Thursday, September 30, 2010

Invasion of the Pizzamen

While I was away men dressed in Domino's Pizza boxes began to appear on the streets of Market Harborough. The official line was that it was connected with the company's new outlet in the town, but I'm convinced there's more too it than that.

You see, there are more of them every day. And now, as the photograph shows, there are Pizzawomen too.

In a few days most of the town's population will be standing on the street in pizza boxes. The few of us left will form the Resistance, only to see our trusted comrades clad in cardboard the next day.

For the love of God send help. Send it before it's too...

RIP Tony Curtis

Not his greatest work, but this is pure nostalgia for somone of my age.

Traditional End of the Month Lolcat

Cattitude. Ai haz it.

Lynne Featherstone backs Susan Kramer to be next Lib Dem President

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

David Miliband on Ed Miliband: "I diskard him"

David Miliband writes:
Gosh chiz this is miliband 2 my bro he is uterly wet and a weed it panes me to think I am of the same blud. He is always eating and cheeks everybode. You know when burnham sa there are fairies at the bottom of his garden miliband 2 sa there is a dirty old rubbish heap at the bottom of his then zoom away dive bombing sparows worms the skool dog and other poor dumb creatures. I diskard him.

Renovation of the Three Tuns Brewery in Bishop's Castle completed

Whilst in New York I naturally consulted the website of the South Shropshire Journal. I was pleased to read that the buildings and brewing plant at the Three Tuns Brewery in Bishop's Castle has been secured with the completion of a long programme of renovation and re-equipment.

The newspaper says:

To mark the achievement there will be a celebration at the brewery next Friday, October 1, at 2pm. Everyone who loves beer is invited. South Shropshire MP Philip Dunne will unveil a plaque on the brewery wall at 5pm.

There will be bands and a great deal of beer, which will be sold in aid of the Bishop’s Castle Community Land Trust and the Town Hall Renovation Project.

David Miliband, brotherly rivalry and the nature of modern politics

I have never been able to get too excited about the Miliband brothers. Not until this evening did I grasp how much more impressive David than Ed - which probably explains why most Labour members and most Labour MPs voted for David rather than Ed.

This evening's coverage has also made it clear that David's resignation from the Labour front bench was inevitable. The media fixation on the brothers' relationship would have made life insufferable for both of them and dominated the coverage of Ed's leadership if he had tried to stay there.

That said, there is a lot to be said for the arguments of The Third Estate (if not for its spelling). This site points out that most defeated candidates for the Labour leadership have stayed on the front bench afterwards because they have a political agenda they wanted to pursue.

It then asks what it is that makes David Miliband different:

It is certainly not politics: after all any disagreements he has with Ed, pale in comparison to the gulfs that seperated Bevan from Gaitskell, and Healy from Foot. The brotherly aspect of it may be a factor, although Ed and David have had decades to get used to combining familial commitment with the mesy business of politics (could things really get worse than when they were in the opposing Blair and Brown camps?).

What does differentiate David from most previous runners-up is that he is a career politican par excellence. He did not come up through the trade union movement, nor did he ever have to prove his fealty and commitment to constituency party party members. After taking a job early on with the IPPR, he became an advisor to downing street before being parachuted in to a safe constiuency – a now well worn path.

For him politics has been a fairly continous journey up a career ladder. In the same way that people in blue-chip firms tend to reach a point at which they go up or get out, David, it appears, feels the same about Labour right now.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Michael Crick suggests Liam Fox is poised to resign from the Cabinet

I have just been watching Newsnight and, discussing tomorrow's newspaper front pages, Michael Crick suggested that this Daily Telegraph story, inspired by a leaked letter, means that Liam Fox is on his way out of the Cabinet:

In a private letter to David Cameron seen by The Daily Telegraph, the Defence Secretary refuses to back any substantial reduction in the Armed Forces.

He says it risks seriously damaging troops’ morale.

The letter was written the night before a National Security Council (NSC) meeting on the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). In it, Dr Fox says the Tories risk “destroying much of the reputation and capital” they have built up on defence.

The review is becoming indefensible, he suggests, warning of the “brutal reaction” from the party, press and military if “we do not recognise the dangers and continue to push for such draconian cuts at a time when we are at war".

John Leech and abstaining on the Coalition agreement

I was puzzled by John Leech's declaration at a Labour Conference fringe meeting today that he had abstained when Liberal Democrat MPs had voted on the Coalition agreement.

Perhaps I missed an earlier revelation, but this is the first I have heard of John abstaining in this vote. If he was going to make the matter public, wouldn't it have been better to have told his constituents in Manchester Withington or his fellow Liberal Democrats first?

I am also puzzled by what John wrote on his blog on 18 May in his first posting after the general election:
By ruling out any coalition the Labour Party guaranteed that the Conservatives would be in Government. As such there were only 2 options – a Tory minority Government putting forward a Tory agenda, or a coalition Government where the Lib Dems could help to shape the direction of the Government and ensure a progressive agenda for Britain. So there was really no choice.
Quite right.

But if there was "really no choice", why didn't John vote in favour of the Coalition agreement?

David Ross: Selling Market Harborough by the pound?

Back in January I blogged about reports that the property company Kandahar was in trouble.

This report interested me for two reasons. The first is that Kandahar owns a considerable amount of commercial property in the centre of Market Harborough. As the Harborough Mail put it at the time:
Kandahar owns the St Mary's Place shopping centre in Harborough, as well as the two buildings in High Street which house the Subway restaurant and the Monsoon clothes shop.
The second reason was that Kandahar is owned by David Ross. He lives at Nevill Holt, which is widely thought to be the house which inspired Bonkers Hall.

Yesterday the story moved on, with reports that Ross is considering all or part of Kandahar's property holdings. As Bridging & Commercial put it:
It is understood that Mr Ross is considering putting either Drake Circus – the £230 million, Plymouth-based shopping centre – or his entire empire, the Kandahar Group, currently valued at £440 million, on the market.
But there has been nothing more about the rumour that Ozzy Osborne is to buy Bonkers Hall.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Six of the Best 94

Solution Focused Politics argues that the Big Society is a Liberal idea that the Lib Dems should capitalise on.

Ed Miliband "may be a Neil Kinnock, but the danger is that he will also be a Jo Grimond" warns The Real Blog.

Liberal Sciences is enthusiastic about a speech given at Liverpool by Chris White which pointed out that Liberal Democrat policies are a mixture of localism and centralism.

When I took it into my head to do a single honours degree in Philosophy, no one at home or at school asked whether I thought I could afford it. That would not be the case today, reports the Observer: "Fears are growing of a "gentrification" of arts and humanities degrees as new figures reveal that the courses have become the preserve of wealthy students."

Those of us who suspect that something dark lurks behind the apparently perfect social democracy of Scandinavia will have our prejudices confirmed by this report from The Swedish Wire. "Many mentally handicapped Danes, including children, were lobotomised between 1947 and 1983, and many died from the operation."

