Monday, May 31, 2010

Unauthorised cheese-rolling breaks out in Gloucestershire

From BBC News:

An annual cheese rolling contest in which contestants chase cheese down a steep hill has gone ahead despite officially being cancelled.

The event at Coopers Hill in Gloucestershire was called off on health and safety grounds after 15,000 people attended last year.

Officials feared the event could not host so many people safely.

Despite the warnings, more than 100 people were believed have attended an unauthorised cheese-rolling event.

And today spectators were allowed on to the outfield at Lord's for the first time in years. Slowly but surely, the bony fingers of socialism are being prised from the throat of our national life.

This just in. The are reports of spontaneous morris dancing breaking out in two separate locations in Norfolk. More when we have it.

Six of the Best 60

"Several thousand people gathered in Whitehall outside the entrance to Downing Street this afternoon, to voice their anger and disgust at the criminal Israeli assault on the Gaza aid flotilla in international waters. It was impressive how many people turned up at such short notice — an interesting reflection of the power of social networking media, including Twitter," says Jonathan Fryer, who was there.

So was Craig Murray - in fact, he was one of the speakers. He writes that "anybody with any fairness is bound to admit that the statement William Hague came out with is much better than anything on Israel which New Labour ever came out with ... But as I told this afternoon's tremendous spontaneous demonstration on Whitehall, fine words are not enough and we must now see the kind of sanctions regime we saw against apartheid South Africa."

Liberal Democrat MP Adrian Sanders provides more evidence for the view that the Daily Telegraph is out to get us by reproducing his recent correspondence with the newspaper.

One blogger who disagrees with the newspaper's campaign is Think of England, who celebrates the way the crowd was allowed on to the outfield at Lord's today: "The Lord's Perambulation seems to me the very essence of CamCleggy Liberal Conservatism. I like it very much and I wish the Telegraph would stop trying to strangle it at birth."

Wouldn't it be Scarier? offers a new angle on the David Laws story: "The thing about this whole thing that really gets to me, though, is the attitude of many gay people which I have seen expressed. Several people who ought to know better have been snarky and unsupportive of Laws, on the basis, so far as I can tell, that if they managed to come out surely everyone else ought to have managed it." Step forward, in particular, Ben Bradshaw and Ben Summerskill.

And Heresy Corner reviews Philip Carr-Gomm's A Brief History of Nudity: "The basic problem, of course, is sex: or rather the assumption that a naked body must somehow constitute an invitation to or a reminder of sex. That this should be so is far from obvious. Throughout history, nakedness has had any number of significations: innocence, vulnerability, health, aggressiveness, political protest, even sanctity (as in the case of naked Hindu holy men)."

End of the Month Lolcat

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

And because today is a Bank Holiday too...

Ultimately it is David Cameron who the Daily Telegraph is after

As Mark Pack makes clear on Liberal Democrat Voice, this morning's Daily Telegraph splash on Danny Alexander's tax affairs is completely without foundation. To put it briefly, Danny did not pay capital gains tax on the sale of his London home because, er, not tax was payable.

At least this has made the Telegraph's agenda clear to all. The paper opposes the government's plans to raise capital gains tax and, more generally, resents David Cameron's efforts to return the Conservative Party to the political mainstream. It is seeking to undermine the Liberal Democrats, the coalition and Cameron's leadership of the Conservative Party.

They had the template ready for a scandal piece on Danny Alexander as soon as he was appointed. They did not let the lack of any damning facts to fill it out stop them publishing the resultant story

It is time that David Cameron stood up to the Daily Telegraph, because ultimately he is the person in the paper's sights.

Bank Holiday Lolcat

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

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Six of the Best 59

Angela Harbutt on Liberal Vision believes "David Laws’ resignation is nothing short of a disaster for this country".

Stumbling and Mumbling makes some characteristically penetrating comments on the subject too: "As an Orange Book liberal, he emphasised the value of legal, formal freedom whilst perhaps overlooking real, felt freedom."

My favourite host, Redemption Blues, has this week's Britblog Roundup.

The Corridor is impressed by England's new fast bowler Steven Finn.

While Richard Osley remembers the 16-year-old Joe Cole.

Niles's Blog offers not just a recipe but "a little treatise on rice pudding".

Peter Sarstedt: Frozen Orange Juice

You must know Peter Sarstedt's Where Do You Go to My Lovely?, even if you count it as a guilty pleasure. I was sure that this song was the B side of that single, but it turns out to have been the follow up and to have reached no. 10 in the UK in 1969.

Like the earlier song, Frozen Orange Juice offered sixties Britain a vision of continental sophistication. There was a touch of Jason King, whom Sarstedt rather resembled, too.

Peter Sarstedt was the middle of three brothers. As an article on his website explains:
We were born in India and we came to England in 1954, just prior to the Rock & Roll explosion” Peter explained. “Our story is, we started off as a skiffle group, then got into Rock & Roll and then split up and had our individual successes in the charts. The Sarstedt Brothers had hits from 1961 to 1976; three brothers having separate hits in different eras”.
The eldest brother Richard, under the name Eden Kane, had great success early in the early 1960s. The youngest brother Clive, who called himself Robin Sarstedt, reached no. 3 in 1976 with "My Resistance is Low".

And I don't know if you can still buy frozen orange juice, but you could in 1969. It was sold by Findus - a frozen concentrate that you defrosted and then diluted to grace your breakfast table.

Harborough waste collection story on today's BBC Politics Show

I know we are all on the same side now, but this blog has been covering our local Tories' mismanagement of the waste collection service here in the Harborough district. A recent post has all the links you need to get up to speed.

It seems that the BBC has now picked up the story too and that it will feature in the East Midlands regional section of this morning's Politics Show. (The programme starts at 11 a.m.)

According to the BBC website, my old friend Cllr Phil Knowles will be interviewed. And it has a picture of the mild-mannered Nigel Brotherton - the assistant chief executive in my days on the council, who has since blown the whistle - looking mean and moody.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Melton Mowbray in the rain

Today I have been mostly wandering around Melton Mowbray hoping that David Laws would not resign.

RIP Dennis Hopper

OK, so Roy Orbison is the real star here, even more than Dean Stockwell. But Blue Velvet was the film in which I first became really aware of Hopper, even though he acted with James Dean in the 1950s.

The Guardian has a good life in pictures feature on him.

David Laws' resignation is a victory for David Cameron's enemies on the Tory right

The timing of the revelations about David Laws' expense claims was, as they say, no coincidence.

It was a clear attempt by the Conservative diehards clustered around the Daily Telegraph and the Spectator* to undermine the coalition by bringing down the person who has already emerged as one of its central figures.

David Laws' resignation this evening is a blow to the coalition.

It may be possible to find someone can display his obvious competence and command of his brief, but Laws' importance went beyond that.

He was a Liberal Democrat who was universally respected by Conservative MPs. That quality will be a lot harder to replicate, as Danny Alexander may soon learn.

* Later: To be fair (as footballers all say nowadays) Fraser Nelson has just posted a very wise article ("This resignation is a disaster for our public life, the coalition and the nation's finances") on the Spectator's Coffee House blog.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Friday, May 28, 2010

A mud wall in Tur Langton

Little Bowden has a mud wall, and do does Tur Langton.

In fact, the books suggest that the village has a house whose walls are partly built of mud, so I shall have to go back and find it one day.

