playground word, even if it does go down well with the focus groups. Nick says the concept "pierces right to the heart of everything progressives stand for", but it is hard to imagine something so wet piercing to the heart of anything.

Plus, as I have argued before, it is not that Tories don't believe in fairness; it's just that they have a different conception of it.

Anyway, Nick makes some good points about the burden of taxation the poor now bear, and the more familiar one that "a child born today in the poorest neighbourhood in Sheffield will die on average fourteen years before a child born in the most affluent neighbourhood a few miles away".

If I read that once more I shall be tempted to ask why he got himself selected for that affluent neighbourhood.

Then on to education and, inevitably, the pupil premium, though government micromanagement of schools gets a welcome kicking too.

On to health, where the same critique of Labour is offered. Then tax, where the lowest earners should be lifted out of it. And finally housing, where they key is to treat house price inflation like any other kind of inflation by taking it into account when interest rates are set.

Next time it will the security crisis and that really will be it. Except that I have just been asked to turn these jottings into a coherent article for Liberator.

See also:

And you can download the whole pamphlet from Nick Clegg's website.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Book Bargain of the Day

Bought for £2 in a remaindered bookshop in Northampton today:

RIGSBY: I suppose you come from an old family?

PHILIP: Yes.

RIGSBY: Yes. Born to it. Same in the war. My old captain - he came from a good family - not like these tu'penny ha'penny gentlemen you get today. He always carried a stick and smoked a pipe. I never saw him ruffled. When Jerry opened up he'd just lean on his stick and say, "Where do you think that's coming from, sergeant?" Everyone would leap for cover but not the captain.

PHILIP: What happened to him?

RIGSBY: (winces) He got blown up by a shell.

Now visit Rigsby Online.

Question Time and Nick Griffin: They should have trusted us more

I did not watch much of Question Time, but then I rarely do. These days, if I am up late on Thursday evening, it is just a way of filling that annoying gap between Newsnight and This Week.

From what I saw Nick Griffin came over badly -and his "non-violent Klu Klux Klan" was priceless. But the usual format of the programme was changed because he was there.

Yes, many in the audience will have wanted to quiz him on his views. Yes, the other panelists were right to challenge him. His presence even seems to have woken David Dimbleby up.

But I am not sure we needed the ritual denunciations, such as the one from Jack Straw that opened the programme. There seemed an unwillingness to trust the audience in the hall or at home to draw their own conclusions. The result was that Griffin was made to appear a victim of the establishment, which is just the picture he tries to present.

It was notable that in answering the one normal Question Time question - on Stephen Gately and the Daily Mail - Griffin made a fool of himself. They should have given him more rope: he would have obligingly hanged himself.

As I said before Griffin appeared:
Left-wing intellectuals tend to distrust the working class, believing they are quite racist as enough as it is and fearing that they will be attracted to the BNP if they are allowed to hear from them.

Biscuits for socialist politicians: A note for Gordon Brown

Gordon Brown recently had trouble naming his favourite biscuit.

As a socialist, he should have remembered an observation of Alexei Sayle's:
Garibaldi. There's a biscuit named after him. Actually, it's amazing how many biscuits are named after revolutionaries. There's your Garibaldi of course, your Bourbon and your Peak Freans Trotskyite Assortment.

House Points: Granny Tredinnick’s Old Country Remedies

What with the postal strikes and everything, today's Liberal Democrat News may not have reached you yet. Here is part of what you are missing.

Crucial Astro Tools

At the close of most days in the Commons there is a short debate introduced by a backbencher. They are known as adjournment debates – the idea being that the topic is so urgent that the House should not rise until it has been dealt with.

The subjects MPs choose build into a scrapbook of individual enthusiasms and local concerns. In recent days we have heard about power cuts in north-west Kent, children’s dental health in Nottingham and the Todmorden Curve.

This last turned out not to be a dance craze sweeping the discos of the West Riding. It is a short stretch of track whose reinstatement would allow fast trains to run between Burnley and Manchester.

But the most remarkable adjournment debate so far this season was the one on complementary and alternative medicines called by David Tredinnick, the Tory MP for Bosworth.

Whenever Tredinnick raises this subject – which is often – you feel an urge to consult the register of members’ interests. Tredinnick? Surely you find Granny Tredinnick’s Old Country Remedies on sale in National Trust shops among the tea towels, luxury shortbread and pot-pourri?

It turns out you don’t, but his speech last Wednesday was still full of exotic things. We learned that Chris Patten employed a Chinese astronomer and astrologer while he was the last governor of Hong Kong. That scientists’ scepticism over alternative medicine is based on “superstition, ignorance and prejudice”. And that “as with healers who can do remote healing”, it is no good saying that something does not work just because we cannot prove it.

Tredinnick told the House that astrology has been around ancient Egyptian, Babylonian and Assyrian times. But he also showed mastery of a thoroughly modern tactic: the argument from offence. “It is part of the Chinese, Muslim and Hindu cultures. Criticism is deeply offensive to those cultures, and I have a Muslim college in my constituency.”