Random Blowe has visited from Hythe and Dungeness - and provided the photograph above.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Liberals Against Choice

The end of another week at Bonkers Hall.
I met a member of Liberals Against Choice in Westminster the other day. He thrust a leaflet advertising the group’s fringe meeting into my hand, saying proudly: “We’ve got a civil servant coming.” “What is he talking about?” I replied cagily. “Some of these fellows can be awfully dull.” “Oh he’s not talking,” came the reply. “He’s just going to stand there so we can look at someone who works for the state. I am hoping I can have my photograph taken with him!”

At this point I hailed a taxi, ejected its fare and made my escape.

Earlier this week

Sign of the Day

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Eric Avebury on Coalition overseas development policy

Eric Avebury has a piece on Liberal Democrat Voice looking at the Coalition government's policy on overseas development. He writes as joint chair of the all-party parliamentary group for global action against childhood pneumonia:
My view is that if the Coalition Government continues to support countries such as Bangladesh then dramatic reductions in key disease such as pneumonia will continue. The Government have made a good start, but they need to ensure that in this climate of cuts, international development remains protected for the full five years to give the best possible chance for the MDGs to be met.

Mamarazzi: Grapefruit Juicy

A week ago in a sunny Lincoln Plaza I promised the panda-loving saxophone player from Mamarazzi (who turns out to be Tacuma Bradley) that I would put the band on my blog.

So here they are as this week's Sunday music video, posted in a chilly Market Harborough.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Closing panel discussion at 92Y yesterday

Watch live streaming video from mashable at

The Chrysler Building, New York

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Revd Hughes pro and contra

I hate to say it, but I fear that being elected Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats has gone to the head of my old friend the Revd Hughes.

Not a day goes past without his issuing a statement saying the party will not stand for this or will not stand for that. Now, I am the first to admit that he is the Soundest of Liberals, but since when did being Deputy Leader make one such a big cheese?

It happens that I was once myself elected as Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party and did not find out about it until a good two years afterwards. Even when I did learn of my rank, I did not go around telling Baldwin to watch his step or Ramsay MacDonald to pull his socks up.

Nobody, I had to remind the Revd Hughes after Divine Service the other day, likes a swank. The time may well have come, I judge, for our Deputy Leader to be elected by the party as a whole and not just our MPs – stout men and, indeed, women as they all are.

That said, I should undoubtedly have put my X next to the Revd Hughes rather than that of that Farron fellow from the Lakes who is, by all accounts, a great admirer of C.S. Lewis. Well, it happens that I knew Lewis, and I always found him Distinctly Odd.

Anyway, I know Farron’s sort: let him into St Asquith’s and in no time he would have sold the pews for firewood, painted over the mural of Nancy Seear Defending her Honour Against the Invading Socialists and got us singing “Shine, Jesus, Shine” while he plays the guitar.

Well, we don’t like That Sort of Thing here in Rutland.

Earlier this week

Friday, September 24, 2010

And two final links: Road safety and the power of stories

Make Roads Safe: The Campaign for Global Road Safety has produced a report called The Missing Link: Road traffic injuries and the Millennium Development Goals. You can read more about it and download a copy from the Campaign's website.

Link TV has launched to harness the power of stories about real people and progress in global development.

I can now throw all those leaflets away with a clear conscience.

Two more links on education

The Education for All - Fast-track Initiative is a global partnership between donor and developing countries to ensure accelerated progress towards the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education by 2015.

The Global Campaign for Education has produced Back to School? The Worst Places in the World to be a School Child in 2010 (pdf). Since you ask, the bottom three are Haiti, Eritrea and, worst of all, Somalia.

Amnesty International: Human rights and the Millennium Development Goals

Another good resource that is too good to throw away without blogging is the Amnesty International report From Promises to Delivery:
The MDGs promised some of the worlds most impoverished and excluded a fairer future but it is now painfully obvious that unless urgent action is taken governments will fail the most vulnerable communities
You can download the whole report from the Amnesty site. The quotation above comes from a press release on the same page.

UNICEF's Back on Track programme

It is sad how many leaflets from good causes you pick up but end up throwing away unread. Here is one good link rescued from the wasterpaper basket.

Run by UNICEF, Back on Track is:

an innovative programme designed to support and further international development work on education in emergencies and post-crisis transition countries.

This site is a platform for ideas, information, materials and discussions on current trends and issues in the delivery of education services both during and after conflict and natural disasters.

Full text of Nick Clegg's speech to UN General Assembly

You can now find Nick's speech on the Number 10 website:
The UK is wholehearted in our support for international development. Like many nations, we are having to take tough action to reduce our financial deficits. But we are not budging a millimetre from our commitment to development. We are standing by our promise to devote 0.7% of GNI to international development assistance from 2013, and we will enshrine this commitment in law.
Later. Watch the BBC News video report of this speech.

Nick Clegg to denounce Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at UN today

The Guardian reports:

Nick Clegg will today issue a strong condemnation of the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, telling the UN that his claims, made yesterday, that the US government was behind the 9/11 attacks on New York are "bizarre, offensive and attention-grabbing".

The deputy prime minister has added the comments to a speech he is to due to make to the UN general assembly after an international outcry over Ahmadinejad's comments to the same meeting yesterday.

I took some photos of Iranian anti-Ahmadinejad demonstrators here in New York on Wednesday. I shall add one to this post when I get back to my hotel.

Later: And I have.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The Hartlepool Conference

You will by now, I am sure, have bought your new Liberator songbook. In my introduction, I mention Liverpool’s important role in popular music and my own visit to its famous Cavern Club.

I fear, however, that I was forced for reasons of space to omit a rather shameful detail. You see, I misheard the location of that club and wasted two days looking for it in Hartlepool before I realised my mistake. In my defence, I have to say that I thought it sounded unlikely even at the time.

The moral of this story is that it is a false economy not to have your ear trumpet serviced regularly.

Earlier this week

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Nick Clegg's speech to the MDG Summit

Liberal Democrat Voice has the text of the Lib Dem leader and deputy prime minister's speech to the United Nations General Assembly:
Development is, in the end, about freedom. It is about freedom from hunger and disease; freedom from ignorance; freedom from poverty. Development means ensuring that every person has the freedom to take their own life into their own hands and determine their own fate.

David Laws "may stand down at the next election"

David Laws's return to the cabinet sooner rather than later has been expected by most commentators. And widely hoped for among his fellow Liberal Democrats.

But a report on the Pink News site suggests that this may not happen.

It suggests that Laws is unwilling to return to government and quotes "a source" as telling The Sun:
"Everybody is saying when will David be allowed to come back, but the truth is he doesn't want to be a minister again. He's lost the hunger."
It goes on to say that Laws has told friends that he may stand down as MP for Yeovil at the next election, depending on the findings of a parliamentary investigation into his expense claims.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Nick Clegg in America

PoliticsHome has a gallery of Nick Clegg's adventures in America meeting top politicians and business figures Hilary Clinton, Ban Ki-moon and Bill Gates.