And visit The Crown again too.

House Points: Meet Willy-Nilly Miliband

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

Some choice ...

The problem with Labour’s leadership election is that there are too many Milibands and not enough women. It would help if David and Ed had a sister – say Lilly Miliband – but even that would leave them a long way from balance.

Because Andy Burnham is a Miliband too. It’s not just that he looks like one: he also thinks like one. And he has had a very Miliband career: joined the Labour Party in boyhood, Oxbridge, researcher to Labour’s good and great, found a safe seat, became a minister, entered the Cabinet.

It’s just that he does not appear as bright as his fellow Milibands. Who could forget his argument in January 2006 that it would be “foolish in the extreme” to tell MPs how much the identity card scheme would cost? So he’s silly Miliband.

Beyond the Milibands there are John McDonnell and Diane Abbott – the latter from that popular comedy duo Abbott and Portillo. They may have some following in the wider Labour Party, but they will have trouble getting enough nominations from Labour MPs – and they, presumably, are the people who know them best.

Which leaves us with Ed Balls, the walking embodiment of the man in Whitehall knows best, if in doubt order another filling cabinet philosophy of government. He knows where the bodies from the Blair and Brown years are buried. In fact he buried many of them himself.

Electing him as Labour leader would be to echo a favourite story of Rabbi Blue. It’s the one about the Russian officials who were in such despair about the way things had gone since the Berlin Wall came down that they organised a seance and summoned up the spirit of Josef Stalin.

Stalin appeared in a puff of sulphurous smoke and the officials pleased with him to come back and govern Russia again. Eventually the dictator agreed – on one condition: “This time there will be no more Mr Nice Guy.”

Labour’s rules, which allow little time for candidates to get themselves nominated and then ensure an interminable campaign, mean we are in for a long boring summer. And it looks as though Labour will have to choose a Miliband whether they like it or not. So he will be Willy-Nilly Miliband.

Lib Dems seek to overturn result in Phil Woolas's constituency

BBC News reports:
An election candidate who lost out to former Labour minister Phil Woolas by 103 votes is challenging the result.

Liberal Democrat Elwyn Watkins came second in Oldham East and Saddleworth on 7 May following two recounts.

But he claims Labour leaflets contained misleading claims about his reputation and campaign and has begun a High Court bid to have the result quashed.
You can find more information on Elwyn Watkins' own webpage. There he is quoted as saying:
"It is clear that Labour literature circulated within the Oldham East and Saddleworth constituency, specifically 'The Examiner' newspaper, an edition of the 'Labour Rose', and a full-colour 'Election Communication' leaflet, contained numerous misleading and erroneous claims regarding my personal character and reputation, and that of my campaign.
"Although much of the material in these leaflets was misleading or in error, my case will focus on three particular areas: the claim that I do not live in the constituency, the stories about me 'wooing' Muslim extremists and the back page newspaper article regarding the financing of my campaign.
"It is my intention, therefore, to petition for an election court to consider the material and the false claims within, against the record of press statements, personal appearances, miscellaneous correspondence from government agencies and election expense returns, and to seek appropriate redress in accordance with the provisions of the Act."

Does Simon Hughes already have the Lib Dem deputy leadership sown up?

This morning, following Tim Farron yesterday, Simon Hughes became the second declared candidate for the deputy leadership of the Liberal Democrats.

And if the report in the Independent is correct, he has almost won the contest already:
Launching his candidacy in his south London constituency, Mr Hughes said he already had pledges of support from 25 Lib Dem MPs - just four short of the 29 votes needed to win the June 9 ballot.

David Laws: A star is born

Thanks to Birkdale Focus.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Jo Swinson will not stand as Lib Dem deputy leader

Judging by the conversations on Twitter, many Liberal Democrats' favoured candidate to be the party's new deputy leader is Jo Swinson.

But this evening Jo has tweeted as follows:
surprised & touched by lovely tweets & emails encouraging me to run for Lib Dem deputy leader - however I will not be standing
So back to the drawing board.

The old church at Tur Langton

I have shown you the Victorian St Andrew's church in Tur Langton, but there is an intriguing note in Pevsner:
Of the church demolished when the new one was begun, no more remains than the N doorway, single-chamfered, of the C13. It is in a field to the NW of the manor house.
And here it is, easily found under horse chestnut trees beside a bridleway.

The Victoria County History has more about the old church:

A view of the building as it existed in 1791 shows it to have consisted of nave, chancel, south porch, and a west bell-cote with space for two bells. The appearance of the nave would be consistent with a late-13th-century rebuilding, while the only visible chancel window might have been of the 14th century or later. The chancel roof was steeply pitched but the nave roof appears to have been flattened. A string course at sill level was stepped down on the west wall of the nave as if to accommodate a large west window at some period. The south porch was a later addition.

In the 17th century there was a bell-cote with one bell at the west end. In 1619 the archdeacon reported that the man 'who is hired by the year to keep the windows' had stopped them up with sticks in some places and had mended the east window of the chancel with sticks instead of bars of iron.

Despite the hot weather, as I looked at the old church I had Sandy Denny's "Bushes and Briars" (which I had already chosen as the next day's video) on my mind:
I wonder if he knows I'm here,
Watching the briars grow.
And all these people beneath my shoes,
I wonder if they know.
There was a time when every last one,
Knew a clergy's chosen man.
Where are they now?
Thistles and thorns,
Among the sand.
But in fact there was never a burial ground here. The County History says "In 1832 an attempt was made to have the field in which the old church stood consecrated as a burial ground, but the parishioners were unwilling to lose the rent which the field brought to parish funds." Leicestershire village life has not changed much.

Still, the horse chestnuts are spectacular and would be worth a photograph even without the church ruins beneath them. Leicestershire & Rutland Churches has a photograph of those ruins taken in winter, and it is even more Sandy Denny.

The Bunker aims to trap Donald Trump

The other day I took the Airplot badge off this blog because the fight against a third runway at Heathrow has been won.

Now a similar tactic is being used in Aberdeenshire in an attempt to block Donald Trump's bid to build a new golf course:

The Bunker is a plot of land slap bang where Donald Trump wants to build his golf course.

Sign up for free and be part of the plot. Join us in The Bunker.

Stand with the local families of Menie who face eviction from their homes because of Donald Trump's demand of Aberdeenshire Council to use compulsory purchase orders.

Trump said he didn't need this land, but now he's after the homes of local families and they won't sell.

More details at The Bunker. And see the report in today's Guardian too.

Grammar schools and the left

Tim Luckhurst had an article on Comment is Free yesterday arguing that:

for radicals who cherish equality of opportunity, excellence and social mobility, a glorious opportunity now presents itself. The flaw in Michael Gove's plans for free schools is that they exclude the creation of new grammar schools.

The left has chosen to ignore the benefits of academic selection; Conservatives have had injustice imposed upon them by a leader whose sensitivity about Eton renders him a poor judge of what working families really value.

Controversial stuff, but I think he has a point. And the comments on the post are worth reading too.

Certainly, we should not be surprised that in a country where education is divided between a relentlessly meritocratic private sector and a public sector where egalitarianism is the chief virtue, it is the products of the former who dominate our national life.

QI-style note to commenters: Anyone using the phrase "back to the 1950s" will be docked 10 points.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Six of the Best 58

The Liberal Democrat fightback is well and truly on in Camden, says Jonathan Fryer, celebrating our holding of all three seats in the delayed election in Haverstock ward.

