Sunday, September 30, 2012

Six of the Best 281

A Scottish Liberal offers a cool and measured response to Nick Clegg's Conference speech.

"The challenge now is to set the policy into a strong narrative of enhancing and embedding liberty through the spreading of wealth/ownership and power. Central to that policy will be a return to the Liberal Party's commitment of using government action  to achieve it. Politely asking the average shyster capitalist for a slice of his profits and control is not going to work!" Birkdale Focus wants the Liberal Democrats to rediscover their predecessors' enthusiasm for employee ownership.

Brown Moses Blog looks at the murder of Daniel Morgan, a private detective who was murdered just as he was reportedly close to revealing police corruption with links to the News of the World.

Edward Lucas reviews Anne Applebaum's "Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-56" for Standpoint.

"Perhaps the most rapturous applause of the day was saved for Chris Packham, who appeared holding a dead starling’s wing, a fox’s skull and clutching his boyhood nature diaries. Seeing him rail against fluorescent tabards, marigold gloves and disinfectant hand gel was a sight to behold." Jules Howard reports back from the Natural Childhood summit for Countryfile Magazine.

dymchurchworldnews on the things you find on the beach.

Nick Clegg gives comfort to Channel Island tax havens

The slogan for last week's Liberal Democrat Conference was “Fair taxes in tough times", but you wouldn't have thought that if you heard Nick Clegg's interview with BBC Guernsey:
"There are lots of regulatory debates about exactly how the financial sector operates in the Channel Islands, but it's a great plus for us in the UK."
His remarks were seized upon by the cliques that rule Jersey and Guernsey, and the tone of the commentary on the accompanying video goes some way to justifying the arguments of those who see BBC Jersey and Guernsey as a sort of Pravda of the English Channel.

And if you read a a 2008 article from the Daily Telegraph by Gordon Rayner you will see that these islands serve as a good model of the sort of society we Liberal Democrats want to avoid on the mainland:
Just why, on a such a small and supposedly idyllic island, did so many hundreds of children end up in care homes? 
The answer lies in another little-publicised fact about Jersey - its unexpectedly high level of poverty, which brings with it the sort of social problems that lead to children being taken into care. 
Although Jersey, with its £250?billion financial industry, has the second-highest gross domestic product per capita in Europe, the island's wealth is largely held by the privileged few. Some 13,000 people - more than one in seven - live in social rental properties, Jersey's equivalent of council houses, and half of all households suffer from one or more of the internationally recognised measures for relative poverty. 
The crumbling 1960s council estates of St Helier are testament to the years of neglect. Rusting cars rot on rubbish-strewn drives, windows have bedsheets for curtains and the paint is peeling off walls and doorframes. "This place is run by the finance industry for the finance industry," says one resident. "Anyone else just doesn't count."
There are those in the Liberal Democrats who have a cooler view of the tax evasion industry. Listen to Vince Cable on the same video or read Danny Alexander:
“Fair taxes in tough times means everyone playing by the same rule book, and everyone paying their fair share,” he is expected to say. 
“We have this message to the small minority of wealthy people who don’t play by the rules: we are coming to get you and you will pay your fair share.”
Nick ingenuousness is endearing, and as deputy prime minister you have to be polite about all sorts of people whom you don't much like, but I do hope he does not make a habit of championing these grubby little tax havens.

And I also hope the fact that the Liberal Democrats' largest donor is based in Jersey will have no influence on our view of the question.

The Mobiles: Drowning in Berlin



This was playing in the buffet at Leicester station as I was on my way to Manchester last week.

"Drowning in Berlin" from early 1982 was The Mobiles' only hit. You can see it as a an exposure of the dark side of the New Romantics or as an expression of dissatisfaction with Thatcher's materialism before it had taken place.

There is a swish video for this song on Youtube, but I think it more impressive that the band created a Cabaret vibe live on the Top of the Pops stage.

River Song and T.H. White

Perhaps uniquely among Liberal Democrat bloggers, I have not been watching the current series of Doctor Who. But Wikipedia tells me:
Because River Song is a time traveller herself, her adventures with the Doctor occur out-of-synchronisation; their first meeting (from the audience's perspective) is his first and her last.
This reminds me of one of my favourite books, The Sword in the Stone, in which Merlyn lives his life backwards.

Which explains this exchange just after he has met 'the Wart' - the boy who will grow up to become King Arthur:
Merlyn stopped talking and looked at the Wart in an anxious way. 
"Have I told you this before?" he inquired suspiciously. 
"No," said the Wart. "We only met about half an hour ago." 
"So little time to pass as that?" said Merlyn, and a big tear ran down to the end of his nose.
The implications of living backwards through time are not seriously explored by White: he just uses it for the occasional throwaway joke.

Still, it makes you wonder if Russell T. Davies or Steven Moffat were thinking of The Sword in the Stone when they invented the character of River Song. It is not a bad influence to have.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Michelangelo Antonioni centenary



The Italian film director Michelangelo Antonioni, who died in 2007, was born on 29 September 1912.

To mark his centenary, here is a scene from Blow-Up. With digital photography, it just wouldn't be the same.

St Mary de Castro, Leicester



Where should Richard III - if it is Richard III - be buried? The answer, of course, is Leicester, but there are those who have questioned this, suggesting York or Westminster Abbey instead.

I suspect that one reason for this is that Leicester's rich heritage is not as widely appreciated as it should be. You can start with the Jewry Wall, the second largest piece of surviving civil Roman building in Britain, and its neighbouring Saxon church of St Nicholas.

Today I visited the second oldest church in the city, St Mary de Castro. Here Geoffrey Chaucer was married and the four-year-old Henry VI was knighted here by his uncle John, Duke of Bedford. When Parliament met in the Great Hall of Leicester Castle next door, it first heard Mass in St Mary de Castro.

The church is interesting in that it effectively has two naves. The southern one was originally the Castle chapel and the northern one was the parish church. Originally these were separate buildings, but they are now combined in one.

Today they were serving refreshments inside and there was a jumble sale in full swing. All proceeds were going to their Save Our Spire appeal.

My photograph was taken through the surviving South Gate of the Castleyard. The Great Hall survives behind a plain 19th-century facade - it is the building to the left of the church.

Nick Clegg apologises again



Thanks to @NickThornsby on Twitter.

Deborah Orr on criminalising squatting

I did not blog about it at the time, but I was deeply disappointed that the Coalition government made squatting a criminal offence.

And Deborah Orr puts it very well in today's Guardian:
Alex Haigh, 21, is the first person to have been jailed under new laws criminalising squatting. He has been sentenced to 12 weeks. What a joke. If a small, basic, publicly subsidised room had been made available to him in the first place, he would not now have a criminal record, along with all the lasting psychological misery that comes with the experience of incarceration. 
This is what happens when the country is run by people who have neither experience of, nor a wish to imagine, what it is like to come to the capital as an unsupported young person seeking employment, and actually find a place you can afford to live in. What they can imagine, only too well, is having a spare house, and wanting to make sure it stays empty.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Literary Misjudgement of the Day

Won by Amanda Craig, children's books critic of The Times, who is mercifully veiled by the newspaper's paywall:
I have long thought that [J.K.] Rowling, despite her unadventurous prose, is the true heir to Dickens, who believes in the novel as force for social good.

