Saturday, April 30, 2016

Leicester Oral History Trail 6: Church Gate



The latest of these recordings deals with what is now a slightly disreputable street.

Read about its history in the city council's Church Gate Conservation Area character appraisal.

Zac Goldsmith: "I'm a Bollywood fan"



This must be most awkward exchange since Tony Blair was asked to name one of the Newcastle United players he claimed to have watched as a schoolboy in the 1960s.

Thanks to Tom King on Twitter.

Electoral Commission asks for more time to consider Conservative election expenses

From the Channel 4 News website today:
The elections watchdog has asked for more time to pursue possible criminal prosecutions regarding Tory election spending, as a summit is called to consider the evidence revealed by Channel 4 News. 
Following months of investigations by Channel 4 News, the Electoral Commission has requested an extension to the time limit available to pursue possible criminal prosecutions regarding Conservative Party campaign spending returns. 
Bob Posner, Director of Party and Election Finance & Legal Counsel at the Electoral Commission said, “The police and the CPS both have the power to apply to the Courts to extend the time limit on bringing criminal prosecutions for electoral offences to allow for full investigations to take place. We have requested that they consider doing this.” 
Representatives of the Electoral Commission and the Crown Prosecution Service will hold also hold a summit with a number of police forces to discuss the Conservative Party’s election expenses next week.
Meanwhile the Cornish Guardian reports:
A Devon and Cornwall Police spokesman said that following complaints from "a small number" of members of the public, officers had launched an inquiry into allegations that Mr Mann's declared election expenses did not portray an accurate picture of his spending. 
Mr Mann has vigorously denied any wrong-doing but has conceded that he did not know details of how some of the Conservative Party campaigning in his constituency had been accounted for. 
The national party repeatedly sent campaigners to North Cornwall in a touring "Battle Bus." 
At issue is whether the travel and accommodation expenses for those campaigners should have been declared locally, or as part of a national campaign spend
If the Electoral Commission, as it should, is taking this affair seriously, there is much more chance of it coming to something substantial than there would be if it were left to isolated local campaigners.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Ashdon Halt revisited



When I posted the video of disused stations in Essex, I was rather taken with Ashdon Halt. Its platform building, an old coach, was still in situ years after the last train called.

The video above shows Ashdon Halt in 2011 1997 and whilst open.

The station was on the old Great Eastern line between Audley End and Bartlow, It opened in 1911 and closed when the line was closed in 1964.

You can read more about it on Disused Stations.

Six of the Best 593

"Oakeshottian conservatives prefer the devil they know; idealists, rationalists and managerialists think they can improve upon it." Chris Dillow returns to one of his favourite themes: the trouble with the Conservatives is that they are no longer Conservative.

Anoosh Chakelian meets Piers Corbyn, brother of the Labour leader.

"Our National Parks are dominated by sheep farms and grouse or deer estates, leaving almost all our hills bare. Nature is protected in isolated reserves which provide important refuges for biodiversity. But these refuges are not joined up, and so are very fragile in the long-term." Helen Meech makes the case for rewilding.

St Peter's Seminary, Cardross, is a celebrated modernist ruin on the Firth of Clyde. John Grindrod has photographs of it from the 1960s: "What's immediately apparent is how beautiful the building is. The arches, the windows, the concrete, the strange forms and shadows."

Richly Evocative introduces us to the elusive, slippery territory that is Ashley Vale in, St Werburghs, Bristol.

Taylor Parkes celebrates The Professionals.

The Long Mynd and Stiperstones shuttle bus starts tomorrow


Running every Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday until 2 October, this service connects Church Stretton with the remote country around the Long Mynd and Stiperstones - and with some very good pubs too.

A sad paragraph at the bottom of the Shropshire Hills Shuttle Buses page says:
Unfortunately, Castle Connect, which ran between Ludlow, Knighton, Clun and Bishop’s Castle will not be running in 2016. This route was set up three years ago as part of Shropshire’s Sustainable Transport Project. Now that funding has ceased, the cost of running this service for another year was in danger of putting the future of the Long Mynd & Stiperstones Shuttle at risk. Thank you to all who supported this route over the last couple of years. We are looking at other options to better link the towns with the hills, and will be applying for new grants to support this.
My photo shows the shuttle bus near the car park beneath the summit of the Stiperstones, with the Long Mynd in the distance behind it..

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway in 1960


In 2014 I travelled on the Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway. After doing so I posted an old video of the lost line from through the streets of Welshpool that once connected the line's Raven Square station with the town's mainline station.

Click on the photo above to go to the BFI site and view film shot in 1960. It shows the whole line, including that abandoned section.

There you will also learn about the man who shot it:
Footage shot by Ion Trant, originally from Dovea Farm, Tipperary, Ireland. He farmed Maesmawr farm, Welshpool (plus the adjoining farm, Cefn Du and a Radnorshire hill farm, Esgairdraenllwyn) with his wife, Janet (nee Lewis). Conscious of a growing gulf between town and country, he welcomed school visits to his farm and created the BBC children’s series "Country Close-Up" (1956-62), featuring his land and children.

The health effects of losing a political career

What happens to MPs who lose their seats?

Yesterday I blogged about a paper by Dr Peter Bull on Jeremy Corbyn and prime minister's questions. A second paper in the symposium looked at the effects of electoral defeat.

Dame Jane Roberts from the Open University, a psychiatrist and former Labour leader of Camden, and the psychologist Dr Ashley Weinberg from the University of Salford, set out to answer this question.

After each of the last three general elections Dr Weinberg has asked MPs from the previous parliament to complete a standard questionnaire about their psychological wellbeing. Out of 88 respondents, 16 of those MPs had chosen to retire, 12 had been defeated and 60 had held their seats.