He also said he had looked into astrology in detail. To be fair to him, he has. In June the Leicester Mercury revealed that David Tredinnick had claimed for £210 for software and £300 on tuition service from the firm Crucial Astro Tools.

As Confucius probably said, it takes all sorts. Now for a cup of Granny Tredinnick’s camomile tea.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Hanbury's Charity: Church Langton to Westminster

In one of my early outings with my digital camera I visited East Langton and Church Langton. That visit led to several postings, including one on William Hanbury and his charitable schemes.

I have since discovered that Hanbury's Charity was the subject of a House of Lords debate in 1895 in which both the Marquess of Salisbury and the Archbishop of Canterbury took part.

The problem was that Hanbury's ambitions far exceeded the endowment he left on his death. This is brought out by a Commons written answer from 1921, when the Charity again came up at Westminster:

The Reverend William Hanbury, by a series of deeds made in 1767, directed the establishment of a school, the endowment of an organist, the provision of beef for the poor, the establishment of a fund to provide organs, the establishment of a picture gallery, a library, a free printing press, a hospital, and various professorships with an income of £5,909 a year, the expenditure of £100,000 on the erection of a church at Church Langton and the erection of a Temple of Religion and Virtue.

The fund of about £2,000 which he provided to satisfy these purposes proved scarcely adequate, and it is difficult to say to which of them he gave the preference.

This problem was tackled in 1895, which led to the debate in the Lords. Some participants thought that the Charity's revised objectives did not give sufficient weight to his wishes for the church at Church Langton.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

So farewell then Pendulum Records

Before it is forgotten it is time to salute Market Harborough's last specialist record shop, Pendulum Records, which closed last month.

According to the Harborough Mail:
A worker at the store, who declined to be named, said: “We’ve been affected by the internet and basically not had enough people come through the doors.

Rural Shropshire terrorised by escaped six-foot birds

From the Shropshire Star:

Six-foot birds are running amok in the Shropshire countryside attacking people. The rheas, which are a relative of the emu, are believed to have escaped from farmland in Ashford Carbonell near Ludlow.

A group of them has set up camp in a field near Richards Castle.

An emu comments: We have nothing to do with that side of the family.

The more publicity Nick Griffin gets the better

How is the BNP leader handling his extra public exposure in the run up to his appearance on Question Time?

Yesterday he:
  • likened Britain's leading generals to Nazi war criminals;
  • went on Newsnight to attack the British Legion;
  • issued a press release that was clearly libellous.

A couple of weeks of that and he have succeeded in destroying himself in public.

The serious point is that the "No Platform" tactics of the left have clearly failed. The people voting BNP are not disgruntled Tories who wish their party were more racist, they are disaffected former Labour voters who have been hit by globalisation and hear the mainstream parties saying nothing that will help them.

Left-wing intellectuals tend to distrust the working class, believing they are quite racist as enough as it is and fearing that they will be attracted to the BNP if they are allowed to hear from them.

This is nonsense. The way to take on the BNP is to defeat them in debate and at the ballot box. Denying them a hearing only feeds the belief that they are telling the truth and the public is being kept from hearing it by a cosy political establishment.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

David Cameron: The Flashman factor

Every time I watch prime minister's questions I am struck by the way Cameron looks and sounds like a public school bully. I find I wrote about this earlier this year.

In a country where being "posh" is just about the worst sin there is, even as it is becoming progressively more unequal, I wonder how this plays with the public.

Perhaps the Tories reason that Gordon Brown is now so unpopular that they will be cheering him on, but I wonder.

Trafalgar Day Lolcat

We all agree it is a long haul from the end of August to Christmas and an extra autumn bank holiday is needed.

Today is Trafalgar Day, one of the best candiates for that holiday. So here is a Lolcat.

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Five Years Ago: Nick Clegg on Conrad Russell

One benefit of having been writing a blog for so long is that I can do this: go back and see what I was saying five years ago.

On 20 October 2004 Conrad Russell had just died and I reported that Nick Clegg had written a good column about him for the Guardian.

That column is still on the paper's website:
He was a striking, slightly beguiling figure. He walked with an intellectual's stoop, invariably with a cigarette in hand. A shock of white hair was permanently standing to attention above an angular, slightly hawkish face. He talked in paragraphs.
Helpfully, I informed my readers that Nick was the "former Lib Dem MEP for the East Midlands and PPC for Sheffield Hallam".

Incidentally, more people will read this blog today than read it in the whole of October 2004.

"Did a member of your family return home last night without his trousers?"

That is the question asked today by a spokeswoman for Warwickshire Police, says the BBC website.

It seems:

An arsonist is believed to have left his trousers at the scene of a fire in Warwickshire.