Samuel Ryder, who gave the Ryder Cup, was a Liberal

As Liberal Democrat Voice reminded us two years ago:
Having moved south from Manchester to enlarge his family business, Sam Ryder was first elected as a Liberal councillor to St. Albans council in 1903. Just two years later, Ryder was elected Mayor of St. Albans
He also seems to have been a bit of an Edwardian Danny Alexander, surprising his colleagues with an uncompromising assessment of the Council’s financial situation:
"We rejoice in a debt of £40,000 and our income is raised every year and mainly all spent or bespoken itself before we raise it so that we are in a sense debt collectors. It is humiliating."
If you want to know more about the man, try St Albans Council's Samuel Ryder Trail.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent



One of the few false notes (actually he provided many false notes) of the Olympic opening ceremony was the performance of Paul McCartney. He is a living part of our musical history but, let us be honest, he voice has gone.

It is not surprising, given his age, but in the past couple of years I have heard two survivors of the British Invasion generation who have definitely still got it: Steve Winwood and Colin Blunstone of the Zombies.

The other day Andrew Hickey pointed us to this video of a short performance by Blunstone and his bandmate Rod Argent. It's certainly more enjoyable than that Paul McCartney performance.

Six of the Best 280

Jennie Rigg surveys the possible alternatives and concludes that Nick Clegg is safe as Lib Dem leader for a while yet.

"One of the key changes he wants to see from Nick Clegg this year isn’t just the distinct Lib Dem vision that every activist is calling for, but a desire to articulate that vision at every opportunity, even when it makes the coalition travel over some bumpy terrain as a result. He says the failure of House of Lords reform will give the party ‘leeway’ to do this, and expects Clegg and colleagues to use the loss of the legislation as a justification for opposing more than just the boundary changes." Isabel Hardman interviews David Hall-Matthews, chair of the Social Liberal Forum, for the Spectator's Coffee House blog.

"Choice? What does it mean? And in practice, do we actually get it when it comes to the public services we use? If you happen to have children the state school system, then more than 85 per cent get their first choice of school. That’s a success, but what about the ones who didn’t? What did they feel and is there anything that can be done about it in future?" David Boyle, who is leading the independent review of barriers to choice in public services, writes for ResPublica.

The link between schools and house prices is now an established fact, says Steve Gibbons on the British Politics and Policy at LSE blog.

York Stories has some photographs of the floods in the city.

"One of the unsung heroes of the war was the Women's Institute. The book examines the tremendous voluntary work the WI put in during the war years to increase the country's food supply. Not only did they turn Britain's bounty of wild foods into the jams and preserves that are always associated with them, they also turned themselves into a mobile university and training organisation, teaching others the skills needed to preserve food and increase the food supply." Jonathan Wallace enjoys "The Wartime Farm" - the book of the current television series.

Nick Clegg channels Dr David Owen

There’s a better, more meaningful future waiting for us. Not as the third party, but as one of three parties of government.
said Nick Clegg in his leader's speech to the Liberal Democrat Conference in Brighton yesterday.

I am all in favour of the Lib Dems being a party of government, but I am not sure I follow the logic here.

Because we are the third party and likely to remain so (unless it is in the 2014 Euro elections, when we could finish fourth or even fifth). And that means being in government depends upon our holding the balance of power. And that depends upon the performance of the other two parties, which is not in our control.

We are not in government because we did wonderfully well at the last election under Nick's leadership. In fact our performance was disappointing. We suffered a net loss of seats and, in particular failed to gain the more affluent Labour seats (the Edinburghs and Islingtons) we had been targeted.

We are in government because the Conservatives and Labour did roughly as well as each other. And for the foreseeable future our remaining a party of government is dependent upon that happening at every election.

This may be an obvious point, but it escaped Dr David Owen when he was leading the SDP. He regularly declared that the Alliance's goal should be to hold the balance of power, as though that was within out control. As it turned out, the British public was not convinced by Neil Kinnock at the 1987 general election and the other two parties finished too far apart for our purposes.

I suspect that, to Nick, not being a third party means more than that. It means getting rid of our eccentricities and embracing the Blair/Cameron consensus.

This is not an enticing prospect, and I am worried that, in his speech, Nick was clearer about the voters (and activists) whose support he did not want to attract than those he did.

Waitrose Market Harborough opens


It's just a shame that it appears to have coincided with the end of the world.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Andy Williams and the Cookie Bear

The American Singer Andy Williams has died.

Older readers may remember that the Andy Williams Show was a popular fixture on British television in the late 1960s. It introduced us to the Osmonds (may it be forgiven) and featured the lovable Cookie Bear and his long-running and unsuccessful campaign to get Williams to give him a cookie.

Here are Williams and the bear with Kate Smith. How we laughed!

Pierre Trudeau's son to stand for leadership of Canadian Liberals

Yahoo! News Canada reports that Justin Trudeau, son of the former Canadian Liberal prime minister, is to stand for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada.

However, it  also reports a Canadian Liberal political analyst, Warren Kinsella, as expressing reservations about his candidacy:
"He would be the front-runner," Kinsella told Yahoo! Canada News in an email exchange. 
"But a lot of us Liberals don't want or need a coronation. We need a competitive race with lots of great, viable candidates and ideas. Justin needs that, too." 
Kinsella ... adds that Trudeau has the sizzle but needs the steak.
As my readers are so young these days, I had better tell you something about Pierre Trudeau's career. Yahoo! News Canada has a gallery of photographs from Justin Trudeau's life. Here he is as a little boy with his brother Alexandre and father.

And this is also an opportunity to remind you that Michael Ignatieff, a notably unsuccessful leader of the Canadian Liberals, is a kinsman of our own Nick Clegg.

Headline of the Day

Well done Nature for this effort on its news blog:

Buddhist ‘Iron Man’ found by Nazis is from space

Thanks to Ian Ridley.

Statistical evidence that elections in Russia and Uganda were fixed

Wired alerts us to a paper by a team of Austrian statisticians suggesting that recent elections in Russia and Uganda were riddled with fraudulent voting practices.

The study focused on hunting down anomalies in regional voting patterns, rather than on larger pools of data as is the usual trend. By focusing on regional activity, patterns clearly emerged indicating that when a high voter turnout in a specific area was combined with a high consensus for a particular candidate, more than a little ballot-fiddling had gone on - namely, the introduction of large numbers of false votes and the destruction of real ones. Or ballot stuffing, as it is more plainly called.

The paper's authors say: "We show that reported irregularities in recent Russian elections are, indeed, well-explained by systematic ballot stuffing. Extreme fraud corresponds to reporting a complete turnout and almost all votes for a single party."

Statistical graphs compared voter turnout in specific geographic regions with the percentage of individuals in that region that voted for the winning candidate. Plotted out, these results appear as an 'election fingerprint', where anomalies in the data are immediately evident. Russia and Uganda's fingerprints are both smudged rather than arranged in an orderly cluster - the hotspots represent areas where nearly everyone voted, and all for the winner.

Read the full paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Steven Pinker on taboos, political correctness and dissent



A useful video, which looks to be made up from excerpts from a longer interview.

I particularly admire the way that Pinker does not invent abstract rights to make the case for free speech. Instead, just as Mill and Popper did, he points to the unwelcome consequences of not allowing freedom of speech.