Writing on Conservative Home, Paul Goodman (former MP and contemporary of mine at the University of York) argues that Nick Clegg should be invited to address this year's Tory Conference and that the two parties need to get to know one another better more generally.

Gerald Warner, writing on the Daily Telegraph site, would probably nor agree with him: "The Conservative Party is not a happy ship. The crew does not trust the captain or anybody on the quarterdeck. It could hit the rocks at any time within the next five years and split apart. Never has there been less sense of jubilation, or even satisfaction, among Tories following upon the appointment of a Conservative prime minister and the delivery of a Queen’s Speech."

I doubt Warner would agree with Phillip Blond either. Blond, on the ResPublica site, believes the Conservatives should not fear the Alternative Vote system.

The Woodland Trust campaigns blog muses on the charity's successful 10-year fight to save valuable habitat from the expansion of Stansted Airport.

This Could be Ludlow or Anywhere has a recipe for rabbit pie.

Vince Cable stands down as Lib Dem deputy leader

Vince Cable has stood down as deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats in order to concentrate on his role as Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.

You can find the text of his resignation letter to Nick Clegg on the party website.

His successor will be decided by a vote of Liberal Democrat MPs, which could be interesting.

Cricket - Shropshire style!

I have just posted on The Corridor about worrying events in Oswestry.

Kibworth: Another wayside telephone exchange

When I visited Maidwell last month I was taken with the former telephone exchange there, which I described as resembling "a little abandoned chapel".

If you know the A6 through Kibworth you will have noticed the 1960s telephone exchange there. Much harder to see from the road is the older exchange next to it.

Pictured here, it resembles another chapel - or at least a church hall or school. So much so that I peered in through the window to see if that was what it was, but there was indeed electrical equipment inside.

Will David Cameron support the Alternative Vote?

Paul Linford writes on his blog:

Last week, I suggested that the enthusiasm with which Prime Minister David Cameron has embraced his new Liberal Democrat partners hinted that coalition might have been the election outcome he wanted all along.

If I’m totally honest, I don’t think there is any ‘might’ about it. As several other commentators have remarked over the past week, Mr Cameron is clearly more at ease with his Lib Dem deputy Nick Clegg than he is with most of his own backbenchers.

Had he succeeded in gaining a narrow overall majority on 6 May, Mr Cameron would now be at the mercy of a bunch of hardline right-wingers, much in the way that John Major was throughout the 1992 Parliament.

If the coalition suits David Cameron so well, how can he make it more likely that it will endure?

The answer is by supporting the Alternative Vote when the referendum agreed as part of the coalition deal takes place.

In the short term this would make it more likely that the public would vote for the Alternative Vote and thus make it less likely that the Liberal Democrats would break up the coalition after a year or two.

And in the long term - and far more intriguingly - if the next election were fought under the Alternative Vote system it would make it possible for the coalition to be maintained even in the campaign.

For David Cameron would be able to say something like this to Liberal Democrat voters:
If you are a convinced Liberal Democrat supporter then you should, of course, vote for them. But if you think the coalition has provided good government and would like to see it continue in the next parliament, I would ask you to consider giving your second preference to the Conservative candidate.
Nick Clegg could make a similar appeal to Conservative voters.

Note that there would be no need for anyone to stand down or to moderate their attacks on the other party locally. Such an arrangement would dispense with all the angst and sacrifice of the Alliance years.

Note too that such an arrangement would be of more use to David Cameron than to Nick Clegg. There are far more Conservative/Labour marginals that could be decided by Liberal Democrat second preference votes that their are Labour/Lib Dem marginals that could be decided by Conservative second preferences.

He's a clever politician, that David Cameron. The only problem is that Alternative Vote might be so good for the Conservatives that he would find himself with an overall majority after the next election and thus "at the mercy of a bunch of hardline right-wingers".

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Taking photographs in the Palace of Westminster

Liz Kendall, the new Labour MP for Leicester West, has been reported to the Westminster authorities for taking a photograph during the Queen's Speech and posting it on Twitter, though it is not clear if any action will be taken against her.

What Kendall did not know is that there is a ban on taking photographs in the Commons and Lords. (I know television pictures of them are beamed around the world, but I don't make the rules.)

But she cannot be the first person to have broken this ban, as I have a clear memory of having seen an illicit photograph of Neville Chamberlain and the government front bench taken by a Labour MP during the Norway debate in 1940.

It was included in a book that I reviewed for Liberator, but I cannot find that review or remember what the book was. Can any reader help me?

Monday, May 24, 2010

No2ID and No Third Runway at Heathrow

I have had the No2ID badge on this blog for years and the Greenpeace Airplot badge, protesting against plans for a third runway at Heathrow, for quite a time too.

When I added them I assumed both lost causes. Tonight I have taken them off because both battles appear to have been won. I hope I am not being premature in either case.

I have also taken the Liberal Democrat general election manifesto down and added an England flag, at least for the duration of the World Cup.

The next job is to replenish my blogroll...

Football, supporters' trusts and the Big Society

One little noticed point in the coalition agreement drawn up by the new government runs:
We will encourage the reform of football governance rules to support the co-operative ownership of football clubs by supporters.
Supporters Direct says this is part of
a growing political consensus about the potential for football fans to buy out their clubs by setting up co-operatives, similar to those that already own and run clubs like FC Barcelona and Hamburg SV. The new Coalition Government has pledged to support the creation of mutually-owned clubs in its "Programme for government".
And the group is organising a conference on 12 and 13 June in London to further this idea, which you might call the Big Society's incursion into football.

The programme promises sessions on football finance, a grown-up debate about the future of football with club chairmen, activists from the leading campaigners from supporters' trusts and leading political thinkers.

As the first day of this event sees the England vs USA World Cup match, it will be shown on a live screen at the conference venue (8.30 p.m. kick off).

Buying Unmitigated England

After photographing Tur Langton I walked across the fields to Kibworth. I was sorry to find that the cafe that used to stand a door or two from the bookshop there had closed. But I wasn't too surprised: last time I was in there new purchasers were measuring it up for some other purpose.

Anyway, it didn't matter: the owner of the bookshop made me a cup of tea instead.

Browsing the shelves I came across a book I have long been intending to acquire: Unmitigated England: A Country Lost and Found by Peter Ashley.

As readers will know, Peter's Unmitigated England blog is one of my favourites. His example encouraged me to take up photography again. His book combines the same factors as that blog: buildings, landscapes, advertisements and transport.

When I took it to the till the owner told me that Peter lives three doors away from her in a village in the Welland valley. ("The owner" sounds very formal - judging by the shop's website, her name is Debbie James.)

On a small world note, the Kibworth Bookshop had a stall at the Leicester Writers' Club last Thursday when Sally Vickers came to speak to us. Siobahn Logan has an account of that evening on her blog.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Six of the Best 57

Shane Harris of The Daily Beast approves of Britain's new deputy prime minister: "Clegg should be applauded for challenging the conventional wisdom - much of it disproved by recent events - that more cameras, more DNA databases, and more digital monitoring actually preempts acts of terrorism."

A Very Public Sociologist tries (and fails) to find a justification for the SWP's disruption of the talks about the British Airways dispute.