Analysing the questionnaire results Dr Weinberg found higher levels of psychological strain amongst the MPs who had either won or been defeated and the lowest among those who had chosen to retire. The former MPs expressed mixed responses to leaving the Commons, some finding it very difficult and other acknowledging the benefits for their health.

An in-depth qualitative study by Dame Jane Roberts involved interviews with 30 politicians, including MPs and council leaders who had chosen to stand down, been defeated at an election or continued serving. Where possible, she also spoke to the partners of the former politicians.

The interviews showed council leaders were consistently positive about their experience of the role while MPs held mixed views. Whether the exit was voluntary or involuntary accounted for some difference in the experience of the transition from office, but the picture was more complicated than this distinction alone.

Some MPs reported relief from the chains of office and the media glare, but many acknowledged a deep sense of loss and dislocation, while their partners attested to the impact of the transition on home life.

The researchers said:

"Our findings suggest that the health effects of losing a political career should be taken more seriously. It was striking that the defeated MPs reported that so little advice was available about handling career transition.

"This is about not about politicians having special treatment – quite the reverse. It’s about the political world catching up with the rest of the working world and politicians being afforded similar consideration as others who are made redundant or retire.”

The best case for Remain has been made by... Jeremy Clarkson



Here are some paragraphs from the best case I have seen for Britain's continued membership of the European Union:
In 1973 my parents held a Common Market party. They’d lived through the war, and for them it seemed a good idea to form closer ties with our endlessly troublesome neighbours. For me, however, it was a chance to make flags out of coloured felt and to eat exotic foods such as sausage and pasta. I felt very European that night, and I still do. 
Whether I’m sitting in a railway concourse in Brussels or pottering down the canals of southwestern France or hurtling along a motorway in Croatia, I feel way more at home than I do when I’m trying to get something to eat in Dallas or Sacramento. I love Europe, and to me that’s important.
And:
Isn’t it better to stay in and try to make the damn thing work properly? To create a United States of Europe that functions as well as the United States of America? With one army and one currency and one unifying set of values? 
Britain, on its own, has little influence on the world stage. I think we are all agreed on that. But Europe, if it were well run and had cohesive, well thought-out policies, would be a tremendous force for good
Can you guess who wrote them?

Of course you can. I have pasted a photo of him above.

But this column by Jeremy Clarkson, published in the Sunday Times on 13 March of this year.

It's support for full-blown federalism will scare some off - I am not its greatest admirer itself - but it captures an enjoyment of our European identity that has been wholly absent from the Remain campaign.

That campaign has concentrated on pointing to the disasters that may befall Britain if it leaves the EU and pointing to the contradictions in the Leave case. Its arguments are right, but are unlikely to inspire anyone.

So why hasn't Jeremy Clarkson been up front and centre of the Remain campaign? He would appeal to great swathes of voters likely to have so far remained untouched by it.

Maybe he was asked and said no, but it is hard to resist the conclusion that maybe, just maybe, the leadership of the pro-EU campaign does not consist of the best and brightest who could have been found.

Incidentally, Clarkson's article is lodged safely behind the Sunday Times' paywall, but I found the full text of it on a Top Gear bulletin board.

It was a little like stumbling across a site devoted to a fetish you do not share. I was not so much surprised as puzzled.

No, Clarkson's views are not mine, but I do admire the easy flow of his prose as a columnist. From that point of view, a young writer could do much worse than adopt him as a model.

And what I always objected to was not so much Top Gear itself so much as the BBC's absurd promotion of it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Disused railway stations in Essex


A short but interesting selection. It runs from Blake Hall (once part of the Central Line) to Tollesbury, where my mother's mother's family all came from.

A special word for Ashdon Halt too.

How Jeremy Corbyn has changed prime minister's questions

Dr Peter Bull, a psychologist from the University of York, appeared on Daily Politics today talking about his research into Jeremy Corbyn's approach to prime minister's questions.

As you can see above, he found that Corbyn's tactic of sourcing questions from members of the public has reduced the confrontational nature of PMQs in that David Cameron is less likely to reply to such questions with a personal attack on him.

It happens that the programme picked up this research from a press release I wrote in my day job.

Dr Bull is presenting his research tomorrow at the annual conference of the British Psychological Society in Nottingham.

I had originally wanted to aim the release at last Sunday's papers, but it was not possible to finalise it in time. Then a colleague had the bright idea of giving it a Wednesday embargo to coincide with today's PMQs.

In February I blogged here that Cameron had learnt how to deal with these questions from the public.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Stuart Lee in conversation at Oxford Brookes University



If you enjoyed 55 minutes of Stewart Lee talking about comedy, then you may enjoy this hour and 25 minutes of him doing so even more.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Leicester Oral History Trail 5: Clock Tower



Plenty of tram-related goodness in the latest episode.

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 yourself, please send me an email so we can discuss your idea.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

King's Lynn to Hunstanton in 1968



John Betjeman travelled on this line in 1962.

This colour footage of it was shot six years later - a year before it closed.

Click on the picture to view it on the BFI site.

Did the rise of the SNP really spook Lib Dem voters in England?



Last July I began a post like this:
A myth is growing up about the Liberal Democrat debacle at the last general election. It holds that we lost almost all of our seats because the Conservatives ruthlessly targeted them and won over former Liberal Democrat voters. 
So they did, but there is little sign that our lost voters went to the Conservatives instead.
My assurance was based on my reading of an article by Seth Thévoz and Lewis Baston on the Social Liberal Forum site.

