Thursday, July 31, 2014

Six of the Best 454

"Tories, of course, are ALWAYS evil, but Lib Dems and Greens can be acceptable; IF and ONLY if we are doing whatever Labour want us to do. As soon as we show any sign of not-supporting Labour in any way they scream that we are BETRAYING them. Because obviously, the fact that we all joined another party doesn't mean we don't support Labour REALLY, it just means we like other coloured shirts or something. And as soon as we become BETRAYERS we are automatically WORSE than the Tories. Tories can't HELP being evil, you see, but we made a CHOICE to be evil by not supporting Labour." Jennie Rigg on the ousting of Tim Swift and his minority Labour administration in Calderdale. How long it seems since he was the leader of the Liberal Alliance group on Leicestershire County Council and an employee of the Association of Liberal Councillors!

Iain Brodie Browne looks at Tim Farron's Beveridge Memorial Lecture, given at the Social Liberal Forum Conference a couple of weeks ago.

"Nationalism has many potential outcomes, but they are all predicated on defining and separating, with concern for ‘our people’ not ‘the people’. Real progressive politics does the opposite. People at home or in the places that will shortly be abroad if there is a yes vote in September would do well to remember that". On Left Foot Forward, Stephen Low reminds us that, up close, Scottish nationalism looks a lot like other nationalisms.

Scientific American explains how the decline in wildlife populations has exacerbated child slavery in Ghana, Somali piracy and the illegal ivory trade.

With a little help from the late Neil Postman, compares and contrasts George Orwell and Aldous Huxley in comic-book format.

A Sense of Place takes us back to Liverpool in 1948.

It seems the Harborough Mail is now an authority on the Middle East

Haaretz bills itself as "the world's leading English-language website for real-time news and analysis of Israel and the Middle East".

Today, as a reader has kindly pointed out to me on Twitter, it quoted David Cameron as calling for an "unconditional, immediate humanitarian cease-fire" in Gaza, and warning that future prospects of a two-state solution were quickly dwindling.

Its source for this important intervention?

"A British daily called the Harborough Mail."

I know what happened: the Harborough Mail has recently taken to running agency copy on national and international news stories on its website, and one of those must have popped up in one of Haaretz's searches.

Still, it doesn't give you enormous confidence in that Haaretz's understanding of British sources. The Harborough Mail, of course, is not a daily but a very local weekly.

Coming soon: The Ludlow & Tenbury Wells Advertiser on how to deal with ISIS in Syria.

Plane forced to land at Gatwick after passenger 'throws prosthetic leg at cabin crew'

Headline of the Day goes to the Evening Standard.

But why the scare quotes? Either he threw it or he didn't.

Paddy Ashdown on Gaza

You can follow Paddy Ashdown on Twitter.

Ukip candidate resigns claiming party has been infiltrated by the occult

From the Western Daily Press:
One of the highest-profile Ukip candidates at the next General Election sensationally resigned tonight – along with his local party chairman – amid bizarre claims that the party had been ‘infiltrated by the Glastonbury occult’. 
Jake Baynes was due to stand in next May’s election for Ukip in the Wells constituency, but resigned – claiming there was civil war within the party in Somerset and a vendetta against him, and he ‘wanted nothing more to do with politics’. 
The Wells Ukip branch chairman Graham Livings also quit his post, claiming that the Somerset party had been ‘infiltrated’ by ‘devotees of the occult’ based around the alternative community in Glastonbury. 
But two leading members of Ukip in Somerset, who run a healing centre which claims divine intervention from the Archangel Michael, dismissed the ‘occult’ claims as ‘ridiculous’.
Meanwhile in London, reports the Evening Standard, "A former brothel madam who served time in prison has re-emerged as a Ukip fundraiser and supporter."

A Ukip spokesman helpfully told the paper: "We’ve got nothing to say on this."

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The death of the Scarborough to Whitby line

Thanks to Youtube for recommending this. It knows what I like.

Confused Cats Against Feminism

Confused Cats Against Feminism has received a lot of media coverage in recent days. The Women's Blog om the Guardian site is one example.

Me? I just like the pictures of cats.

Liberal Democrats try to win back the green vote

The Liberal Democrats are promising to place Britain's forests in a protected trust to stop them ever being sold off, as was proposed in the early months of the Coalition.

According to the Guardian, this measure will be contained in a nature bill that is being drawn up by the party to bring in greater protections for the environment. It will be put to the party's autumn conference for possible inclusion in the its manifesto for the next general election. Dan Rogerson appears to be the moving spirit behind it.

Its reports says:
Under the plans, the Lib Dems are suggesting a target of more than 700,000 trees per year, or 3.5m over the course of a parliament, which is threefold the number due to be planted under the coalition's Big Tree Plant scheme that covers built-up areas. It would mean a new tree for every child born over the next five years. 
The bill would include targets for clean air and water, a plan to stop natural resources such as peat and wood being harvested at an unsustainable level and put British forests into a trust to stop them being privatised. 
It would also increase the penalties for enforcement and punishment of environmental crime such as deliberate water pollution and wildlife crime and use the proceeds for these increased penalties to fund the National Wildlife Crime Unit and the sector of the Environment Agency that tackles pollution-related crime.
Though I could never get too outraged at the prospect of conifer plantations grown for cropping being privately owned, I am pleased to hear of this planned bill, because there are many in the party who seem content to see our green voters go.

I am one of many who grew up on the slogan "Think global, act local," but showing a concern for your local environment today can make you a "nimby". Neither the infrastructure fanatics nor the severe economic liberals have much time for your local woodland if someone wants to build on it.

Meanwhile, those who do care for the environment tend to be more interested in staving off climate change than local campaigns.

So all power to Dan Rogerson and his 700,000 trees a year.

Timothy Garton Ash on global free speech standards

This is one of a number of Free Speech Bites available on the Index of Censorship website.

House of Lords committee says right to be forgotten is unworkable

From this morning's Guardian:
A "right to be forgotten" – enforcing the removal of online material – is wrong in principle and unworkable in practice, a parliamentary committee has said. 
The House of Lords home affairs, health and education EU sub-committee has condemned regulations being drawn up by the European commission and a recent landmark judgment by the European court of justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg. 
The study supports the coalition government's opposition to the EU proposals on the grounds that search engines should not be made responsible for the content of the internet.

David Hemmings in Venice for the premiere of The Turn of the Screw, 1954

When I looked for some photos from the set of Blow-Up on GettyImages, I did not find any I could embed here. But the video of the film's locations then and now has proved popular.

What I did find were some embeddable pictures taken of David Hemmings when he was 12 and in Venice to sing the role of Miles in the premiere of Benjamin Britten's opera The Turn of the Screw. Yes, before he was an actor he was a singer.

Though there are questions to be asked about Britten's relationships with boys, Hemmings always maintained that nothing untoward happened.

