Saturday, November 30, 2013

Lord Bonkers on the great philosophers



At dinner this evening I asked Lord Bonkers about his recollections of two of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century. This is how he described them:

Bertrand Russell - "Terribly Clever."

Ludwig Wittgenstein - "Terribly Clever but Rather Hard Work."

The educational background of Guardian journalists

A useful item in the current Private Eye records the private schools attended by many of the Guardian's leading journalists:
There's editor Alan Rusbridger (Cranleigh); G2 editor Clare Margetson (Marlborough); political editor Patrick Wintour (Westminster); economics editor Larry Elliott (St Albans); environment editor John Vidal (St Bees); fashion editor Jess Cartner-Morley (City of London School for Girls); US editor Janine Gibson (Walthamstow Hall); literary editor Clare Armitstead (Bedales); film critic Peter Bradshaw (Haberdashers' Aske's); theatre critic Michael Billington (Warwick); associate editor Madeleine Bunting (Queen Mary's, Yorkshire); as well as columnists Jonathan Freedland (University College School); Seumas Milne (Winchester); Sinon Jenkins (Mill Hill); George Monbiot (Stowe); Tanya Gold (Kingston Grammar); Timothy Garton Ash (Sherborne); Chris Huhne (Westminster); Zoe Williams (Godolphin and Latymer) and of course Polly Toynbee (Badminton), who also sent tow of her own children to private school.
The Eye also tells us that "it is written into the paper's union-ratified rulebook that staff posted abroad are entitled to have their children educated at the paper's expense - a perk most hacks take up".

A disapproving reader asks: What point are you making here?

Liberal England replies: I am not making any point: it is just interesting to know these things.

How modern British politics keeps it in the family

Emine Saner has an article in today's Guardian looking at the number of children of politicians who are trying to follow the same career.

In it she quotes Professor Steven Fielding from Nottingham University who compares the number of political families to:
"the later 19th century and early 20th century, when access to politics was restricted, and you couldn't afford to be in politics unless you had quite a lot of money, and it was expected that the aristocracy played a certain role. That diminished in the 20th century but it has reasserted itself for slightly different reasons. Class plays a role, but these people are more middle-class and they have the skills of their parents and networks. They're not from grand families, but they are from well-connected families."
He adds that the political world isn't the only place where this is happening – journalism is another, and law.
"It's not a good thing that politics, or any profession, is open to certain people and not others."

Friday, November 29, 2013

Lenny Harper on how Jersey is governed



Christopher Hitchens once described Ian Smith's Rhodesia as "Surrey with the lunatic fringe on top". You could say much the same about Jersey - a tax haven where people can be imprisoned for whistleblowing.

And if you don't believe me, listen to Lenny Harper. He is not a tinfoil-hatted conspiracy theorist but a hard-bitten cop who served in Belfast, South London and Glasgow before he tangled with the Jersey authorities.

The Coalition, in the shape of Tom McNally, has had the chance to do something about Jersey but has declined to take it.

This video came to me via The People's Voice and Voice for Children.

Watch Bryan Magee refute Boris Johnson in 1978

Only you can't watch him because, unlike almost all of the dialogues in Magee's 1978 series Men of Ideas, the one on moral philosophy with R.M. Hare does not seem to have found its way to Youtube. So you will have to read Magee's refutation instead.

Magee and Hare were discussing the independence of facts and values. They agreed that no set of facts could logically imply a particular value.

The example Magee gave was what would follow if scientists were one day to prove that some races have higher intelligence than others - something that he and Hare, as Western liberals of their era, hoped would not happen.

Magee said:
But, at the same time, no particular social policy would necessarily follow from this fact. Some people might say: "Well, if this group is born less intelligent than that, society need devote less of its resources to educating it." But others might with equal justification say: "On the contrary, if they are born less intelligent society needs to devote more of its resources to educating them." 
It would, in other words, be entirely open to people what policy decision they were led to by the same fact.
Boris Johnson tries to get over this important point by using words like "species" to give his arguments a spurious appearance of science. But as Stumbling and Mumbling shows, he has misunderstood how IQ is calculated.

So Johnson's appeal to IQ to justify his preferred, deeply unequal, social order. And he wants to be careful: Sir Keith Joseph destroyed his prospects of leading the Conservatives with a speech with more than a whiff of eugenics - "The balance of our population, our human stock is threatened."

Crystal Palace to stay up, aliens tell Bromley woman who "used to be Joan of Arc"

Thanks to Mark Pack for nominating this one. The judges did grumble about the News Shopper "trying too hard", but in the end there could be only one Headline of the Day.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Lord Bonkers welcomes delegates to the ALDE Party Congress

From his opening address:
It gives me great pleasure to welcome over 900 Liberals from across the EU and beyond here to London's Canary Wharf. 
The European Liberal family includes three current prime ministers and over a quarter of European Commissioners are Liberals. Liberal parties are in government in 16 different European countries, as well as being the third largest political group in the European Parliament. 
This family is a truly formidable fighting force – and we British Liberal Democrats benefit massively from being part of it. 
A word  to the wise. Don’t fall asleep outside the building or Clegg will have you deported.

Six of the Best 402

"This represents arguably the most xenophobic set of proposals put forward by a UK government since the Commonwealth Immigration Act 1968." Yesterday was not a good day to be a Liberal Democrat, says Andrew Page.

"A striking aspect of the Welsh Government’s legislative programme since the devolution of primary law-making powers has been the number of so-called framework bills presented to the Assembly. These skeletal laws contain little in the way of detail in terms of how a policy will be delivered in the Bill itself. Instead, they rely on a second layer of law, subordinate legislation or regulation, to flesh out the practical elements of the law when it comes into force." Lib Dem AM Eluned Parrott, writing on Click on Wales, argues that Labour's increasing use of framework legislation is subverting democratic accountability.

Steven Fielding examines the "enemy within" theme to be found in the cinema and television of the Thatcher era.

"When I first became World Chess Champion in 1985, the Soviet Union was still standing and Soviet chessplayers had been unchallenged since the disappearance of Bobby Fischer. Few could imagine then that we would see a match between an Indian and a Norwegian in less than 30 years." Garry Kasparov looks at Magnus Carlsen, the new word champion, for Time.

Municipal Dreams looks at Birmingham's council housing in the inter-war years.

The Public Domain Review introduces us to the British artist Eric Ravilious.

People of King's Lynn advised to ignore clowns





BBC News wins Headline of the Day today.

Now read about the Northampton clown.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The last train from Swindon to Swindon Town



Because of its connections with Richard Jefferies (about whom I wrote my Masters dissertation), I have a soft spot for Swindon. So after yesterday's video about its unexpected tram system, here is one about the last train to leave the GWR Swindon station for Swindon Town.

Swindon Town served the Old Town of Swindon, which stood on a hill above the later railway station and works of the New Town. For a good while in the 19th century these two formed separate settlements, but inevitably streets and houses sprung up to join them.

You can read more about the Midland and South Western Junction Railway, which in its heyday joined Southampton and Cheltenham, on the Swindon's Other Railway site.