A pair of men's jeans were recovered from the fire at a sports court in Acre Close, Whitnash, Leamington Spa, on Monday evening

According to Blogger this is the 5000th posting on Liberal England. So much for my plans for marking that landmark with an essay on the philosophical foundations of the Liberal Democrats.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Nick Clegg's The Liberal Moment: Chapter 6

The finishing post is in site as we get to the penultimate chapter. Nick has called it "The environmental crisis", but it avoids the worst of the "we're all doomed" rhetoric of the green movement.

It turns out to be an essay on how we bridge the lightly gap between future energy supply and demand without increasing CO2 emissions. Nick puts his money on a dispersed economy of renewable energy sources and micro generation, which is very appealing to Liberals, but raises two questions.

The first is whether these in themselves these measures will bridge the gap. Can we really do it with no role for nuclear power or coal?

The second is whether giving communities a stake in wind farms, as Nick advocates using a model already adopted in Denmark, will overcome local objections to the construction of more of them.

I would like to think Nick's liberal confidence is justified, but I have my doubts on both questions.

See also:
And you can download the whole pamphlet from Nick Clegg's website.

Steve Harmison plays darts

Another posting on The Corridor.

Child porn fears scupper airport "nude" scans

The Daily Mail reports:
Airport security chiefs have been banned from subjecting children to a controversial new X-ray scanner that produces ‘naked’ pictures of passengers because of legal warnings the images may break child pornography laws.
Told you.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

David Bowie: This is not America



This song comes from the soundtrack of the film The Falcon and the Snowman. It reached no. 14 in the British charts in the spring of 1985, which explains why it reminds me so strongly of sitting around in pubs during my activist days.

Like a lot of Bowie, it is more about mood or atmosphere than the melody of the meaning of the lyrics. And very atmospheric it is.

At the time I took it as Bowie's regret that he would always be exiled from the heart of popular culture in the US. Reading about it now, in the context of the film it has more to do with a regret from the passing of a more moral America or the danger of being subject to foreign regimes.

Britblog Roundup 244: The one that hates the Daily Mail

Welcome to this week's selection of the best in the British blogosphere.

Oil companies and libel lawyers are trying to stop the reporting of questions in Parliament or even prevent their being asked at all. The British government is trying to prevent the courts from revealing its complicity in torture.

But as far as the nominations received, the most important story this week is...

Jan Moir and Stephen Gately

New readers start here. Friday's Daily Mail carried an article on Stephen Gately's death that combined ignorance and prejudice to an extent remarkable even for that newspaper. Written by Jan Moir, it argued that it was impossible for a young man to die of natural causes and that Gately - like Kevin McGee before him - had therefore died of being gay.

Noxious stuff, but I am not convinced the bloggers nominated offer something that much better
in return.

Writing on Liberal Conspiracy, Laurie Penny called Moir a "frothing baghack" but did go on to say some useful things about the Mail's treatment of violence to women.

Clairwil headed her posting on the subject "Let's Hope Jan Moir Dies Fucking a Goat", which seems hard for the goat if nothing else.

And Feminazery believes "Jan Moir is a vile, homophobic, horrid waste of perfectly good oxygen".

If you want to join the chorus of protest - perhaps in a slightly more balanced way - try the complaints page of the Press Complaints Commission website.

But - and I speak with all the authority of someone who went to school with Allison Pearson - sometimes being against the Daily Mail takes the place of constructive thought on the left. What exactly is a "baghack" - frothing or otherwise - for instance?

History

We begin in the 12th century with Elizabeth Chadwick: Living the History and the career of John Marshal, who was "formidable in the Kennet Valley and North East Wiltshire".

Then on to Camden Kiwi and "Bloody Poetry", Howard Brenton's play about the meeting of Byron and the Shelleys on the shores of Lake Geneva. Though if Brenton really believes this took place in 1916, it has to go down as revisionist history.

And Philobiblon visits Austerity Britain, finding parallels between the post-era and our present-day travails.

Jersey

Mixed news from the English Channel.

Tony's Musings says we should not worry about the suicide rate on Jersey. Voice for Children says we should worry about child abuse on the island.

Greens

The F Word starts the section off by pointing us to nine inspiring examples of women's climate activism.

Then The Daily (Maybe) looks at the the decision of Tory members to scupper a London Assembly motion supporting the 10:10 campaign - and at the lack of coverage this move has received.

Earthenwitch offers a diary of country life in October

And Peter Cranie shows that greens - or at least Greens - can be as sly as the rest of us by casting aspersions on Nick Clegg's honesty. So if you are Clegg's gardener, do please drop him a line.

Tom Watson MP

The Labour member for West Bromwich East is the envy of his pals at Westminster. He has a BBRU section all to himself.

Tom Watson is trying to persuade the Post Office to make postcode date freely available to the public. In a letter to Adam Crozier, he says:
I take the position that the postcode file and the data set of physical co-ordinates that go with it should be freely available to any UK citizen. I understand, though, that in the short term the entrepreneurs in your organisation have monatised their monopoly supply of the file to generate income of £11 million a year.
And two other bloggers - Pirate Party UK and Stand Up Diggers All - have written about his campaign against government plans to force ISPs to disconnect people who share files.