Raising Revenue: More on the Robin Hood Tax

I promised to write something more about what is variously called the Tobin Tax, the Robin Hood Tax or the Finanacial Transaction Tax. Perhaps we should compromise on the Tobin Hood Tax?

But I have saved myself a job by downloading the report Raising Revenue from the Stamp Out Poverty website:

Critics would have you believe that Financial Transaction Taxes are hard to implement, unfeasible and easy to avoid. Raising Revenue, a new report by Just Economics for Health Poverty Action and Stamp Out Poverty, blows apart this myth, demonstrating that FTTs in fact already exist throughout the world.

The report details FTTs in both developed and developing countries and elicits some key principles for their successful implementation. In-depth case studies of countries including: Taiwan, Brazil, Argentina, Japan, Peru, China and United Kingdom show how billions can be raised from their financial sectors.

A particular slant of the report is how developing/middle income countries could potentially harness the wealth of their own financial markets to raise revenue themselves to fund public spending and safeguard the provision of services such as healthcare.

I still have questions about this tax. The Richard Curtis video I linked to yesterday suggested that some of the funds raised through it in Britain could be spent here. Certainly, given the amount of public poured into the banks, there will be strong political pressure for this to take place.

And, while the supporters of the tax are keen to argue that it will have no effect on the financial markets, might it not be a very good thing to throw a little sand into that high-performance machinery and slow it down?

Anyway, read the report. It is very good.

The Glee Club makes the Liverpool Metro

I may be on the Upper East Side, but my spies are still at work.

This cutting comes from the Liverpool edition of the Metro

Umovement: Millennium Development Goals and social media

I have just been listening to a presentation about Umovement: "a global grass roots movement to accelerate the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals by developing/leveraging advanced social network technologies".

Essentially it is a database. You decide what sort of good you want to do and where, and Umovement will point you to NGOs that are involved in relevant projects.

Play with the system for a short while and you will be struck by the extraordinary number of organisations there are out there doing, we hope, good work.

The large NGOs represented here in New York are demanding government action and more government spending, but the new media are opening up new possibilities for individual philanthropy too.

Headline of the Day visits America

From the Seattle Times:
Montana woman fends off bear attack with zucchini

Sir Bob Gandalf at The Plaza

Last night, as part of my continuing attempt to end world poverty, I attended a reception at The Plaza, Central Park South, which is one of New York's spiffiest hotels.

There was a free bar, tiny canapes and a panel of star speakers including Ted Turner and Queen Rania of Jordan, who are both ubiquitous here (I wonder who is Trooping the Colour in Amman while she is away?) and Sir Bob Geldof.

Long-haired and grizzled, he will have to be renamed Sir Bob Gandalf one day soon.

Gandalf's powerful but slightly rambling address aside, the tone was uniformly congratulatory of us, the audience. We really are wonderful people who care about world poverty.

Well, the whole thing is a vast junket, but I hope the summit and the surrounding activity will do some good, even so.

Max Atkinson's party conference season prize competition

Max Atkinson is running a competition on his blog with prizes:
All you have to do is to suggest one object that any of the three main party leaders could use (or, in the case of Nick Clegg, could have used) to strike a chord with their audience during their 2010 conference speeches.

Keen anoraks are welcome to propose an object for each of the three party leaders, but one leader/object is perfectly acceptable.

Search of the Day

Yesterday someone arrived at this blog after searching for:
paddy ashdown what a geezer

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Video: The Robin Hood Tax

I want to write more about the Robin Hood Tax, but my full social programme calls. So please watch this video for the time being...

Global Call to Action Against Poverty's reaction to the summit

This lunchtime I went to a panel discussion at the UN Church Center. As, for once, I managed to take a reasonable photograph indoors, I am posting it here.

The panel, from left to right, consisted of Adelaide Sosseh, Co-Chair, Global Call to Action Against Poverty; Colm O Cuanachain, Senior Director, Amnesty International; Gemma Adaba, UN Representative, International Trade Union Confederation; Lucy Mulenkei, African Indigenous Women's Organisation; Joanna Kerr, Chief Executive, Action Aid; Ray Offenheiser, President, Oxfam America.

They had come together to give an NGO response to the progress of the Millennium Development Goals Summit. They generally called for a clearer senses of how all the things that United Nations is going to "resolve" to do will actually be brought about and wanted more money to be devoted to doing so.

I liked the comment of Adelaide Sosseh to the effect that the summit was about education. If New Yorkers had not heard of the MDGs before, they certainly would have now - if only because so many roads are shut off and it is so hard to get around.

The giant poo in New York

Sometimes, gentle readers, you disappoint me.

Yesterday, for instance, the most popular story on this blog was the one about the Water Aid giant poo being banned from various locations around the New York summit.

Well, if that's what you want...

Development and free media

Before I came over here I quoted from the new Liberal Democrat document Accountability to the Poor (which was subsequently approved as party policy at our Conference in Liverpool), applauding its emphasis on the importance of political reform in furthering development.

I have just been to a session here at the UN Week Digital Media Lounge at the 92Y which suggests that another central liberal belief - the importance of a free press - is relevant to development too.

The session was entitled "Media Development" and looked in particular at the Media Map Project and various attempts to measure how free a country's media (both the conventional press and the new web-based forms) is.

Media development is based upon the insight that the free exchange of information is central to the fostering of democratic government, a free market and accountability in both business and the political sphere.

Various telling statistics were quoted: in sub-Saharan Africa rates of economic development are closely correlated with how free a country's press is. The speakers argued that spending on media development is a very efficient way of promoting development more generally.

All this links back to what Andrew Mitchell was saying the other evening about the importance of strengthening civil society in the developing world - and in some Western nations too.

But at the heart of media development is the argument of Amartya Sen that there has never been a famine in a country with a free press.

Nick Clegg: Aid "not naive altruism"

Nick Clegg (may he live forever) will be in New York today to make a speech to the United Nations.

Speaking to reporters, he has defended the principle of overseas aid in trenchant terms:

"It is not an act of naive altruism. There is enlightened self-interest at stake here.

"We can't cut ourselves off from the rest of the world. If the rest of the world is susceptible to extremism, conflict, the volatile effects of runaway environmental degradation, it affects us.

"It affects us directly. It affects the safety of British families on British streets. It affects the people who come to live in the United Kingdom. It affects our shared environment. It deprives us of economic opportunities as a trading nation.

"It's incredibly important for people to understand that this is not a commitment entered 10 years ago that can be lightly discarded when times get tough."

Lord Bonkers' Diary: A quiet day in Rutland

The discerning reader – and I like to think that all my readers fall into that category – will have noticed that, of late, I have eschewed my customary format as a diarist. These days, rather than label the entries Monday, Tuesday and so forth, I simply (as we used to say at Rutstock) “let it all hang out”.

My thinking is this: some days are simply not terribly interesting. Today is a good example: after fielding a phone call from Clegg in Afghanistan (“Say we are turning the corner,” I told him. “Of course we are not, but that is what our politicians always tell people when they go over there”). I attended to an emergency on the Bonkers Hall Estate Railway.