Interviewed for Humphrey Carpenter's biography of Britten, David Hemmings said:
"Did I feel that he was desperately fond of me? I suppose I did, but I must say I thought far more in a sort of fatherly fashion; and I had a a very bad father-son relationship ... There is no man in my entire life that has been more influential on my attitudes than Ben."
Oh, and nice choice of sandals, Mrs Hemmings.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Kenneth Clarke on Paddy Ashdown on Tony Blair

Kenneth Clarke - surely the real-life Peter Mannion? - was interviewed by Andy McSmith in Sunday Independent:
He fears that the long shadow of the Iraq war is diminishing the UK as an actor on the world stage. He suspects that part of the reason David Cameron was defeated in the Commons when he proposed to punish the Syrian regime for using chemical weapons was a “sense of guilt” over Iraq. 
Clarke opposed the war at the time – unlike David Cameron and the majority of Tories – but acquits Tony Blair of the charge that he deliberately lied over Iraq’s weaponry. He remembers Blair addressing the Commons long after the invasion, still arguing his case with total conviction like “the last man living who still really believes they are going to find weapons of mass destruction… 
"One of the funniest things ever said to me about Tony Blair – it was by Paddy Ashdown – was: ‘The trouble with Tony is that he always believes everything he says when he is saying it’."
It is enjoying a summer break at the moment, but this is a chance to say how good McSmith's diary in the Independent is.

In an era when other such columns subsist on yesterday's leavings from social media, he still finds original stories.

Nursery worker faces sack after starring as a Tunnock's tea cake on TV at Games opening ceremony while on sick leave

The Mirror wins our Headline of the Day Award.

But really, it could happen to anybody. I once worked with someone who was pictured on the front page of The Times greeting Michael Jackson at Heathrow when she was off sick.

Leicestershire Conservative county councillor faces trial for assaulting a woman

From the Leicester Mercury:
A county councillor is to face trial after being charged with assaulting a woman. 
Tony Kershaw appeared before Loughborough magistrates yesterday for the case to be heard, but it was adjourned to a later date, to ensure police and medical witnesses were available. 
The 77-year-old has been suspended from County Hall's Conservative group pending the outcome of the case. 
He has denied assaulting a woman in Anstey on May 2.
Mr Kershaw was suspended from the Conservative group "without prejudice" when he was charged in May.

At the time he was chair of the county council's environment and transport scrutiny committee, and he has been a member of its cabinet.

Write a guest post for Liberal England

This is a reminder that I welcome guest posts on Liberal England.

And as you can see from the list of the 10 most recent guest posts below, I am happy to consider a wide range of subjects.

If you would like to write a guest post for Liberal England yourself, please send me an email so we can discuss your idea.

  • Bullying on Leicester City Council - Ross Grant
  • Pubs must help themselves if they are to survive - Matt Wright
  • One woman’s view of being a senior citizen - Eileen Ward-Birch
  • The perfect Christmas gift for a carer - Jon Pollard
  • Politic360: Mending online political discussion - Jason Brown
  • A new hole in the safety net - Anonymous
  • Memories of Snailbeach in the 1950s - Christina Samson
  • We are all the poorer for soundbite politics - Tony Robertson
  • A few thoughts on walking - Phil Smith
  • The mad, mad world of Maghull Town Council - Tony Robertson
  • Monday, July 28, 2014

    The demolition of the cooling towers at Didcot power station

    These towers, which have stood for more than 40 years, were felled at 5am on Sunday.

    Quote of the Day visits Hinckley and Bosworth

    The winner is Liberal Democrat campaigner Michael Mullaney.

    Over to Twitter:
    This BBC News story explains all.

    The scandal of Sir Peter Morrison

    Margaret Thatcher’s personal bodyguard Barry Strevens has told of how he warned the Prime Minister of allegations that one of her top aides was involved in sex parties with under-age boys.
    Perhaps you don't believe this report in the Independent? I don't believe all the stories that have emerged about the abuse of children by politicians in recent weeks.

    But in the case of Sir Peter Morrison you just have to take the word of his parliamentary colleagues.

    Gyles Brandreth wrote in his published diary Breaking the Code - a surprisingly good book, incidentally - that he and his wife Michele had "been told several times on the doorstep – in no uncertain terms – that the MP is ‘a disgusting pervert".

    In her diary, Edwina Currie - Ian Pace had reproduced the page - wrote:
    One appointment in the recent reshuffle has attracted a lot of gossip and could be very dangerous: Peter Morrison has become the PM’s PPS. Now he’s what they call ‘a noted pederast’, with a liking for young boys; he admitted as much to Norman Tebbit when he became deputy chairman of the party, but added, ‘However, I’m very discreet’ – and he must be!
    And Norman Tebbit has confirmed this story, as the Mirror reported the other day:
    Norman Tebbit yesterday admitted he had been told Sir Peter Morrison was a paedophile more than a decade before the truth about the notorious Tory was exposed. The ex-party chairman said “rumours had got to my ears” that Morrison had sex with underage boys before he became Margaret Thatcher’s Parliamentary Private Secretary in 1990.
    But then we all heard rumours about Morrison in those days.

    I can remember being told that Cheshire Police were tired of picking him up for pestering young men in public lavatories and had told him that the next time this happened charges would be brought. The parties, my informant added, were busy selecting candidates for the inevitable by-election.

    A different version of this story surfaced in the Guardian column of the late Simon Hoggart in November 2012:
    Grahame Nicholls, who ran the Chester Trades Council when Morrison was the local MP, wrote describing how he'd often met Morrison, who was by the 1980s pretty well constantly drunk. 
    "After the 1987 general election, around 1990, I attended a meeting of Chester Labour party where we were informed by the agent, Christine Russell, that Peter Morrison would not be standing in 1992. He had been caught in the toilets at Crewe station with a 15-year-old boy. 
    A deal was struck between Labour, the local Tories, the local press and the police that if he stood down at the next election the matter would go no further. Chester finished up with Gyles Brandreth and Morrison walked away scot-free. I thought you might be interested."
    The version I heard made no mention of under-age boys, but then the age of consent for gay sex in those days was 21. It was the state, as much as the Paedophile Information Exchange, that served to blur the distinction between man and boy.

    Still, Edwina Currie was in little doubt: she called Morrison a pederast, which suggests she believed the boys were younger than 16.

    And the former Conservative minister Rod Richards told the Daily Mail in 2012:
    "What I do know is that Morrison was a paedophile. And the reason I know that is because of the North Wales child abuse scandal."
    He went on to explain:
    "It fell to me to decide initially whether to hold a public inquiry. So I saw all the documentation and the files. Morrison was linked. His name stood out on the notes to me because he had been an MP. He and [the other man] were named as visitors to the homes."
    All of which suggests that the Morrison saga should be put down as an unlovely example of the way that churches and political parties will protect their own rather than expose wrongdoing.