Thanks to Boing Boing.

Larry Elliott slams Nick Clegg's pension property plan

In his interview with Andrew Marr on Sunday Nick Clegg suggested that parents and grandparents should be allowed to draw on their pension pots to secure deposits and help young family members get a foot on the housing ladder.

Larry Elliott thinks it is a very bad idea and I find it hard to disagree with a word he writes:
This is wrong on so many levels it is hard to know where to begin, but let's start with the basic rules of economics. The reason homes are out of reach for most young people is that property prices are too high. The obvious way to allow more people to get their foot on the housing ladder is to bring prices down. Clegg's idea would have the opposite effect. It would push up prices and only help young people with well-off parents. Bad economics and regressive to boot. 
A second point that appears to have escaped the Liberal Democrat leader ... is that the value of the average pension has been slashed over the past decade. The move to defined contribution schemes coupled with falling stock markets and lower annuity rates means that someone approaching retirement will only be able to help their grown up children by impoverishing themselves. For generations past Britain has saved too little and too big a slice of investment has gone into bricks and mortar. For too long, too many individuals have relied on rising house prices to see them right in their old age. 
Clegg's harebrained idea would make all these problems worse not better.

Lord Bonkers' foreword to the new Liberator Songbook

Two years ago I posted Lord Bonkers' words of wisdom from a New York hotel room. Tonight my day job has brought me to one in Manchester.

So here is the foreword to new Liberator songbook that revellers will be using in Brighton later this evening.


Bonkers Hall
Rutland
Tel: Rutland 7

I am rather of the view that we fought two world wars so that we did not have to be approved by the police before we could attend the conference of our political party.

Yet when I put this to the President of the Liberal Democrats he took out an onion and said something about “some of us are willing to risk the possibility of serious harm to ourselves by not following police recommendations to accept accreditation” between his sobs.

So I suppose I must begin by congratulating you all on being allowed in to the Glee Club at all. Mind you, in my long experience the police do not always get things right. I recall one Boat Race night when…

But enough of that: let us turn to happier things.

I have often – particularly in these forewords after being sent a bottle of Auld Johnston by those amusing young people at Liberator – commented on the close relations that long existed between Liberalism and music. Susan J. Kramer and the Dakotas and all that. I am pleased to be able to report that our new intake of 2010 had done more than uphold this tradition.

The member for Cambridge, for instance, was commemorated in the Eurovision-winning “Huppert on a String” even before he entered the House, while the member for Burnley has been the subject of an entire Sondheim musical: “Anyone Can Birtwhistle”.

Then there is the traditional Redcar song about keeping a welcome in the hillside, with its moving line about “When you come home to Swales”. It always makes me blub. On a lighter note, many will enjoy Peter Gabriel’s “HamesWithout Frontiers”, though in all honesty a munt ball is more to my taste.

One final note of warning: if our President sets down his onion and makes as if to sing “Shine, Jesus, Shine” it is time to leave to catch the last bus.

Bonkers

Monday, September 24, 2012

GUEST POST The case against the badger cull

The cull is bad science and bad politics, says The Badger Protection League

Bovine TB is a serious problem but it must be remembered that it is a cattle disease. The TB skin test is only 80 per cent sensitive (i.e. accurate in picking out animals that are genuine infected). It misses up to 20 per cent of infected animals and these remain within the herd to continue to spread TB.

For this reason, elsewhere in Europe the test is used only as a herd test and the whole herd will be culled rather than just the individuals found to be positive.

There have been two large increases in Bovine TB in cattle over the years; in the 1990s BSE killed 819,500 cattle. Similarly, in 2001 a foot and mouth outbreak killed over 600,000 cattle and in both cases in the urgency to replace them, cattle were moved around the country even before the TB testing had caught up with the back log.

Lord Krebs who advised on this worrying issue created the randomised badger culling trial (RBCT). This was the largest experiment in the world on bovine TB examining the role that badgers play in infecting cattle. The trial lasted eight years, cost the tax payer over £53m and killed 11,000 badgers. It was overseen by the Independent Scientific Group and peer reviewed and no substantial or respectable body of science have contradicted their conclusions.

Important points from the RBCT conclusions:
"Badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to the future control of cattle TB in Britain."
"Substantial reductions in cattle TB incidence could be achieved by improving cattle-based control measures."
"It is unfortunate that agricultural and veterinary leaders continue to believe, in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, that the main approach to cattle TB control must involve some form of badger population control."
The government is now being selective in what science they choose to believe. They admit that even after nine years of badger culling they can only expect a 12-16 per cent reduction in TB outbreaks in cattle.

In fact they are basing their estimates on the RBCT but there are several large differences:
  1. They will shoot free-running badgers with high velocity rifles. The badger is a small, compact animal, difficult to shoot cleanly - even the deer trust does not allow shooting at night as it is too dangerous.
  2. They will be killing for a period of six weeks whereas the RBCT was only killing for 12 days.
  3. They must kill 70 per cent of the badgers without causing local extinction but the population is unknown (and unsurveyed) so how is this possible?
Lord Krebs himself has stated that rather than achieving the 12-16 per cent estimate, they actually risk making the problem worse. It will also cost farmers much more than it saves.

Science tells us that a cull will increase bovine TB in cattle in the first few years and indeed increase the level of TB in the remaining badger population. This experiment will measure only whether free shooting is humane, effective (at killing enough badgers) and viable (it will not test its effect on bovine TB). Yet wounded badgers will make their way to their setts and never be found.

With approximately 60 shooters required to cover the area of land issued with a licence using ammunition that can travel up to two miles if missing the target, there is a also a safety issue for humans, farm animals and wildlife.

Once more the badger will be the scapegoat for an ill-conceived election promise by both Conservatives and Liberals. This is a purely political act which will potentially kill 130,000 badgers, 85 per cent of which are likely to be healthy.

People must not underestimate the number of farmers that are against the cull of badgers and keen to protect them, believing that vaccination of badgers is the answer. Particularly in the South West where many farmers rely on tourism - in the form, for instance, of holiday homes and farm produce - as means of making their farms viable.

Everybody's Reading Festival, Leicester

I have just got back from an event at Leicester Central Library with the crime writers Mark Billingham and Martyn Waites. It formed a sort of precursor to the city's Everybody's Reading Festival, which runs from 29 September to 8 October.

If you follow the link above you will find there are already photographs from this evening on the festival's Facebook page, and you can also download the Festival brochure,

The Eleanor Cross at Hardingstone

If you have been with this blog since 2009 you may remember my visit to Geddington in Northamptonshire and its Eleanor Cross.

These crosses were erected at the 12 places that the body of Eleanor of Castile, wife of Edward I, rested in 1290 on its progress from Harby in Nottinghamshire to Westminster Abbey.

One of those places was at Delapre Abbey in Northampton and its cross is one of three that still exist. To find it you have to cross the golf course from the Abbey or go back to the London Road and climb the hill. It is situated some way from the Abbey in a prominent site at the top. This is cross is variously described as being sited at Delapre Abbey, Northampton and Hardingstone.

When I saw it I thought it might be a little too good to be true, as it was restored in the early 17th century. And Bob Speel's page on the Queen Eleanor Crosses does record that some thought it had been "much disfigured by the repairs executed by officious and ignorant individuals".