Memo to record companies: a business model based on suing music fans is not viable in the long run.

Politics

Next week Nick Griffin will appear on "Question Time". Personally I fell out of love with the programme long ago. I know what I think about things and don't want to listen to a lot of other people giving their stupid opinions - especially not the comedians they insist on putting on the panel these days. I am never going to be an MP, so I don't have to worry how I would answer the questions (unless I decide to become a comedian instead). And there's David bloody Dimbleby.

But how should we respond to Griffin?

The Mysterious World of Matt Blackall says the BBC is right to let him appear. Keeping him off the programme would only reinforce the BNP myth that they are the victims of a conspiracy by an effete liberal media. Heresy Corner takes a similar line on the visit of Geert Wilders to Britain.

Dodgeblogium takes issue with the Independent columnist Johann Hari. He argues that BNP supporters are not right-wing Conservatives, as Hari imagines, but disaffected working-class Labour voters.

Speech-making guru Max Atkinson writes about public reaction to David Cameron's Tory Conference speech, with illustrations from the edition of "Question Time" that went out that evening.

Mark Reckons writes about another big story of the week: the Conservative Party's open primary to choose a new candidate for Bracknell. Iain Dale and Rory Stewart (aka Lawrence of Belgavia) lost out to the nearest thing the shortlist had to a local candidate.

They care about their clean and local air in Bracknell too, apparently.

Chris Coltrane thinks he knows how to solve the current postal strikes. Bristol Blogger offers lively coverage of politics in the city, here writing about the salaries of senior council officers.

Slugger O'Toole shows they have expenses scandals in the Irish parliament too. Letters from a Tory is not impressed by the line his party's shadow home secretary is taking on the retention of DNA data.

Miscellaneous

It's sui generis time.

Stroppyblog writes about her seven-year-old son's Asperger's syndrome.

Mark Pack looks forward to Amazon and Google competing to dominate the future of e-books:
The forthcoming struggle between Google and Amazon, both distinguished by that highly unusual feature of internet businesses of being large and profitable enough to compare with the biggest of non-internet firms, should be a sight to see. With a bit of luck, the competitive edge will drive down prices whilst driving up quality of service and technology. That should benefit both authors and readers in the long run.

Long Aye-lander in Glasgow writes about an advertisement in the Herald for someone at £140 a day to translate Glaswegian slang for foreign business people who struggle to understand the local dialect. That was a Stanley Baxter sketch about 35 years ago.

While we are at it, SwissToni's Place could do with someone to translate business jargon too.

One Man Blogs did not get a Ferrari for his birthday. Again.

And The New Adventures of Juliette says her cat smoked 80 cigarettes and lived to be 23.

Sure it did. But I bet it wasn't gay.

Next week

Next week's Roundup will be in the care of Nourishing Obscurity.

As ever, please send your nominations to britblog [at] gmail [dot] com.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Britblog Roundup: A final reminder

Tomorrow, Liberal England will be hosting the latest Britblog Roundup.

If you have seen a posting on a British blog over the past week that you think particularly fine, please send the URL to britblog [AT] gmail [DOT] com and I shall include it.

Nominating a posting for the Britblog Roundup is a good way of promoting a blog that you think deserves more readers. And you are welcome to nominate a posting on your own blog too.

All nominations by tomorrow (Sunday) lunchtime please.

We know how to enjoy ourselves in Market Harborough











The Square this morning.

Adrian Hicks and the Winchester alien: A video

Back in June I carried the news that a Liberal Democrat councillor from Winchester, claims to have seen an alien in the city's High Street one Saturday afternoon in 2004.

I have now found the video of an interview with Adrian Hicks, the councillor in question. It is on his own website:

The Interview is the second video of the three recorded and edited by Vinci Recorders by request of Councillor Adrian Hicks. The Interview is a short video of a mixture of questions ranging from personal, private and in-depth questions about the event that took place.

The video was recorded in early August 2009 and was prepared for publication in early December 2009. Unfortunately the video had been leaked by an unknown source on the 13th October 2009. Councillor Adrian Hicks and Vinci Recorders have agreed to allow the leaked version to remain online and will still be releasing the video in early December 2009.

Winchester seems to be a centre of UFO activity: see Colin Andrews on The Winchester Cluster.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Trafigura gives in: Minton report published

From the Daily Telegraph site this evening:

A suppressed report which details how an oil company dumped toxic waste in Africa that may cause serious burns and even death has been released following a parliamentary row over freedom of speech.

The study commissioned just weeks after the incident in West Africa concluded that the dumping would have been illegal under European pollution laws and suggests that the “likely cause” of the illness reported by locals was the “significant release” of potentially lethal gas.

The report had been kept secret after Trafigura, one of the world’s largest independent oil trading firms, obtained a "super injunction" that threatened the centuries-old privilege of newspapers to report what MPs can say freely in the Commons.

On Friday night, as the High Court gagging order was lifted, senior figures at Trafigura admitted their approach may have been “heavy-handed” and insisted it had not been their intention to try to gag Parliament.