    Sunday, July 27, 2014

    The Yardbirds: Stroll On

    As yesterday's video showing the locations from Blow-Up then and now has proved popular, here is a clip from the film featuring the Yardbirds.

    It is an unusual line up for the band, as it includes both Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. Beck, who had replaced Eric Clapton as lead guitarist was shortly to be ousted by the other members. (You can see all three playing together in the 1983 benefit concert for Ronnie Lane and his ARMS charity.)

    The real Ricky Tick Club was in Windsor, but the interiors here were filmed on a recreation of it at Elstree Studios and yesterday's video showed us where the exteriors were filmed.

    But remember kids: Not even beating everyone to Beck's smashed guitar neck may not be enough to ward off ennui if you are an achingly fashionable photographer.

    Six of the Best 453

    What You Can Get Away With completes its series of posts inspired by Conrad Russell's An Intelligent Person's Guide to Liberalism.

    On British Politics and Policy, Mareike Kleine provides three suggestions on how Lord Hill can be a good European commissioner and still serve the British interest.

    China is setting up fake social media accounts to give a false impression of life in Tibet, reports Andrew Jacobs in The New York Times.

    Ben Goldacre, in an editorial for the British Medical Journal, says true informed choice will require wholesale changes to the way we gather and communicate evidence: "When we offer a preventive drug to such large numbers of healthy people, we are a long way from the doctor treating a sick patient. In some respects, we are less like doctors and more like a life insurance sales team: offering occasional, possibly life changing, benefits, many years from now, in exchange for small ongoing inconvenience and cost."

    "Audiences in 1949 didn’t see the film as fanciful. Vienna may have been badly bombed, but so had Coventry, London and Liverpool. Crime was a UK problem, too. Shortages and rationing meant plenty of people knew a man who could get a hold of extra petrol, sugar or meat. Fellas like Lime had their stories in the papers and their pictures on post-office walls." Gerald Heyes celebrates the 65th anniversary of Carol Reed's The Third Man for Spiked.

    London Reconnections explores the Connaught Tunnel and Silvertown Station.

    The locations from Blow-Up today

    After the still from the set of Performance the other day, I had hoped to show you from the set of another key sixties film, Blow-Up. And there are some on Getty Images, but none of them can can be embedded on blogs.

    So instead here is a short filming showing Blow-Up's locations in the original film in 2011.

    Blow-Up ostensibly shows London in the swinging sixties, but today Antonioni's take on the city and the era seems cool, continental and very much his own.

    It is all a long time ago - Blow-Up was released in 1966 - but Terence Stamp still mentions his annoyance that he was dropped from the film in favour of David Hemmings in every interview he gives.

    Saturday, July 26, 2014

    Whatever happened to the idea that Ed Miliband speaks human?

    In view of Ed Miliband's speech yesterday in which he half apologised for the way he looks and the way he speaks, it is worth remiembering how he was sold to the Labour Party as a possible leader.

    Here is Mehdi Hasan, who was soon to become his biographer, writing about Ed Miliband and the party's leadership contest in August 2010:
    I remember the first time I realised Ed Miliband could be the next Labour leader. Standing in a packed room at the TUC's Congress House headquarters in January, at Ken Livingstone's Progressive London conference, I watched as the younger Miliband brother, clad in a fleece and jeans, inspired a captive audience of party members, Trots, anarchists, Greens and, yes, Liberal Democrats. 
    Speaking without notes, the then climate change secretary passionately made the case for tackling global warming, despite the depressing deadlock at Copenhagen a month earlier. "He's awesome, isn't he?" whispered the young woman next to me, her eyes alight with excitement. 
    Of all the Oxbridge candidates running for Labour leader, it is Ed Miliband who displays the common touch - or, in the words of Neil Kinnock, the "X-factor". "He has a special ability to lift spirits and motivate people - the capacity to inspire," says the former Labour leader. 
    The younger Miliband's strategists and supporters have known from the start that this is their man's strongest selling point: his ability to reach out, in our new, plural era of coalition politics. Throughout this protracted contest, throngs of energised Ed Miliband supporters have descended on the various hustings holding placards proclaiming "Ed Speaks Human". 
    Let us be clear: Ed M is not JFK. Nor is he the British equivalent of Barack Obama. But he does have the all-important ability to connect with ordinary people, especially the young, and to motivate and inspire them.
    How strangely that passage reads now!

    Friday, July 25, 2014

    Shelagh Delaney's Salford (1960)

    After I posted a clip from A Taste of Honey as a tribute to Dora Bryan, a reader kindly tweeted me the link to this short film.

    Shelagh Delaney's Salford was made by Ken Russell and broadcast on 25 September 1960, when I was precisely six months old. She comes over as a striking and attractive figure.

    The story of A Taste of Honey is worth retelling. Michael Billngton did so after Delaney died in 2011:
    Shelagh Delaney ... was almost as important for what she symbolised as for what she wrote. She was, as Jeanette Winterson wrote in the Guardian last year, "the first working-class woman playwright". And even if nothing she later wrote achieved the success of her first play, A Taste of Honey, Delaney proved that an 18-year-old Salford girl could breach the walls of what, even in 1958, was still a mainly middle-class, male-dominated British theatre. ...
    Delaney had been taken to see Terence Rattigan's Variations on a Theme at Manchester's Opera House and came away convinced she could do better. So, in little more than a fortnight, she banged out a play about a feisty Salford girl, Jo, who is left alone by her flighty mum one Christmas, goes to bed with a transient Nigerian sailor, gets pregnant and is lovingly tended by an effeminate art student. Having written the piece, Delaney had the nous to send it to Joan Littlewood, who had turned the Theatre Royal, Stratford East into a vibrant home of new drama. 
    In her autobiography, Littlewood made no bones about the fact that a lot of work was needed to knock Delaney's play into shape. She liked the sparky dialogue but felt many of the scenes were undeveloped and the plot anecdotal. So she got Avis Bunnage, as Jo's mum, to use her talent for direct address and brought in a jazz quartet, consisting of trumpet, drums, guitar and sax, to set the mood. Delaney's slightly artless script quickly became a critical success.
    Her career never reached these heights again. In some ways she was a female version of Leicester's Colin Wilson, who was taken up by the critics for his first book The Outsider and butchered by them for his second.

    And I do like the comment in the original theatre programme for A Taste of Honey, as quoted by Rachel Cooke:
    She is the antithesis of London's 'angry young men'. She knows what she is angry about.

    Liberal Democrats apologise to Chris Rennard for mishandling investigation

    From the Guardian website - and tomorrow's newspaper:
    The Liberal Democrats have apologised to Lord Rennard for mishandling part of his disciplinary process and dropped their investigation into whether he brought the party into disrepute by refusing to say sorry to female activists who accused him of inappropriate sexual behaviour. 
    The peer and former chief executive is now under investigation only over the issue of whether his "criticisms of party processes" on social media and in the press have harmed the reputation of the Lib Dems, which means he continues to be suspended from the party in the House of Lords.