Defectors and the Liberal Party 1910 to 2010


A new study on political defections has identified an ‘archetype’ for someone who is likely to break political ranks.

Dr Alun Wyburn-Powell, from the School of Historical Studies at the University of Leicester, says:

“Virtually every week there are defections among local councillors and also less frequently among MEPs, MPs and Lords. Defections grab headlines, worry party leaders and can change the dynamics of Parliament.  Defections have never been comprehensively studied before and are not well understood by party leaders or commentators.”

“Over the last century the most likely individuals to defect were male, wealthy, divorced, Eton-educated, from a minority religion, former senior army officers and those who entered politics early.”

Dr Powell's Defectors and the Liberal Party 1910 to 2010: A Study of Inter-Party Relationships is published by the Manchester University Press (at a price that suggests it is aimed at institutional libraries rather than individual purchasers).

Dr Wyburn-Powell says:

“There is a pattern to defections. It is not just a random group of individuals taking one-off decisions. Among defectors, 53 per cent defected for better prospects, 43 per cent over policy and 3 per cent because of personalities. Defection, on average, is a career-enhancing move – chances of ministerial office and honours are higher for defectors than for loyalists.”

“A political defection is an expert opinion on the state of the party at a particular point in time. My findings are based on a study of all 707 people who sat as a Liberal or Lib Dem MPs from 1910 to 2010. Of all these MPs 16% (about one in six) defected. I also studied the smaller number of MPs and former MPs who defected into the Liberals/Lib Dems and investigated the cases of other defectors who went straight from Labour to the Conservatives and vice-versa. Virtually all Liberal defectors to the Conservatives were happy with their move, but over half of Liberal defectors to Labour were dissatisfied.”

Looking at the most recent defections of sitting MPs, Dr. Wyburn-Powell said: “It is the Conservatives who are suffering the most defections. This is a turn-around - for most of the last century the Conservatives were the most cohesive party and the Liberals the most likely to suffer defections.”

“This pattern may well continue, if the actions of Lord Stevens and departing Conservative councillors are an indication of things to come. Some Conservative MPs are uncomfortable with the coalition and disillusioned about their own career prospects, with many Liberal Democrats occupying ministerial jobs. The coalition government’s attitude towards Europe has alienated many Conservatives and they see UKIP posing a serious threat in some constituencies. Conversely, few Liberal Democrats are defecting, which signals a change from past examples set by the party. Given the rare chance that the coalitions has presented, most Liberal Democrats find that they prefer being unpopular but in power, to being liked but ignored as a forgotten third party.”

Dr Wyburn-Powell adds: “I set out to explore the reasons for defections from the Liberal Party in order to discover their role in the party’s near collapse and recovery. The reasons for, and timing of, the decline of the Liberal Party is still contested by historians. My research pinned more of the blame for outward defections on Lloyd George than on Asquith or any other leader. I suspected that there were undiscovered patterns in past defections and that they were not just a random collection of individual decisions.”

"My research reveals a long-term social compatibility between the Liberals and the Conservatives, which was not the case between the Liberals and Labour. However, in terms of policy, Labour and the Lib Dems are fairly compatible. It is in the interests of both these parties to work on their relationship, as they may need to form a coalition after the next election.”

“Investigating past relationships between parties can lead to a better mutual understanding and respect, which can help in the formation of a future coalition. Studying the reasons for past defections can help parties to avoid losing future defectors.”

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Six of the Best 279

Our text today is taken from Keynesian Liberal: "I was brought up under the influence of the Church of England and the Book of Common Prayer, so each Sunday morning  and evening, as a choirboy, I was exhorted to confess my "manifold sins and wickedness" and not to "dissemble nor cloke them."  It's a pity this has gone out of fashion, because there seems to be a good deal of dissembling and cloking going on in modern society, among all sorts and conditions of men and women, and not just in the Liberal Democrats."

Lib Dems should vote against the Secret Courts Bill on Tuesday, says Clare Algar on Liberal Democrat Voice. She's right.

On the Fabian Society website, Olly Parker reports on a Lib Dem Conference session the Fabians organised with Centre Forum on the subject of pluralism. The panel comprised Andrew Adonis, Ming Campbell, Jon Cruddas and Jo Swinson.

Rutland Ospreys writes: "Last week when I put out an appeal on the website and e-mailed some contacts in Morocco, it was more in hope than expectation that someone in Morocco may be able to go and find out what had happened to 09(98) on the edge of the Sahara. We were receiving transmissions from a remote ridge of the northern edge of the desert, well away from main roads and in some of the most inhospitable terrain Africa – or perhaps, more accurately, the world has to offer. Surely, 09′s fate would remain a mystery?" Read the remarkable story of what happened next.

The connections between Marie Lloyd, Dr Crippen and the Bedford Music Hall in Camden are traced by Another Nickel in the Machine.

Intermezzo brings you Dogs of the Great Composers.

Jersey comes to Brighton

TheJerseyWay posts two BBC Radio Jersey interviews that are worthy of attention.

The American investigative journalist Leah McGrath Goodman talks about her continuing struggle with British and Jersey authorities to be allowed to work on the island again:



And then Jersey assistant chief minister Senator Sir Philip Bailhache reveals that he is attending the Liberal Democrat Conference in Brighton.

As well as engaging in "casual discussions" he wants to meet Tom McNally, the minister responsible for the Crown dependencies, and John Hemming, the Liberal Democrat MP who recently raised his concerns about the governance of Jersey in the House of Commons.

In this interview he accuses John of abusing his position as an MP, so that should be an interesting meeting.

Meanwhile, if you meet Sir Philip you may want to ask him how Jersey's status as a tax haven can be squared with the Liberal Democrats' belief in fair taxation.

A Leicester monument to the last Labour government

From the Leicester Mercury last week:
New face-recognising equipment at the Post Office will be used to record the identity of foreign nationals in the city. 
The Post Office downstairs in WHSmith, in Gallowtree Gate, Leicester, unveiled its new "biometric unit" yesterday. 
Officials demonstrated how the equipment can read fingerprints and analyse faces of people applying for a Biometric Residence Permit, which were first launched in 2008.
Orwellian "face-recognising equipment" installed in a Post Office crammed into the basement of a shop because the Crown Post Office has been closed. What better monument could there be to the last Labour government?

It seems that Labour agrees with me. According to this tweet from Liz Davies, all three of the city's MPs turned up to watch.