Nick Clegg's self-defeating move on Europe and immigration

I once heard Jim Wallace say that when your opponents start fighting on your chosen ground you should be pleased. It shows you are winning this debate.

He is right, which is why I do not think Nick Clegg's embrace of the Conservatives' anti-immigrant rhetoric will achieve its aim of curbing the threat from UKIP.

Imagine you are a UKIP voter - go on, try. If you here even the leader of the hated Liberal Democrats admitting that we are too soft on immigrants who come here to live off the state, that will confirm you in your view of the world. It will not make you question it and decide to vote Liberal Democrat instead.

I think there is a better approach and it is that advocated in the Commentary in the current issue of Liberator, which advocates the consistent third of the electorate that is pro-European:
That one third is a minority but it is a considerably larger one than that which has ever voted Liberal Democrat. It is the obvious pool in which the party should be fishing. 
The pro-European vote has effectively been abandoned in previous elections, perhaps on the assumption that it had nowhere much else to go. Not merely can that vote be awakened but it is essential that it is awakened ahead of any referendum eventually happening.
At present Nick Clegg is veering between this approach and one that seeks to appeal to everyone. When pursuing the latter he talks about the centre, but in the case of immigration at least, he locates that centre far to the right.

I  am not the most instinctive pro-European you have ever met. I recognise that being in coalition involves compromise. It is just that I do not think this latest Clegg initiative will work.

Mainstream politicians, by pandering to the Farages of this world, are feeding the very far-right public opinion they fear. I suspect that, once again, we are seeing an effect of the political class now being formed from such a narrow, privileged base.

Norman Baker: The Home Office is like the Generation Game

BBC News reports Norman Baker's appearance before the Commons Home Affairs Committee.

It quotes him as saying of his new role at the Home Office:
"It's less friendly because of its sheer size... It's less homely than the Department for Transport. But it's a key government department and I'm happy to be there."
And:
"Like the Generation Game, you can see these events coming past you and you have to work out what to do."
But Norman told MPs he was "happy". Didn't he do well?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The history of Swindon's trams



From Swindon Web:
The age of the tram in Swindon was a brief but colourful chapter in the history of the town which included an early tragedy, a period of great success and finally a surrender to the more effective - though much less picturesque - method of public transport, the bus.

Six of the Best 401

LibDem Policy Wonk has an extremely unofficial list of target seats for the Liberal Democrats at the next general election.

Nick Boles's idea of a new National Liberal Party doesn't add up, argues Alun Wyburn-Powell on Democratic Audit UK.

Sustainable Review has good news: "Excess heat from the London Underground will be captured and used to heat local homes, the Mayor of London ... has announced. The initiative will see the existing Bunhill Heat and Power heat network extended to supply a further 500 homes in Islington with cheaper and more sustainable heating."

Talking of the Underground, Urban Ghosts shows us 13 abandoned stations and disused stations.

Jonathan Meades remembers meeting Anthony Burgess in an audio on The International Anthony Burgess Foundation website.

Psychogeographic Review looks at Marshland: Dreams and Nightmares on the Edge of London by Gareth E. Rees: "A world that stretches out from the few hundred acres of Hackney Marsh in East London, into an infinite universe of myth and imagination."

Captain Cobbler by Keith Melton

Keith Melton, who fought Lincoln for the Liberals in 1979 and Cleethorpes  for the Liberal Democrats in 1997, as well as fighting Lincolnshire in the 1994 European elections, has published his first novel.

Captain Cobbler: The Lincolnshire Uprising, 1536 tells how Nicholas Melton, a shoemaker from Louth, confiscated the keys to the Church of St James in the town, to prevent Commissioners of Thomas Cromwell from stealing the church silverware.

It was a straightforward community protest, but it rapidly escalated during the week to become a widespread uprising against the tyranny of the government of King Henry VIII,  and his chancellor, Baron Thomas Cromwell.

Keith has been researching and writing the novel to tell the story of his namesake for over seven years since his retirement from Nottingham Trent University, where he was the founding Director of the Institute for Sustainable Development in Business.

Read more on the Captain Cobbler 1536 blog.

Secrets of the Jubilee Line



You may also enjoy Secrets of the District Line and Secrets of the Central Line.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Remembering Ray Gosling

The journalist Ray Gosling died last week. Younger readers will know him, if at all, for his prosecution for wasting police time after claiming on air that he had smothered his terminally ill lover. (It should, of course, have been the BBC in the dock, if only for failing to protect an elderly and rather fragile man.) But in the 1970s he and his socially engaged reporting were a fixture on Radio 4.

The Leicester Mercury remembered Ray Gosling with an extract from his memoirs Personal Copy in which he described setting up a youth club in Leicester in the early 1960s:
I remember coming back one night from Oxford, around four in the morning, and as we came in over the bridge into Central station I could see the lights and the open door. Walking down the street and in through the door, the jukebox was playing and there were two dancing couples. 
There had been a good take-in from the till, and the coffee was still good and hot and fresh. There was blood on the floor, and the dirt from a fast night. 
It was an oasis in a city of the dead. The only place open and exclusive; the sort of place where I could feel proud at being a customer.

Experiencing awe and belief in the supernatural

You know your blog has been running a long time (and that you have a good memory) when you can write: "Eight years ago I suggested..."

Well, eight years ago I suggested there may be a connection between the decline in our ability to view the awesome night sky and the decline of religion. Today I came across a piece of research that supports that idea.

A press release from the Association for Psychological Science describes a study reported in a paper in its journal Psychological Science. In the study:
participants watch awe-inspiring scenes from BBC’s Planet Earth documentary series or neutral video clips from a news interview. Afterward, the participants were asked how much awe they felt while watching the video, and whether they believed that worldly events unfold according to some god’s or other non-human entity’s plan. 
Overall, participants who had watched the awe-inspiring video tended to believe more in supernatural control, and were more likely to believe in God when compared with the news-watching group. This effect held even when awe-inspiring but impossible scenes, such as a massive waterfall through city streets, were presented. 
Another study showed that participants who watched the awe-inspiring clips became increasingly intolerant of uncertainty. This particular mindset - a discomfort with uncertainty - may explain why feelings of awe produce a greater belief in the supernatural.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Ian Nairn in Northampton



The site of this lost arcade in Northampton is occupied by the Grosvenor Centre, which is the shopping centre you find yourself in (if you are lucky) when you exit the town's doomed Greyfriars bus station.

I found it via a Daily Telegraph blog post by Andrew M. Brown. He quotes Jonathan Meades on Nairn's broadcasting style:
He was a person, not a personality… You never get the feeling that he'd pined all his life to stand in front of a camera. He was doubting and melancholic and vulnerable…. It's a voice full of quiet despair. The repetitively falling cadence suggests an acute awareness of human impermanence and death's proximity.
By contrast, Meades programmes are tightly written and, as Brown puts it, tightly choreographed. Even the scripts can make you laugh out loud.