    Satellite full of sexually experimental geckos adrift in space, Russia lose control of mission

    The Independent wins Headline of the Day.

    The late Lou Reed adds:

    Lord Bonkers on Philip Hammond

    Lord Bonkers writes exclusively for Liberal England:
    "Hammond must be our least memorable Foreign Secretary since... What was that fellow's name?"

    The CIA operated a secret torture centre in Poland after 9/11

    From the Open Society Foundations website:
    The European Court of Human Rights has finally officially confirmed the facts of a story that the U.S. and European governments have sought to deny for more than a decade: The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency operated a secret torture center on Polish soil in the aftermath of the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. 
    In a historic ruling, the court concluded beyond reasonable doubt that Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri—represented by the Open Society Justice Initiative—and Abu Zubaydah were held in secret and tortured by the CIA at a military base called Stare Kiejkuty in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

    Thursday, July 24, 2014

    Land Giant in Action (1951)

    It is not so long since the countryside around Kettering and Corby was a landscape of vast quarries, mineral railways and aerial ropeways.

    This 1951 British Pathe film gives you an idea of the scale of the undertaking.

    The Market Harborough to Northampton road crosses the line of a couple of old ironstone railways. I used to know where they had been and look for the bridge parapets in the hedgerow as the bus sped past, but I have now forgotten those locations.

    When David Cameron called Gaza "a prison camp"

    Four years ago BBC News reported:
    UK Prime Minister David Cameron has condemned the blockade of the Gaza Strip, describing the territory as a "prison camp". 
    He also criticised Israel for launching an attack on a convoy transporting Turkish activists and aid to Gaza. Nine Turkish citizens died in the raid. 
    He was speaking to an audience of businessmen during a visit to Ankara. ...
    "Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp," Mr Cameron said. 
    "People in Gaza are living under constant attacks and pressure in an open-air prison," he said.

    David Ward, Gaza and tweetcrime

    If I lived in Gaza I would...

    If I lived in Gaza I would what? If I lived in Gaza I wouldn't be me. I certainly wouldn't be a middle-aged British Liberal Democrat.

    So there was something silly about David Ward pondering what he would do if he lived in Gaza. Whatever that conflict there is about, it isn't about you, David.

    Still, David has not been half as silly as some of his critics. Last night Conservatives took to Twitter to demand his instant expulsion from the party:"

    One bladder-on-a-stick called Nadhim Zahawi has even written to the Metropolitan Police calling for David to be prosecuted.

    If anything,  it is Zahawi who should be prosecuted - for wasting police time.

    And David, in his cack-handed way, was making an important point: anti-terrorist and police operations can be counterproductive. We have examples of that - internment without trial in Northern Ireland; police us of stop-and-search powers - much closer to home.

    You may not agree with these arguments when they are used, but it must surely be possible for someone to advance them without being expelled or prosecuted.

    One amusing thing this affair is done is show us that the right is just as politically correct as the left. Force them to encounter an argument they don't like and don't normally here and they will nor argue back: they will try to silence you.

    You can tell something odd is going on when Spiked emerges as the voice of reason. Under the headline "Let Lib Dems commit 'tweetcrimes'" it says:
    David Ward, Lib Dem MP for Bradford East, is not sharpest of political tools, but his tweeting over the past 24 hours has been an expression of his political views. ‘The big question is - if I lived in #Gaza would I fire a rocket? - probably yes’, he wrote on Tuesday. And then in a follow-up tweet, he tried on Kennedy cliché for size: ‘Ich bin ein #palestinian - the West must make up its mind - which side is it on?’ 
    It’s not big, and it’s definitely not clever, but it is a genuine expression of Ward’s political views: he thinks Palestinians are being oppressed by the Israeli state (or ‘the Jews’, as he referred to it last year), and he thinks the West needs to come down hard on Israel. So far, so right on. 
    But what has been astonishing is the response of the Tories. Not only have they, like Labour, sought to make a big deal of Ward’s flight of imaginative sympathy after which he concludes that he, too, would be firing rockets at Israel if he was David Ward born in Gaza, now battling Israel, rather than David Ward born in Lincoln, and now boring in Bradford. No, the Tories have gone one depoliticising step further and suggested that Ward’s mal mots are not only a bit simple; they’re possibly illegal.
    Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

    Wednesday, July 23, 2014

    Interviewing Ed Davey at the Social Liberal Forum conference

    If, as Paul Walter suggested the other day, Ed Davey is the Liberal Democrats' climate change bulldog, then he is a very polite bulldog: a bulldog who is all over his brief as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

    After interviewing Tim Farron, I met Ed Davey, along with Paul Walter, Caron Lindsay and Mathew Hulbert. We met in a cool room somewhere upstairs in Amnesty International's new headquarters during the Social Liberal Forum conference on Saturday.

    If not a bulldog, then Ed was certainly bullish. He is clearly delighted with Liberal Democrats achievements under him, and Chris Huhne before him, at Energy.

    He set these out - notably the increase in electricity generation from renewable sources - in a recent article for Liberal Democrat Voice.

    One of the things we talked about was how we make the sure the party gets the credit it deserves for these achievements and take the campaign forward at the next election.

    Ed believes we need a few clear points to emphasise and suggested, a little gnomically, that the energy policy our last conference passed gives the basis for this. I suggest you read it again carefully.

    Paul Walter has given a full summary of what we talked about. You will see that I asked about nuclear power - as a Liberal of a certain age, I still find it hard to come to terms with our change of policy here, even if it a change that many prominent environmentalists have made too.

    Others have not made it. When I told someone from Leicester Friends of the Earth about this interview, he suggested I ask Ed why we need a Civil Nuclear Constabulary but not a Civil Wind Farm Constabulary or Civil Solar Power Constabulary.

    Ed reminded me that Chris Huhne had promised there would be no subsidy for nuclear power, as I suggested, but no special favours. The price nuclear generators are guaranteed may look high, but he believes it will look less so when the new capacity comes on stream.

    Behind my faulty recall of Chris's promise lay a puzzlement that energy has to be subsidised at all. Aren't heat and power among the most basic of human needs with a guaranteed permanent demand?

    That may explain why I shall never be Energy Secretary. Ed is - and a mightily impressive one too.

    Perhaps his talents lie more in persuasion in small meetings than in platform oratory, but he is now an important figure in the party.
    Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

    Russia: Cameron gets tough

    Farewell to Dora Bryan

    Dora Bryan has died at the age of 91. She had a long life, made difficult later on by illness. As the BBC tribute suggests, she specialised in scene-stealing cameos rather than great roles.