"The social makeup of the student bodies at Oxford and Cambridge (and most other traditionally prestigious universities) reflect (sic) the massive class divide and laughable lack of social mobility in the UK, but they don’t cause it," argues The Third Estate.

Writing on Pickled Politics, Rumbold suggests that anonymity for the accused in rape cases may make convictions more likely.

Jane Austen's World has an account of the strange marriage of the Prince Regent and Princess Caroline of Brunswick.

Tidings from Dundee: Cllr Fraser Macpherson tells us that the Tay Rail Bridge Disaster Memorial Group has a new website.

Sandy Denny: Bushes and Briars

Rather to my surprise I find I am the owner of a rare CD: Sandy Denny: The BBC Sessions 1971-73.

Because, according to Wikipedia:
A one disc compilation of Denny's solo BBC recordings was released on Strange Fruit Records as The BBC Sessions 1971-1973 in 1997 that due to rights issues was withdrawn on the day of release thereby creating a highly collectable disc (up until the release of the comprehensive Live at the BBC Boxset in 2007).
I am surprised, because I am sure I bought it from a high street record shop - maybe even dear old Pendulum Records in Market Harborough.

I chose Sandy Denny's for one of my first first Sunday videos (as is the way with Youtube that video has since been taken down) so it is high time we heard from her again. Note that this "Bushes and Briars" is not the well-known English folk song (as sung by Julie Christie in Far From the Madding Crowd) but a different song, composed by Denny herself.

Incidentally, another track on the CD is her perfomance of Whispering Grass. I remember, at the age of 13, being entranced by it and managing to record a snatch of it from a Radio One trailer for one of these sessions.

Liberal Democrats and school league tables

I have never been a great fan of school league tables. Given that parents already have a pretty shrewd idea of which are the best local schools, they have struck me as an expensive way of telling us what we already know.

So I was happy when Liberal Democrat policy was to abolish league tables - even though we knew that someone like the Daily Telegraph would produce them anyway. And I am not that excited to read this in today's Observer:

A radical overhaul of school league tables is being planned by the coalition government, it has emerged. One suggestion being considered is a shift to a "like-versus-like" system, in which schools in the poorest parts of the country will only be compared to those facing similarly difficult situations.

Sources say that Tories are open to the Liberal Democrat idea, which Nick Clegg, leader of the Lib Dems and the deputy prime minister, has said would provide a more "honest picture" of how well schools are performing. The new system could also pick out schools in middle-class areas that are thought to be coasting.

First a minor point: maybe some middle-class parents or children want schools that are coasting. Different children have different needs, and in the private sector not every school is an examination mill. And nor should they be.

More importantly, this enthusiasm for league tables seems to me to appeal to some of the less attractive characteristics of both right and left.

On the right, it plays to the idea that both pupils in teachers in the state sector are lazy and need to be made to work harder.

And on the left, it plays to the warped logic that runs something like this:

All people who work in the public sector are motivated high ideals.

Therefore they must be doing good work.

Therefore if league tables fail to show that good work, it is because not enough things are being measured.

Therefore we need more detailed league tables.

I am also uneasy at the implied economic determinism here - the idea that you should only compare schools in poor areas with schools in other poor areas because you cannot expect too much of them.

At its works this sort of thinking has given Marxists a sort of ideological vested interest in poor children doing badly. It is not a road that Liberal should go down.

So the more authoritarian instincts of the Tories are finding common cause with the more Labourite instincts of the Liberal Democrats. Why am I not surprised?

The Guardian vs the Big Society

You can see why the Guardian would not like Big Society ideas.

Ideologically, they challenge the left's assumption that progress consists in more and more areas of social life coming under the supervision of government. And economically, both the newspaper and many of its readers rely upon the public sector for their income.

But it will have to do better than it did yesterday in its attempts to combat those ideas.

On Friday the novelist Zadie Smith gave an interview to the BBC's Today programme. The following day her comments on the Big Society and multiculturalism were pulled out by the Guardian and turned into a news story.

Its coverage of the concept amounted to:
Her views on David Cameron's idea of the big society – encouraging citizens to take over the running of local schools and hospitals, or even set up their own – drew Smith's scorn, as it apparently did on the doorstep during the election campaign, according to Tory candidates.

"The big society? I don't know. I don't really want to build my own school or my own hospital – I appreciate it if someone else does that for me," she said. "I am not so keen on that kind of people action. I think most people would like their services prepared for them. I am not a great fan of that concept."
And that was it.

Next week: Jake Arnott on the future of the Financial Services Authority.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

St Andrew's, Tur Langton

I am fast coming to the conclusion that the Langtons - a group of villages a short bus ride, or even a walk, to the north of Market Harborough - are a sort of paradise. Fine houses, good pubs, interesting history (try J.W. Logan and William Hanbury).

And as acute a critic as Down at Third Man described his first encounter with East Langton cricket ground thus:
On the roadside, in the gloaming, between high trees, he spots the spectre of an enchanted cricket ground. Passing by in an instant he is certain that he has seen the mythic cricket ground that all lovers of the game believe one day they will stumble on.
Today I went to Tur Langton to photograph its remarkable church.

In a paradisaical English village you would naturally expect to find a Medieval church, but not in Tur Langton. It boasts a striking, incongruous piece of Victoriana, built from contrasting red and industrial blue bricks.

It is the work of Joseph Goddard, one of a notable family of Leicester architects. In their book of the Goddards - Men of Property: The Goddards and Six Generations of Architecture - Geoff Brandwood and Martin Cherry write:
The north elevation faces the village and to the south the church overlooks fields and is generally only to be seen from a distance. This led Joseph to treat them very differently. The south side has five bays with huge three-light windows whose massive heads are punched through with quatrefoils. The north side is smaller scaled and more picturesque.

They go on to discuss the church's interior, but it was locked today. So to see it you will have to visit the excellent Leicestershire & Rutland Churches website.

It certainly is an incongruous building to find in a village like Tur Langton, but then the hope of finding something incongruous is one of the things that sends me out on these wanderings with my camera.

Still, Peter Ashley from Unmitigated England (whose name cropped up again later this afternoon) writes of it:

Isn't it odd how one changes one's mind about things. In the 1970's I lived in Tur Langton in Leicestershire, and just because this church wasn't on a ley line (the original is now only an arch in a garden just outside the village) we flared-trousered know-alls dismissed it out of hand. "No sense of holiness" we opined, looking at it from the pub windows opposite and never going in it unless one of us got married or died. Now, I can't get enough of it.

I am inclined to agree with his mature opinion - and I had lunch in that pub today.

David Cameron and the security industry

This morning's issue of The Times has a front page lead about the security authorities' concerns about David Cameron's insistence on walking around Whitehall. Cameron has also refused police motorcycle escorts when he is being driven in a car and demanded to be allowed to keep his BlackBerry smartphone.

The newspaper says:
There is increasing nervousness about the protection of the Prime Minister, who officials believe is making himself vulnerable to terrorists, lone obsessives and cyber-criminals.
Well, maybe. But if you were in a responsible position and worried about the prime minister's security, wouldn't you have a quiet word with him rather than talk to the newspapers?

Besides, David Cameron is to be congratulated to dispense with some of the more obvious trappings of prime ministerial security. The installation of gates across the end of Downing Street and of a glass screen between the Commons chamber and the public gallery has given us powerful symbols of the divide between the political class and the rest of us.