Oddly, the Telegraph seems to have beaten the Guardian to the story.

Later. Now you can download the Minton report from the Guardian front page.

Justine McGuinness wins defamation case against The People

Justine McGuinness, Lib Dem candidate in West Dorset at the last election and latterly PR adviser to the parents of Madeleine McCann, has won damages from Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN).

The case involved allegations made in a front-page article in The People claiming she had overcharged expenses to the "Find Madeleine Fund" and been forced to resign.

More at legalweek.com.

Later. The Leicester Mercury says that, rather than paying damages, MGN made "a donation to an undisclosed charity of Ms McGuinness's choice".

House Points: Carter-Ruck, Trafigura and MPs' expenses

The first House Points of the new parliamentary season.

My copy of Liberal Democrat News has not arrived yet, but I believe the editor dropped an "alleged" in here somewhere.

"Wilkes and Liberty"

It has been a quiet week at Westminster. MPs arrived back to find the rooftops occupied by activists protesting about global warming. The demonstrators didn’t stay up there long – these October evenings can get very chilly.

Then MPs had to wait for a letter from Lord Legg telling them if they were going to be asked to repay some of their expenses.

And then it emerged that a judge had granted the oil company Trafigura an injunction against the Guardian. This banned the newspaper from mentioning that Paul Farrelly, the Labour MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme, had put down a question about an earlier Trafigura injunction preventing the publication of a report on the dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast.

Not only that. The new injunction even banned the Guardian from mentioning that it existed.

You probably know what happened next. The newspaper’s veiled report gave readers just enough clues to be able to find Farrelly’s question on the Parliament website and they did the rest. Soon the wording of that question, and the names of Trafigura and its lawyers, were spread across the world. Interestingly, this was thanks more to Twitter than the old steam-driven internet.

MPs were furious. Labour backbenchers met Gordon Brown to voice their anger. Their chairman was asked to sound out his counterpart on the Tory 1922 Committee about a joint response.

Except, of course, it was not Trafigura’s injunction MPs were angry about. It was Lord Legg and his letters that got them worked up.

There were honourable exceptions – Nick Clegg, David Heath and Paul Burstow all spoke out in defence of the public’s right to unimpeded reporting of Parliament – but their expenses were far dearer to the hearts of most members. Second houses, furnishings, gardening... that was what moved them.

It used to be different. In the 18th century the Radical MP John Wilkes went to the Tower in defence of his right to report parliamentary proceedings and later sued the secretary of state who had him arrested. “Wilkes and Liberty” was the cry of the people.

Yes, MPs used to be jealous guardians of their privileges. Today – and I have taken the precaution of locking the doors so you cannot escape this – they just worry about their privet hedges.

Correction of the Day features Tory MPs and pirate radio

From the Guardian this morning:
An article sketched the attributes of Michael Fabricant MP, describing him as a political version of the Hairy Cornflake and "the only pirate radio disc jockey in the Commons" (The DJ and the doughnut, 15 October, page 13).
In fact, one of his Conservative colleagues, Roger Gale, MP for North Thanet, was on Radio Caroline in 1964-65.

St Dionysius, Market Harborough








The church sits in the centre of the old town. It fills a square with, for company, a 17th-century grammar school, a Victorian factory and the town's main shopping street.

This church is not aloof from its surroundings, behind a churchyard or close, but is a gregarious member of the club - Simon Jenkins.

The logrolling for next year's Blog of the Year Awards has started

Myrtle Cottage
Lymeswold
Wiltshire

Sir

On 11 October I heard someone promoting a friend's chances in next year's Lib Dem Blog of the Year Award.

Is this a record?

Your etc.

Sir Herbert Gussett

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Lib Dem MEP's son is new Sun political editor

Iain Dale reports that Tom Newton-Dunn is to take over as political editor of the Sun following the departure of George Pascoe-Watson.

Tom is the son of Bill Newton-Dunn, Liberal Democrat MEP for the East Midlands.

Belvoir Angel wins Publication of the Day

The winner is a parish magazine from Leicestershire called the:



According to the Leicester Mercury:

About 500 copies of the magazine, from the nine churches which make up the Vale of Belvoir benefice, are distributed in villages between Bottesford and Long Clawson. It is either put through doors of people who request it, or left in churches for people to collect.
Later. It has been pointed out to me that if I explain that Belvoir is pronounced beaver then a) this story will make more sense to people who do not live in Leicestershire and b) it will get more hits.

Lib Dem Bloggers Unconference

From Liberal Democrat Voice:

Some weeks ago we asked for your initial views about a “Lib Dem internetty meet up thing.”

Some good ideas emerged from the comments, and I am pleased to announce that after weeks of work for m’colleague Helen Duffett, we are able to set up the first of these meetings.