This is not, of course, the standard gauge branch that runs from Market Harborough, but the narrow gauge system that carries crops, fertiliser and stray Orphans about the old demesne. In all honesty, it has rather a variable gauge and that, I suspect, is what was behind today’s derailment.

By the time The First Lady Bonkers had been set to rights, it was time to have my bath drawn and then attend a performance of Bellini’s Norman Baker at the Royal Opera House, Oakham.

So you see, there was simply nothing to write about today.

Earlier this week

Good sense from New York

Nick Clegg to tell UN summit Britain will halve malaria deaths in Africa

I may be in New York, but I have to read the website of the dear old Guardian to know what is going on:

Britain will lead the fight against malaria, one of the world's biggest killers of children, the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, will tell the UN summit in New York tomorrow. He will pledge to halve deaths from the disease in 10 African countries.

Clegg will announce an increase in UK funds for malaria from £150m a year to £500m by 2014 in his closing speech to world leaders discussing progress towards the millennium development goals.

The UK government is pushing for greater efforts in two areas: the health of women and babies, which will be the subject of a strategy launched by the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, tomorrow, and malaria, which takes a big toll on both.

Certainly, Andrew Mitchell was keen to turn the debate on health to the subject of malaria yesterday evening. And this article confirms the view that the Guardian's Larry Elliott had been well briefed.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Andrew Mitchell, the great and the good, and me

Yesterday evening I was invited to a meeting between Andrew Mitchell, the British secretary of state for international development, and BOND - an overarching body for Britain's non-governmental organisations. The BOND was made up of senior people from many of Britain's most important health and development campaigns,

So there we were, in the boardroom of the United Nations Foundation in New York: the minister, the great and good of the British development world and, er, me.

It is a tribute to the mystique that attaches to blogging - and more to the work and contacts of my new friends in Oxfam - that I was there. As the chair of the meeting said (in a friendly way), "I'm not sure why we have a blogger here, but that's the modern world."

There was time before Mitchell arrived for a pre-meeting among the BOND people. As it turned out, Mitchell was delayed at an earlier event ("there were four speeches, and mine was by far the shortest"), so there was plenty of time for a pre-meeting.

The danger with this sort of coalition is that the individual members want to be able to go back to their home organisations and report that they raised the point that most concerns that organisation. The result is a staccato question-and-answer session with no real debate or overall coherence.

So we went round the table to find out what those important points were - I decided I had nothing to contribute at this point - then grouped them together under four headings and decided on the order in which they would be raised.

Mitchell arrived late and full of apologies. He has the full head of prematurely grey hair that seems fashionable at the moment (ask for an Assange cut). He was also wearing a charity wristband - something, say, Willie Whitelaw would never have done. But in a nice traditional Tory touch, it matched his tie.

He held the development brief for five years before the Conservatives came to power so he knows it well, despite his opening remark that he was just "the new kid on the block".

It is significant that David Cameron has always promised to maintain spending on overseas development, despite the pressures on spending elsewhere. In part this is a sign that he recognises the depth pf the problems involved. But it also had a lot to do with convincing people that the Conservatives were no longer the nasty party and attracting back the liberally minded voters who have not supported his party for 20 years.

Anyway, I shall take you through the discussion that took place under the four headings, though, wittingly or not, Mitchell rather subverted this by trying to go around the table for comments when the BOND people had already decided who would ask about what.

The first topic was the BOND members' concern that there should be a clear programme of activities resulting from the MDG summit, not just windy rhetoric. Mitchell said that he shared this view entirely but discussions between governments were still continuing.

I was later told that the best guide to the British government's thinking on this point and much else to do with the summit is a recent Guardian article by Larry Elliott. He was very well briefed before he wrote it.

An interesting point raised by Mitchell himself was the importance of civil society holding governments to account both in the West and the Third World. He said that up to 5 per cent of the aid budget would be give to NGOs in the developing countries to help them scrutinise how the rest was spent by governments.

This was news to me and sounds a very good idea. Mitchell said it had also been in Labour's last manifesto but that it had originated with the Conservatives.

Mitchell said that greater transparency by the British government would help the Third World. He had seen children pressed up against the fence with their laptops at an airport in Malawi to use the free broadband. Information published in Britain could be read all around the world.

He also asked why the NGO sector was so much more effective at holding government to account in Britain than it was in many other developed countries (it would be invidious to mention France and Italy in this context). Perhaps this was flattery, but I don't think so.

We then moved on to the second point, which was the Robin Hood Tax or FTT - Financial Transactions Tax. Mitchell said that this was a matter for George Osborne not him, but that Osborne was not dismissive of it.

After the meeting I asked David Hillman from Stamp Out Poverty for some good resources on this tax. He suggested the organisation's own website and also The Robin Hood Tax.

The third subject was global warming. Mitchell said that government departments were learning to work more closely on this - I still get a little frisson of joy when I hear Conservative ministers say things like "I talk often to Chris Huhne on climate change".

And finally there was health, where his answers left some people around the table disappointed. Far from my presence being resented, I had people coming up to me saying "I hope you are going to blog that fact that he didn't respond to the question on the health workforce."

Well, I will, because it is estimated that another 3.5m health workers of various kinds are needed to reach the Millennium Development Goals and without them it is not going to happen.

So that was Andrew Mitchell and BOND. It was an education for me in the Sir Humphrey level of the NGO world.

Nick Clegg is meeting BOND tomorrow. I will get to that meeting too if I can.

Giant poo banned from UN media centre

In a stunt worthy of the glory days of the Liberal Assembly, someone from Water Aid has been attempting to attend events around the MDG Summit dressed as a giant poo.

Sadly, not everyone thinks this is a good idea. The costume was banned from the Stand Up rally at Lincoln Plaza. Now it has been banned from the UN Week Digital Media Lounge.

A victory for taste and decency, you may say. But this stunt was designed to publicise a terrible problem. Kate Norgrove from WaterAid says:

"A giant poo may seem like an odd way to get a serious message across but sanitation is still such a taboo subject that getting attention for the issue calls for eyecatching measures. Let’s not forget that this is an issue that results in 4000 children dying every single day in the developing world...

"If sanitation continues to be ignored, this will have huge consequences for the health of the world’s poorest people. Governments have a moral duty to deliver on the Millennium promises they made to ‘free the entire human race from want’. This simply won’t happen if one of the main underlying causes of child mortality is overlooked."

More from WaterAid on their website.

Lord Bonkers' introduction to the new Liberator Songbook

Far away across the grey eternity of the North Atlantic, my fellow Liberal Democrats are preparing to enjoy this evening's Glee Club.

As ever, we at Liberator have produced a new songbook for the occasion, complete with an introduction from Rutland's most popular fictional peer.

You can find last year's introduction and links to Lord B's earlier essays in this genre elsewhere on this blog.

Bonkers Hall
Tel: Rutland 7

Perhaps because, happily, slavery was abolished in both during the middle decades the nineteenth century, there has always existed a natural sympathy between the people of the Mississippi Delta and those of the Welland Valley. I well remember our excitement when recordings of those great bluesmen Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters first reached us.