Here are a couple of the paragraphs I quoted back in July:
The Conservative-facing seats showed a remarkably consistent pattern; the main factor at play was Lib Dem collapse rather than Conservative recovery. In each of the 27 seats lost to the Conservatives, the collapse in Lib Dem votes was sizably larger than any increase in Tory votes, by a factor of anything up to 29.
And:
This means that although the Lib Dem position in many Tory-facing seats is dire following a collapse of the party’s vote, the Conservative position is not necessarily ‘safe’ or stable; the Conservatives have won many of these seats on relatively small popular votes, and there still exists in these constituencies a reasonably large non-Conservative vote which could potentially be mobilised around a clear anti-Conservative candidate with a more appealing pitch than that of the 2015 Lib Dem campaign. 
Nor is the Conservative vote appreciably growing much in such areas. In seats like Lewes, Portsmouth South, St Ives, Sutton and Cheam, and Torbay, the increase in Conservative votes was negligible, and Lib Dem defeat can be laid down entirely to so much of the Lib Dem vote having vanished.
I thought of this article when I read the review of David Laws' new book Coalition that Nick Thornsby has written for Liberal Democrat Voice.

Or, to be more accurate, when I read the comments on that review.

In one of them Nick himself says:
The conclusion he [Laws] comes to is that the coalition was probably worst for the party in terms of 2015 results, but that whatever route we took was always going to result in a fairly significant loss of seats, either in a later election in 2010, or in 2014/5. 
The particularly big factor in that is Scotland, and the SNP’s rise there would almost certainly been as drastic whatever we did, which had the double-edged effect of denying us seats in Scotland and scaring our voters in the south-west into voting Tory.
In reply Glenn says:
The Lib Dem vote was not scared by the SNP or Miliband or The Greens or frankly even UKIP. Many more former Lib Dem voters voted for these parties than for the Conservatives. The vote simply split enough in enough seats to give Cameron an edge. This is a government formed on a small majority, not a landslide victory or masses of popular support.
And, Adrian Sanders - the defeated Liberal Democrat MP in Torbay - agrees:
“our voters in the south-west into voting Tory.” No, no, no, this is not what happened. Firstly there was no great swing to the Tories – 500 votes in my seat while I lost over 7,000. Our voters mostly stayed loyal. It was tactical voters who deserted us for Ukip, Labour and the Greens, not the Tories.
This debate matters, because our analysis of what went wrong at the last election must be central to our attempts at recovery.

Are we trying to soothe people who voted Conservative last time and praying for something to change in Scotland? Or are we trying to reassemble the coalition of anti-Conservatives that returned us in these seats between 1997 and 2015?

My feeling, backed by the original article by Thévoz and Baston, is that we should adopt the latter approach,

Roy C: Shotgun Wedding



This reached number 6 in the UK singles chart in 1966 and number 8 when it was re-released in 1972 (which is when I remember it from).

In view of the turn 2016 has taken, I better point out that Roy C - Roy Charles Hammond - is still with us.

Read more about his career on his own website.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Leicester Oral History Trail 4: Leicester Market



The fourth of these videos cover Leicester Market - described these days as "the largest covered market in Europe," though I don't know who measures such things.

Six of the Best 592

Andrew Hickey says the Liberal Democrats should support Basic Income: "The person receiving the benefits will always know better than some Whitehall bureaucrat who earns a hundred grand a year what they most need to spend money on at any given time."

Internet voting is a terrible idea. In a video, Andrew Appel explains why.

"Having first placed Eliot in his historical and literary context, then having pointed to what is unique in him, Obama ends by showing how he speaks to any individual reader who pauses to listen. This is what the finest literary criticism has always done." Edward Mendelson discovers Barack Obama the literary critic.

Railway Maniac uncovers Ilkeston's forgotten history as a spa town.

"The last time I had seen Panesar at Wantage Road the club shop was fully stocked with Monty merchandise – “I Love Monty” and “Sikh of Tweak” t-shirts, the ill-advised “Monty’s Cricket Madness” DVDs (a compilation of cock-ups, whose cover made him look as though he had just been pulled up for driving a minicab uninsured), those masks." Backwatersman sees Monty Panesar return to play for Northamptonshire.

Curious British Telly on a forgotten (by me at least) comedy starring Rik Mayall - Believe Nothing.

Could Willie Rennie win North East Fife?



Early this week the Telegraph looked at the prospects for the Holyrood election in North East Fife, which is the seat Ming Campbell used to represent at Westminster.

The Liberal Democrat candidate is Willie Rennie:
Rennie is not prepared to predict victory in the constituency (he is more likely to get in as a regional list MSP), but says the fact the Lib Dems came second in the general election last year by around 4,000 votes is “not insurmountable”. 
He adds: “It’s the right combination of a good team, the right message and the right circumstances locally plus the best candidate you could possibly ever get.” This last comment is accompanied by a trademark chuckle. 
“Because I am from that part of the world I understand the area, I have got a good network of councillors, a good activist base. I would like to do it, but it’s up to the voters and I never take anything for granted.”

St George, the dragon and Danger Mouse in Leicester


Like many other cities, Leicester is keen to develop St George's Day as a folk festival. Quite what it should contain is still up for grabs, but there seems to be a consensus that morris dancers are a central feature.

Today Danger Mouse put in an appearance. I am sure he played a part in the legend of St George, but I forget whether he fought on the saint's side or that of the dragon.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Lost lines: Addiscombe and Woodside to Selsdon



Another video from Londonist. This time there are plenty of interesting remains to seek out.

Six of the Best 591

"This tells you everything you need to know about the desperate, empty campaign being run by a gang of politicians who’ve stepped beyond mere incompetence, and have ended up somewhere truly nasty, surrounded by supporters who love every bit of it." Rupert Myers is damning about the Brexiteers' assault on President Obama.