Some of the details are a little sketchy, but here’s what we know for sure:

Venue: Edinburgh – Scottish Lib Dem HQ, 4 Clifton Terrace EH12 5DR. Map here: http://bit.ly/5hFce

Date: Saturday 21 November 2009

Time: 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Facilities: Wireless network will be available, meeting room and (tbc) a smaller breakout room.

Transport: Haymarket Station opposite, good bus links, parking not so good on the doorstep but is available within a few minutes’ walk. Edinburgh airport to the west of the city.

At least four of us so far are planning on making a weekend of it, and we are lining up fun politico things to do for the rest of our time on the Sunday.

To attend, you must register via this thread in our Forum

We very much hope this event will be the first of many, and next year (General Election willing) we hope to explore the other offers of accommodation made in Reading and Nottingham.

Carter-Ruck writes to Mr Speaker on Trafigura

politics.co.uk links to a letter in which Carter-Ruck tries to justify its conduct over Paul Farrelly's question on Trafigura.

Time for someone to be brought before the bar of the House?

Britblog Roundup: A reminder

On Sunday this blog will again be hosting the Britblog Roundup.

If you have seen a posting on a British blog this week that you think particularly fine, please send the URL to britblog [AT] gmail [DOT] com and I shall include it in the roundup.

Nominating a posting for the Britblog Roundup is a good way of promoting a blog that you think deserves more readers. And you are welcome to nominate a posting on your own blog too.

All nominations by Sunday lunchtime please.

Patrick Hannan

Earlier this year I ran a quiz with copies of Patrick Hannan's book A Useful Fiction as prizes. I also reviewed it for Liberal Democrat News.

Patrick Hannan died on Sunday and the Daily Telegraph as an obituary.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

David Wilshire MP in trouble over expense claims

The Tory MP for Spelthorne may be in a little trouble.

From tomorrow's Daily Telegraph:

David Wilshire, a senior Conservative MP, used his House of Commons expenses to pay more than £100,000 of taxpayers’ money to his own company, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.

Mr Wilshire claimed for more than three years for office assistance provided by “Moorlands Research Services”. Parliamentary expenses rules forbid MPs from entering into arrangements which “may give rise to an accusation” of profiting from public funds. But on Wednesday night, Mr Wilshire – the MP for Spelthorne in Surrey – admitted that he and his partner, Ann Palmer, were sole owners of the business.

The Telegraph has established that, between 2005 and 2008, Mr Wilshire paid up to £3,250 a month to the business. Extra invoices were also submitted and the total paid to the firm was £105,500. However, there is no official record of the company’s existence and it has never filed public accounts.

There's more:

Mr Wilshire is now certain to face significant scrutiny from his constituents, already angry at his use of parliamentary expenses. Despite having a constituency 20 miles from Westminster, he has consistently claimed the maximum second home allowance for a flat in central London. In total, he has claimed £141,039 since 2001.

In a highly unusual arrangement with the fees office, he claimed thousands in monthly payments that he said went towards the cost of decorating and replacing its curtains and carpets in the future. He has refused to repay the money despite conceding that it has not all been spent.

With his main home in Somerset, he has also claimed more than £43,000 for travel since 2001.

And:
Mr Wilshire ... is best known for his controversial creation of Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act, which he introduced “to prevent local authorities from promoting homosexuality”.
Jon Craig adds on his Sky News blog:

the response from the Tory high command, so far, is measured. "David Wilshire is referring himself to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, John Lyon," I was told. Before expressing a view, the Tory leader will wait and see what Lyon's probe uncovers, I was informed.

It seems to me, however, that the accusations against Wilshire are rather similar to those against a number of Tory MEPs a year or so ago. And we all know that Cameron came down on them like a ton of bricks.

Last train to Melton Mowbray

Another gem from Hansard. Here is John Baldock, the Tory MP for Harborough, speaking on 10 December 1953:

On Saturday I went to see a train leave Market Harborough Station. It was larger than the customary trains which have been leaving on that line for a considerable time, and it was headed by a very ancient Midland engine. On the platform were a very large number of people to see this train, the last ordinary passenger train on this line to leave Market Harborough for Melton Mowbray. I understand that there was a considerable crowd at Melton Mowbray also to see it on its last return journey.

Many who witnessed the departure at either end were wearing mourning clothes with black ribands and armlets. They were "in at the death" of a service which had rendered considerable assistance to the rural communities between Market Harborough and Melton Mowbray on a piece of line which had served 11 rural stations. On each side of the line is the finest feeding land in Britain.

John Baldock was the MP for Harborough between 1950 and 1959. He died in 2003. The photograph of East Norton station is borrowed from the GNR & LNWR Joint site.

Iain Dale on Afghanistan - and Bracknell?

Earlier today Iain Dale wrote on his blog:
With every day that passes, I am convinced that the LibDems will enter the next election campaign with a promise to withdraw from Afghanistan. They daren't come out with it now, but as sure as eggs is eggs, that's the direction in which they are tiptoeing. If it was some principled stance, one could have a rational debate about it, but it's not. It's pure, calculated, naked political opportunism.
I don't know if this is true, but it will not worry my if that is. I have long been asking what we are meant to be doing in Afghanistan, and nothing I have read has given much of an answer.