I soon formed the plan of inviting one of them over to Rutland play for us and fired off countless telegrams to put it into action. Such were the vagaries of transatlantic communication in those days that we ended up with a fellow called Muddy Wolf who could not play a note. (In fairness, he was perfectly amiable and agreed to serve as a paper candidate in an inconvenient by-election in the Nottinghamshire coalfield.)

All this is by way of prolegomena to my saying how pleased I am that the Liberal Democrat Conference is taking place in Liverpool. Arriving at Lime Street naturally puts one in mind of the “Swinging Sixties” when the city and its Cavern Club were at the centre of the musical world. I came away from my first visit to that celebrated venue determined to recreate its ambience in the cellar of the Bonkers’ Arms, and over the next few years many of the country’s leading pop artists were to appear there.

I think of Susan J. Kramer and the Dakotas, of Gerry and the Pacemakers (as they were rather cruelly known, being a little older than the other beat groups), of Clodagh Rodgers (who was later to resurface in the SDP Party, calling herself “Bill” for some reason) and of the Clement Davies Group. (There was another group I called The Who because I never did catch their name.)

Eventually it became impossible to ignore the landlord’s complaints that the heat and noise were turning the Smithson & Greaves’ Northern Bitter, but it was all great fun while it lasted. Certainly, the experience gained at my Cellar Club contributed in no small measure to the success of the legendary Rutstock festival of 1969.

I do hope you enjoy the Glee Club and that The Man does not get heavy.

The man who asked about opening US markets to Third-World farmers

There are some questions you are not meant to ask at events like this.

I was at the Mashable/92Y Social Good Summit yesterday. It was all very inspiring, but also very corporate - in a touchy feely, social media sort of way. They even asked for question to the speakers to be sent in by Twitter.

All was going well until one such question arrived. When was the US going to open its markets to poor farmers in the Third World.

Complete consternation. Eventually the speaker recovered himself. "I think we should focus on all the positive things..."

I was reminded of H.M. Bateman and his cartoons.

Underschooling and overschooling

I found myself having heretical thoughts in the Global Campaign for Education meeting yesterday. Is there too much schooling around these days?

Not in the Third World, I hasten to add: the Campaign's call for all children to receive at least primary education is obviously right. There were all sorts of impressive figures bandied about - every extra year of education adds 10 per cent to a child's eventual income.

No, I was thinking of the West, where schooling lasts for ever and increasing numbers of youngsters seem disaffected from it. I have heard tales from people who have taught in Africa of children lying in wait for the honour of carrying the teacher's bag to school for her. You could not imagine that happening in Britain.

Another inversion between the West and the Third World is that in the latter everyone is exercised about the need to get more girls into education and keep them there. The education of girls, and thus future mothers, is central to achieving some of the Millennium Development Goals for health, yet girls' education is often sacrificed when times are hard.

In the West, by contrast, girls are racing ahead and attempts to interest boys in reading now make prime-time television.

You can never have too much education, but education is not identical with schooling. I wonder if our problem is that children the Third World are underschooled and that in the West they are overschooled,

More on the Global Campaign for Education meeting

As I heard Andrew Mitchell, the British development secretary (more about him later), say yesterday, this Millennium Development Goals summit resembles an upmarket political conference.

My first event of yesterday was organised by the Global Campaign for Education at a hotel near the United Nations Building. Among the speakers were Queen Rania of Jordan and a notably relaxed Gordon Brown. Clearly, not being prime minister does wonders for your state of mind.

There were lots of speakers and limited time, so it was a very soundbitey event. Rather than try to report it in full I shall just send you to the Global Campaign for Education website, which will tell you all about the campaign to make primary education available to every child.

The star of the show was the 12-year-old South African girl Nthabiseng Tshabalala. Not so much for her address to the meeting as for what happened afterwards.

A crowd of us were waiting for the lifts to come to take us down from the second floor after the meeting, but none came for ages. "Are there any stairs?" she asked and the whole crowd went down that way instead.

You can't beat a good education.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Blair turns to drink

It was against my better judgement when I agreed to review Tony Blair’s A Journey for the High Leicestershire Radical, and my doubts were by no means assuaged when I finally plucked up the courage to open the thing. It was not long before I passed it over to the Well-Behaved Orphans to be turned into paper darts. (This will not, of course, prevent my reviewing it).

One paragraph I did read caused me no little worry. In it, Blair reported that the animosity of his Chancellor was so great that it led him to have “a stiff whisky or G&T before dinner, and a couple of glasses of wine or even half a bottle with it”.

Really, if a man is off his drink to that extent, he is clearly in poor health and unfit to hold a great office of state. I think the Queen should have Said Something.

Earlier this week

Another day in New York

Today was the first day of the Millennium Development Goals summit. I have had all sorts of adventures and will devote some time to writing them up tomorrow morning.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Nick Clegg on international development

From the Liberal Democrat leader and deputy prime minister's speech to the party conference earlier today:
I still believe in our commitments to the developing world. The difference is I get to make those commitments at a UN summit and make them happen.

Mashable/92Y Social Good Summit

I am now at the Mashable/92Y Social Good Summit, which is being held at the 92nd Street Y (as the YMCA is now known).

This video will tell you all you want to know about it...

Global Campaign for Education meeting

I am at a meeting organised by the Global Campaign for Education. It is being held at the Millennium Hotel near the United Nations Building in New York.

Rather than try to live blog it I shall take some notes and write it up for you later.

The Metropolitan Opera, New York

When I first worked in London I was surprised that so many buildings I had heard of could be found in such proximity to one another.

New York is the same. Today I have seen Madison Square Gardens, Central Park and Time Square. And the rally I attended yesterday afternoon took place outside the Met.

Modernist architecture always looks better in the sun, but I do find this more elegant than most British essays in the style.

More on Merry Bullock

It transpires that our recent Name of the Day winner was once married to the current President of Estonia.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Ming and the diamonds

I am sorry to hear that Menzies Campbell has got himself caught up in this “blood diamonds” business in Central Africa – it seems so out of character.

I can only assume that Elspeth put him up to it.

Earlier this week

By-election fixing

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Have you got what it takes to be a health hero?

These two have, obviously.

Action for Global Health is calling on European and world leaders to become health heroes by stepping up their commitments and rescuing the three main health Millennium Development Goals. More on their website.

The World Walks for Water

When I was a councillor I used to remind meetings that the great improvement in health over the past century or more was not down to heroic surgery or better drugs. It was down to local authorities using their public health powers to ensure there was a clean water supply.

According to a leaflet from The World Walks for Water:

884 million people don't have clean water to drink, cook or wash with - that's one in eight of the global population. 2.6 billion live without adequate sanitation. This lack of access has a staggering effect on the lives of the poor.

  • They have to walk on average 6km to collect water - and in most cases, it is unclean water.
  • They suffer long and back-breaking walks with their collected water - carrying around 20kg at a time.
  • Illness and time spent collecting water also means 443 million school days are lost every year.
The World Walks for Water wants to put pressure on world leaders in the spring of 2011 when there will be a series of high-level political meetings on water and sanitation in Africa and Asia.