Six of the Best 400

"Those at the top don’t like critical feedback. Their systems and structures are hardwired to clamp down on independent thought and criticism. Things only change when the opposition becomes so great that it’s impossible to ignore, or the institution suffers a setback that it cannot understand the cause of. Such as a general election defeat." A Dragon's Best Friend suggests that Labour (and all other parties) are not suited to make good use of social media.

Good Morning Britten previewed BBC Radio 3's Benjamin Britten birthday weekend, all of which is now available via the station's website.

"The Doctor may be old but Bruce Forsyth has been around longer. Apparently part of the rational for commissioning Dr Who was to see off the damage being done to the BBC’s Saturday night audiences by Sunday Night at the London Palladium hosted by Bruce Forsyth. What was on immediately before the Day of the Doctor? Strictly Come Dancing hosted by Bruce Forsyth!" Matter of Facts offers some thoughts on another birthday.

America is a terrified country, says Noam Chomsky in an interview with Salon.

After reading this piece in The New Yorker you will never see lifts quite the same way again.

"This small part of Yorkshire owes a great deal to the Andean alpaca, which is why you often see them being led on leads around Roberts Park." Tom Salmon visits Saltaire for under a grey star....

Benjamin Britten: Canticle II - Abraham and Isaac



What could it be this weekend but a piece of Benjamin Britten?

His second canticle dates from 1952 and is a setting of words from the Chester Mystery Plays. It is written for a tenor to sing Abraham, but Issac can be a boy, a woman or a countertenor. Here the soloists are Michael Slattery and Nolan Wolfe from the Choir of Men and Boys of the Cathedral of All Saints, Albany, New York.

Abraham and Isaac contains the theme of innocence imperilled that is to be found in so many of Britten's great works and also displays his ability to achieve stunning effects with the simplest of forces.

Here the voice of God is realised by the two soloists singing together and Britten gave instructions that they should face away from one another when the work is performed. The Good Morning Britten blog says:
The combination of the two voices at the start of this canticle, held over a luminous piano accompaniment of almost pure stillness, is one of the most magical moments in all of Britten’s vocal writing, especially if experienced in performance. There is a static reverence that is rarely found in any music up to this point, let alone Britten’s, as the voice of God is heard – but afterwards it is possible to hear the influence of this writing in the devotional music of John Tavener and Arvo Pärt.
A lesser composer would surely have found a baritone to sing God.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Nick Harvey says we must get a better deal if we go into coalition again

Nick Harvey has given an interview to the Huffington Post that is well worth reading.

In it he - rightly, I think - questions Nick Clegg's enthusiasm for giving free school dinners to all children at infants schools while doing nothing more for older poor children:
"Someone, somewhere, has found £600m a year we didn’t know about down the back of a filing cabinet and has come up with the brilliant brainwave that the best way to spend it is to give a free school meal to all five, six and seven year olds - regardless of their income level. I am sitting there, gawping in open-mouthed astonishment."
Harvey also considers how the party may react if the next general election again produces a hung parliament:
"I don’t think you should take it as read there would be a stampede to join a coalition again," he cautions. "I think there would be serious debate to be had inside the Lib Dems as to whether we would do better to remain outside of government and let them form a minority government."
He and the interviewer between them also make a point that those who are debating which other party we should form a coalition with must take on board:
"We won’t get the choice. We don’t need to trouble ourselves. We are talking about a fluke within a fluke." This is because the Lib Dems will stick to the line that the party which wins the most votes and most seats will get the first chance to form a government. And it is also unlikely that the electoral maths will enable the Lib Dems to pick which larger party to drag over the finish line.
But for me the most important point Harvey makes is one not picked out by the headline writer. Because he questions the deal that was struck to form the Coalition:
"It was completely unacceptable to ask a national political party like the Lib Dems to come into government on a comprehensive deal and then have some departments in which there is no Lib Dem minister," he says. "Why on earth should we support any executive action or any legislation which came form a department in which we don’t have a minister, it's absolutely preposterous." 
"If you don’t agree with something don’t agree to it," Harvey says, slapping his leg for emphasis. "In the nature of the horse trading that has gone on we have agreed to a lot of things that we don’t basically agree with and I don’t think we would make that same mistake again."
I am hearing reports of disquiet on the Liberal Democrat backbenches at the moment.They are such a disparate bunch that you suspect there may be as many reasons for this as there are backbenchers.

But the critique Nick Harvey offers in this interview is an important one and should be listened to by the leadership.

Thomas Cook's grave in Leicester


Leicester's Welford Road cemetery opened in 1849 on what was then a hillside overlooking the city. I wandered round it this afternoon in the autumn gloom as, down below, the Tigers prepared to defeat London Irish.

With the help of a display board I found the grave of one famous citizen: Thomas Cook. One of the other family members buried here is his daughter Annie Elizabeth, an early victim of carbon monoxide poisoning from a gas water heater. She died at the family home in the London Road.




Friday, November 22, 2013

The Wisbech To Upwell Tramway



You can read about this unique railway in an old post on Unmitigated England.

Is it a Good Thing that "selfie" is the Word of the Year?

I have a First Person column in today's Leicester Mercury.

That's enough about me for one lifetime...

Selfie has been named word of the year by the editors at Oxford Dictionaries, who say its use increased 17,000 per cent over the past 12 months. In winning the title it saw off "twerk", "bitcoin" and "bedroom tax". If you are down with the kids like me, you will know a selfie is "a photograph one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website".

Everyone is taking them and, as usual when narcissism is in play, celebrities have led the way.

And it's worse than that, because a whole litter of spin-offs has emerged. A welfie is a workout selfie, a helfie is a hairstyle selfie and a belfie… don't ask.

All of which is grim for keen bloggers and tweeters like me. Because ever since these activities came in, people who do not share our enthusiasm have put us down with "I don't want to read what other people had for breakfast."

As it happens, there is a good blog called the London Review of Breakfasts. It's invaluable if you find yourself at a loose end in the capital early one morning.

But blogging, like any other kind of writing, can be about anything you want it to be. I read blogs on politics, history, architecture and a host of other things. Many have really good photographs – and there is not a plate of bacon and eggs in sight.

There are also plenty of engaging people to follow on Twitter who never, ever tell you what they are eating.

You can forgive youngsters for wanting to photograph themselves: they will never look so good again. But they should be careful.

A few years ago, if you went on a social media course, you would be told that any ideas you had about privacy were hopelessly old-fashioned. Young people put their whole lives online and that was what the future was going to be like.

Those same young people, now they are looking for jobs, know better. They are fighting a losing battle to wipe their youthful indiscretions from the net.

Meanwhile, those of us who are older understand that what you present online is a carefully edited version of yourself – preferably without breakfasts or selfies.

You can make too much of this: Rembrandt painted lots of self-portraits and no-one thought the worse of him. But I prefer to write about other people – they are usually so much more interesting.

Jonathan Calder blogs at Liberal England. He did not take the photograph above.

Marion Thorpe and Benjamin Britten



Respect to JFK and Doctor Who, but today's most significant anniversary for me is the centenary of Benjamin Britten's birth. I must have listened more to his music than that of any other classical composer and, alongside Bach and Schubert, he forms one of my trio of favourites.