    We have already seen her as Rose, the tart with the heart of gold, in The Fallen Idol. So here she is as the mother at the start of A Taste of Honey. She also took part in cinema's greatest train chase in Great St Trinian's Train Robbery.

    Trivia fans may be pleased to learn that one of the children singing the song is Hazel Blears' brother.

    James Fox, Mick Jagger and Cecil Beaton on the set of Performance

    Read more about Performance elsewhere on this blog.

    Tuesday, July 22, 2014

    Understanding the Putin regime in Russia

    Two of my favourite bloggers have been looking at the nature of the Putin regime.

    Craig Murray writes:
    The immediate cause of the MH17 disaster was a missile shot by pro-Russian forces who mistook it for one of the military aircraft they had been regularly shooting down. It is a terrible tragedy – and tragically not unique. There have been several such events in my lifetime, including the USS Vincennes incident and the Soviet downing of a Korean airliner. 
    The problem is that Vladimir Putin has revived the Soviet cult of perfectionism – the idea that the state simply cannot make a mistake. That Putin-backed forces could commit an error is therefore unthinkable, as that would imply that Putin made an error in backing and supplying them. 
    Putin cannot make errors. We have therefore seen a stream of desperate propaganda stories emanating from the Russian media, such as the allegation that it was the government in Kiev attempting to shoot down Putin himself. These narratives are aimed at the domestic Russian nationalist audience, but are accepted by the small band of ardent Putin supporters in the West.
    And Cicero's Songs writes:
    The scale of the human rights breakdown under Putin is now so complete, it is legitimate to ask, in the twenty-first century, "if Russia has such a warped structure that it simply can not be a free society, should the country even continue to exist?" 
    For there is little doubt, that even without the 14 other Soviet Republics, Post Soviet Russia remains an Empire both in fact and in spirit. For example, there are over 185 different national groups, speaking over 100 native languages in the Russian Federation, of which 27 have some official status, although only Russian is designated as the state language. Although Russification, official and unofficial, has continued, the percentage of the population that is ethnically Russian is in steady decline- Russia is growing more diverse and not less. 
    That goes for the economy too. Many people, used to the glitz and obvious wealth of Moscow and St. Petersburg can be totally shocked by the contrast, not merely with the seedy and run down state of most other cities, but the dire poverty that exists even in the rural areas close to the capital. Russia has one of the largest wealth gaps ever seen in human history, with brutal poverty literally within sight of the richest individuals on the planet. 
    But such astonishing inequality is the result, not of entrepreneurial graft, but of the capture of the natural resources of the country by a self-selected criminal class. Rent seeking and exploitation are the watch words of this mafia, and it has crushed the vast bulk of the population. The creative and intelligent class are driven to the margin or seek better lives outside the stultifying control of the Kremlin propaganda machine.

    Frank Furedi: Paranoid Parenting 13 years on

    Frank Furedi published his Paranoid Parenting in 2001.

    In today's Independent he looks at what has happened over the ensuing 13 years. He does not paint an encouraging picture:
    In 2001, when I published my book Paranoid Parenting, I was genuinely surprised to discover that virtually all experiences associated with childhood came with a health warning. 
    At the time, Paranoid Parenting documented the growing tendency to extend adult supervision into every aspect of children's lives. It was apparent that the outdoors had become a no-go area for many youngsters and that the majority of parents did not even allow their offspring to walk to school on their own. 
    The idea that children were too vulnerable to be allowed to take risks had already become entrenched. That was bad enough. But since the turn of the century, the regime of child protection has become steadily more pervasive and intrusive. The relentless erosion of children's freedom has been paralleled by the constant tendency to politicise parenting. 
    During the past decade or so, the banning of a variety of activities associated with children's life has acquired a relentless dynamic. I still remember, when in February 2007 after a group of children were suspended from school for throwing snowballs, an angry mother writing to me to ask: "What will they think of next?" 
    Regrettably, the obsessive impulse to regulate children's life ensures that the next target of child protection is already on the horizon.

    London's termini in the fifties, sixties and early seventies

    London's Termini in the 50s, 60s & Early 70s from Lewisham Bill on Vimeo.

    I have a book on Romney Marsh, published in the early 1960s, that has a photograph of the new nuclear power station at Dungeness.

    While the power station itself still looks modern, even futuristic, the cars parked outside seem quaint and comically bulbous. In short the power station and the cars look as though they come from quite different eras and it feels strange to see them together.

    I get the same feeling from this video of trains at London termini with a contemporary soundtrack. The pop songs sound much more modern than the trains look.

    Anyway, here is 44 minutes of sheer pleasure. And if anyone read my mention of Broad Street the other day and thought I had dreamt it, you can see the station at 32:42 and then enjoy a short trip along its viaduct north out of the City.

    Monday, July 21, 2014

    Calls for new Solicitor General Robert Buckland to resign

    From the Swindon Advertiser today:
    Swindon South MP Robert Buckland is facing calls to stand down from his new role as Solicitor General after it emerged he was found guilty of professional misconduct but failed to disclose it to the Prime Minister. 
    It relates to a race hate crime in 2007 where a Wroughton schoolboy was left with severe brain injuries following a vicious attack by a group of 13 Asians. 
    Both the victim, Henry Webster, and four of the attackers were pupils at Ridgeway School at the time, where Mr Buckland, a former barrister and part-time judge, was a governor.
    While conducting the internal investigation, he was not acting in a legal capacity but as a governor so should not have been speaking to barristers involved in the case to secure information. 
    The MP requested to see hundreds of pupil witness statements from another barrister in the criminal trial of Amjad Qazi, who was jailed for the attack. 
    In 2011, Mr Buckland, along with Robin Sheallard, were found guilty of breaching the code of conduct of the Bar of England and Wales for illicitly obtaining the papers which he had no entitlement to see. 
    Although they were both guilty, there was no fine and both were allowed to continue working in the profession.
    According to the Advertiser, Mr Buckland has said there was no malicious intent for his actions and he believed he was acting in the best interest of the school.

    The paper quotes him as saying:
    “It is a matter of public record that in May 2011, I was found to have committed a minor breach of the Code of Conduct of the Bar of England and Wales. I was not suspended or fined and continued to practice and sit as a Recorder. This finding was removed from the Bar records after two years and therefore I was not required to declare it upon appointment as Solicitor General.”

    Six of the Best 452

    "Moscow gave these weapons to the frankly low grade forces they have created in the Donbas without thought for the consequences. That those consequences have proven to be so dreadful simply underlines the brutal and arrogant stupidity that has become the hallmark of Putin's policy." Cicero's Songs says Putin must pay the price for his brutal incompetence.

    What You Can Get Away With argues that one member, one vote is not a magic wand that will solve the Liberal Democrats' problems.

    Bits of Books, Mostly Biographies looks at the fall of the Conservative MP Sir Ian Horobin, a case with contemporary resonance.