This tactic has been used before. In 2007, 25,000 people walked 320km to Delhi to demand land reform - and reforms were forthcoming from the Indian government. And this year campaigners in Burkina Faso formed "the world's longest toilet queue".

Which brings us back to Harborough District Council.

There is nothing on the World Walks for Water so far beyond a request to give them your email address. So if you want facts and figures on water and sanitation go to WaterAid.

Stand Up Take Action Against Poverty rally

I have just got back to the hotel (on my own, on two different buses) from a rally held in a sunny plaza outside the Lincoln Centre. You can find a full list of the speakers who took part on its website.

There was also music and I particularly liked the saxophone player from Mamarazzi, who made his stand against global poverty by dressing as a panda.

And there was a stalls area, and I picked up armfuls of leaflets there. I shall now read them and share some of the more interesting links with you.

Around the corner from my hotel

The grave of Richard Munslow, the last sin-eater, at Ratlinghope has been restored

Earlier this year I visited Ratlinghope and the grave of the last sin-eater in England.

The BBC News Shropshire pages report that the grave has now been restored and that there will be a service at Ratlinghope this afternoon to mark the event.

Why Labour does not appeal to Liberal Democrats

Nick Cohen has a good article in today's Observer (I learn over the web from my New York hotel bedroom) about the case of Paul Chambers:
Because of a joke, he has a criminal record and lost two jobs. The CPS is ruining his life – for no reason.
(Sunny Hundal on Liberal Conspiracy suggests that the rhetoric of journalists like Cohen has helped engender an atmosphere where it is possible for the state to get away with things like this, but we'll let that pass for now.)

Cohen concludes that:
I don't care what the polls say or how unpopular the coalition becomes – Labour must change the settled view of the majority of Britons that it is the party of politically correct jobsworths or it will never win another election.
I believe that is right. I also believe it shows how that David Miliband's pledge to win over 10,000 Liberal Democrats as Labour members by Christmas is unlikely to be fulfilled.

Neil Kinnock and the paranoid school of Labour politics

Neil Kinnock had his say on the Labour leadership election the other day. He accused David Miliband's supporters of spreading "bloody bile" about Ed Miliband.

It was a reminder, in two words, of just how awful Kinnock is.

First, there is his love of alliteration for the sake of it - a tendency of his that Spitting Image was making fun of 25 years ago.

Second, it is a ridiculous metaphor: unless the person in question is seriously ill, bile is not bloody.

Third, and most important, it displays the paranoid style of Labour politics at its worst.

One of the reasons that I did not join in with the eulogies for Michael Foot after his death was because of his rhetorical style, which he presumably adopted from Nye Bevan. Everything was "treachery" or a "betrayal". It was overblown, paranoid and rooted in a Marxist view of politics - you were either for your class or a traitor.

Neil Kinnock employed this style too. His misfortune was that he became Labour leader in an age when its philosophical underpinning was collapsing.

This style also look simply ridiculous on television. I remain convinced that one of the reasons that John Major upset the odds to win in 1992 was that the British people could not face the prospect of having to listen to Neil Kinnock for another five years.

Sting: Englishman in New York

Sting jets around the globe, lecturing people about poverty in the third world.

I see nothing wrong with that.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: By-election fixing

Far away in Liverpool, the latest issue of Liberator is on sale from the magazine's stand at the Liberal Democrat Conference. So it is time to spend another week at Bonkers Hall.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10.

By-election fixing

Like all cricket lovers, I was shocked to learn of the allegations about match fixing. They reminded me of that sad period during the 1950s when Eastern betting syndicates turned their attentions to British council by-elections. All over the country, candidates stood with the sole intention of losing – and some pretty fruity leaflets were issued as a result.

Things came to a head in a contest at Weston-Super-Mare, where the candidates of all three major parties were clearly doing their best to be defeated. In the event, they were trumped by an Independent Ratepayer, who was given 14 days without the option at the subsequent court case, but at least the authorities were finally compelled to act.

In those days, of course, local by-elections still fell under the aegis of the Marylebone Cricket Club, and at first-rate job they made of it. If they succeed in sorting out this Pakistani no-ball business, then I would be in favour of scrapping the Electoral Commission and putting them back in charge.

After all, whom would you rather see entrusted with our democratic system: some faceless bureaucrat or Derek Underwood?

Lib Dem Blog of the Year awards: The winners

Liberal Democrat Voice has the winners of this year's Lib Dem Blog of the Year awards, for which I acted as one of the judges:

Best new Liberal Democrat Blog (started since 1st September 2009)
Nick Thornsby’s Blog

Best blog from a Liberal Democrat holding public office (The Tim Garden Award)
A Lanson Boy by Alex Folkes

Best use of blogging/social networking/e-campaigning by a Liberal Democrat
Nick Barlow (with Justin McKeating) for the hashtag: #nickcleggsfault

Best posting on a Liberal Democrat blog (since 1st September 2008)
An Open Letter To The Labour Party by Andrew Hickey

Best non-Liberal Democrat politics blog
The Charlotte Gore Blog

Liberal Democrat Blog of the Year
The Very Fluffy Diary of Millennium Dome, Elephant

Well done everybody.

And well done in particular to Millennium Elephant for winning the major award. It is good to see a long-established blog winning this.

There is, as it happens, one well-established blog that has never won one of these awards in its life...

Market Harborough is politically engaged

Before I left town for Heathrow, I called in at a demonstration reported as follows by the BBC Leicestershire pages:

A protest has been held over a cut in the number of public toilets in a Leicestershire town.

Two sets of toilets near Market Harborough's bus station and Market Hall were closed in July, leaving a single set in the town.

Campaigners said an earlier petition had not worked so a public protest was the next step.

The people of the town will clearly not take this sitting down.

Liberal England: Live from New York

You join me in my hotel on Eighth Avenue. My room number is 2060.

"Is that the second floor?" I asked.

"No, it's the twentieth."

Welcome to America.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

In defence of Michael Gove's free schools

Last year I wrote:
Calder’s First Law of Politics is that if all the parties agree on a new law it is bound to turn out to be a disaster. My Second Law is that the more power the government takes for itself, the more arbitrary the exercise of that power becomes.
I have since formulated my Third Law:
The worth of a letter to the Guardian is in inverse proportion to the square of its number of signatories.
Which is why I was not overimpressed by Michael Bassey's article for Liberal Democrat Voice today. In it he argues that the Liberal Democrats should oppose Michael Gove's plans for free schools.

His arguments are that it will lead to a "two-tier system" - a cliche I have done my best to satirise over the years - and because of a letter written to the Guardian by 12 professors of education ("myself included").

I have read that letter and I am struggling to see where Professor Bassey's views differ from those of John Prescott:
"If you set up a school and it becomes a good school, the great danger is that everyone wants to go there."
As someone says in the comments on Lib Dem Voice, we already have a two-tier education system: it is divided between good and bad schools. And the reason that I feel more sympathetic towards Gove's ideas than many Liberal Democrats is because I believe that we desperately need more good schools.