Today's Guardian editorial reminds us of the central place Britten occupied in British culture - a place hard to imagine today:
Imagine an English classical music composer who is so famous in his own lifetime that his name is known throughout the country, who is the first British composer to end his life as a peer of the realm, a composer from whom the BBC uniquely commissions a prime-time new opera for television, and whose every important new premiere is a national event, a recording of one of which – though it is 90 minutes long – sells 200,000 copies almost as soon as it is released, and a musician whose death leads the news bulletins and the front pages.
I hardly knew anything about classical music in 1976, but I was 16 and it surprises me that I can remember nothing about Britten's death.

There is an extraordinary amount about Britten and his music to enjoy and explore this weekend - Radio 3 had decamped to Aldeburgh en masse - but one item may particularly interest Liberal readers.

Marion Thorpe - Jeremy Thorpe's second wife - was a lifelong friend of Britten and she has recorded the interview above about that friendship for Radio 3.

Tom Service describes it as follows in a Guardian blog:
What you'll hear from Marion is an insight into a rarely seen side of the composer's character: his humour, his "terrible schoolboy jokes", his generosity, his competitive streak – he hated losing at tennis, which he would play on his grass court at the Red House in Aldeburgh – and what it was like to play duets while sitting next to him on the piano stool. Marion – who first married George Harewood, and after Harewood left her (Britten supported Marion throughout), married Jeremy Thorpe – was herself a fine pianist who would go on to found the Leeds International Pianoforte Competition.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Six of the Best 399

"The deeply shocking reality is that over one-third of MPs, half of senior doctors and over two-thirds of High Court judges come from private school backgrounds despite these schools educating less than 10% of the population." Jack Smith considers the aftermath to John Major's intervention on social mobility for the Tory Reform Group's Egremont blog.

"The dangers of such an unholy alliance between the highly customized advertising excesses of modern capitalism and the data-gathering excesses of the modern surveillance state are obvious: Internet companies are licensed to collect and analyze as much information as possible precisely because the state may one day ask them for it." On Boston Review Evgeny Morozov writes on the authorities' online spying.

Sam Mézec looks at political radicalism on Jersey in the 1950s.

Municipal Dreams explains how Liverpool Tories came to build the first council housing in Europe.

"Thankfully I haven’t had his frustration at not getting the right parts and feeling under appreciated, or the fact that he initially felt he was taking a backward step by doing something for children in Doctor Who." David Bradley discusses his acting career and playing William Hartnell with York Mix.

Joe Moran offers a lecture on the lecture.

Did previous Tory and Labour governments fund the Paedophile Information Exchange?

That is what Tom Watson asks in the Daily Mirror today.

Watson writes that a "retired insider" has told him he recalls raising his concern that the Volunteer Services Unit of the Home Office was directly funding the work of Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE). The insider's recollection is that he raised his fears with superiors but was left in no doubt that he should drop the matter. Watson says he has written to the Home Secretary asking her to initiate an inquiry.

It may sound incredible now, but I would not be at all surprised if this turns out to have been the case.

When I was working in Birmingham in 1981 and 1982, literature from PIE was on display at the city's Central Library along with that from other municipally approved right-on causes.

Less than a decade later the municipal left was cheering on the taking of children into care to protect them from satanists.

Tory peer claims London cyclists try to get themselves run down

My Headline of the Day yesterday was the Daily Mirror's
Tory peer calls for clampdown on mooning after 40 schoolkids expose their backsides at him and wife
The peer in question was the Conservative Lord James of Blackheath. The rest of his speech was even more bizarre.

He told his peers:
In its wisdom, the Times ... is pursuing, to a ludicrous degree, the cause of cyclists to the point where they are creating a new and separate society in London, in which cyclists think they have a superior law and control over everybody in a motor car. This is going to lead to some catastrophic accidents very soon. 
On three mornings, driving up the A3 in the Balham and Clapham area, I have seen cyclists put their cycles up against the central reservation—not the line where the bus lane is—stand in the middle of the road with a camera and defy you to run them down while they photograph you doing it. That is what they are longing for.
How one warms to those schoolchildren!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Gamblers by John Pearson

The disappearance of Lord Lucan reminds me of that odd era when Britain faced power cuts, glam rock ruled the charts and retired Colonels drilled their private armies to be ready when the balloon went up.

Lucan, if you don't know the story, had planned to murder his wife, only to murder his children's nanny instead. (In this telling of the story, as in every other, the nanny Sandra Rivett receives little consideration.) He then disappeared, and sightings of him are reported every now and then even today.

John Pearson's idea of how Lucan hoped to get away with the "perfect murder" of his wife is convincing: his account of what may have happened to him is less so. Or rather, though it is a plausible narrative, there is precious little evidence to support it.

But the book is equally memorable for its first two-thirds, which tell us about the London gambling circle in which Lucan moved. Its big characters - John Aspinall, James Goldsmith and Lucan himself - are well drawn; Aspinall emerges as a thoroughly evil man.

What was most damaging though was the absurd ethic to which they all subscribed: a gentleman was someone who would gamble everything, lose and act as though nothing had happened. I am reminded of the equally destructive idea of the alienated romantic artist.

Whoever you vote for the political class gets in

Nick Boles's idea of a National Liberal Party is, of course, a nonsense. As the Continuing SDP and the Pro-European Conservatives demonstrated, you cannot establish a successful political party from above. And if Boles is seeking to attract those Liberal Democrat members who think that Nick Clegg is too left wing, I hope he has not booked to large a hall.

What is behind the idea is surely an attempt to allow a few Liberal Democrat MPs - it may be significant that in his speech Boles praised both Jeremy Browne and David Laws by name - to join the Conservatives by stealth.

At the next general election they would hold their seats with the help of Conservative votes, beating the new Liberal Democrat candidate. When the National Liberal party folded a year or two later, they could quietly and regretfully join the Tories.

Stephen Tall (and sometimes this blog feels like a dialogue with him) has an article on Liberal Democrat Voice, where he tentatively reaches a tamer version of the same conclusion.

What interests me is what he goes on to say:
It’s a shame because there is an interesting speech to be made about the prospects for a National Liberal party, one which brings together the Orange Bookers, the Blairites and the Cameroons. There would be disagreements over civil liberties, but on the economy, public services, the environment and Europe they would have more in common with each other than with their current parties. Tribal loyalties, combined with our stultifying electoral system which inhibits new parties, means such an alliance is unlikely to come to pass.
To which I say is thank goodness for tribal loyalties.

Because this natural seeming confluence between large parts of the three main parties is based less on shared ideology than on a shared social background.

These days mainstream politicians are overwhelmingly likely to come from the same wealthy middle-class families, to have been to the same limited range of schools and universities, to have worked as special advisers (and perhaps in a more lucrative career  and then to have been selected to fight winnable seats.

The are all light on ideology and tend to buy in their policies from charities and think tanks. Their shared enthusiasm for "evidence-based policy" disguises a tacit, unexamined agreement about the nature of the problems we face. Where is the evidence-based policy for reducing income inequality, for instance?