And if you seek a monument of 13 years of Labour government, then the intrusion of "security" into every workplace and public building is a good candidate - right up there with health and safety.

Given that the security industry is predicated upon a lack of trust between citizens, a denial of spontaneity and the reification of social hierarchies, anything the prime minister of anyone else can do to undermine it is to be welcomed.

Friday, May 21, 2010

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The World Forgetting, By the World Forgot looks at the resignation from the shadow cabinet of Lords Adonis and Mandelson and speculates that they may to leave Labour and join the government. Intriguing stuff.

The new government has promised to end the detention of child asylum seekers, but The ARCH Blog says that taking months over it will not do.

Meanwhile Random Blowe wants to abolish the Association of Chief Police Officers.

Iain Dale's Diary has an extract from his Total Politics interview with Andrew Neil.

Not on Safari in Harlesden meets Alexei Sayle, who later this year will be publishing a memoir of his early life under the title Stalin Ate My Homework - "It’s a heterosexual, Communist, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit."

Tonight's final episode of Ashes to Ashes is reviewed by Den of Geek!

Mike Brearley speaks on "Leadership - Theory and Practice"

I have just written a post for The Corridor which will send its rather bemused leaders off to a lecture by Mike Brearley the psychoanalyst and former England cricket captain.

As I remark there:
It is pretty heavy psychoanalytic stuff and I am not sure how much use it would be to a captain who was trying to defend a low target against Somerset on the fourth day at Weston.
Still there is a good anecdote (though they are not named by Brearley) about Keith Fletcher and Colin Cowdrey.

The parallels Brearley draws between the psyches of Cowdrey and Hitler are instructive.

House Points: Liberal Democrats on the government front bench

My House Points from today's Liberal Democrat News.

I decided upon a straightforward approach, but an awkward question remains: How do you write a mildly satirical column when your party is in power?

In the Cabinet

It was a sight I thought I would never see: Liberal Democrat cabinet ministers. But there they were on the government front bench when the new House met on Tuesday afternoon: Nick Clegg, Vince Cable and Danny Alexander.

Even Ming Campbell had got into the act, occupying Dennis Skinner’s old seat just below the gangway.

And there are many other Liberal Democrat ministers who were not there. Chris Huhne and David Laws are in the cabinet too, and we have also peopled the more exotic backwaters of government. Alistair Carmichael is Comptroller of Her Majesty’s Household, while David Shutt has entered Iolanthe as Captain of The Queen’s Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard.

This is an outcome that could hardly have been imagined when the last Election Points appeared two weeks ago. But when David Cameron made his statesmanlike offer the day after the election it soon became clear that accepting it was the only way forward for the Liberal Democrats.

Talk of a “progressive alliance” with Labour (and who knows what other parties) soon foundered. The number did not add up and senior Labour figures were forming orderly queues to rubbish the idea.

Besides, the idea that we are inevitably on the same side as Labour had to be challenged. We are not part of a wider progressive movement that uses the label “Liberal Democrat” in constituencies where, for some unaccountable reason, the Labour brand does not go down well.

You only have to look at the detail of our coalition with the Conservatives to see that. Cutting taxes for low earners. Scrapping ID cards, the National Identity register, the next generation of biometric passports and the ContactPoint Database. Outlawing the fingerprinting of children at school without their parents’ permission.

If Labour were a progressive party we would not have been faced with the need to do all this after 13 years of Labour government.

And if, like me, you are a confirmed oik and worry about the preponderance of the products of expensive fee-paying schools at the top of government, be careful to draw the right conclusion. Don’t go in for Labour’s phoney class war: ask why state schools are not doing better.

That is another area for urgent action by Liberal Democrat ministers.

57 per cent of voters approve of coalition deal

Angus Reid Public Opinion asked 2002 British adults the following question:
All things considered, do you approve or disapprove of the coalition agreement reached by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats?
The results were:
  • Approve - 57%
  • Disapprove - 31%
  • Not sure - 12%
The interviews were conducted from May 14 to May 16 and the margin of error is 2.2 per cent.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Focsa denied planning permission for waste depot in Great Bowden

You may recall that Focsa the firm which collects the waste for Harborough District Council, has been operating a depot in Great Bowden without planning permission.

Today the Harborough Mail website has the news that the firm's retrospective planning application has been turned down by Leicestershire County Council. The newspaper suggests that the firm may now look at a new site on the A6 near Kibworth.

Meanwhile, there are still serious questions about the Harborough District Council's handling of waste collection in the district to be answered.

Sir Alan Beith to be a Deputy Speaker

Or so the rumour goes.

Jon Craig writes on the Sky News site:

We also have elections for the Commons Deputy Speakers to look forward to. Let me mark your card. Because the Speaker, John Bercow, is a former Conservative MP, the new Chairman of Ways and Means (the most senior Deputy Speaker) will be a Labour MP.

That means it won't be Tory MP Sir Alan Haselhurst, who has done the job since 1997, and he won't be putting himself forward for election for the more junior Deputy Speaker posts. The Labour candidates to succeed Sir Alan, I'm told, are Tom Clarke, George Howarth and possibly Sir Stuart Bell.

I'm also told that the coalition deal between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats includes an agreement that senior Lib Dem Sir Alan Beith will be one of the Deputy Speakers. Nigel Evans is standing for one of the Tory vacancies for a Deputy Speaker and Lindsay Hoyle for one of the Labour vacancies.

Did anyone foresee a Liberal Democrat/Conservative coalition?

The conventional wisdom is that before David Cameron made his offer the day after the election a coalition between the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats was simply unthinkable. I say much that in tomorrow's Liberal Democrat News.

But is the conventional wisdom right?

Today I came across a posting on this blog from February 2007. It discusses a story that Ming Campbell, then the Liberal Democrat leader, was in talks with Gordon Brown and other Labour cabinet ministers to ensure that a Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition would continue in power at Holyrood after the elections to the Scottish parliament elections later that year.

I wrote:

No doubt the Scottish Lib Dems can look after themselves, but it is interesting to speculate what might happen in the event of a hung parliament at Westminster after the next election.

Despite his patrician mien - and despite Lady Elspeth - most of Ming's close political friendships are with members of the Scottish Labour establishment. It is likely that his first instinct will be to form a Lib-Lab coalition at Westminster too.

Whether the Bright Young Things who supported Ming during the leadership election will see things the same way is an interesting question.

And chief amongst those Bright Young Things, of course, was Nick Clegg. At the first hustings after Charles Kennedy stood down, he seemed unwilling to let Ming Campbell out of his sight.

Still, mine was just a passing thought. Did any blogger or journalist forecast a Liberal Democrat/Conservative coalition more recently or with more confidence?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

London Olympics: New mascots revealed

And here they are!

Why are the mascots called Mandeville and Wenlock?

Wenlock Olympian Games 2007

Photo by Sabine J Hutchinson

Jonathan Glancey sums up our endearing new Olympic mascots:

In images and a video released by the Olympic organisers today, the two are seen giving each other a very American high five, as if to say: "Yo! Dude/Cameron/Coe" – or whoever needs popular support two years from now.

If they have American habits, Mandeville and Wenlock appear to have been conjured from Japanese comic books and computer games. Where they are evidently Londoners is in the look of their cyclopean eyes, that may remind many of the lenses of CCTV cameras staring from pretty much every building, station and street corner in the city.