Monroe Palmer outlines the improvement to the government's Housing Bill that Liberal Democrat peers have battled to make.

"The premise of Russian foreign policy to the West is that the rule of law is one big joke; the practice of Russian foreign policy is to find prominent people in the West who agree. Moscow has found such people throughout Europe; until the rise of Trump the idea of an American who would volunteer to be a Kremlin client would have seemed unlikely." Timothy Snyder dissects Donald Trump's admiration for Vladimir Putin.

It is good to see Jerzy Skolimowski’s Deep End getting a mention alongside the usual suspects in this Steve Rose survey of films about Britain from the 1960s.

Jessica Fielding brings us the Yorkshire Television schedule for Monday 19 April 1971 - Richard Beckinsale, Austin Mitchell and Ena Sharples in unexpected colour.

The defunct Glasgow Central Railway line left behind a trail of stations, tunnels, shafts, cuttings and bridges throughout the west of the city. Alex Cochrane explores its remains.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Denys Watkins-Pitchford ("BB") remembered


There is a pleasant programme about the Northamptonshire writer and illustrator Denys Watkins-Pitchford on the BBC iPlayer at the moment.

The photo above shows his birthplace, Lamport Rectory, and I seem to remember seeing him about Market Harborough in the 1980s.

Deny Watkins-Pitchord also got a mention in my Masters dissertation on Richard Jefferies as one of the many later writers for children who used Bevis as a touchstone.

Spring in a Midland town

Michael Crick and Andrew Neil on Conservative election expenses


Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceFollowing the new revelations on Channel 4 News last night, Michael Crick appeared on today's Daily Politics.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Undeclared Conservative spending in Liberal Democrat seats



Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceThis Michael Crick report, giving the latest revelations in the growing scandal over Conservative spending at the last election, was broadcast by Channel 4 News earlier this evening.

Read more on the Channel 4 website.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Stewart Lee gives a talk on comedy and writing



Stewart Lee discusses the fantasy that stand-up comedy is spontaneous rather than written, and describes the evolution of stand-up over the last few decades.

His talk, given at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, takes in a wide range of subjects from the first app he ever came across to a discussion of the value of culture in society.

MP defends Prime Minister David Cameron after ‘rough sex’ joke

The Horncastle News wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Great Central Railway - Nottingham



As I blogged a couple of months ago:
At present the Great Central Railway - Nottingham is a bit of a mystery to those of us in Leicestershire. Rather like the Eastern Roman Empire.
To help dispel that mystery, here is a video shot on that line.

It will be a great day when the bridge over the Midland main line is reinstated at Loughborough and the two halves of the line are joined.

Six of the Best 590

Vinous Ali has visited the refugee camps of Northern Greece with Tim Farron.

The House of Lords by-election to replace Eric Avebury is ludicrous and should be boycotted, say John Lubbock and Seth Thévoz.

"There will be no incumbents, and few of the ex-MEPs are expected to run ... So, there is every possibility that new names may emerge and end up as Liberal Democrat MEPs." Mark Valladares says the forthcoming selections for Liberal Democrat Euro candidates will be the most open yet.

Kyra Hanson on guerrilla gardening and the battle against concrete paving and private development in London.

"Verification and fact-checking are regularly falling prey to the pressure to bring in the numbers, and if the only result of being caught out is another chance to bring in the clicks, that looks unlikely to change." Kevin Rawlinson on the new plague of fake news stories.

Flickering Lamps visits Brompton Cemetery and returns with tales of soldiers and adventurers - and rumours of a time machine.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Leicester Oral History Trail 3: Simpkin & James



Simpkin & James, a grocers rather than a department store, closed in 1971. There were a number of branches around the county, including Oadby and Stoneygate. They closed the same year.

You can read more about Simpkin & James in an old number of the Leicestershire Historian.

Leicester's Mayor sacks the man supposed to scrutinise him - again


The Leicester Mercury reports:
A number of Labour councillors who have clashed with Leicester mayor Sir Peter Soulsby have lost key posts within the city council's ruling Labour group. 
The party has held its annual general meeting and elections for a series of positions this week including those heading committees that scrutinise the policies of Sir Peter and his team of assistant mayors. 
Former city council leader Ross Willmott is one of the casualties.
This story has a familiar ring. Sure enough, when searching the archives of this blog I find that much the same thing happened in 2012.

So let me repeat what I wrote then:
And who did the ousting? Step forward the dominant figure in the Leicester Labour Party, Sir Peter Soulsby. 
If an elected mayor can remove the chair of the committee meant to keep an eye on him, then the mayoral system become farcical. 
The enjoyable personal animosity between Willmott and Soulsby has been just about the only thing keeping democracy alive in a city with a Labour elected Mayor and 52 out of 54 Labour councillors. As a Labour insider quoted by the Mercury says: 
"Ross has been a thorn in the side of the city's leadership for the past year. His efforts were partly fuelled by their mutual dislike and the fact that Ross really wanted the mayor's job. Nonetheless, his efforts were good for democracy." 
Quite. And his removal is bad for democracy. 
As I have long argued, the situation in Leicester shows that if we are to have elected city mayors then the councils must be elected by a proportional system to prevented their being dominated by the mayor's own party. 
At the very least councils must be barred from holding the mayoral and all-out elections at the same time, as happened in Leicester last May.
The last time I made this argument, Sir Peter Soulsby's deputy told me on Twitter that is was absurd even to think of changing the electoral system.

But I stand by what I wrote in 2012.

Dayflower: Heart-shaped Tambourines



Dayflower, says an old article on Leicestershire Press, describe their music as "honey-drenched pop melodies over a collage of fuzzed-up synths, lo-fi beats, and jangly guitars".