I can see the idea of a party of sensible, moderate party that would unite people of good will and stay in power for ever will attract some politicos - especially exhausted Liberal Democrats. But the idea of institutionalising this social exclusivity and political timidity does not attract me.

Is the pejorative term "tribalism" - of which Liberal Democrat were accused in the 1990s when we stubbornly and unaccountably refused to join Labour when Tony Blair was so wonderful - just another way of describing what little distinctive thinking British parties still possess?

Tory peer calls for clampdown on mooning after 40 schoolkids expose their backsides at him and wife

Today's Headline of the Day Award goes to the Daily Mirror.

On Twitter, @SohoPolitico asked if it shouldn't be a crackdown.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Monty Python reunion



Bill Bailey writes in the Guardian:
The idea of Monty Python reforming is like the prospect of a great band getting back together: they're the ultimate comic supergroup. The Led Zeppelin of comedy.

Tanya Byron to give free public lecture in York

Two psychologists who are experts on parenting are giving free public lectures in York next month.

Both lectures take place at the Royal York Hotel (next to the railway station) and form part of the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society's Division of Clinical Psychology.

On Wednesday 4 December (1700-1800) Professor Matt Sanders from the University of Queensland will speak on “What Makes Children Happy and Successful”.

Professor Sanders is the founder of the innovative and effective Triple P Positive Parenting Programme. In recognition of his work, he was made Queenslander of the Year by the state government in 2007.

Professor Sanders’ lecture is free to attend. You can just turn up on the day, but it would be a great help if you could register your intention to attend in advance.

On Friday 6 December (1530-1630) Professor Tanya Byron, well known for presenting television shows including “The House of Tiny Tearaways”, “Am I Normal?” and “Bedtime Live”, will speak on “The Trouble with Kids”.

Again, this lecture is free to attend and you can just turn up on the day, but it would be a great help if you could register your intention to attend.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Scenes of demolition from Northampton's past



Will we one day mourn the loss of the buildings we are demolishing today, just as we now mourn the Victorian buildings our fathers and grandfathers pulled down?

In some cases, undoubtedly.

But I doubt that the Greyfriars bus station in Northampton will be one of them. That such a building does not kill its passengers seems a reasonable minimum requirement.

While we ponder that question, here are some earlier scenes of demolition from the town. The sad music (Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings) tells us what we are meant to think of them.

Paddy Ashdown: Spy agencies' surveillance technology is "out of control"

From the Guardian website this evening:
The technology used by Britain's spy agencies to conduct mass surveillance is "out of control", raising fears about the erosion of civil liberties at a time of diminished trust in the intelligence services, according to the former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown. 
The peer said it was time for a high-level inquiry to address fundamental questions about privacy in the 21st century, and railed against "lazy politicians" who frighten people into thinking "al-Qaida is about to jump out from behind every bush and therefore it is legitimate to forget about civil liberties". "Well it isn't," he added.

Second reading: The new blog from the House of Commons Library

Second reading was launched today with three posts to coincide with Parliament Week 2013, which has the theme Women and Democracy.

In one of them, "The history and geography of women MPs since 1918 in numbers", Richard Cracknell tells us:
Since 1918, women have been more likely to be MPs in towns and cities than in rural constituencies. This at least partly reflects the tendency for Labour seats to be in urban areas and the higher number of women Labour MPs, compared with other parties. But women MPs have also tended to cluster in constituencies in some of the UK’s biggest cities such as London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle and Glasgow.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Malcolm Saville admonishes Nick Clegg

"Press the horn, then, and fetch your father so that he can move and let our friends through. You've no right to park your car right there. Why don't you leave it on the road where it belongs?" 
"Friends! Percy sneered. "They can't be your friends. They're gipsies." 
Malcolm Saville Lone Pine Five (1949)
It is not just that the Gypsies Reuben and Miranda are good characters in the early Lone Pine stories: it is that you can tell other characters worth by their attitudes towards them. Good characters like the Gypsies, but the baddies hate them.

For more on Malcolm Saville and the Romanies, read no. 7 of Stephen Bigger's collected papers on Malcolm Saville:
Malcolm Saville had clearly met a Romany group and was determined to break down a stereotype by presenting them as noble savages, almost as middle class. “Peter soon learned that she really had found fine friends in these wandering Romanies, who were so different from the rascally van-dwellers which many people miscalled gypsies” (Neglected Mountain, p.145). His Romany family only had one child (the norm is one a year), and paid its way (no stealing). The narratives gives many opportunities for expressing prejudice and breaking it down. The result is worthy, even if inaccurate.
By contrast, Gyspies tend to be villains in Enid Blyton's work. Yet, as Stephen Bigger point out, she and Saville were writing only a few years after Gypsies had been the victims of genocide under the Third Reich.

Six of the Best 398

Nick Clegg is promising more tax cuts. Gareth Epps, writing on Liberal Democrat Voice is not sure this is a good idea: "If the Liberal Democrat leader wants to spend money like this, he needs to say where the money would come from. It would certainly have been his refrain in opposition."

Common Dreams says NSA surveillance has had a chilling effect on American writers.

"I am sympathetic to the sorts of visions that are discussed under the rubric of ‘re-wilding’, most recently in George Monbiot’s Feral. Enchantment is a great starting point for thinking about a more intimate involvement in the natural world. But I worry, too, that ‘re-wilding’ signals a reprise of a concept that, at its heart, disavows human agency." Fraser MacDonald writes on unwilding Scotland for Bella Caledonia.

Richard Byrne makes a nod to Ned Ludd on The Baffler.

Spitalfields Life celebrates a marvellous poster of Christopher Smart's "For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry" drawn by the artist Paul Bommer.

Daytonian in Manhattan discovers an abandoned Subway station under New York.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: A distinct aroma of singed spaniel

Lord Bonkers completes his discussion of his postbag, so our week at Bonkers Hall is at an end.

A distinct aroma of singed spaniel

The fire has burned low, my glass is empty and there is a distinct aroma of singed spaniel. It is time, gentle reader, for me to turn in. Goodnight.

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

Earlier this week...

Babe Ruth: Black Dog



This is another track from the BBC compilation that brought us the sublime Shouting in a Bucket Blues.

Babe Ruth were bigger in North American than they ever were in Britain. In an interview Janita Haan, the vocalist, remembers hanging out there with Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd.

So we sent them a genuine female rocker, while they sent us Suzi Quatro, who was surely an actress playing a female rocker.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Lord Bonkers' Diary: A note from the King of the Badgers

A note from the King of the Badgers

It may be rather a scruffy (indeed, if I am honest, rather a muddy) note, but this one is the most cherished communication of the day. It comes from the King of the Badgers and thanks me for my continued vocal opposition to the cull. It is also magnanimous enough to wish David Heath well for the future, saying that he has been forgotten by all but the most vengeful badgers.

Whether Heath has yet forgiven Clegg for putting him in the job in the first place is another matter.

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

Earlier this week...