But why are they called Mandeville and Wenlock?

Mandeville is named for Stoke Mandeville hospital, whose Wheelchair Games eventually evolved into the Paralympics.

And Wenlock after Much Wenlock, home of Dr William Penny Brookes and his Wenlock Olympian Games, which I wrote about in the New Statesman a couple of years ago:

the Wenlock Olympian Society, which held its first Games in 1850 "to promote the moral, physical and intellectual improvement of the inhabitants". The games were held annually, attracting competitors from as far as Liverpool and London.

Brookes soon burst the confines of Much Wenlock, forming the Shropshire Olympian Games and then the National Olympian Association. The latter's first Festival, a three-day event held at Crystal Palace in 1866, attracted 10,000 spectators and competitors. An 18-year-old W G Grace won the 440 yards hurdles.

The Wenlock Olympian Games still flourish today.

Timmy Mallet art exhibition comes to Market Harborough

Who knew it? The children's TV funster is also an artist. An exhibition of Timmy Mallet's paintings is coming to Croft Wingates in Market Harborough. It opens on Sunday 7 June and Mallet will be there in person.

It seems these paintings were inspired by the film The Railway Children. You can learn more about them in an interview Mallet gave to Adrian Peel:

What, to you, is so special about the film? Why do you think it continues to be so loved 40 years on?

The film deals with some of life’s eternal themes – family, longing, adventure, dreams, overcoming adversity and nostalgia. The image of the steam train speeding through England heading off on adventures is always a thrill. And the ending – at a station – with the steam and smoke swirling and the strange figure emerging to become the girl’s father and their reunion as she shouts: "Daddy, my daddy!" is one of the best moments in family cinema.

Life in Market Harborough is just one treat after another.

Two more Liberal Democrats appointed to government posts

The Number 10 website has what appears to be the complete listing of the people in the new government. Two more Liberal Democrats names have appeared on it.

Baroness Northover and Lord Wallace of Saltaire - that's Lindsay Northover and William Wallace to those of us who have been in the party for a while - have been included among the Baronesses and Lords in Waiting.

It may sound Ruritanian, but they are just whips in the Lords.

Trivial fact: William Wallace's father-in-law Edward Rushworth fought the Harborough constituency for the Liberal Party at three general elections - 1955, 1959 and 1964. You learn things like that if you have a drink with Michael Steed at conference.

Lembit Opik turns to comedy

Montgomeryshire's loss is comedy's gain.

Defeated Lib Dem MP Lembit Opik "is planning a new career as a stand-up comedian – and has his first ‘open spot’ booked in for next month," reports Chortle.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Nick Clegg promises "the biggest shake-up of British democracy since 1832"

Tomorrow's issue of the The Times has an interview with Nick Clegg:
Today he will set out how the State will shrink from people’s lives (no ID cards, curbs on personal details stored on government databases); how people will gain a more direct say in government (elected peers, voting reform, recalling misbehaving MPs); and “radical devolution” of power to voluntary groups and those other than the State to provide services.
The report goes on to say that much of Nick's agenda sounds like David Cameron’s "Big Society" - the idea that never took off during the general election campaign. And it quotes Nick as saying:
“The interesting thing I have discovered over the last week is that we have been using different words but we mean similar things. What I call liberalism David Cameron calls the Big Society."
Most Liberal Democrats have laughed at the idea of the Big Society, but I do not. An enthusiasm for these sort of community solutions to social problems, rather than a wish to give the state ever wider and deeper powers, is one of the things that made me sure I was a Liberal rather than a socialist when I was a teenager.

So I wish Nick good fortune in putting some flesh on the bones of the idea.

The Wem town hall ghost photograph was faked

Back in June 2005 I mentioned a famous photograph of a ghost taken at Wem town hall in Shropshire.

Sadly, a report in today's Daily Telegraph shows pretty conclusively that the photo was a fake.

Six of the Best 55

I have to write my first post-election for Liberal Democrat News tonight. While I do, here are some links for you to enjoy.

Nick Clegg and took his place on the government front bench today for the first time. The Financial Times' Westminster Blog suggests he is already proving a handful for his Civil Service minders: "Just imagine the scene when José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of Spain called on Monday to congratulate Vicepresidente Nick Clegg. There was the eager private secretary, listening in on the conversation, poised with pen and paper to note down important matters of state. But there was no point. He couldn’t understand a word. Clegg was chatting away in Spanish."

Disgruntled Radical reproduces his speech from the special conference in Birmingham last Sunday.

John Bercow survived Nadine Dorries's attempt at a coup today. Stephen's Linlithgow Journal has the tale of the last speaker to be voted out by MPs. His name was Charles Manners-Sutton, it took place in 1835 and he was a relation of the Duke of Rutland. Lord Bonkers is still chuckling over that one.

David Higgerson, in his Outside the Bubble blog for the Liverpool Daily Post, takes Liam "It's the way I tell 'em" Byrne to task for his joke about public spending.

Heather Brooke has written an article exposing the limitation of CCTV as a way of fighting crime.

And Londonist looks at what the West End theatres had to offer in 1967.

J.W. Logan and The Case for Land Nationalisation

Many years ago, in a long-vanished antique shop in Abbey Street, Market Harborough, I came across a thick book: The Case for Land Nationalisation by Joseph Hyder.

That was a promising title for a radical Liberal. Even better was what was pasted inside.

It was a sheet of headed paper from East Langton Grange, Market Harborough. It carried other information: "National Telephone, No, 17, Market Harboro'", "Telegraph Office, East Langton" and "Parcels, East Langton Station, Midland Rly."

On that sheet was the handwritten inscription:
Jan 1st 1914
With best for wishes for a happy new year
John. W. Logan
Yes, the book was a gift from my hero J.W. Logan, then enjoying a second spell as Liberal MP for Harborough.

Below the inscription, still in Logan's handwriting and spilling on to a second page, is the following:

Extract from "Social Statistics" by Herbert Spencer

In our tender regard for the vested interests of the few let us no forget that the right of the many are in abeyance and must continue so as long as the Earth is monopolised by individuals.

It may by and by be perceived that Equity utters dictates to which we have not yet listened; and men may then learn that to deprive others of their rights to the use of the Earth, is to commit a crime inferior only in wickedness to the crime of taking away their lives or personal liberty.

I still have the book and you can read it online yourself or buy a secondhand copy from Amazon.

Monday, May 17, 2010

John Bercow set to defeat the parliamentary mujahideen

Writing on the Guardian website (and in tomorrow's paper), Patrick Wintour predicts that John Bercow will be re-elected as speaker of the Commons tomorrow "despite the opposition of a small group of Conservative diehards led by Nadine Dorries who are trying to depose him".

Wintour says that Bercow has the support of David Cameron, Nick Clegg and the acting Labour leader Harriet Harman, and that he will "play a key role in trying to adapt parliament to the reality that the Liberal Democrats have joined the government, so leaving parliament with
only one large formal opposition party".

He adds:
One source said that if 20 or 30 MPs did vote against Bercow, more than most people predict, the outcome "will be cathartic, forcing a small parliamentary mujahideen to recognise finally that Bercow is legitimate figure".