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Six of the Best 589

"Liberalism is dead. Or at least it is on the ropes. Triumphant a quarter-century ago, when liberal democracy appeared to have prevailed definitively over the totalitarian utopias that exacted such a toll in blood, it is now under siege from without and within." Read Roger Cohen in the New York Times.

Evan Harris claims Hacked Off are not hypocrites for their stance on John Whittingdale.

You can never have enough takedowns of Seumas "Christopher Robin" Milne. This one by Peter Wilby is particularly good.

Felicity Cloake asks why eating has become so complicated.

Backwatersman pays tribute to the England batsman James Taylor, who has been forced to retire because of a heart condition: "When he took on ... great lummoxes like Andre Nel and Tremlett he might have been Chaplin outwitting Eric Campbell with a deft swish of his walking cane. In fact, one of the many things I remain hugely grateful to him for is allowing me to recapture (quite late in life) that childlike pleasure of having a favourite player, one whom I liked more than I could ever quite rationally account for."

"The locks known as Caen Hill ... rise 237 feet over two miles – with 16 of them virtually back to back.Each trip up and down takes five hours." David Hencke and friends take on one of the inland waterways' greatest challenges.

Trivial Fact of the Week links Blow-Up and the Double Deckers



Nicholas Whyte has been ploughing a lonely furrow with a series of posts on the early 1970s children's television series Here Come the Double Deckers.

Although this fell precisely into my era, I fear I can recall disliking it at the time. Even then I sensed it was peopled with stage-school brats and aimed too shamelessly at the American market.

As a result I viewed the later careers of two of its stars - Brisnley Forde of Aswad and Peter Firth - with mild scepticism.

I struggled with Spooks in particular. MI5 just would not employ a former member of the Double Deckers and that is the end of the matter.

Still, I am the last blogger qualified to complain about obscure enthusiasms, and Nicholas's latest Double Deckers post has turned up a top piece of trivia. In fact he wins my Trivial Fact of the Week award.

That trivia concerns an episode of the show called Barney, in which the children befriend an entertainer down on his luck and (inevitably) put on a show with him.

Barney was played by Julian Chagrin, who a few years before had been one of the tennis players watched by David Hemmings at the end of Antonioni's Blow-Up. You can see this scene in the video above, which Nicholas included in his own post.

He calls it "the very odd 1966 film Blow-Up," but I think he meant to call it "a key moment in both the creation and the examination of the myth of Swinging London".

Nicholas also reveals that Chagrin appeared as the secret lemonade drinker in the R.White's television commercials.

The song in them was sung by Ross MacManus, the father of Elvis Costello.*

But you knew that already.

* I like Carl Wilson's observation that "a secret lemonade drinker" sounds like a line from one of Elvis Costello's own songs.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Lord Bonkers explains the dancing gorilla of Twycross Zoo



This video of a gorilla at Twycross Zoo in Leicestershire apparently dancing has been very popular on Youtube.

Here, exclusively for Liberal England, Lord Bonkers explains what lies behind it:
There is nothing the older residents of the Bonkers Estate enjoy more than the tea dances I host at the village hall. 
However, we have a problem. The toll taken by the local industries of Stilton mining and pork pie production mean that many more ladies than gentlemen survive to enjoy an active retirement. 
A couple of years ago the ladies prevailed upon me to provide them with more dancing partners. After no little thought, the solution sprang upon me: train the gorillas at Twycross Zoo. 
This initiative has proved a great success. When I proposed it some warned me of the danger of ravishment, but I am happy to report that to date no gorilla has complained of molestation.
Incidentally, Lord Bonkers gave his own recipe for long life in the foreword he contributed to the 2014 Liberator Songbook:
I strongly recommend that you either bathe regularly in the spring of eternal life that bursts from the hillside above what used to be headquarters of the Association of Liberal Councillors in Hebden Bridge or get your hands on the cordial sold by the Elves of Rockingham Forest.

Jonathan Coe on the Long Mynd

Photo © Dave Pickersgill 

Thanks to A Portfolio Life for posting this passage from Coe's novel The Rain Before it Falls:
Places like this are important to me – to all of us – because they exist outside the normal timespan. You can stand on the backbone of the Long Mynd and not know if you are in the 1940s, the 2000s, the tenth or eleventh century....It is all immaterial, all irrelevant...You cannot put a price on the sense of freedom and timelessness that is granted you there.
Coe is right and there is something of this quality to much of the Welsh Border.

I remember once walking from Kington in Herefordshire up to Offa's Dyke. I had the feeling that if I met a Dark Age warrior coming towards me we would just nod to another and continue on our way.

Individuality is not the opposite of belonging to social groups



I was rather pleased with my post "Why Twitter doesn't work, Labour won't win and the Lib Dems are irrationally cheerful."

But I was aware there was what looked like a weak point in its argument:
[Brooks] goes on to say we should "scale back the culture of autonomy," which makes my liberal hackles rise and suggests Brooks too is in danger of wanting the state to eclipse every other social authority. 
As a liberal I believe in individuality, and we express our individuality through the groups we choose to join. There must be a liberal route to the revival of social bonds.
What I had in mind there is something that turns out to have been written in 2004, the first year of this blog's existence.

There I said:
I am increasingly aware that what I value is not so much individualism as individuality - the flourishing of different sorts of people and different ways of life. (I believe I came across this distinction in Michael Ignatieff's biography of Isaiah Berlin. It is a useful one.) 
It is a concept that has something to do with the old schoolmaster's ideal of "character" and I suspect that the development of individuality requires strong institutions, such as schools that are not under central control. Teenage culture does suggest that individualism does not always produce individuality; and it is undeniable that one of the clearest ways we choose to express our individuality is through he groups we decide to join.
I should record that when I later flicked through Ignatieff's book I could not find any such passage. But whoever thought of it - it may even have been me - this is a useful distinction.