GUEST POST The perfect Christmas gift for a carer

Jon Pollard, who blogs at We Need Toothpaste, has a suggestion.

Do you know anyone who is a full time carer?

Are you stuck for ideas for a Christmas gift for them?

As someone who up till very recently cared full time for a family member I can help you.

The gift I am about to suggest is very cheap, it may even be completely free.

You can’t wrap it, post or deliver it.

You can’t purchase it in any shop, market or even online.

In all my years as a carer for my mother this was the best gift I ever received, and I was over the moon to receive it no matter how many times it was gifted.

What is this mysterious gift I hear you say?

It’s a day off, that’s what.

Yes, it really is that simple.

It doesn't need to be anything fancy, just give them a whole day to do their own thing. A whole day of freedom is the best gift a carer can get. A day to recharge, a day away from the duties and responsibilities is an amazing gift that works every time.

I am sure a lot of you know someone who cares, why not think about a special treat for them this Christmas?
Go on, give them the one thing they really want, a day off.

This article first appeared in the Harborough Mail. You can follow Jon Pollard on Twitter.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Council cabinet approves demolition of Northampton Greyfriars bus station



Earlier this week Northampton Borough Council's cabinet voted to approve the demolition of the town's Greyfriars bus station.

If you watch this video, which comes from Channel 4's 2005 programme Demolition, you will see why.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: "What about the twerkers?"

"What about the twerkers?"

What’s this one? It’s an invoice from my wine merchants – let us put it to one side. This one is more promising: what do I think of twerkers? I think this is from a young person having a jape; they hope I’ll say something about “What about the twerkers?” being a common cry at the political meetings of my youth or declare that I support twerkes’ control of industry and thus reveal myself to be a silly old buffer who is out of touch with the modern world.

Well, they’ll have to get up earlier in the morning to catch me out! I think the twerkers are damned fine fighting men and Joanna Lumley had absolutely the right idea. Ayo Twerkhali!

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

Earlier this week...

Now the WebCameron is airbrushed out of history

Earlier this week I blogged about the Conservative Party's decision to do all it can to remove the last 10 years of its history from the web.

Now, reports the Guardian, it has deleted numerous videos too. These include the 'WebCameron' videos, launched with a great fanfare in 2006.

At the time David Cameron said of them:
"I want to tell you what the Conservative party is doing, what we're up to, give you behind-the-scenes access so you can actually see what policies we're developing, the things that we are doing, and have that direct link ... watch out BBC, ITV, Channel 4, we're the new competition. We're a bit shaky and wobbly, but this is one of the ways we want to communicate with people properly about what the Conservative party stands for."

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Lib Dems call for better access at Market Harborough station


If you want to catch a train going north from Market Harborough station you just walk up a ramp to the platform. But if you want to go south you have to tackle a flight of steps.

This is a problem, not just to people who use wheelchairs, but also to young families and people who are not so mobile.

The station staff will take you across the track so you can use the ramp from the other platform - I once persuaded my mother to ask if she could do this chiefly so I could accompany her - but they have to phone up first and it all takes time.

Local Liberal Democrat councillors Sarah Hill, Phil Knowles and Barbara Johnson have taken up the campaign and what transport minister Susan Kramer (also a Lib Dem) to be invited to the town to see the situation and meet campaigners.

The Leicester Mercury quotes a spokeswoman for Network Rail as saying: "A bid for improving access to the station is scheduled to be sent to the Department for Transport in the next few weeks."

Atom splitting in my kitchen was a hobby, man tells Swedish police

Thanks to a reader, the Guardian wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Now read Lord Bonkers' observations on subatomic particles.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The yeti of northern Rutland

The yeti of northern Rutland

This one comes from the Zoological Society of London, thanking me for my observations on the possible discovery of yeti in the Himalayas. I shall not be at all surprised if they turn out to have the beasts in Nepal and Tibet, because we have them here in Rutland. They favour the frozen north of the county and can be a considerable help in delivering Focus leaflets to the more isolated lamaseries.

Yeti are gentle creatures and quite harmless to us humans (assuming you are human – one has to be so careful nowadays). However, they have an inordinately sweet tooth and have been known to follow mountaineers for days in the hope of being given a piece of Kendal Mint Cake. As this behaviour can easily be misinterpreted, I felt it necessary to place the facts before the proper authorities. Meanwhile I shall have a word with Farron and see if he can pull a few local strings and secure a supply of their favourite sweetmeat to send to the far Himalayan peaks.

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

Earlier this week...

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The dinosaurs of Crystal Palace



Travelling to a conference in Winchester and back today gave me the chance to read a good chunk of the Jonathan Meades collection Museum Without Walls.

I was struck by this passage:
In the southernmost corner of Crystal Palace Park are thirty life-size models of prehistoric monsters, installed in 1854: the first dinosaur theme park, a pedagogic entertainment. I have been a loyal visitor to them ever since I was in my teens. I have marvelled at them, filmed them, persuaded visitors to this city that the trip to its deepest recesses is worthwhile.
It had an impact on me because I have seen these creatures in one of my favourite films, Our Mother's House. As I wrote in a post on a "horror week" on the BBC, this sort of domestic horror is important for our understanding of the culture wars of the 1960s.

The rather muddy video above is a happy interlude from the film and features the dinosaurs of Crystal Palace. (Yes, that is Dirk Bogarde.)

Jonathan Meades (the piece was written in 2004) ends by saying "Bromley Council has subjected these hallucinatory prodigies to a most brutal restoration".

Does anyone know how they are getting on today?

Lord Bonkers' Diary: An embarrassment at the Home Office

An embarrassment at the Home Office

I recognise this letterhead: it belongs to the Deputy Prime Minister. I have to confess that I wrote to him the other day in somewhat intemperate terms. You see, it had recently been drawn to my attention that someone who holds the most ridiculous views had been appointed to the Home Office and I let Clegg have both barrels for allowing it to happen. How can we possibly be taken seriously as a party when we allow such things to happen? I demanded.

Clegg, I see, has replied in emollient terms, saying that he agrees with my view of the matter but Cameron is adamant that Theresa May must be Home Secretary and there is nothing he can do about it. I suppose that is coalition government for you.

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

Earlier this week...

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Six of the Best 397

Photo of Jumbo by
David Hawgood
We must pay more attention to the mental health needs of children, says Paul Burstow on Liberal Democrat Voice.

"Here was its former leadership sitting at a table with exactly the kind of moderate Muslims we are always being told fundamentalists and jihadis do not represent: democrats; secularists; universalists - defenders of what, for convenience, are often referred to as 'Western' values. But the reaction on much of the left has not been one of delight, but one of scorn and cynicism." Jacobinism writes about the recantation of the leaders of the English Defence League.

Annie Lowrey, in the New York Times, looks at the proposal for a basic income in Switzerland.

Jo Hayes tells us that Colchester's Jumbo water tower has been saved from insensitive redevelopment.

"It’s a terrible thing being a biographer," she said. "One is such a rat." Again in the New York Times, Artemis Cooper talks about her life Patrick Leigh Fermor.