Besides, what principle is Iain appealing to here? Presumably, that once you adopt a policy you must hold to it no matter how much circumstances change or how counterproductive it turns out to be. It is hard to see much virtue in that principle.

But why this renewed interest in Afghanistan on Iain's part? Let me offer a little conspiracy theory.

Iain Dale is one of seven Tories shortlisted for the Bracknell seat - the selection will be made via an open primary. You can find the full list on the Get Bracknell site, but as far as I can see the only other candidate with as high a profile as Iain is Rory Stewart.

Stewart is known as an expert on Afghanistan and, in particular, as a sceptic on the British presence there. Here he is talking to the Evening Standard in August:

"The fate of the world does not depend on what happens in Afghanistan and it is a ridiculous idea that if we do not fight in Afghan villages, we will be fighting on the streets of Britain. Most Afghans could not find Britain on a map."

But what of our moral obligations? "Don't we have obligations to our soldiers and to our taxpayers?" he shoots back.

"This can't be a blank cheque. You cannot say that we have an obligation to an unknown country which is limitless. You don't have a moral obligation to do what you cannot do. This is not our country."

Worse than the impotence is the irrelevance. Stewart points out patiently that Al Qaeda is not even in Afghanistan but in Pakistan.

"We have come into a room with an angry cat called Afghanistan and a tiger called Pakistan and we are beating the cat. We say, oh it is tiger/cat strategy. But it is really that we don't know what to do about the tiger."

Stewart says that President Obama is locked into Afghanistan to prove that he is tough about American security after the withdrawal from Iraq. And the British are there because we are there.

So how does Iain differentiate himself from his main challenger in the primary? Easy. By positioning himself as the uncomplicated supporter of our boys in Afghanistan and having a got at the hated Liberal Democrats in the process.

I can see that strategy working with the Tory faithful, but will it work with the wider audience the party hopes to engage through the open primary process?

We shall see. But, as I say, it is just a theory. You may enjoy Craig Murray on Rory Stewart too.

Is Manchester Airport planning to break child pornography laws?

The ARCH Blog and The Register have picked up the story about plans by Manchester Airport plans to use scanners to produce naked images of passengers.

When I read this I did not imagine for a moment that the airport planned to use the scanners on children. But it seems that the management there is not of the brightest and that is what they have in mind.

Here is the airport's "head of customer experience" talking to BBC News:
"The images are not erotic or pornographic and they cannot be stored or captured in any way."
She had better save it for the judge. As the two blogs suggest, these plans are clearly illegal under child pornography laws.

Simon Carr: The movie

The film The Boys are Back opened last month in the USA. It is based on the book The Boys are Back in Town by Simon Carr, the Independent's parliamentary sketchwriter.

In it Carr tells the story of bringing up his two sons from different marraiges after the death of his second wife. The Carr character is played in the film by Clive Owen. Carr is an engaging man - I have had dinner with him - but he is nothing like Clive Owen.

Still, film-forward likes his performance:
Clive Owen is perhaps the paramount reason to see the film. His performance is a minor revelation after years of action films (Shoot ’Em Up) and thrillers (Duplicity). Owen makes a character that comes with clichés—a tough, no-nonsense, sometimes drinker—fascinating to watch at every turn. Joe is sensitive and loving but only sparingly, as he also has to be tough and strong for his sons.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Hammond Arboretum, Market Harborough

When I heard that the Hammond Arboretum was going to be open to the public last Sunday I was keen to visit it. Because the last time I went there I got sent to the deputy head.

You see, the arboretum adjoins the Robert Smyth School in Market Harborough, but it was firmly out of bounds when I was at the school. (And, incidentally, we did have permission to be there. Sort of. Very nearly.)

In those days the arboretum was badly overgrown, but a lot of restoration work has been done in recent years.

Francis Hammond was the headmaster of Market Harborough County Grammar School (as it then was) between 1887 and 1923. When he took up the post the school still met in the famous (locally, at least) half-timbered building in the town centre.

His house was next to the school (in my day it was part of the school premises, though it has since been sold off) and in 1911 he bought some land beyond his garden. In 1913 he began planting trees and he bought more land a few years later.

Hammond continued to tend and plant his trees after his retirement in 1923. His notebooks have survived and the last entry was made eight months before his death in 1937.

The Harborough Mail described Hammond's legacy the other day:

Four of the trees in the Hammond Arboretum, at the rear of Robert Smyth School in Burnmill Road, Harborough, were earlier this year recorded as champions by tree expert Owen Johnson.

Mr Johnson has spent more than ten years studying and recording trees at hundreds of estates across Britain and Ireland. He visited the arboretum in June and determined that a Japanese platycarya strobilacea, planted in 1928, is the oldest of the very few known in cultivation.

I was told on Sunday that Johnson described the arboretum as being of national importance.