There is another divide in British education: that between private and state schools. The left has largely given up talking about this, but it still worries me.

If a new tranche of free schools can do something to blur this distinction (as the old direct grant schools did), at least in terms of their ethos, I shall not be sorry.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Demonstation against closure of Market Harborough public lavatories tomorrow

I am told that the people of the town will be massing outside the public loos at the Market Hall tomorrow (Saturday) at 10.30 to prostest against the Tory council's plans to close them.

Television cameras are expected.

Why David Cameron should support the Alternative Vote

Nick Clegg deserves to be cheered to the echo at the Liberal Democrat conference. He has led his party out of the wilderness and into a government that is already changing the face of British politics.

There is nothing wrong with the opening of David Hunt and Michael McManus's article in the Guardian this morning. It is shortly afterwards that the problems set in.

The two authors argue that:

the emergence of a strong, broadly-based Lib-Con coalition marks the exciting rebirth of one of the most important traditions in British politics.

But the examples they offer will not reassure their Liberal Democrat readers. They point to the Liberal and Tory coalition brought in by the 1918 "coupon" election, but that coalition fell apart and marked the end of the Liberals as a party of government.

They also point to the Liberal/Tory pacts agreed in Bolton and Huddersfield and the 1950s. But these, being based more upon Liberal fear of annihilation than any shared values, will not inspire modern Liberal Democrats either.

But there is one way that the present coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats might be maintained. It could happen if the British people vote in favour of the Alternative Vote in next year's referendum.

As I have argued before, if we have AV then some form of understanding between the two parties would be possible without their having to stand down candidates anywhere or campaign less vigorously in any constituency. And, if in five years' time, the Coalition has proved a popular government, then AV would allow people to vote for it to continue.

For the AV referendum to be won, I suspect David Cameron will need to come out in support of the new system.

He might well be happier with a majority Conservative government, even in view of the further accommodations he would have to make to his party's right wing. But right wing policies - despite what right wingers believe - are not popular with the voters, and Cameron would have to bear this in mind.

If anything like the rise of the US Tea Party happens in Britain to further energise the Tory right, then Cameron may well conclude that making concessions to the Liberal Democrats will at once be more palatable and more politically successful than making concessions to the Conservative right.

So over to you, Mr Cameron. For how long do you want to be prime minister?

Six of the Best 93

Nick Clegg's most enthusiastic supporter in the last Lib Dem leadership election and latterly the Coalition's greatest critic, Lindylooz Muze interviewed the deputy prime minister today. Did he reconcile her to the Coalition? It seems we'll have to wait for part 2.

Millennium Elephant was there too - and took a photograph.

An elected mayor for Colchester? What You Can Get Away With says no and quotes Karl Popper: "What a monument of human smallness is this idea of the philosopher king. What a contrast between it and the simplicity of humaneness of Socrates, who warned the statesmen against the danger of being dazzled by his own power, excellence, and wisdom, and who tried to teach him what matters most — that we are all frail human beings."

Wilson's Words reflects on the experience of learning a language in another country; in this case it is Russian in the Ukraine.

Tessa Norton writes on Londonist about the campaign to save The Wenlock Arms, which is a pub off the City Road.

Unmann-Wittering Blog presents "Licence to Snatch": "I love the detail of this 1971 Public Information Film: the grey and brown polyester fashions, the bedraggled hair, the rotating rack with Joe Loss and Pinky & Perky records on it...and yes, that purse snatcher bloke does look like Sean Connery, doesn't he? Well, he would, as it's Sean's younger brother, Neil."

Liberal England is no. 62

No. 62 in the Total Politics poll to find the top UK political blogs, that is. Up from no. 69 (fnarr, fnarr) in last year's poll.

Richard Livsey has died

Lord Livsey - Richard Livsey - who was Liberal and then Liberal Democrat MP for Brecon & Radnor between 1985-92 and 1997-2001, has died at the age of 75.

BBC News quotes a tribute to him from Kirsty Williams, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats and AM for the same constituency:

"a man of immense honour and decency who was loved and respected by his constituents, colleagues and by politicians of all parties.

"He will be remembered particularly as a champion for the rural communities in which he lived and an expert on agriculture, which he worked in all his professional life.

"As Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, he was a passionate advocate for Welsh devolution.

"His role in achieving a 'Yes' vote in the 1997 referendum establishing the National Assembly for Wales will be long remembered."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

White Grit engine house

Near the Iron Church at White Grit - and just over the English border - stands these remains.

According to Michael Shaw's The Lead, Copper & Barytes Mines of Shropshire:
White Grit engine house dates from 1783 and was extended and heightened in about 1840 to house a new engine.
These engines were Cornish beam engines, used to drain and provide power to the area's lead mines. The remains at White Grit are the most obvious, as they stand beside the Bishop's Castle to Shrewsbury road.

On the other side of that road stands the former More Arms, where Ronnie Lane and Eric Clapton used to hang out.

And I seem to have got the unmistakable crest of Bromlow Callow into the picture too.

Harborough Tories: The writing is on the wall

Trenchant stuff from the Harborough Mail:

Under pressure Harborough District Council is facing flak on three different fronts as public anger with the authority grows.

The level of dissatisfaction with the council hit a new low this week as placard-waving protesters announced they will take to the streets of the town centre this Saturday to campaign against the council's recent unpopular decision to close public toilets at the Market Hall.

It comes on the back of another deepening row this week as councillors on both sides of the political spectrum took umbrage at the way its chief executive Sue Smith announced possible spending cuts for the 2011/12 budget.

And apparently the paper has more developments in the Focsa saga too.

Harborough District Council, I need hardly add, is currently run by the Conservatives.

Institute for Government: Nick Clegg needs more civil service support

George Parker (who once kindly described me as a "Liberal firebrand") writes about United We Stand, a new report from the Institute for Government, in the Financial Times:

Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats need more civil service and political support in government to maintain the coalition’s stability when times get tough, according to a think-tank.

The Institute for Government says the deputy prime minister has “insufficient support at the centre” and that the Lib Dems need to have more junior ministers so that they are represented in all main departments.

The report, says Parker, goes on to say the Whitehall system is designed around the assumption that the government is led by a single individual - the prime minister - and needs to be adapted to a system with two-headed leadership.

It proposes that Mr Clegg’s private office should be reinforced with a permanent secretary and other senior civil servants, to ensure the Lib Dem leader can get a grip on all aspects of government. It also says that the Liberal Democrats should have more junior ministers so they are represented in every government department.

You can download the full report from the Institute for Government website.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Culling badgers: Have the Lib Dems fallen in with a bad sett?

I was sorry to hear about the Coalition's plans to allow farmers to shoot badgers on their land.

Another concession to the Tories?