How Richard III was found

The Greyfriars site yesterday, with Leicester Cathedral in the background

Stopping only to make an observation I have already made here about the irony of Richard's remains being found in the car park of Leicester's social services department, Maev Kennedy talks to some of the archaeologists involved in the dig at Greyfriars:
Getting permission to excavate after years of research by local historians and the Richard III Society, was surprisingly easy, said Professor Lin Foxhall, one of the archaeologists from Leicester University who led the team, "because nobody expected us to find anything". 
"I didn't expect us to find anything," said Foxhall. "It is incredibly rare in archaeology to go looking for a named individual. Even the fact that the trenches were sunk in exactly the right place, so that we immediately located a church which has been buried for 500 years – if we'd found nothing else – was extraordinary. 
"Then to find bones, exactly where the records say Richard was buried — well, I am still completely astonished by the whole thing." 
Jo Appleby was the bones expert who, dressed from head to foot in white plastic, like a character from CSI, to prevent contamination, excavated the skeleton. "I thought at best we'd get a jumble of different bones, some of which might be from approximately the right period. I still can't quite believe it. When I saw the gash in the skull, and the twisted spine, the hair stood up on the back of my neck." 
Foxhall and Appleby point out that they have nothing but circumstantial evidence – but say it is "very, very strong circumstantial evidence". 
"We have a grown man, buried in a position of great honour near the altar in the church but without much in the way of ceremony, with a twisted spine and a terrible battle injury – he didn't get that walking home drunk from the pub," says Appleby. 
There was no evidence of a coffin, or of the body having been clothed, but the bones were quite undisturbed so Appleby believes he was buried in a shroud. The hole was slightly too short for the body, and she also found some broken medieval floor tiles, as if the grave was dug hastily by smashing a hole through the floor.
I am pleased to say that Kennedy (her article is on the Guardian website) does not give any space to the idea that Richard should be reburied in London or York:
Since 1980 the cathedral has had what looks just like a grave: a large, handsomely inscribed slab in front of the high altar. Every 22 August it is wreathed in flowers, on the anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth, when the last Plantagenet lost his horse in marshy ground, and then his life and his crown, which legend says rolled from his dying head under a furze bush. 
Candles lit by a stream of visitors burn perpetually nearby, and many people have left white roses since news of the bones' discovery went round the world. 
The cathedral authorities say that if the identity is confirmed, they will work with the royal household, and the Richard III Society, to ensure "the remains are treated with dignity and respect and are reburied with the appropriate rites and ceremonies of the church".

The Bangles: Hazy Shade of Winter



The BBC were using Simon and Garfunkel's original recording of this in a trailer last week. Here are The Bangles reminding us that there was more to them than "Eternal Flame" with this rocking version.

Not quite The Liverbirds, but still good.

Grant Shapps keeps on giving

So where are we with Grant Shapps? We recently blogged about his - how shall I put it? - colourful history when it comes to the internet and then came news that he appears to have signed off the demolition of demolition of many houses in the North by accident.

Yesterday's Guardian revealed that, while a Conservative candidate, attended "a $3,000-a-head internet conference in Las Vegas" under a false name. The newspaper printed a photograph of him wearing a 'Michael Green' name badge on its front page.

That photo also revealed that Shapps has the eyes of Beelzebub though, to be fair, that may be a trick of the light.

Now Political Scrapbook is entertaining us with details of his  internet marketing businesses:
“In ‘Stinking Rich 3′ I go WAY BEYOND the regular marketing hype to reveal YOUR secret path to online success” 
“In ‘Stinking Rich 3′ I quite literally show you how to create your own profit-generating ‘Game Plan’ right from scratch!” 
“But if (like me) you’re the skeptical type then you’ll want to see some slam-dunk proof and evidence that my approach actually works. Click over to http://www.StinkingRich3.com and check out BOTH of my aircrafts!”
The Conservative Party used to be well supplied with old buffers who could spot a wrong 'un when they saw one. No longer, it seems.

Lib Dem Blog of the Year

Congratulations to Mark Thompson.

A View from Ham Common has all the other winners - congratulations to them too.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The boy who was locked up for swearing at the police

A tweet from Labour MP Tom Watson alerts us to a post on the void:
An 18 year old boy was sentenced to four months in youth custody last year for an Andrew Mitchell style rant at police. 
A celebratory tweet by Greater Manchester Police shows that Ricky Gemmell, 18, was arrested and jailed after “ranting and swearing” at police during last year’s disturbances in the city. 
According to Manchester Mule the youngster had never been in trouble before.

London property porn

It's well worth watching this video on the Financial Times site:
With one house in central London on sale for £300m, London prime property appears to be a bubble fit to burst. This is also socially divisive as house prices in much of the rest of London are falling. Ed Hammond, property correspondent, explains to Long View columnist John Authers where the demand is coming from.

The grave of Richard III at Greyfriars, Leicester


This is the grave cut at Greyfriars in Leicester from which the body of Richard III - if it is Richard III, of course - was retrieved a couple of weeks ago. The little yellow disc marks the point where his head lay. And the red bricks just to the right of it are all the work of Victorian builders, showing just how close they came to destroying the skeleton.

And below is one of the photographs I took on the first Saturday of the dig. (It was not open to the public, but I was able to join the crowds peering in from the New Street entrance to the site.) Little did I know then that the digger opening the archaeologists' first trench was pretty much on the spot where the king lay.

Meanwhile I am left to reflect on the irony of Richard III, whose memory is tarnished by the suspicion that he arranged the murder of his two young nephews, being found under the car park of a social services department.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Lord Bonkers' Diary: When visiting Corby...

The end of our latest visit to the world of Lord Bonkers. He appears in each issue of Liberator magazine.

When visiting Corby...

I trust I shall meet many of my readers at the Corby by-election over the coming weeks. I cannot in all honesty recommend that you stay in Corby itself, but why not come to Rutland? It is true that the rooms at the Bonkers’ Arms soon get booked up, but there is plenty of room in the Stables here at the Hall.

I would not dream of charging my fellow Liberal Democrats for a bed for the night, but it would be a nice gesture if you felt able to do a little work in return for your accommodation. The rock in the quarries hereabouts is among the most friable you will find in the East Midlands and I am confident that you would be free to go canvassing well before tea time.

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

Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary

The miniature railway at Delapre Park, Northampton


The level crossing on Bridge Street, south of Northampton town centre, was something of a landmark in the 1970s.

Though I cannot recall being held up by a train there, it was clearly still in use and I always looked for it - for instance, when taking the National Express coach from Market Harborough to Cheltenham. (That service ended long ago, but in those days coaches converged on Cheltenham from all over the country.)

Northampton Bridge Street station used to stand to the west of the road here. It was on the line to Peterborough. That line closed to passengers in 1964 and to through freight trains in 1972, but there were permanent way yards on either side of the road and various industrial sidings nearby. So, though crossing was clearly derelict when I visited on Tuesday, it seems the last train across Bridge Street ran as recently as 2006.

The good news is that there is still a railway nearby. Walk a little way south and you will come across the track belonging to the Northampton Society of Model Engineers. When visiting the railway at Abbey Park in Leicester, I said something about the society's headquarters being more impressive than many modern country stations, and this is true of the line at Delapre Park too.

And when in Delapre Park, be sure to visit Delapre Abbey for tea.

Boris Johnson on Andrew Mitchell

Over to the Mayor of London:
"If people swear at the police, they must expect to be arrested. Not just because it's wrong to expect officers to endure profanities, but it's also because of the experience of the culprits. 
"If people feel there are no comebacks, no boundaries and no retribution for the small stuff, then I'm afraid they will go on to commit worse crimes."
In fact, this was Johnson speaking at last year's Conservative Conference, but the principle must still hold.

The Guardian report of that speech helpfully goes on to say:
Although no specific offence of swearing at a police officer exists, it is an offence under section five of the Public Order Act 1986 to "use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby".
Later. And here is BoJo being applauded for saying it...