Last year I posted the video above, where the social psychologist Alex Haslam argues that you are the groups you belong to.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Disused stations in Powys



Time for another one of these videos, I feel.

Enjoy.

Jeremy Corbyn grows up 30 years overnight

"I knew him when we were 18 or 19, and his views have not changed. We are talking about the thick end of 50 years ago."
So said one of Jeremy Corbyn's old friends when interviewed by the Shropshire Star last year.

That planting a red flag on top of the Wrekin is the most endearing thing I have read about Corbyn, but his friend's comment did play into the fear that his politics do not represent an engagement with the world around him.

So it was good to hear him today accepting political reality and arguing Britain should remain in the European Union.

As Martin Kettle says:
The Labour leader finally caught up with the pro-EU shift that his party made under Neil Kinnock in the 1980s.
That pro-EU shift did arise partly out of despair at Margaret Thatcher's repeated victories, but it also recognised that the world was changing. Westminster was not the only seat of power, and battles that could not be won there might be won somewhere else.

Throughout this period, Jeremy Corbyn clung to his anti-EU beliefs. He was a supporter of the Labout left's 'alternative economic strategy' and its emphasis on import controls.

There is a danger in getting less radical as you grow older - "I used to be a bit of a firebrand when I was your age, but you can't change human nature" - but there is a greater danger in living inside your head and not engaging with contemporary problems.

Somewhere in the background of every young radical is the ghost of Billy Liar and his imaginary kingdom of Ambrosia.

So I was pleased to see Corbyn accepting reality and arguing for continued British membership of the EU.

For the result of Brexit would not be the socialist paradise of his dreams, but - as he recognised - a more right-wing government glorying in the opportunity to remove protection from British workers.

Someone should tell Jenny Jones the same thing when it comes to environmental legislation.

Martin Kettle goes on to say:
Meanwhile the feebleness belongs to David Cameron. He called this referendum. He always knew he would be campaigning to stay in Europe. But he did little to prepare the ground and has given practically no thought to the alliances that will be required to ensure a remain win. A reckless budget and an inept response to the Panama Papers means that Cameron comes to the campaign starting line like an athlete lining up for the race of his life after a night on the tiles. 
All of which adds up to the extraordinary truth that, for once, Cameron desperately needed Corbyn to rise to the occasion. Labour votes will be crucial on 23 June, and until now Corbyn has allowed the idea to get around that he is not massively bothered by the outcome of the referendum. That made Thursday a speak-for-England moment for a Labour leader who is an instinctive sectarian – yet it was one that he seized.
This is a little strong: I doubt that Corbyn will appeal to the sort of Labour voters who are or have been tempted to vote Ukip,

But he is right that Cameron has been feeble. And not just Cameron.

I wrote in Liberal Democrat News (remember that?) five years ago:
For years the main parties have engaged in something close to a conspiracy. The issue of Europe has been taken out of general elections, with the promise that it will be decided through a referendum. Those referendums never take place. The result has been an infantilisation of debate on Europe, as politicians are allowed to take up self-indulgent, extreme positions they know they will never have to defend to the electorate.
Well, that referendum could not be put off for ever and it is fast approaching.

The political class will survive it unscathed: it is the rest of us who will suffer.

Six of the Best 588

Malik Jalal on what it is like to find yourself living on a drone kill list.

Eight Labour candidates are standing for the Northern Ireland Assembly. Stephen Glenn asks if it is time for the Liberal Democrats to fight those elections too.

Anthony Painter explains his conversion to support for Universal Basic Income.

"At the time of its Berliner re-launch, the Guardian had a daily sale of nearly 400,000. Ten-and-a-half years later this has slipped to 165,000." Stephen Glover speculates on the future of what is, for all its faults, my favourite newspaper.

Chris Heather uncovers a sad tale of murder and suicide in the National Archives.

"Alighting from Swindon station in 1910, she hired a driver to take her to Coate but before arriving was dropped off so that she could amble to the farm and reservoir and immerse herself in the sights and sounds of so-called 'Jefferies Land'." Barry Leighton introduces us to Kate Tryon, an American artist and admirer of Richard Jefferies.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The missing apostrophes of Leicester


On the way to Filbert Street I photographed some lovely vintage signs.

One the thing they have in common is that none bothers with an apostrophe. Today there would be complaints that it was missing.


Since you ask, the boys had to make do with this.

Palmerston: From Battersea to the Foreign Office



A star is born.

Why Twitter doesn't work, Labour won't win and the Lib Dems are irrationally cheerful



It's hard to have sensible conversations with people from other parties on Twitter. Too often, name-calling or petty point-scoring takes over from rational discussion early in the proceedings.

Labour activists find it particular hard to talk to Conservatives because they have convinced themselves that the Labour Party is the fount of virtue. Therefore, they reason, anyone who votes Tory must be an evil person.

Let's call it the Hesmondhalgh Doctrine.

It's predominance in Corbyn's Labour Party mean that it cannot talk to the many voters who have no great love for the Conservative Party but suspect that it is more to be trusted from an economic point of view than Labour.

Meanwhile many Liberal Democrats, when they have been traumatised by the result of the last general election, shrugged, declared a #libdemfightback and carried on as if not much had happened.

An article in the New York Times by David Brooks puts a finger on the social changes that are behind these phenomena.

