Monday, October 31, 2016

The railway from Bewdley to Woofferton 1


Another railway video from Holden Webster, who runs the Shropshire Railways website.

This one takes us in two parts from Bewdley on the Severn Valley Railway to Woofferton, which lies between Ludlow and Leominster.

The first part follows the line through the Wyre Forest as far as Cleobury Mortimer.

Home Office vs Treasury: It's class war!



There's an unusually illuminating article by William Davies in the new London Review of Books:
The Home Office occupies a particular position vis-à-vis the public, which sometimes translates into class politics. Home secretaries are often moved by the plight of the defenceless in society: vulnerable children, elderly people plagued by rowdy teenagers on their estates, the victims of Harold Shipman (whose suicide apparently tempted David Blunkett to ‘open a bottle’). 
Often, these people are defenceless because they are powerless, and they are powerless because they are poor, less well educated and culturally marginalised. And yet they are still British, and deserving of the state’s defence. 
One former Home Office official told me that the Home Office has long been identified as the voice of the working class inside Whitehall, and feels looked down on by the Oxbridge elite in Downing Street and the Treasury.
I also like his comment on the contradictions of Thatcherism:
It’s been said that Thatcher wanted a society of people like her father, but produced a society of people like her son.

Cliff Michelmore foresaw the horrors of Question Time



Like all sane people, I have come to the conclusion that the secret of a calm and happy life lies in not watching Question Time.

There was a far-sighted man who anticipated its horrors and refused to have any part in them.

That man was the late Cliff Michelmore.

Before I posted his report from Aberfan, I read the obituaries. They all contained the same anecdote, retailed here by Libby Purves:
After Tonight, he and his colleague Kenneth Allsop started the 24 Hours programme. Editor Derrick Amoore, later the creator of the current affairs show Nationwide, asked him to do a debate with a studio audience that Michelmore considered a bad idea. 
He reportedly snapped ‘I will not be associated with a third-rate Palladium show,’ and nearly left.
There is a good tribute to Michelmore by John Humphrys, who also reported on Aberfan.

Is Shropshire a UFO hotspot?


Christian Delaney of the Shropshire Paranormal and UFO Society thinks it is. He told the Shropshire Star that he has seen UFOs over the county for a number of years:
"I've seen something yellow that looked like a cigar do a figure of eight over the Wrekin for three or four minutes getting faster and faster ... 
"And on Lyth Hill one ... appeared and the light got bigger and bigger like it was expanding and then changed colour. 
"I don't know what it is about Shropshire but they do seem to have quite a presence here,"
A West Mercia Police spokesman is not convinced:
"We've had no reports of UFOs over the Shropshire area since March of this year. In that case the report turned out to be a helicopter."

Six of the Best 638

The Uber judgement and Ken Loach's film I, Daniel Blake both make the case for a citzens' basic income, argues Chris Dillow.

Raheem Kassam, who pulled out of Ukip's leadership race today, had huge support on social media. But, says Guido Fawkes, but little in the real world: "This has implications for Leave.EU, the pro-Brexit campaign group set up by multi-millionaire businessman Arron Banks, which backed Raheem. ... Banks is confusing 'likes', 'follows' and casual clicktivism with active support. Leave.EU bought Facebook 'likes' essentially by buying traffic."

The Economist praises Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea and says it marks her out as "a leading female voice in postcolonial literature".

"He was hugely popular from the late 60s through the early 80s, but never a critical favourite until a group of fans started, after his death, reissuing his material and promoting him as what he was - a true songwriting great." Andrew Hickey reviews a new CD of Jake Thackray songs.

Daniel Curtis visits the Catholic church of St Aloysius Gonzaga in Oxford, where Gerard Manley Hopkins was once curate.

The Hull Daily Mail offers some chilling urban legends from the city.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Richard Jefferies Museum up for an award



The Richard Jefferies Museum at Coate, Swindon, is up for an award tomorrow.

It has been nominated in the in the Best Community Action project category in the Historic England Angel Awards, and the winners will be announced tomorrow evening at a ceremony at the Palace Theatre, London.

This film tells you all the about the recent revival of the museum, which is housed in Richard Jefferies' birthplace.

When I visited some years ago it was run by a few enthusiasts and owned by the local council, which had no love for it.

It had a certain ramshackle charm, but it was clear that something had to change if it was not to dwindle further and be lost.

I hope its new guardians win their award.

Conservative MP: Zac Goldsmith is a "rich boy playing fast and loose with the electorate"



Alec Shelbrooke, the Tory MP for Elmet and Rothwell, has told Sky News that his party is making a mistake by not putting up a candidate in the Richmond Park by-election.