Charles Kennedy and the realignment of the centre-left

Charles Kennedy wrote an article for yesterday's Observer explaining why he abstained in the Liberal Democrats' vote to approve the coalition deal with the Conservatives. He wrote that last week's events:

drive a strategic coach and horses through the long-nurtured "realignment of the centre-left" to which leaders in the Liberal tradition, this one included, have all subscribed since the Jo Grimond era. It is hardly surprising that, for some of us at least, our political compass currently feels confused.

And that really encapsulates the reasons why I felt personally unable to vote for this outcome when it was presented to Liberal Democrat parliamentarians.

I was puzzled when I read this, because I do not recall much emphasis on the "realignment of the centre-left" during Charles Kennedy's leadership.

And my memory seems correct, because I wrote as follows for Comment is Free in September 2006:

When Kennedy stood for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats in 1999, the West Highland Free Press - a radical newspaper published in his own constituency - remarked that people in London were beginning to ask what it had been asking for 15 years: what exactly does Charles Kennedy stand for?

Though he won that contest and went on to lead the party for nearly seven years, we never really found out.

Today Liberal Vision questioned Charles's presentation of himself as a proponent of the realignment on the left even further. In an article for them Andy Meyer points out:

whilst in office Charles Kennedy showed remarkably little interest in co-operation with Labour. Quite the opposite. He ended the informal Joint Consultative Committee (a stool to Blair’s sofa government) set up by Paddy Ashdown, and made a number of moves to reach out to the centre-right.

Where that was concerned, early in his leadership, Kennedy worked closely with Mark Oaten. Oaten set up two vehicles. Liberal Future which made the liberal case for markets in public service delivery and the Peel Group which provided contact and comfort for former Conservatives. He spoke frequently and approvingly at meetings of both. Several of his key advisers were market liberals.

Branding of the party’s position under Kennedy referred invariably to being the ‘real alternative’ or ‘real opposition’ to both the Labour government and Conservatives. This not obvious evidence of a grand ‘progressive’ project.

So you could be forgiven for concluding that Charles had other reasons for not backing the coalition and for making his dissent from it so public.

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The story of the day has been Liam Byrne's joke about there being no money left. Presumably it was intended to be one of those that is funny because they are true. Caron's Musings discusses it and also has David Laws' message to Liberal Democrat members promising that the tough decisions he will have to make will have social justice at their heart.

If you can bear to think of the next general election, Liberal Burblings has the new list of Liberal Democrat target seats. Come to think of it, he has the list even if you can't bear to think of the next election.

Lynne Featherstone looks forward to working with Theresa May on equality.

Green councillor Philip Booth reports the latest progress with the restoration of the Cotswold canals on Ruscombe Green.

Madame Arcati reviews Worried About the Boy last night's dramatisation of Boy George's life before stardom on BBC2.

We finish with another recipe from Wartime Housewife. Nettle soup "freezes well and looks and tastes divine".

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Time Team at Hopton Castle

This afternoon's Time Team was fascinating - a dig at Hopton Castle, near Clun, in Shropshire. The Parliamentarian garrison of Hopton was massacred when it fell after a Royalist siege during the Civil War.

The massacre became notorious, at least in Parliamentarian propaganda. 17th Century Life and Times explains:

At Hopton castle in 1644 after repeated attacks the parliamentarian garrison of about 30 men finally surrendered. The prisoners where herded into the castle cellar, striped naked, beaten then taken to the moat where they were summarily executed by the by now drunken royalists.

For years after the parliamentarians would offer royalists troops "Hopton Quarter" only, in revenge, much like the "Madeburg Mercy" of the 30 years war.

As the Time Team dig made clear, Hopton was not really built for defence. It was a largely domestic, ornamental building that became the scene of real warfare. A less serious Civil War skirmish took place at the similar Stokesay Castle nearby.

And a report in the Ludlow & Tenbury Wells Advertiser last year told of plans to preserve the ruins at Hopton:

Hopton Castle Preservation Trust has just signed a contract with Conservation Building Services Ltd for repair work which will turn it from a dangerous and inaccessible ruin into a safe and interesting destination for visitors.

Work, which will start this month, will take about a year and will include repairing stonework, supporting crumbling arches and making a level floor for visitors.

There will also be a new entrance and some information about the history of the castle, its owners and its place in history.

Traffic: Glad

Last week I inflicted Shannon upon you. Since then Chelsea have won the double and the Liberal Democrats have entered government, so I am Glad after all.

This is a nine-minute version of the Traffic instrumental from the video of their 1972 concert in Santa Monica. if you want it to last longer, it segues into Freedom Rider which has featured here before.

There is also a slightly politer version from the 1994 DVD The Last Great Traffic Jam. And Winwood and Clapton play this in their concerts, with Clapton taking the saxophone part on his guitar.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Clegg family pyramid in the Ukraine

This blog has long taken an interest in Nick Clegg's Russian ancestors. We introduced you to his great great aunt Moura Budberg (writing about her got me a New Statesman column for a while - and Nick remembers meeting her) and recently revealed that Nick is a kinsman of the Canadian Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff.

But there is more. At the height of Cleggmania during the election campaign, the Guardian wrote about Nick's great great grandfather Ignaty Zakrevsky, a former attorney general in the imperial Russian senate.

The newspaper described how Zakrevsky lived on a large estate in what is now the Ukraine, not far from Kiev. The crumbling estate is currently occupied by an agricultural college, but still boasts a two-storey classical mansion, annexes, and a large park.

Zakrevsky was described by Valentina Gonchar, who runs a museum in the district where the estate is situated as "a man of liberal views and European education". He also described how his "articles on legal topics appeared in many journals at the time. He was also a leading Mason. Tsar Alexander III sacked him from the senate in 1900 after he wrote a letter to the Times in support of Alfred Dreyfus."

But there was more, because the family estate also had a pyramid:
Zakrevksy – like Clegg, a passionate internationalist – travelled to Egypt as ambassador in 1898. He came back with building material and ordered the brick pyramid to be built in his garden. He died in Cairo in 1906, was embalmed, taken home and buried under it.
The Guardian kindly provided a link to what appears to be a museum website. My Russian, self-taught from chess magazines when I was a teenager, isn't that good, but I assume that the photograph I have borrowed shows the pyramid under which Nick's great great grandfather is buried.

Name of the Day visits Scotland

Well done David Goodwillie, who scored Dundee United's opening goal in the Scottish Cup Final.

Friday, May 14, 2010

More Liberal Democrat ministers

The FT Westminster blog - now essential reading - has a further list of ministerial appointments. I think they have all been announced now.

The Liberal Democrats in the new list:

Home Office
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Equalities) – Lynne Featherstone MP

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State – Ed Davey MP

Department for Communities and Local Government
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State – Andrew Stunell MP

Department for Transport
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State – Norman Baker MP

Office of the Leader of the Commons
Parliamentary Secretary (Deputy Leader) – David Heath MP

Law Officers
Advocate General for Scotland – The Rt Hon Lord Wallace of Tankerness (Jim Wallace)

Whips: House of Commons
Deputy Chief Whip (Comptroller of HM Household) – Alistair Carmichael MP

Whips: House of Lords
Deputy Chief Whip (Captain of The Queen’s Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard) – Lord Shutt of Greetland (David Shutt)

Norman Baker a minister? That really is the new politics. And congratulations to David Heath in particular too.