    Alex's Archives marks his 500th post with some reflections on why he blogs.

    "I wondered too whether Trescothick ever envies the man who took his place all those years ago? Might he not (illnesses aside) be happier away from the limelight where the cameras are generally in the hands of friends and admirers?" Backwatersman watches a former test hero bat at Northampton while Alastair Cook struggles for England.

    An unfulfilled dream of the theatre maverick Joan Littlewood is finally set to be realised, reports the Guardian.

    A Labour government would cut spending as much as the Coalition

    Yesterday Labour's national policy forum confirmed that an incoming Labour government would keep to the Coalition's spending plans for 2015-16. An attempt to commit Labour to abandoning those plans was defeated by 125 to 14.

    So next time you see a Labour politician, blogger or tweeter demanding more spending on something, you can ask them what taxes they would raise or cuts they would make elsewhere to fund it.

    I certainly would not defend all the Coalition's spending decisions. I think the cuts to local government have been too severe - in fact, given that the worse is still to come, I wonder if it will be politically possible for those cuts to be made in full.

    But what this vote does mean is that Labour wants to have any intellectual credibility then it is going to have to curb its reflex reaction of promising more spending on every issue that comes up. That will not come easy to most Labour activists.

    The Guardian reports Ed Balls as saying after the vote:
    "We will balance the books, deliver a surplus on the current budget and get the national debt falling as soon as possible in the next parliament."
    That is pretty much what Tim Farron said when we bloggers interviewed him on Saturday. I wondered if it was not too fiscally constrictive, but his position is fast emerging as the new orthodoxy.

    Sunday, July 20, 2014

    Leicester tramlines and wires in 1949

    Getty Images UK captions this:
    A Police motorcyclist from the Leicester City Police Force stops the traffic for school children to cross the road safely.
    But it also shows the wires and tracks of the city's tram system, which closed the year this photo was taken.

    Garry Kasparov on how to deal with the Putin regime

    The former world chess champion and brave liberal wrote as follows for the Wall Street Journal in March after Vladimir Putin had seized the Crimea from Ukraine:
    If the West punishes Russia with sanctions and a trade war, that might be effective eventually, but it would also be cruel to the 140 million Russians who live under Mr. Putin's rule. And it would be unnecessary. 
    Instead, sanction the 140 oligarchs who would dump Mr. Putin in the trash tomorrow if he cannot protect their assets abroad. Target their visas, their mansions and IPOs in London, their yachts and Swiss bank accounts. Use banks, not tanks. 
    Thursday, the U.S. announced such sanctions, but they must be matched by the European Union to be truly effective. Otherwise, Wall Street's loss is London's gain, and Mr. Putin's divide-and-conquer tactics work again.

    Family: How Many More Years (You're Gonna Wreck My Life)

    The greatest Leicester band of the Sixties was Family. Here they are filmed at the Speakeasy in London in late 1967. The combination of blues and psychedelia reminds you that they were playing in the same era as Traffic and Jethro Tull.

    BBC Music says of them:
    Family were an English rock band that formed in late 1966 and disbanded in October 1973. Their style has been characterised as progressive rock, as their sound often explored other genres, incorporating elements of styles such as folk, psychedelia, acid, jazz fusion and rock and roll. 
    The band achieved recognition in the United Kingdom through their albums, club and concert tours and appearances at festivals.
    This original line up includes the singer Roger Chapman, the guitarist Charlie Whitney (whom we have seen with Tim Buckley) and the bass player Rick Grech, who later joined Blind Faith, often described as the first super group, with Ginger Baker, Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood.

    More about Family from Family Bandstand and the Roger Chapman Appreciation Society.

    Interviewing Tim Farron at the Social Liberal Forum conference

    Listening to Tim Farron’s Beveridge Memorial Lecture at the Social Liberal Forum (SLF) conference yesterday – the New Statesman has reproduced the full text – I was puzzling to work out who he reminded me of.

    Then I worked it out.

    Take this passage:
    So, while the right argument for HS2 is about capacity not speed, the argument for HS3, 4, 5, 6 is about speed. A high speed link between Hull and Liverpool, through Leeds, Bradford and Manchester; from the West Country, from East Anglia to the Midlands, from Wales to the Midlands and the north, from Carlisle to Newcastle; connecting our great towns and cities to one another; connecting East and West as quickly and as seamlessly as we connect north and south, that is where our focus must be and we must start right away. 
    It could almost be a passage from Jeremy Browne’s Race Plan – Britain needs modernising and massive spending on infrastructure is the way to achieve it.

    It is reassuring to find leading figures of the economic and social liberal wings of the party sounding so similar, but there is an important difference here.

    Jeremy is very much a London-as-a-world-city man, whereas at the heart of Tim’s analysis of Britain’s problems is that too much spending and wealth is concentrated in the South East of England.

    Talking to him afterwards – in a bloggers’ interview kindly arranged by the Social Liberal Forum – he sees this concentration as being at the heart of the current housing crisis. There is plenty of land and even plenty of houses available outside the South East, it’s just that not enough people want to live there.

    With massive spending on railways and broadband and regional airports we can stimulate development in the regions and take the pressure of the South East.

    It’s not just investment that Tim wants to see for the regions: he also wants to see devolution of political power. In the interview – the other bloggers there were Mathew Hulbert, Caron Lindsay, Joe Otten, Mark Pack and Iain Brodie Brown – we discussed how this might be achieved. Should we go for devolution to regions or accept the more pragmatic solution of using existing cities and counties?

    I asked Tim if he would be happy with neighbouring counties having different education systems. My reason for asking this was that, looking for somewhere quiet to work over the lunch break, I inadvertently found myself in a fringe meeting on education, called to launch a pamphlet by Helen Flynn, where Tim happened to be the guest speaker.

    It was something of a celebration of the fall of Michael Gove and its heroine was the head teacher of Barrowford Primary School for her rather toe-curling letter. And, fairly or not, I gained the impression that those present had no great love of diversity in education.

    When I asked Tim the question during his interview he said he would be happy to see different systems in different counties, but I am not sure his heart was in it. Still, he did make the important point that Michael Gove’s most far-reaching and questionable changes have been made in teacher training, not at the margins with free schools.

    If I had been Jeremy Paxman, my first question about the speech would have been: “This is a leadership bid, isn’t it?” I am not sure how fair that would have been, but it was certainly how many members of the Social Liberal Forum saw it, jumping up to give him a standing ovation.

    As to my own views, back in 2011 I wrote of him:
    He is clearly a formidable campaigner, having turned Westmorland and Lonsdale into what looked very like a safe Liberal Democrat seat until the Boundary Commission got hold of it. He is young and personable, and he has other attributes that may be useful to someone standing for the leadership of the party in the future. He is Northern, did not go to public school and has not held ministerial office under the Coalition. 
    So my feeling is that we should take Tim Farron very seriously. 
    I still think we should, even if his oratory yesterday was not that impressive. Too many important lines were swallowed or thrown away. And he did not make the unpopular speech that I went on to ask for in that post.