Torture gang boss features in Headline of the Day

The BBC London pages excel themselves with:

Gangster Charlie Richardson was 'no angel'

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Six of the Best 278

Britain can learn lessons from the rest of Europe over the right to die, argues Lib Dem MEP on the Public Service Europe site.

"As Alex Thomson of Channel 4 News observed, this seems to be the British pattern: disaster, flawed legal inquiry, cover-up, campaign, wilderness years, proper inquiry, and finally an apology." The View from the Hills looks at the Hillsborough tragedy.

Katie Billotte on Ms. blog explains the background to the Pussy Riot trial in Moscow: "While for most Americans, Eastern Orthodox Christianity is completely off the radar ... it is actually one of the only growing Christian denominations in the United States. At the same time, the faith is experiencing a rebirth in many traditionally Orthodox countries where it previously was crippled by Soviet rule, such as in Russia. One of the results of these developments has been Orthodoxy’s first real contact with modern gender and sexual politics. This is changing and challenging its traditional attitude towards women, and not always in ways that would be expected by those unfamiliar with Orthodoxy."

Messy Nessy Chic presents the crumbling ruins oft he Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale - Paris's human zoo.

It's 1971 over at The Retronaut and David Bowie is looking good in dresses.

Preposterous Erections, the latest volume from Peter Ashley, wins our prestigious Book Title of the Week Award. Read more about it on Unmitigated England.

Nick Clegg "might just have struck gold"


Earlier today I posted The Poke's parody of Nick Clegg's apology over tuition fees, suggesting it has made him cool again.

Since then The Poke has asked for permission to release the parody as an iTunes single and Nick has agreed, asking for any proceeds to go to Sheffield Children's NHS Foundation Trust.

This is brilliant for Nick, and not just because it shows the public that he has a sense of humour and supports good causes.

It has established this rather kind parody - "I strangely find this rather moving" says a commenter on my earlier post - as the official, charity-endorsed one. As a result it will be widely played and any crueler parodies will get less attention.

Well done to Nick's team. I suspect Fraser Nelson will be proved right.

Lord Bonkers adds: I should have liked something in that jolly "Gangnam style" they have nowadays.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Walter Lindrum in the nude

Walter Lindrum in the nude

I cannot for the life of me understand the fuss in the newspapers about Prince Harry playing billiards in the nude. Isn’t that what most gentlemen prefer to do when relaxing after dinner? It is certainly my practice here at the Hall, as my many guests will remember.

Besides, playing games in the nude used to be norm – and not just in billiards, where the great Walter Lindrum won the first two of his world titles without a stitch on. Competitors in the original Olympics generally wore only frowns of concentration, and when competitive running was first revived in the reign of Charles II the chaps involved thought it proper to dress the same way. It has to be admitted that naked cricket has never caught on particularly widely, but I suspect it all depends which prep school you went to.

There is one point of etiquette I must emphasis: when playing billiards, whether in full fig or the buff, it is Simply Not Done to pot one’s opponent’s cue ball.

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

Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Suddenly Nick Clegg is cool again

John Hemming raises the governance of Jersey in the Commons

On Tuesday John Hemming (Lib Dem MP for Birmingham Yardley) used a House of Commons backbench debate to raise his concerns about the governance of Jersey:
There is a country where there are allegations that crimes by powerful people are not being investigated and prosecuted. A journalist has been refused entry to stop reporting about an issue. The chief of police has been suspended to stop him investigating crimes. Bloggers are being threatened to stop them talking about people. Decisions by the state not to prosecute cannot be challenged, nor is private prosecution allowed. 
The country is Jersey. The journalist is Leah McGrath Goodman, who is an American. The chief of police was Graham Power. 
You can read more about Leah McGrath Goodman on her own website.

John went on to suggest that a number of people had:
with the assistance of the Jersey Government, obtained a super-injunction against ex-Senator Stuart Syvret - under the Data Protection Act of all things - to prevent from him saying things about them on his blog that are true. Mr Syvret has evidence that criminal offences are being swept under the carpet, but nothing is being done.
John also alleged conflicts of interest in two recent court cases on the island.

He continued:
The end result in Jersey is that part of these events has been struck from the state’s version of Hansard, and the culture of cover-up continues. Jersey is an independent country, but the UK Government have a responsibility for ensuring good governance in Jersey. The UK is not doing its job properly.
John's whole speech is worth reading. He suggests that the secretive nature of Britain's family courts is beginning to worry overseas governments.

Thanks to Rico Sorda.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Double Diamond works wonders













Spotted in Leicester Road, Market Harborough, earlier today.

Grant Shapps' Tory chairmanship is already a car crash

Grant Shapps' Conservative colleagues must look back fondly on Baroness Warsi as a safe pair of hands.

I blogged the other day about his many, er, misfortunes involving the internet - an area in which he likes to think of himself as something of an expert. Today came news of what look likes a major blunder he made while still a housing minister.

Over to Architects Journal:
In late 2011 former housing minister Grant Shapps slammed the contentious Pathfinder housing market renewal initiative - a £2.2 billion programme which once complete would have seen around 400,000 mainly Victorian homes and local landmarks in the North West flattened - as an ‘abject failure’. 
He subsequently unveiled a £35.5 million cash pot of capital grants which was to be shared between the 13 authorities, funding renovation work and assisting families ‘trapped in half-empty ghost streets’. 
However a Freedom of Information bid by SAVE revealed that the money was being channelled towards further demolitions and yesterday the organisation was granted leave by Mrs Justice Lang to bring full judicial review proceedings against the government.
Or as the standfirst on the Daily Telegraph telling of this story puts it:
Grant Shapps, the former Housing Minister, accidentally signed off a regeneration project without realising it would demolish the house in which Ringo Starr was born, a court heard today.
To be fair, the memo may have used long words or semicolons or something like that.

Meanwhile, Computer Active is asking if one of the internet businesses founded by Shapps is even legal.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Lord Steel of Aikwood - "A Poor Show"

Lord Steel of Aikwood: "A Poor Show"

Lord Steel of Aikwood’s supporters will say that he was once a great radical, supporting abortion reform and the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa. Well, I recall that period myself – it occupied several weeks in… 1967, I think it was. I am obliged to record, however, that I have since then found him Increasingly Hard Work.

There was that damned ‘Alliance’ he was so keen on: I tried to convince him, with the aid of a boxful of matches emptied out on the table, that we could not possibly win a majority by standing down in half the seats in the country, but he seemed unable to grasp the arithmetic involved.

Then there was his performance as the first Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament. He tried to establish a tradition that, whenever the monarch visited Edinburgh, the Presiding Officer would lead the procession, walking backwards and alternatively bowing and capering while all the time making little cooing noises of pleasure to himself. I am, I trust, betraying no confidences when I say that the Lord Lyon King of Arms was not impressed, and I am pleased to note that Steel’s successors have allowed his practice quietly to fall into desuetude.

Now Steel has come out against electing the House of Lords, just as his fellow Liberals appear to be making progress with the idea. Perhaps my own position – mine is a Rutland peerage and I am thus guaranteed membership of the upper house, however it may be formed, under the Treaty of Oakham – leads me to take too light a view of the sacrifice reform will ask of existing members, but I recall those weeks in 1967: Steel was pretty hot on Lords’ reform then. Indeed, he was given to making disparaging remarks about “unelected legislators” and – or was this a fancy on my part? – casting pointed glances in my direction.