Pints and Pubs introduces us to a new Cambridge pub: "There are a quarter of an acre of tunnels under Peas Hill which were fitted out and used as air raid shelters for 400 people during the War."

Book review: Liberal Democrats do God



As well as Lord Bonkers' fireside chat, the new Liberator contains my review of this book from the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum. Somehow I suspect it will annoy infidels like me as much as believers.

Orange Skies

Liberal Democrats Do God
Edited by Jo Latham and Claire Mathys
Liberal Democrat Christian Forum, 2013, £6.99 (available from the LDCF website)

This book gained some notoriety on its publication when the press alleged that Steve Webb’s introduction claimed that God was a Liberal Democrat. My first reaction to this was to be impressed that He had managed to find a coherent philosophy behind the party’s changing policy positions, but I suppose that is omnipotence for you. It soon turned out that Steve had merely claimed that god was a liberal – I am not sure if that makes any more sense, but it was deemed less controversial.

But churches and political parties do have much in common. They offer company to the odd and the awkward, and give you the chance to belong to an institution that existed before you were born and will endure long after your death. Viewed in this light, the Second Coming of Christ has much in common with the Liberal revival or the realignment of the left. So, having belonged to a political party for 35 years, I cannot find it in me to make fun of others’ religious beliefs. This is despite the fact that I long ago worked out that I was a High Church atheist – I love church music and buildings, but that does not mean any of the beliefs they are connected with are true.

Tim Farron would not agree with me. In pages he sets out to prove the existence of God – a task that would have made even St Thomas Aquinas hesitate. What Tim comes up with is the chumminess with slight sinister undertones that you hear in charismatic young preachers who tour university Christian Union groups at the start of term: “Christianity is therefore intellectually plausible and, given that the consequences of Christianity being true are pretty massive, you owe it yourself to check it out for yourself.”

This emphasises that the God these Liberal Democrats are doing is very much the Christian God. Other faiths do not get a look in, which is a little strange in modern Britain – there are plenty of new temples in Leicester, for instance, but few of them are Christian. For the most part, the book is a ragbag of good causes and it is not clear how much God has to do with any of them. Alan Beith writes in favour of restorative justice, and his support for it may well flow from his personal faith, but there are plenty of atheists who support it too and plenty of Christians who are in favour of retribution.

Equally, I turned first to Duncan Hames’ chapter on environmentalism, because I feel something like the Christian concept of stewardship is badly needed in modern Britian. But the chapter is short and, when you think about it, every acre that was despoiled in the Industrial Revolution or afterwards was owned or sold by an aristocrat who insisted his children and servants when to church every Sunday.

There are some notable omissions. There is nothing on the Establishment of the Church of England (which I favour on the grounds that it keeps the church quiet) or on faith schools. It is easy to despise the latter when they demand more and more outward signs of religious observance from parents, but their critics should sometimes stop to ask themselves why they are often so much more popular than schools run by the local authority.

The chapter that got most media attention (once Steve Webb’s to sign up God had foundered) was the one by Greg Mulholland, in which he suggests that the party is in danger of driving out religious believers because of its ‘moral conformity’. He does put his finger on the tendency of political groupings to turn on people who hold views that differ from those of its most members, but I am not convinced religious believers are any more its victims than anyone else. Take the way Greg introduces his concerns, describing an incident from the last general election: When I was knocking at one house I had called at a few minutes before, and started chanting at me. A rhyme about being a Catholic and about where I could shove my rosary beads. I have never been on the receiving end of discriminatory hate before and it is, even for a thick-skinned politician, a really unpleasant experience.

Surely bigotry is most often encountered in clashes between different religious groups? Again, it seems unfair to pin it on atheists.

What is at the heart of Greg’s chapter is the demand that political beliefs that are derived from religious convictions must somehow be above criticism. I do not think this is a legitimate move in debate, if only because it ties in with the sort of arguments that begin “As a….” These try to imply that you cannot criticise someone’s opinions without insulting his or her gender, ethnicity of sexual orientation and turn politics into a form of Top Trumps. More than that, if people hold just the views on social questions that you would expect them to hold in view of their backgrounds, then the suspicion is that, far from being deeply held, these views have been acquired in childhood and never properly examined. Which is why, to return to the parallel between churches and political parties, it is hard to take the likes of Will Straw and Euan Blair entirely seriously.

Let’s end on my favourite chapter. Andrew Stunell, in a pleasingly eccentric contribution, praises our secular society and celebrates the work of the Holy Spirit through history. So maybe I should thank God I’m an atheist?

Jonathan Calder

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Advice to ambitious young Liberal Democrats

Advice to ambitious young Liberal Democrats

Here is a letter typical of those I receive from ambitious young Liberal Democrats; it asks me which book the writer should read to maximise her chances of becoming a Member of Parliament. My answer is always the same. In order to be selected for a half-promising seat you need a roadworthy bicycle and a copy of Wainwright’s West Country Marginals. Once you have been adopted, however, there is only one volume that will do: A Fortunate Life: The Autobiography of Paddy Ashdown (which is by Paddy Ashdown, incidentally).

I know of no book that sets out half so clearly what is needed to win an election campaign. I don’t mean the chapter on "The Winning of Yeovil" that was made available free on the electric internet recently, excellent though it is In Its Way: no, I am thinking about the section on jungle warfare in Sarawak where Ashplant explains how to mount patrols, the best way to lay an ambush and how to treat an open wound using red ants. It was no surprise to me when, armed with this knowledge, we took control of South Somerset District Council.

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

Earlier this week...

Conservative Party tries to erase 10 years of its internet history

Thanks to a reader for drawing this Computer Weekly story to my attention:
The Conservative Party has attempted to erase a 10-year backlog of speeches from the internet, including pledges for a new kind of transparent politics the Prime Minister and chancellor made when they were campaigning for election. 
Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne campaigned on a promise to democratise information held by those in power, so people could hold them to account. They wanted to use the internet transform politics. 
But the Conservative Party has removed the archive from its public facing website, erasing records of speeches and press releases going back to the year 2000 and up until it was elected in May 2010. 
It also struck the record of their past speeches off internet engines including Google, which had been role model for Cameron and Osborne's "open source politics".
Computer Weekly also tells you how the Tories did it, but there is some good news:
The Internet Archive was unavailable for comment. But a fortnight after Computer Weekly started asking its San Francisco HQ for an explanation, the Conservative speeches have begun reappearing on its site.
This suggests we should not trust anyone - certainly not political parties and certainly not Conservatives - with keeping the only copy of their own archives.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Hayes and Harlington in 1956

The professional blogger is dead

Or rather the dream of being a professional blogger is dead, because I am not sure this chimerical creature ever existed.

At the end of a post about the demise of Liberal Conspiracy last month, Stephen Tall wrote:
the rise of the mainstream blogging has crowded out most of the amateurs. Many are still blogging, but look down the 2008 list of top 100 political blogs compiled by Total Politics magazine – and compare it with who the most influential online political voices are today – and you’ll get a sense of how the caravan has moved on. Talent will out, of course. But if you want your blog to get noticed now, best to develop a niche in which you’re an expert (such as Simon Wren-Lewis in economics or Tom Bennett in education, or of course your local neighbourhood if you’re a campaigner) — or else land yourself some kind of paid gig.
As several people pointed out in reply - Stephen helpfully linked to some of them in a later post - amateur blogging is alive and well.