    Still, in singling out the way London dominates our national life Tim has identified an issue that is too little remarked and put himself on the right side of the debate.

    It is also an issue that marks him out within the party and could mark out the party as a whole in a future election.
    Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

    Viscount Tonypandy and Leo Abse

    Today's newspapers say the police are investigating reports that the late Viscount Tonypandy - George Thomas, the Commons Speaker - raped a nine-year-old boy.

    According to the Mirror:
    His alleged victim, now aged 55, said: “I was raped by George Thomas in Cardiff. I was about nine. 
    “He spent a lot of time at my house as my parents were good friends with him. Things started small but then got a lot worse. It has been with me all my life.” ...
    The alleged victim, now living in Australia, said his foster parents were Labour Party supporters. He added: “We went on many campaigns for Harold Wilson, Jim Callaghan and George Thomas.”
    Anyone who shares my weakness for political gossip will be familiar with the rumour that George Thomas used to pick up young men for sex.

    The most authoritative account of this rumour was given by another deceased Labour MP, Leo Abse. It appeared in the American edition of his The Man Behind the Smile: Tony Blair and the Politics of Perversion, which was quoted in the Daily Mail the other day.

    I seem to recall reviewing the British edition for Liberator, but Thomas was still alive when that came out. After his death Abse felt less constrained and added an extra chapter to the American edition, which came out with the less beguiling title Tony Blair: The Man Behind The Smile.

    In it the worldly Abse describes George Thomas's terror of exposure and how he would sometimes help Thomas deal with the threat of blackmail.

    He then writes:
    But there were times when my advice had gone unheeded. While still a backbench MP, he asked me for a loan. The specificity and size of the loan, £800, aroused my suspicions. 
    He poured out the story. I urged him to let me deal with this extortioner. But to no avail. That sum – the ticket and resettlement money which was to take the man to Australia – would, George insisted, mark the end of the affair. 
    I had profound misgivings but I could see George was near breaking point. I gave him the money.
    Given that Thomas's alleged victim now lives in Australia, one has to wonder whether Abse's £800 was used to settle the whole family there.

    It was not blackmail, It was a way of Thomas getting rid of a potential scandal.

    Abse does say that this incident took place when Thomas was still a backbencher, whereas the supposed rape seems to have taken place in the late 1960s or early 1970s, which makes the dates hard to reconcile.

    But at the very least we know that Thomas regarded Australia as a place to dispatch people who threaten to become awkward.

    Saturday, July 19, 2014

    The Social Liberal Forum conference and a piece of railway history

    I spent today at the Social Liberal Forum conference in London. It was held at Amnesty International's new headquarters in Shoreditch. (It must be new as my taxi driver was not certain where it was - he did explain how the city is run by the Masons though.)

    Thanks to the organisers I interviewed Tim Farron and Ed Davey - I shall write those up for this blog shortly. The day was very well run, the venue was air conditioned and I met a lot of old friends and some new readers.

    The photograph?

    It turns out that Amnesty's HQ stands next door to a piece of railway history. Look closely and you will see that the train is on a new concrete viaduct and about to join an older brick one.

    Back in 2007 I wrote about Broad Street, a lost London railway terminus. This brick viaduct used to carry the North London Line into Broad Street, but it was cut short at just this point to allow development of the station and trackbed.

    The new concrete viaduct carries the East London Line, which used to be part of the Underground system and terminate at Shoreditch. That station has gone, but the new viaduct means  East London trains now run to Highbury & Islington or to Dalston Junction.

    I remember sitting in a hotel in Bournemouth during my first Liberal Party Assembly in 1984  discussing, with David Gamper from Hackney Liberals, the possibility of reopening the intermediate stations on the viaduct into Broad Street. They had been closed because of wartime bombing and never reopened.

    This discussion had a slightly surreal air as we were surround by some very Bournemouth blue- and pink-rinsed ladies playing bridge.

    Broad Street did not survive much longer, but those stations have been reopened and are served by the East London Line.

    Friday, July 18, 2014

    The old school at Breedon on the Hill

    The approach to Breedon on the Hill from the east is dominated by the church on its man-made cliff, but the first thing you see when you arrive in the village is this remarkable Victorian school. Your first impression is that it is forbidding, but it is tamed by further study.

    British Listed Buildings gives its history:
    The school was built [in 1874] by Charles Abney Hastings as a memorial to his wife, Edith. His name had been Abney but he took his wife's name Hastings either on their marriage or on her succession to the Scottish title of Loudon on the death of her brother, the last Marquess of Hastings. ... 
    Abney Hastings was created Lord Donington in 1880. He built this school a year after purchasing the Breedon estates of the 7th Earl of Stamford and Warrington.
    Today it is too near the main road the quarry to serve its original purpose and lies empty, but it remains a remarkable building.

    What Tim Farron will tell the Social Liberal Forum conference

    I am off to London for the Social Liberal Forum conference tomorrow. I hope to interview a couple of Leading Liberal Democrats for this blog.

    Thanks to Huffington Post and the power of the press release, I can already tell you what one of them is going to say.

    Step forward Tim Farron, who will say:
    "There is no political market for a centre right laissez faire liberal party amongst the British electorate, or for a party that sets itself up as the permanent see-saw coalition partner. 
    "To aim to be either would be to neuter our movement and invite electoral annihilation on the same scale of our friends in the German FDP who chose a similar path. To follow the FDP example would be to abdicate responsibility for our economy."
    He will add:
    Politics should be about positive plans for a better Britain, not fear and loathing for one tribe or another. We should want the British people to choose the Liberal Democrats for what we are for, more than who we are against,"
    AndIn his speech, it seems, he will call for his party to :
    "stake out the case for comprehensive liberalism based on a true understanding of what creates and what prevents freedom". 
    "Laws that prevent you worshipping as you choose, living with whom you choose, reading what you choose curtail your liberties no more and no less than the poverty, the ill health and the inadequate education that robs you of your choices," he will say. 
    "Never mind economic liberalism versus social liberalism," he will add. "I demand that Liberals should defend our citizens from all of those threats... our new consensus must be based on a belief in active, can do government whose focus is on tackling the biggest challenges we face in the confident belief that we can overcome them." 
    Farron will also call for the government to set a target for "every breadwinner to be paid a living wage by 2020" to stop the "scourge of in work poverty" 
    That makes a lot of sense to me, but do I detect an attempt to construct the sort of 'from log cabin to White House' narrative that might be appealing in a future party leader?

    For the Huffington Post tell us that Tim will
    tell delegates about his personal life story of growing up in a terraced house in Lancashire with "no heating, no holidays" and attack the "appalling rhetoric of Miliband and Osborne – setting the shirkers against the striver".
    That sounds familiar, but did he receive free school dinners? You don't outprole me that easily.