Maybe not, because a couple of years ago I wrote about an interview Nick Clegg gave to the rural affairs editor of the Shropshire Star. The paper quoted Nick as saying:
“We are completely open to these trials. You are right - Britain’s fascination with animals is curious to say the least. But this issue needs to go forward, even though plenty of people in the Liberal Democrats do not like this position.”
I am afraid that Liberals have never needed encouragement from anyone to court the farming vote.

There are plenty of arguments against a cull of badgers to be found on the Badger Trust site. Or click on the badger's nose (this is not a euphemism).

Background reading on the Millennium Development Goals

There is lots of good stuff on the Guardian website's Development pages.

Six of the Best 92

The World Forgetting, By the World Forgot uses the announcement of the nominations for this year's Blog of the Year Awards as the occasion for a meditation on the state of the Liberal Democrat blogosphere. "Ultimately," he writes, "we will not see new Lib Dem blogs grow to the same stature as the big beasts unless we give them a level playing field. It is my concern that Lib Dems online should be actively using their own methods to highlight the (very good) stuff just below the radar." I agree with him and that is one of the reasons that I started running this Six of the Best feature. If you come across any Lib Dem blog posts that deserve a wider readership, please feel free to suggest them to me.

"It was a real pleasure to be on the front bench today for the Report Stage and 3rd Reading of the Identity Documents Bill. Good riddance!" Lynne Featherstone celebrates the death of Labour's plans for ID cards.

In a guest piece for Liberal Democrat Voice, Claire Sambrook urges the Lib Dems to ensure that the Coalition sticks to its commitment to end the detention of children involved in immigration procedures.

Neue Politik justly complains: "Not only do we have to fund the State visit of Pope Benedict XVI, but now his Cardinals get to fling insults at our country whilst our Government must maintain a welcoming diplomatic front so as not to upset the Pope!!"

Were the editors of Beano and Dandy on a Nazi death list? asks Jeremy Briggs on Bear Alley. Almost certainly not is his conclusion but, as he says, it makes a good story.

Kathz's Blog travels to Paris to visit Samuel Beckett's grave and encounters an old man tending it: "I'm not sure what he meant to say. Was he just naming Beckett's most famous work? Was he telling me that in death too Beckett was 'waiting for Godot'. Or was he himself Godot, arrived too late and tenderly clearing the playwright's tomb?"

Evelyn Waugh on coaltions

"It is one very extraordinary thing, your British Constitution," said the ex-King of Ruritania. "All the time when I was young they taught me nothing but British Constitution. My tutor had been a master at your Eton school. And now when I come to England always there is a different Prime Minister and no one knows which is which."

"Oh, sir," said the Major, "that's because of the Liberal Party."

Evelyn Waugh Vile Bodies (1930)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The story of Kibworth is The Story of England

BBC4 is to show a new Michael Wood series entitled The Story of England. It was made by MayaVision International and the company's website describes it as follows:
Michael tells the story of one community through the whole of English history. Using documents, landscape, buildings, science and archaeology, and with the help of the villagers themselves, he explores the lives of the ordinary people against the backdrop of national events across more than a thousand years.
And the exciting thing, for me at least, is the identity of that community: it is Kibworth in Leicestershire, which I have written about here myself.

The Story of England is in six parts. The first will be shown on BBC4 at 9 p.m. on 22 September and repeated on the same channel at 10 p.m. on Thursday 23 September.

Name of the Day

The Deputy Secretary-General of the International Union of Psychological Science is a lady called Merry Bullock.

2010 Lib Dem Blog of the Year awards

Liberal Democrat Voice has the shortlists for this year's awards.

As a judge this time round I am not suffering from "Why is X on the list when I am not?" angst. Instead I have "why is Y on the list when I voted for Z?" angst.

Well done to everybody who appears on the shortlists - and to some strong candidates who did not quite make it.

Market Harborough Arts Fresco 2010

I spent some time at Arts Fresco on Sunday. There was nothing to compare with Ant Orkezdra or Musical Ruth from last year, but I was attracted by this act - Octopus Ocean from Circo Rum Ba Ba.

The photograph shows someone from another of the day's best acts. This was a large group of performers in high-visibility jackets who, in a clever parody of our modern obsession with safety, attached themselves to any act that, however slowly, moved through the crowds.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Coalition and cutting the size of the state

Julian Glover had an article in the Guardian this morning that is well worth reading:

Why be spooked by social democrat squawking? The coalition should shrug its shoulders and confess: the charge its enemies lay at its door is broadly correct. This is an ideological government with a plan for a smaller, less centralised and more liberal state.

The left dreads the obvious fact that spending cuts are central to this plan – and they are. The left senses that the government is staging a cultural revolution against social democracy – and it is. The coalition does not want to make mild adjustments to the old order. It intends to smash it.

What I object to is not so much the size of the state as the reach of the state. I am happy to see any amount spent on education, but I reject the Labour assumption that progress consists in more and more areas of life being managed or supervised by the state. That is why I have written so many columns critical of New Labour annexation of the family, for instance.

Glover was on BBC Radio 4's The World Tonight debating the issues he raised with Sunder Katwala from the Fabian Society. Katwala argued that we must maintain the size of the state in order to ensure fairness, but the position is more complicated than he allowed.

As the last 13 years have shown, a growth in the size of the state is not necessarily accompanied by a more equal distribution of wealth.

Anyway, this is the issue that Liberal Democrats should be debating.

The development of the Millennium Development Goals

A bit of background viewing for my trip to New York...

Electoral Reform Society proposals for new West Midlands constituencies

They can be found in the Wolverhampton newspaper the Express & Star:

Chris Kelly, the Tory MP for Dudley South, said: “The new boundaries will be drawn up by the Boundary Commission which is completely independent of parties and government.

“So I am not sure why the Electoral Reform Society has done this.

Nor am I, but it is always fun to speculate.

Demonstration against development on Aylestone Meadows

The Leicester Mercury reports that a demonstration is to be held on Thursday (16 September) at 4.15 p.m. outside Leicester Town Hall against plans to build a football complex on Aylestone Meadows.

The paper quotes Sue Eppel (Hello Sue!) from the Aylestone Meadows Appreciation Society as saying:
The work they have planned, especially the floodlights, is going to have a devastating effect on the wildlife."
Certainly it is an odd way for Leicester, which proclaims itself an "environment city" to behave. There must be many less environmentally sensitive sites where this complex could be built.

The defence mounted by the Labour councillor Robert Wann is worth a little attention. He says:
"I think they are very selfish in their approach. The football facilities are part of an £11m city-wide improvement to sporting facilities which will benefit hundreds of local people."
How campaigning to protect Leicester's environment can be "very selfish" escapes me. And if you do the arithmetic, an £11m project that helps "hundreds of people" represents extremely poor value for money.

Perhaps somewhere behind this is the attitude that Tessa Jowell revealed in her speech to the Labour government's sports summit in July 2003:
“Here’s the truth – children don’t want to play sport on badly drained 1950s scraps of land. They want showers, fences and floodlights.”
For people like Jowell and Wann, a meadow will always be a poor substitute for Astroturf.