They were right, but I think what has died is the professional blogger or, more accurately, the dream of being a professional blogger.

When news of the new activity reached us from America, it was accompanied by stories of people who made a good living from it.

This seemed a little fanciful even then, and I have never met anyone who makes much money from accepting Google's advertisements on a blog. I have considered adding an Amazon shop - less to make money than to allow my readers a chance to buy the books and music and films I write about.

Blogging has brought me many good things, from invitations to events right up to an expenses-paid trip to New York, but I have never expected it to give me a living. In fact I was doing quite well as a Lib Dem pundit - if only because of the lack of competition - before blogging came along.

I don't get the number of readers on Liberal England that I did a couple of years ago and nor I suspect, as it has stopped telling us the numbers, does Lib Dem Voice. In both our cases, however, this may be a function of the fall in support for the party.

But if amateur blogging is in decline I suspect it is for two reasons. The first is the rise of social media, which has meant there are places for debate to take place.

The second is the way that blogging is now just one of the things journalists are expected to do as well as filing reports for printed newspapers. The field has been invaded by professionals, but they are not professional bloggers.

In his first post Stephen made much of the rise of aggregated blogs, many run by newspapers. But as many of them rely on people who write for them without payment, it is not clear how far they affect people's amateur status.

The death of the dream will be welcome if it discourages young bloggers from trying to write like broadsheet pundits. There is room for all sorts in blogging -  that is one of its great attractions - but I would like to see people trying to do what the professionals don't.

Let's see more video and more illustration and more innovative used of them. Let's see what I called "the punk ethic of blogging" in my workshop the other day.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Sharing my postbag

The new issue of Liberator arrives, so it must be time to spend another week with Rutland's most popular fictional peer.

Sharing my postbag

Winter draws on, as the first Lady Bonkers used to say. The leaves have fallen from the trees and the wheways (or are they hamwees?) have left for Africa. At this time of year I am at my happiest when reading and writing in front of my Library fire.

Rest assured, gentle reader, I still enjoy rude health and only last week made my annual trip to Hebden Bridge and the spring which bursts from the hillside above what used to be the headquarters of the Association of Liberal Councillors and is said to bestow long life upon all those who bathe in it. This evening, however, I have a tumbler of Auld Johnston, that most prized of Highland malts, at my elbow and a spaniel at my feet and do not feel inclined to move. So let me share the day’s postbag with you.

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

Mental health resources for councillors and local authorities

The Mental Health Challenge site has links to four useful documents:
  • Councillors’ guide to mental health
  • No Health without Mental Health: A guide for Local Authorities
  • No Health without Mental Health: A guide for Overview and Scrutiny Committees
  • No Health without Mental Health: A guide for Health and Wellbeing Boards

Angry pensioner tips bag of dog poo over Cambridge University lecturer for 'cycling too close to her' by guided busway

Our Headline of the Day Award sees an easy win for the Cambridge News.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

More on Earl Russell's Big Band

I love blogging.

A couple of months ago I wrote about my discovery that there really was an Earl Russell's Big Band - or at least an Earl Russell Orchestra.

Now the daughter of one of its members has left a comment on that post:
I was surprised to find this image on your blog. My dad played in the Earl Russell Orchestra (he's in the front row, playing sax, on the right). From what I understand (and this is only from oral history), they just came up with the name "Earl Russell" out of the blue. There never was a person of that name in the orchestra or associated with the orchestra. They played a lot of dances in the small towns around the area. Very popular.

The UK Gold



From the Guardian:
This is the kind of film to get the blood boiling and the steam hissing out of your ears. Campaigning journalist Mark Donne has constructed an ambitious and admirably clear assault on the UK's lamentable record in the tax avoidance industry, zeroing in on the unsavoury role played by the City of London and its institutions – not just in this country, but in far more desperate international territories too. In fact, one of the more sinister allegations of this film concerns TheCityUK, a body set up by our own Square Mile, which is using its clout to develop the Kenyan capital Nairobi as a financial hub. 
With the assistance of a string of well-informed talking heads, Donne's film points out the major features of the tax avoidance landscape: tax havens, brass plates, capital flight, crown dependencies, and the like. It soon becomes clear that the avoiders' best weapon is silence – the list of those who refused to talk to the film-makers, helpfully appended to the closing credits, speaks volumes. Operating under the media radar, and taking advantage of the jurisdiction-hopping only the super-rich are capable of, this specialised skill set liberates a staggering amount of money from national treasuries, whichever way you look at it. 
Donne's film offers a harsh verdict on the current UK government; despite its protestations to the contrary, it has introduced legislation to make it easier to avoid tax abroad.
There are still screenings of The UK Gold taking place.

Paddy Ashdown and the treatment of prisoners of war

I am probably the last person in the party to have read Paddy Ashdown's autobiography, but at least it is fresh in my mind.

So the conviction of a Royal Marine for murdering an Afghan prisoner reminded me of a profound passage from it. Ashdown is writing about his time as a young officer in Sarawak:
On one occasion, after returning from a short patrol, I discovered one of our Marines hitting one of these detainees who had been captured a few days earlier. I have a furious temper, and on this occasion, to my shame, lost it completely, knocking the Marine across the room. I could easily have been court-martialled for this if anything had been made of it. But it wasn’t, and from then on everyone understood that mistreating prisoners was out of order. 
I claim no special morality in this. My act was one of irrational fury not thought-through principle. But when the story of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam broke six years later, I knew that that act of appalling brutality and horror had just been the last step in an escalation of violence that had been tolerated in William Calley’s unit. 
I do not think people leap from innocence to terrible violence in one bound. I think, rather, that anyone can succumb to the evil that steals up on us, little step by little step, and that what Lieutenant Calley did at My Lai could well have appeared to him to be just a small step beyond what had probably been perfectly acceptable common practice in his unit. 
Evil, it turns out, is not the great Beast of myth and legend. Rather, it imitates the bilharzia worm, slipping in imperceptibly between your compromises, to start its long progress to possession. 
If leaders do not have the courage or alertness to stop the relatively small transgressions against accepted values, then they risk initiating a chain of escalation which can end in horrors that would never have imagined or tolerated when it all started.
But at least this incident gives me the opportunity to say what a good book Ashdown's autobiography is. In many ways the parts before and after his time as an MP and leader of the Liberal Democrats are more interesting and more important.

He is also, to use an unfashionable concept, a good and moral man. The passage above should serve as a warning to those who have been crowing about the desirability of shooting prisoners of war.

And as my readers are all so young these days, I had better provide a link that will tell you all about Lieutenant Calley and the My Lai massacre.

Incidentally, you can see a young Lieutenant Ashdown in Sarawak at around the two-minute mark in this Guardian video profile.