    Six of the Best 451

    Alex's Archives takes a scalpel to Liberal Democrat travails over the bedroom tax.

    "He was right to emphasise the importance of diversity in education, right to champion the involvement of parents in starting schools and right to turbo-charge free schools." David Boyle, rightly, writes in praise of Michael Gove.

    The only way to contain Moscow is to understand that there’s still a Cold Warrior in the Kremlin, says Jeffrey Lewis on Foreign Policy.

    "Today Liberty announced it is representing James and Dana Haymore, who are being prosecuted for failing to ensure that their son 'regularly attended school' on the basis of six days absence." Good for Liberty.

    London Reconnections on the reawakening of the Caledonian sleeper.

    Proletarian Democracy maintains that the Chuckle Brothers are two of the most successful revolutionary agents in the entire proletarian milieu: "The famous Chucklist catchphrase, 'To me, to you' is perhaps the most succinct expression of working class solidarity ever uttered against the parasitic capitalist ruling class of South Yorkshire."

    Nick Clegg on Nigel Farage, tuition fees and making cups of tea for David Cameron

    Thanks to Alex Harding-Last on Twitter.

    Westminster's Secret Service: "A scandal involving small boys"

    This is an extract from Michael Cockerell's 1995 documentary about the operation of the party whips at Westminster. You can watch the whole thing on Youtube.

    The ingenuous Tim Fortescue, who was a Conservative whip between 1970 and 1973 (when Ted Heath was prime minister) explains how the system works - or at least worked in those days.

    It may surprise my younger readers to learn that he sat for a Liverpool constituency.

    Thursday, July 17, 2014

    Take your hands off our beavers

    A beaver yesterday
    Good news from the River Otter in Devon: one of the wild beavers living on it has given birth to three young.

    When the beavers were discovered at the start of the month, it was announced that they would be trapped and rehomed in a wildlife park. The appeared to be an attempt by the Tory minister George Eustice to placate fishing interests.

    A petition against this move was launched and, reading today's press coverage, there are hopes that the government will back down.

    Good news: Criminals are getting more stupid

    I once quoted the Labour peer Bernard Donoughue on this blog:
    "I am reminded that a senior detective inspector from Maidenhead once explained to me: "You have to understand that the root of this country's law and order problem is that our police are a lot thicker than the villains."
    But it seems times have changed. From the Leicester Mercury:
    A burglar was caught after dropping his prison release papers during a break-in – on the day he was freed from jail. ... 
    Alan Murphy, prosecuting, said: "At the scene were Graham's prison papers and other documents, including his photograph, which he may have dropped. The police had a lead straight away."
    And from the Lancashire Evening Post:
    A fire-eating magician was found to have a stash of sick child abuse images after he accidentally handed over the evidence to police to help them with another inquiry.
    Don't have nightmares.

    Wednesday, July 16, 2014

    Liberal Democrats commit to bedroom tax reform

    Danny Alexander writes:
    “As a Liberal Democrat I want everyone to have the opportunity to have a secure and decent home. 
    “We brought in changes to how housing benefit is calculated in the social housing sector with the best of intentions. 
    “However, a recent report shows people are having to cut back on household essentials despite the help offered through Discretionary Housing Payments. 
    “Therefore, we have reviewed our position so only those already in the social rented sector who turn down suitable smaller homes will see a reduction in their benefit. These commitments will be in the Lib Dem manifesto and we will push for it as government policy right away. 
    “This change, combined with a commitment to build 300,000 houses a year in the next Parliament, will build on the progress we have already made to address Britain’s housing problem.”
    That sounds about right to me.

    The Saxon carvings and Renaissance tombs at Breedon on the Hill

    Back to the church at Breedon on the Hill. This is the Breedon Angel, an Anglo Saxon carving believed to represent the Angel Gabriel appearing to Mary.

    Great English Churches says it is "secreted away in the bell tower where only the privileged are allowed to see it". Ah, but I turned on the Calder charm and was taken up to see it by the excellent woman who was looking after the church that afternoon.

    Other carvings of the period line the walls of the church. As that website says:
    There are Greek and Byzantine influences to be seen and all of this should help to give the lie to the suggestion that between the departure of the Romans and the arrival of the Normans poor old England went through artistic “Dark Ages”.
    And in the north aisle you can find tombs belonging to the Shirley family, who bought the priory at the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

    Vince Cable compared to Saruman from The Lord of the Rings

    He was not trying to be complimentary, but the Conservative MP Richard Fuller - as quoted by the Evening Standard - wins our Imaginative Parallel of the Day award for this comment on Vince Cable:
    "[It is] as if the Secretary of State sees himself as a real-world version of Saruman, that character in Middle Earth who came down with the best of intentions but unfortunately took the power unto himself and believed that he alone was benign enough and all-seeing that he could create a wonderful environment ... in which all would be good."

    Joan Hickson was the greatest Miss Marple

    I have said it before and I am going to say it again here: Joan Hickson was the greatest Miss Marple.

    And if you won't take my word for it, listen to Natalie Haynes writing on a Guardian blog a couple of years ago:
    Hickson captured perfectly the fluffy ruthlessness of Jane Marple: she has wispy white hair like the mohair she's so often knitting with her softly clicking pins; the slight thickening of the voice when she's thinking; the real sense that she is, as Sir Henry Clithering describes her, "one of the most formidable criminologists in England. There she sits, an elderly spinster, sweet, placid, so you'd think. Yet her mind has plumbed the depths of human iniquity, and taken it all in the day's work". 
    Hickson's Marple is neither Rutherford's buffoon nor McEwan's camp schoolmarm: she is a frail elderly woman who is simply unshockable and fearless. Jason Rafiel (Donald Pleasence) has her number: "She also has a mind like a bacon slicer." He is the one who nicknames her Nemesis, the goddess of retribution, in A Caribbean Mystery. And it is the measure of a good policeman that he can recognise her brilliance in spite of her old-lady mannerisms: Chief Inspector Fred Davy (the much-missed George Baker in At Bertram's Hotel) gets her immediately, whereas poor Chief Inspector Slack (David Horovitch in The Body in the Library) is a less good judge of character. 
    Miss Marple's great gift is to have seen every facet of human behaviour in her village, St Mary Mead. Every new person, situation and crime is filtered through this knowledge: she is never surprised by anything. "Apparently, he's a … communist," whispers the vicar's wife of Edmund Swettenham in A Murder is Announced. "Well, yes," replies Miss Marple, thoughtfully. "Then he must be very lonely in Chipping Cleghorn."
    Haynes also reminds us that the first episode of The Body in the Library (Hickson's first Miss Marple) was screened on Boxing Day, two days after the the final episode of The Box of Delights was shown.

    They really don't make Christmas television like that any more.