He writes:
In healthy societies, people live their lives within a galaxy of warm places. They are members of a family, neighborhood, school, civic organization, hobby group, company, faith, regional culture, nation, continent and world. Each layer of life is nestled in the others to form a varied but coherent whole. 
But starting just after World War II, America’s community/membership mind-set gave way to an individualistic/autonomy mind-set. The idea was that individuals should be liberated to live as they chose, so long as they didn’t interfere with the rights of others. ... 
The individualist turn had great effects but also accumulating downsides. By 2005, 47 percent of Americans reported that they knew none or just a few of their neighbors by name. There’s been a sharp rise in the number of people who report that they have no close friends to confide in.
Brooks cites Marc J. Dunkelman, author of The Vanishing Neighbor, as arguing that
people are good at tending their inner-ring relationships - their family and friends. They’re pretty good at tending to outer-ring relationships - their hundreds of Facebook acquaintances, their fellow progressives, or their TED and Harley fans. 
But Americans spend less time with middle-ring township relationships - the PTA, the neighborhood watch.
These middle-ring relationships sound like Edmund Burke's little platoons and Dunkelman sounds very like Robert Putnam, whose Bowling Alone we all read at the turn of the century.

What has this to do with the state of party politics?

Brooks continues:
With fewer sources of ethnic and local identity, people ask politics to fill the void. Being a Democrat or a Republican becomes their ethnicity. People put politics at the center of their psychological, emotional and even spiritual life. This is asking too much of politics.
Once politics becomes your ethnic and moral identity, it becomes impossible to compromise, because compromise becomes dishonor. If you put politics at the center of identity, you end up asking the state to eclipse every social authority but itself. Presidential campaigns become these gargantuan two-year national rituals that swallow everything else in national life. 
If we’re going to salvage our politics, we probably have to shrink politics, and nurture the thick local membership web that politics rests within.
He goes on to say we should "scale back the culture of autonomy," which makes my liberal hackles rise and suggests Brooks too is in danger of wanting the state to eclipse every other social authority.

As a liberal I believe in individuality, and we express our individuality through the groups we choose to join. There must be a liberal route to the revival of social bonds.

But the idea that we are asking too much of politics is one I have long been toying with.

Political activists do tend to make their political affiliation central to their identity. More than that, they find their social life, their friends, even their partners, through their activism.

That party membership is such a minority taste now suggests that the 19th-century model of political parties we still embrace is hopelessly outdated.

Yet no politician has the vision or overweening ambition to wrench it apart and allowing something more attuned to our needs today to take its place.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Lalla Ward profiled at the age of 14



A Whole Scene Going must have been quite a programme, Last year I posted a feature on the Spencer Davis Group that it broadcast on 16 March 1966.

The week before it had shown this profile of Lalla Ward, who was only 14 at the time.

She grew up to be an actress, writer and artist. She played Romana the Time Lady in Doctor Who, was briefly married to Tom Baker and is now married to Richard Dawkins.

I always thought I'd see James Taylor bat one more time again



There was something close to a shrine to James Taylor in the pavilion at Leicestershire's Grace Road ground before he left for Nottinghamshire and made his England debut.

His international career took a while to revive after that, but by the end of last year he had played 7 tests and 27 one-day internationals.

He look set to build on that substantially, perhaps particularly in 50-over cricket. There his thoughtful approach was a counterweight to the headless, everyone thrash and get out for 15 tendency that is the flipside of England's new positivity.

So the news that a heart condition has forced him to retire from the game with immediate effect came as an awful shock to his admirers.

I wish him well for future. For, as another James Taylor almost sang,: "I always thought that I'd see you batting one more time again."

Monday, April 11, 2016

Touring Leicestershire with W.G. Hoskins



A drive around East Leicestershire following Tour 1 from the 'Touring Leicestershire' booklet by W.G. Hoskins, 1948. Villages and places on the route include Great Stretton, Kings Norton, Gaulby, Skeffington, Tugby, Launde, Withcote, Tilton and Billesdon Coplow.

Six of the Best 587

Lynne Featherstone explains how the state killed her nephew. "The crucial papers were destroyed according [to] the Department of Health."

Max Seddon looks at Putin's new army: "Russia’s campaign to shape international opinion around its invasion of Ukraine has extended to recruiting and training a new cadre of online trolls that have been deployed to spread the Kremlin’s message on the comments section of top American websites."

"I had no idea small children could walk so far. We skipped three miles one day and two miles the next, albeit incentivised by fish and chips or ice creams. At night, the children fell asleep like well-exercised puppies." Patrick Barkham says we have betrayed our children from love of cars.

Kashmir Hill on how an internet mapping glitch turned a random Kansas farm into a digital hell.

London bombsites are photographed today by A London Inheritance.

Tom Cox explores Dunwich.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Filbert Street: Where Leicester City used to play

Take a look at these houses. It looks like just another Victorian terrace in Leicester, apart from the oddly bodged ground floors.

The reason for those is that there used to be a gap here. Until 2002 that gap was the entrance to Leicester City's Filbert Street ground - a wonderful symbol of how professional football used to fit into working-class life.


Go round the corner into Filbert Street itself and you will find the former ground is largely a wasteground. There is, of course, a block of student education - "Filbert Village" - but much of the land remains undeveloped.

It used to be a car park, appreciated by people going to Leicester City's new ground, the nearby King Power Stadium, but the council had it closed.

I am not one to moan about land not being developed for student accommodation, but I would have liked to find more remains of the old ground - perhaps a crumbling terrace colonised by buddleias.

Filbert Street, rather wonderfully, is but one of a number of streets named after nuts. There's Walnut Street, Brazil Street and Hazel Street too.