In the centre of the arboretum is a moat and island (the moat was dry on Sunday but does fill with water in winter). This appears to be a man-made feature that predates Hammonds ownership of the land and it has been suggested that it is the remains of some abandoned work on the extension of the Market Harborough branch of the Grand Union Canal.

I have read that it was planned that the branch should continue from the basin by contouring around the hillside to somewhere near the present-day railway station, cross the Welland on an aqueduct and then head for Northampton along a route much like that later taken by the railway. In the event the canal towards London was built from Foxton and Market Harborough was left at the end of a five-mile branch.

Nowhere have I heard suggestions that any work took place on this extension, but the moat at the Hammond Arboretum is on the right line. It is a fascinating idea.

In The Corridor: England party to tour South Africa part 2

The second half of my pen portraits of the England party to tour South Africa this winter has been posted at The Corridor:

Ryan Sidebottom (Nottinghamshire)

“Is that Sidebottom?” someone asked me at Trent Bridge a few summers ago. “No,” I replied, “it’s just a quirk of his bowling action.”

More about my writing for The Corridor here.

Did anyone record the 1959 election results programme?

Anne Unwin wrote to me this morning:

Can anyone help? Watching the 1959 General Election coverage on the BBC Parliament Channel last week I was amazed to see how crucial the result in Manchestor Gorton was because it was such a marginal seat. I was four at the time of the election and the footage showed my father who was Konni Zilliacus's election agent.

We did not even have a TV in 1959 and weren't aware of film's existence. The BBC cannot supply me with a copy of the programme but we wondered if someone out there had recorded it. We will pay any expenses to get hold of a copy and show it to my 90 year old mum. My dad died in 1992 and my sons barely recall him so they too want to see it.

I remember a lot about the campaign as Zilly and Janey Zilliacus stayed with us for a month and every evening my father went to the committee rooms straight from work and my mum and I walked there with his tea.

If you can help please email Anne Unwin directly.

How Trafigura tried to cover up African pollution disaster

A report from the Guardian last month:
Internal emails show that Trafigura, which yesterday suddenly announced an offer to pay compensation to 31,000 west African victims, was fully aware that its waste dumped in Ivory Coast was so toxic that it was banned in Europe.
Thousands of west Africans besieged local hospitals in 2006, and a number died, after the dumping of hundreds of tonnes of highly toxic oil waste around the country's capital, Abidjan. Official local autopsy reports on 12 alleged victims appeared to show fatal levels of the poisonous gas hydrogen sulphide, one of the waste's lethal byproducts.
Trafigura has been publicly insisting for three years that its waste was routine and harmless. It claims it was "absolutely not dangerous".
It has until now denied compensation claims, and its lawyers repeatedly threatened anyone worldwide who sought to contradict its version. It launched a libel case against BBC Newsnight, forced an alleged correction from the Times, demanded the Guardian delete articles, and yesterday tried to gag journalists in the Netherlands and Norway with legal threats.
But the dozens of damning internal Trafigura emails which have now come to light reveal how traders were told in advance that their planned chemical operation, a cheap and dirty process called "caustic washing", generated such dangerous wastes that it was widely outlawed in the west.

The Britblog Roundup is returning to Liberal England

On Sunday this blog will again be hosting the Britblog Roundup.

If over the next week you see a posting on a British blog that you think particularly fine, please send the URL to britblog [AT] gmail [DOT] com and I shall include it in the roundup.

Nominating a posting for the Britblog Roundup is a good way of promoting a blog that you think deserves more readers. And you are welcome to nominate a posting on your own blog too.

All nominations by Sunday lunchtime please.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Guardian prevented from reporting Parliamentary proceedings

This story appeared on the Guardian website earlier this evening:

The Guardian has been prevented from reporting parliamentary proceedings on legal grounds which appear to call into question privileges guaranteeing free speech established under the 1688 Bill of Rights.

Today's published Commons order papers contain a question to be answered by a minister later this week. The Guardian is prevented from identifying the MP who has asked the question, what the question is, which minister might answer it, or where the question is to be found.

The Guardian is also forbidden from telling its readers why the paper is prevented – for the first time in memory – from reporting parliament. Legal obstacles, which cannot be identified, involve proceedings, which cannot be mentioned, on behalf of a client who must remain secret.

The only fact the Guardian can report is that the case involves the London solicitors Carter-Ruck, who specialise in suing the media for clients, who include individuals or global corporations.

The question in question is probably on this page from the Parliament site.

Britblog Roundup 243

A Very British Dude has this week's selection.

The Young Margaret Thatcher candlesnuffer

The problem of what to buy your Tory friends for Christmas has been solved by Bronte Porcelain.

Mulberry Hall, the china shop on Stonegate in York, describes it thus:
Mrs Thatcher is depicted here at the start of her parliamentary career on the evening in 1959 that she successfully contested the Finchley seat.
A Limited Edition of 300. 
Mrs Thatcher has agreed to personally sign each limited edition certificate that will accompany the model and each process of design has been approved by her personal assistant.