Whatever the truth of that, now he is himself an unelected legislator he sees nothing wrong with the idea. I have to say, in all candour, that I find that A Poor Show.

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

Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Nick Clegg says sorry over tuition fees pledge



Nick Clegg has recorded this video - you can read a full transcript of his words on the party's website.

It was released to journalists this evening (as well as being made freely available on Youtube) and will be shown as the Liberal Democrats' conference broadcast on Monday.

My reading of the video is that Nick is apologising, not for the party's policy at the last election, but for the pledge that he and (so Wikipedia suggests) every successful Liberal Democrat candidate signed before the last election:
“I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative.”
I also take him as apologising, not for breaking this pledge, but for making it.

I think Nick is right to make this apology, because he should never have signed the pledge in the first place. As I argued at the height of the fees row in December 2010:
Whatever your view on the tuition fees issue, there are good reasons why candidates should not get involved with such pledges. 
Because they are often signed out of fear. A campaign group asks candidates from all parties to sign a pledge and they sign it, often regardless of the importance of the issue or the coherence of the group's ideas, because they are afraid of bad publicity. No one wants to see a headline like "Lib Dem candidate refuses to support fluffy kittens" (or it may be sad orphans or puppies with large trusting eyes). 
Nor is it helpful for candidates to commit themselves to the fine details of policy in this way. I can see that a candidate might think that, say, improving educational opportunities for children from poor families is not negotiable, but I can see no good reason to wed yourself to a particular mechanism of achieving it. Good government does not consist in implementing your manifesto regardless of changing circumstances.
But then I am unusual among Liberal Democrats in that I never saw our policy on tuition fees as particularly admirable. I have a great deal of sympathy for the case recently made in a guest post on this blog by 'Dr Anonymous' - that too many of what he calls the DMC (dull middle class) go to university.

The rapid expansion in higher education over the past 20 years has made it inevitable that the state will be less generous to students than it used to be. If that expansion had seen far more youngsters from poor homes benefiting then I would feel more inclined to see financing students as a priority. But as things stand, giving more funding to students does not seem a priority nor even a particularly radical policy.

The hope now is that the tuition fees will not now dominate the public's view of the Liberal Democrats. In particular, voters do seem to have grasped that it is us who they have to thank for the substantial income tax cut enjoyed by lower earners. The hope is that we can build on this at Conference and beyond.

Incidentally, this is rather impressive on the part of those voters, given that the press coverage of the Budget centred on pasties.

One other point...

The email from Nick Clegg to Liberal Democrat members was headed "No easy way to say this...". I thought for a moment he was leaving me.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Delapre Abbey, Northampton


Today I visited Delapre Abbey in Northampton and it turned out to be real gem - a Medieval nunnery converted into a great house in the 16th and 17th centuries, with the addition of a fashionable library around 1820.

You can't go round the house, but the admirable Friends of Delapre Abbey sell teas in the old stables and the lovely walled garden. Bonkers Hall must be very like this.

The Abbey was threatened with demolition in the 1950s and (after serving as the county record office for some years) with redevelopment of its park a few years ago. So it needs friends.

The new Liberator is out

Read all about it on Liberal Democrat Voice.

Alex Thomson doorsteps Kelvin MacKenzie

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Giving up the captaincy

Giving up the captaincy

In Westminster, I come across our own Nick Clegg. I ask him if he has seen Andrew Strauss’s resignation as captain of the England cricket team. I emphasise how Strauss had won everyone’s respect because of his dignified bearing and the happy timing of his decision.

Warming to my theme, I say: “You don’t want to be like Michael Vaughan. He stayed at his post for too long and then burst into tears. Look at Colin Cowdrey: they had to drag him bodily from the Long Room and he tried to hold on to the furniture as he went past it. And poor Andrew Stoddart shot himself.”

Clegg is polite, but when we part I remain unconvinced that he has taken my point.

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

Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Monday, September 17, 2012

Meet the Kray Twins



Or as Monty Python put it:

Presenter: ... Last Tuesday a reign of terror was ended when the notorious Piranha brothers, Doug and Dinsdale, after one of the most extraordinary trials in British legal history, were sentenced to 400 years imprisonment for crimes of violence. We examined the rise to power of the Piranhas, the methods they used to subjugate rival gangs and their subsequent tracking down and capture by the brilliant Superintendent Harry 'Snapper' Organs of Q Division. Doug and Dinsdale Piranha were born, on probation, in a small house in Kipling Road, Southwark, the eldest sons in a family of sixteen. Their father Arthur Piranha, a scrap metal dealer and TV quizmaster, was well known to the police, and a devout Catholic. In 1928 he had married Kitty Malone, an up-and-coming East End boxer. Doug was born in February 1929 and Dinsdale two weeks later; and again a week after that. Someone who remembers them well was their next door neighbour, Mrs April Simnel.

Mrs Simmel: Oh yes Kipling Road was a typical East End Street, people were in and out of each other's houses with each other's property all day. They were a cheery lot.

Interviewer: Was it a terribly violent area?

Mrs Simmel: Oh no......yes. Cheerful and violent. I remember Doug was keen on boxing, but when he learned to walk he took up putting the boot in the groin. He was very interested in that. His mother had a terrible job getting him to come in for tea. Putting his little boot in he'd be, bless him. All the kids were like that then, they didn't have their heads stuffed with all this Cartesian dualism.

Hold the front page: A sensible Tory MP

Having taken what is historically the Liberals' last bastion, Glyn Davies (the Conservative MP for Montgomery) must have something going for him.

Ah, you will say, all he had to do was stand there while Lembit Opik imploded. But that might be to underestimate him.

Because Davies has just written a blog post that shows a rare degree of good sense about the Coalition:
Sometimes my Conservative colleagues cause me despair. Never more than when they attack our coalition partners, the Lib Dems. I wonder what planet they're on whenever I hear references to "The tail wagging the dog". Some even advocate bringing down the coalition. Ill-considered nonsense in my opinion. Triumph of hope over reason. Its actually time for re-declarations of love, not filing for divorce. 
Lets look at some of the facts. 
1) The Conservatives did not win the last General Election. There was certainly a case for 'going it alone' at the time, and instigating another election in a year or so which would hopefully deliver victory - but we didn't. We took a clear direction and decided that the economic and financial challenges were such that a coalition was the better option. Nothing has changed. 
2) Its was the Lib Dems who had to make the biggest concessions - admittedly because their manifesto was hopelessly undeliverable. They signed up to higher student fees - despite promising the opposite. They signed up to a VAT increase despite making such a big deal of opposing this. 
3)They signed up to nuclear power despite being supposedly anti-nuclear. And the consequence of this is that their opinion poll support has bombed. They took the massive risk of growing up from being woolly hatted idealists into hard headed realists. It was courageous. 
3)* Without the Lib Dems, the current Government wouldn't last long. OK, so fixed term parliaments are enshrined in law, but I do not believe we could limp on until 2015. I want to see Nick Clegg remain DPM, and the Coalition last the full five year term. I suggest some of my colleagues think how they'd feel with Ed Miliband as PM and Vince Cable/Tim Farron as DPM. Time they got real and stayed real.
One of the sad things about the recent reshuffle is that it made it impossible to hold a favourable opinion of David Cameron.