Lineker Street, which runs across the wasteland, was named after the ground was demolished. At least the graffiti artists seem to have anticipated City's miraculous 2015-16 season.

Thanks to the Leicester Mercury for sending me down to Filbert Street.


Shropshire gags councillors over Church Stretton Library case

St Laurence's, Church Stretton
On Wednesday I blogged about Shropshire Council's decision not to contest the judicial review of their decision to move Church Stretton Library to a less central location in the town.

The mighty Andy Boddington, a Liberal Democrat member of the authority, tells us what happened next:
We had a high court case over libraries last week. The council withdrew and lost the case. 
Since then it has launched a vitriolic campaign against the local campaigners in three press releases. 
Late on Friday, the chief monitoring officer and chief executive slammed a gagging clause on all councillors. The gagging memo is phrased as a “request” but I know that if any councillor ignores this request is ignored, flack will fly in their direction. 
We are told we cannot comment in any way on the case. That probably means that I can’t comment on the council reaction. Or why it has decided to attack a local community at the same time it is planning to work more closely with local people.

Peter Maxwell Davies: Farewell to Stromness



This popular short piece by Sir Peter Maxell Davies, who died last month, is taken from The Yellow Cake Revue.

This was a collection of cabaret-style pieces that he performed with Eleanor Bron, as part of the 1980 St Magnus Festival, in protest at plans to mine uranium ore in Orkney.

Farewell to Stromness is played here by Ezra Williams.

George Mackay Brown said Stromness "is but a tumbling stone wave, a network of closes, a marvel of steps from the seaweed up to the granite of Brinkie's Brae".

I've been there and he's right.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Leicester Oral History Trail 2: Theatre Royal



The Theatre Royal used to have entrances on both Horsefair and the Market Place.

It closed in 1957 and was demolished the following year.

Read more about it on The Music Hall and Theatre History Site.

Why #PanamaLeaks may damage David Cameron and the Tories



"I thought I was running for the leadership of the Conservative party, not some demented Marxist sect," fumed Douglas Hurd in 1990.

That was when he found his Etonian background being held against him in the Conservative leadership election that followed the defenestration of Margaret Thatcher.

Sure enough, he lost out to the Brixton boy John Major.

Fast forward to 2008 when, in admonishing Nick Clegg for an insensitive remark on pensions, I wrote:
Just because Tony Blair and David Cameron have made it look easy to be a public school type in modern Britain and not rub people up the wrong way does not mean that it is easy. Be yourself, Nick, but do be aware of the effect your attitude can have on other people.
Maybe things were changing by then, because in 2010 I observed:
Being "posh" was, until a year or two ago, just about the worst sin imaginable in British society. In as far as "posh" was used as a synonym for "educated" this was a pernicious development. 
It represented a foolish attempt to keep Labour's working-class roots, despite that fact that many of the people using this style of arguing were pretty posh themselves.
All this is a prologue to saying you should read John Rentoul on the Independent site:
The biggest setback of their first government, the cut in the top rate of income tax, damaged them because it trashed the rhetoric of being “all in it together” and reinforced the image of the Conservatives as the party of the rich. At the time, I wrote that, if Cameron lost the 2015 election, the 2012 Budget would have been when it happened. 
That is what makes Cameron’s victory last year all the more remarkable: that he won the grudging votes of people on low incomes who thought he had no idea what their lives were like and yet who still trusted him more than the leader of the people’s party. It is a tribute to Cameron’s skill that he could win with the handbrake of poshness on.
I have seen nothing that suggests anything illegal on the part of the Cameron family. And I suspect that the sort of people who might conceivably vote Conservative at the next election will tend to approve of doing all you can to pass your wealth on to your children.

But the Panama leaks affair may damage the Cameron and the Conservatives in two ways.

First, it reminds us just how damned rich he is. The WebCameron was and his talk of his "Dad" is an attempt to make him sound just like one more father of a middle-class family. The truth is different.

Second, it is a reminder that the idea you will be secure if you "work hard and do the right thing"is not true. You need to come from a family where two or three generations have worked hard and done the right thing - and enjoyed reasonable luck - to be secure. The Conservatives' emphasis on family breakdown in their definition of poverty recognised this truth.

I hope Cameron will ride out this storm: he represents our best chance of winning the referendum campaign and keeping Britain in the European Union.

But I suspect the Conservatives would be wise to choose a successor to him who has not been to Eton.

However, that decision is in the hands of Conservative members. They are not wise and they love Boris Johnson.

The pigeons of Leicester


Credit must be shared with the cyclist who rode past and startled them just at the right moment.

Friday, April 08, 2016

A mud wall in Billesdon


Time for another one in my very occasional series on the mud walls of Leicestershire (also called cob walls).

This one is in Billesdon, where ironstone and bricks made in the village can both be found.

Six of the Best 586

"We are watching as social conservatives push against economic conservatives who are increasingly more socially liberal. No longer, it seems, can these two groups share the same Republican Party." Darin Self analyses the significance of Donald Trump.

There is no such thing as a humane execution, says Maya Foa.

Nat Jester believes we need to talk about men.

"If we’re not careful, we will soon find ourselves operating trials in Kafka-esque fashion ... where a Defendant will be arrested on charges of which he is unaware, and plunged into a court system where everything is secret, from the charges to the rules of the court, and the guilt of the Defendant is assumed." CrimBarrister stands up for old-fashioned values in the law.

Clinical psychologist Jay Watts on the Archers, domestic abuse and gaslighting.

Chris Havergal reports on a study exploring the role of the Jack Wills brand in student life: "In choosing Jack Wills as their uniform, students from less privileged backgrounds were taking their lead from role models around them, Dr Smith argued, and his research details the role that the company has played in this process."