I am also pleased to that both the Comptroller of HM Household and the Captain of The Queen’s Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard are Liberal Democrats. It was high time we got those positions back.

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The story of the day has been the growing opposition to the plans to require a 55 per cent majority in a vote before the Commons can be dissolved. As Ian Roberts on Liberal Democrat Voice explains, that opposition is built on a misunderstanding.

While Love and Garbage presents the controversy in more imaginative form: "Holmes ended, "If people are against fixed term parliaments – let that lie at the centre of their argument. Some are in favour of them, others are against. I, Watson, remain unsure. But the 55% rule (or some higher variant of it) is an inevitable consequence of fixed term parliaments. Let people argue about the real point of principle – the fixed term parliament – and consider its advantages and disadvantages – rather than focusing on a red herring."

The Word Forgetting, By the Word Forgot has written an open letter to Labour activists and coalition naysayers: "the truth is that yours was one of the most authoritarian, regressive governments Britain has ever had. In thirteen years, far more of our cherished liberties were stripped away than in the eighteen years Britain suffered under the ‘Iron Lady’. In the name of ‘security’ your party imposed on us detention without trial, trial without jury, control orders, ID cards, the DNA database, the National Identity Register, and most egregious of all, the Independent Safeguarding Authority."

Life goes on beyond Westminster. Unmann-Wittering Blog has found a 1979 film report about the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

Even better, a rare Spencer Davis Group track ("Rambling Rose") has turned up on Youtube.

And the lambing went smoothly in the Stiperstones this year, reports Snailbeachsheep.

King's Lynn public library

Last night's Have I Got News for You? included the story about a bouncer being hired to patrol the public library in King's Lynn.

I was in the town last summer and photographer the library. It is a piece of Edwardian fantasy, funded and opened by the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

57 Liberal Democrat MPs - or 58?

I have just spotted a comment by Lib Dem blogger Stephen Glenn on a posting by J. Arthur MacNumpty.

One of the subjects discussed in the posting is the victory in Belfast East by Naomi Long of the Alliance Party. MacNumpty speculates that she may take the Liberal Democrat whip in the Commons and Stephen comments:
I fully expect Naomi to take the Lib Dem whip in Westminster.
Does anyone know if she has done so yet?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

My interview on BBC Radio Leicester

This morning's Ben Jackson breakfast show can now be found on the station's website.

My interview starts at around 24:15, though you may also be interested in the package about the election to which I was responding. This was put together by Eleanor Garnier and begins at 19:30. And, yes, she is the daughter of Edward Garnier, Conservative MP for Harborough.

I started rather slowly in the interview, but remembered my media training I stood up after the first couple of questions and sounded a lot more confident.

Liberal Democrat ministers

Following the announcement of the cabinet appointments yesterday, the following Liberal Democrats have been appointed to second-rank ministerial positions:

Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Minister of State – Jeremy Browne MP

Ministry of Justice
Minister of State – The Rt Hon Lord McNally

Ministry of Defence
Minister of State (Minister for the Armed Forces – Nick Harvey MP

Department for Work and Pensions
Minister of State – Steve Webb MP

Department of Health
Minister of State – Paul Burstow MP

Department for Eduction
Minister of State – Sarah Teather MP

You've all done very well!

BBC: Did bloggers influence the election?

The BBC website has a piece where five bloggers consider their role in the campaign, relationship with their parties and what the future holds for them.

Those five are Harry Cole (Tory Bear), Will Straw (Left Foot Forward), Ellie Gellard (Stilettoed Socialist) Mark Pack (Liberal Democrat Voice and his own blog), Jim Jepps (The Daily (Maybe))and me.

Interestingly, the Liberal Democrats - Mark and I - seem the least convinced that blogs had a great effect on the contest. Mark says:
"The internet on this election has been like the mobile phone, it became absolutely essential and people used it all the time, hour by hour. But if you take a step back, you can conclude that neither has reshaped politics in a great way."

Supporting the coalition on BBC Radio Leicester

I was interviewed on BBC Radio Leicester this morning about the new coalition government. I shall post a link to it later if I can find it on the station's website.

Billed as the first Lib Dem blogger to call for us to accept David Cameron's offer, I said that I thought I was being very controversial when I wrote that post, but in fact most of the subsequent comment supported my views.

Asked if the coalition agreement represented a watering down of Liberal Democrat policy, I said I was pleased to see so much of our policy in that agreement and pleased to see people like Vince Cable and Chris Huhne where they belong - around the cabinet table.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Six of the Best 52

At Liberal Democrat Voice, Alex Foster reprints Lib Dem chief executive Chris Fox's list of the party's policies that appear in the coalition agreement. The more I read it, the more I am convinced that we have done the right thing.

The Real Blog seems to share my view. After reviewing the most important points covered in that agreement, David Boyle says: "These may all be hugely disappointing, when it comes to it. Government tends to be. And yes, there are things I’m seriously worried about – of course there are. But what we have now is a radical opportunity, and I hope very much that we seize it. In practice, that is going to mean a great deal of effort to put policy flesh on the bones of the rhetoric. But we can do that...."

In CHARACTERISTIC style, Millennium Elephant welcomes the agreement too and links to reactions by many other Liberal Democrat bloggers.

Jo Christie-Smith worries about the lack of women in the new cabinet - and in politics in general: "it has to be said that despite the very best efforts of the Campaign for Gender Balance and Women Liberal Democrats that we have made no progress, in terms of outcomes in getting new women into parliament."

One undoubted gain from the coalition, the scrapping of ID cards, is celebrated by Dave Page.

We all need a drink after the past week. has a list of its top 10 pubs in the county. I can particularly recommend nos. 8 (The Mytton Arms, Habberley) and 10 (The Stables Inn, Hopesgate).

Liberal Democrats approve coalition deal

The meeting has just broken up.

The coalition deal was agreed unanimously by Lib Dem MPs and agreed by the party's Federal Executive with only one vote against.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The coalition cabinet takes shape - Clegg, Cable, Laws, Ashdown named

PoliticsHome thinks it knows who will be in the new cabinet.

So far it has listed:

Prime Minister - David Cameron

Deputy Prime Minister - Nick Clegg (unconfirmed)

Chancellor of the Exchequer - George Osborne

Chief Secretary to the Treasury - Vince Cable

Foreign Secretary - William Hague

Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families - David Laws

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions - Philip Hammond (unconfirmed)

Secretary of State for Health - Andrew Lansley

Secretary of State for Defence - Lord Ashdown (unconfirmed)

Later. I don't how much this is worth. Already it has changed its mind and put Liam Fox at Defence.

Nancy Cunard, daughter of Bonkers Hall

Time to return to Nevill Holt, now accepted by most scholars to be the model for Bonkers Hall.

I recently received some interesting gossip from the mother of a former pupil of the prep school that used to occupy the buildings. I shall share it with you one day.

In the mean time, let me point you to a fascinating article about Nancy Cunard, who was brought up at Nevill Holt:
Nancy was a writer, heiress and political activist. She was born into the British upper class but strongly rejected her family's values, devoting much of her life to fighting racism and fascism. She became a muse to some of the 20th century's most distinguished writers and artists, including Wyndham Lewis, Aldous Huxley, Tristan Tzara, Ezra Pound, Henry Crowder, and Louis Aragon, who were among her lovers, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Constantin Brancusi, Langston Hughes, Man Ray, and William Carlos Williams.