Once you could believe he had grasped that the death of liberal Conservatism was his party great weakness and that he had co-opted the Liberal Democrats to fill the void. No longer. Either he has failed to recognise that truth or he lacks the courage to act upon it.

So I have a new Conservative hero. Glyn Davies for Tory leader!

* OK, so Maths isn't his strongest subject.

Headline of the Day

A hometown decision? The winner is the Harborough Mail:

Kevin is the new ‘face of potatoes’ for the region

Six of the Best 277

"Our starting point, the reason I became a Liberal Democrat, and the reason many people joined the Liberal Democrats, is because they want people to be free and empowered and are suspicious of the state taking on excessive authority." Mark Pack welcomes Jeremy Brown's first interview as a Home Office minister. (That's Jeremy speaking, not Mark - though I am sure Mark agrees with him.)

Neil Monnery takes apart a particularly silly argument against the reform of school examinations.

"Saudi Arabia these days is all too reminiscent of the dying decade of the Soviet Union, during which one decrepit leader succeeded another, from Leonid Brezhnev to Yuri Andropov to Konstantin Chernenko, before a younger and more open-minded Mikhail Gorbachev arrived too late to save a stagnant society and economy." Karen Elliott House looks at the future of the kingdom in the Washington Post.

This Was Leicestershire visits the Richard III dig in Leicester.

By contrast, "Nottingham has never been quite sure of its identity. Bloody Robin Hood has a lot to answer for, or at least Basil Rathbone and Alan Rickman camping it up as the Sheriff of Nottingham." Or so Jones the Planner says.

LDN Photo Journal snaps the Crystal Palace dinosaurs, which will be familiar to those who share my affection for the film "Our Mother's House".

Lord Bonkers' Diary: David Boyle's wonderful opening ceremony

The September issue of Liberator has just arrived on my doormat with a satisfying thump, which means it is time to spend some more time with Rutland's most popular fictional peer.

Incidentally, we used to hand out this issue from the magazine's stall at Conference, but the level of security at the event now makes that impossible.

O tempora! O mores!


David Boyle's wonderful opening ceremony

Wasn’t the Olympic opening ceremony fun? Such events are not usually my cup of tea (I seem to recall that the ceremony for the 1936 Berlin Games was devised by Albert Speer, who decided to repeat the ‘cathedral of light’ effect that had gone down so well at the Nuremberg rallies), but when I heard that the one for London 2012 was in the hands of that excellent Liberal David Boyle, I knew we were in for a treat. Some, I know, found the evening’s events such a cornucopia that they were at a loss to know quite what was going on; it happens that I am familiar with Boyle’s oeuvre and can therefore enlighten them.

The evening began with rustic scenes of sheep farming and cricketers in top hats – I flatter myself that this passage was inspired by Boyle’s many visits to the Hall. Then the Industrial Revolution took place (my dear: the noise, the people!) and the stadium was filled with dark satanic mills.

Just as we were all getting downhearted, the most wonderful thing happened: the mill hands realised that there was more to life than forging nuts or widgets or whatever it was they were making and began to set up their own co-operatives, open organic teashops and inaugurate local currencies. They were having so much fun that the Army had to be called in to clear them from the grass in case they were still there when the qualifying rounds of the women’s discus were due to begin.

Incidentally, if you see Boyle, can you mention that I am still looking for a bar in London that accepts these blessed ‘Rutland Dollars’ he invented.

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

Banned in London

The Manifesto Club has launched a Google map, titled Banned in London, which reveals the 435 special zones that now cover half the area of the British capital.

Writing on Spiked, Josie Appleton says:
In these areas, people can be fined or prosecuted for activities that would otherwise be perfectly legal - including leafleting, protesting, dog walking, gathering in groups, or drinking. Similar zones have been enacted by local authorities across the UK. In London and most other UK urban areas, there are four different kinds of zone: no-dog zones; no-leafleting zones; alcohol-confiscation zones; and dispersal zones. London also has the distinction of a fifth zone – a restricted protest zone, in the vicinity of the Houses of Parliament.
And she goes on to explain:
Worryingly, these banned zones are being enforced not only by police, but also by a growing force of unaccountable officials. There are now hundreds of council officials with powers to fine people for unlicensed leafleting or walking dogs in the wrong area. Several London councils also contract private security companies to patrol the streets and issue fines.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Does Cameron's lurch to the right give Nick Clegg an opportunity?

I was depressed by the changes David Cameron made in his reshuffle, particularly the way they marked the death of any support for localism or green politics in Tory circles.

However, writing in tomorrow's Guardian, John Kampfner argues that those changes have presented Nick Clegg with a welcome opportunity:
What has been found to work is when, publicly but politely, one leader says: "We advocated A, they advocated B, but we agreed to settle on C." All surveys in Europe suggest that the public respects an open airing and settling of differences. 
Yet the Lib Dem leader consistently dismisses this notion. Instead he has fluctuated from the mistaken love-in on the lawn and the kamikaze mission over tuition fees, to visceral anger over Cameron's undermining of the AV campaign and House of Lords reform. 
This month's reshuffle presents Clegg with an unlikely opportunity. He can now have no doubt about Cameron's intentions. The Conservative rump of the cabinet is as red meat as it could be – authoritarian and sceptical about climate change. Some of Clegg's team were taken aback by the changes. They shouldn't have been. 
With the coalition entering the second half of its projected five-year lifespan, the Lib Dem leader needs each and every day to tell the public what his party is seeking to do, what it will put up with, and what it won't. This can be done without petulance – at least on the Lib Dem side. If Tory backbenchers, in denial over their failure to win in 2010, wish to force an early election or go into minority administration, let them.

Liberal Democrat Conference: A reminder

Despite the vote at Conference last year, you will again have to be approved by the police before you can attend this year's event.

Once again, I call upon late Gordon Jackson to demonstrate the wrong way of presenting your papers.

Kate Bush: The Kick Inside



Having had for some years a cupboard full of LPs and nothing to play them on, I decided to act. I had either to take them down to the charity shops or buy something to play them on. I chose the latter course and am now the owner of a cute little portable record player.

Most of my collection consists of secondhand classical LPs (always wonderful value for money), many of them bought from Yarborough House in Bishop's Castle. But I also have the LPs I bought as a teenager and there is something wonderful about being able to play them today.

Songs of the Wood by Jethro Tull turns out to have been played to death - it jumps all over the place - but The Kick Inside by Kate Bush still sounds good.

In fact it sounds better than it did, because the needle on our old family portable used to pick up Kate Bush's voice in adjacent grooves and the title track sounds strange to me without that odd pre-echo.

In a 1978 interview (that was when Kate Bush still gave interviews) she explained the genesis of the song:
"That's inspired by an old traditional song called 'Lucy Wan.' It's about a young girl and her brother who fall desperately in love. It's an incredibly taboo thing. She becomes pregnant by her brother and it's completely against all morals. She doesn't want him to be hurt, she doesn't want her family to be ashamed or disgusted, so she kills herself. The song is a suicide note. She says to her brother, 'Don't worry. I'm doing it for you'."
"The Kick Inside" was also recorded by Julie Covington, but I cannot find that version on YouTube.