According to my favourite newspaper the Shropshire Star, he told Sky:
"I have said quite openly that I think it's a big mistake the Conservative Party is not putting forward a candidate. 
"Let's be clear: Our majority will be cut from 12 to 10. Zac Goldsmith does not cut it to 11, it cuts it to 10 because he will be an opposition MP. 
"The Conservative Party will lose the Richmond by-election because we do not have a candidate and I think that is wrong. 
"The first time I think since 1963 we don't have a candidate and if Zac Goldsmith thinks that this campaign is just going to be about Heathrow, well, the Lib Dem candidate only has to pop up and say, 'yes, I also won't vote for Heathrow' and they can do that from the Commons and then it can be about a whole host of other issues. 
"I'm afraid this really is a rich boy playing fast and loose with the electorate and actually a by-election costs the electorate hundreds of thousands of pounds."
If the name Alec Shelbrooke sounds familiar, it is probably because he popped up last week to tell Gary Lineker that he could not be a BBC sports journalist and a political activist.

This was an absurd overdramatisation of Lineker's actions. And, as I showed, there are plenty of precedents for people combining the two roles.

Still, it's always fun to see Tories falling out, and I think the press have found themselves a new rentaquote.

Mr Shelbrooke could be the Anthony Beaumont-Dark of the 21st century.

The Housemartins: I Smell Winter



As well as being seasonal, this song sounds a warning for Brexit Britain.

It is from one of my favourite bands of the 1980s. The great lyricist Paul Heaton on vocals; Stan Cullimore, now a children's writer, on lead guitar; the future Fatboy Slim on bass; and Hugh Whitaker on drums.

Whitatker, who comes across as an amiable eccentric in all recorded interviews, made it into a Guardian list of the 10 most dangerous in music for "firebombing the house of a business associate and, according to Paul Heaton, 'hitting the guy straight on the head with an axe'."

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Six of the Best 637

Mark Pack introduces us to Fiona-Natasha Syms. She sounds like a parody but is in fact a possible independent Conservative candidate in the Richmond Park by-election.

The public schools' domination of British sport is strengthening not weakening, argues Tim Wigmore.

Sean Dodson offers four reasons why listicles and clickbait are killing real journalism.

"Unlike a lot of great writers, you can learn from Orwell. I learned for instance that you could be subjective and objective at the same time, that you had to look for the tangible moment, that all sentences must be subjected to the severest literacy test, that there can be no criticism without moralism and all moralism is vulnerable." Robert Colls, who taught me on my Masters course many ago, on George Orwell.

Britain's black miners are reclaiming their place in history, says Frances Perraudin.

The death of Oscar Wilde's two half-sisters in a fire was hushed up for years because of a family scandal, reports Mariana Zapata.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Bob Roberts anticpates Donald Trump



See what I mean?

Introducing Jonathan Nunn, the new Conservative leader of Northampton Borough Council


Cllr Mary Markham, the Tory leader of Northampton Borough Council, resigned on Monday in a row of the future of a pub - the Barn Owl in Rectory Farm, to be precise.

Her replacement, the only person to put his name forward for the vacancy, is Cllr Jonathan Nunn.

What do we know about him?

Well, there's this from the Northants Herald & Post:
The new leader of Northampton Borough Council who was convicted 12 years ago of assaulting his wife says he "expects no forgiveness' for 'the most stupid, wrong thing I've ever done in my life". ...
But he admits he does not go a day without thinking of the night he subjected his wife to a violent attack at their home in 2003, after she admitted she had been having an affair.
And there's this from BBC News:
A newly appointed council leader tasked with recovering a £10m loan saw his own company liquidated two years ago. 
Conservative Jonathan Nunn's firm Individual Team Performance Limited had owed the Inland Revenue more than £20,000 when it folded. 
One of Mr Nunn's first tasks as Northampton Borough Council leader will be to oversee attempts to recoup £10m loaned to Northampton Town. 
He said his business had failed due to the "change in the economy".
And there's more on this in the Northampton Chronicle & Echo:
In a report by the liquidator dated June 22, 2016, Councillor Nunn was criticised for "repeatedly failing to provide evidence of his financial worth" in order for the liquidator to establish whether it was worth pursuing him for funds withdrawn from the company when it was insolvent.
Surely the Conservative Party in Northampton can come with a better leader than this?

Richmond Park by-election - how you can help

Visit the party website for details of how you can:
  • go to Richmond Park to campaign
  • volunteer from home
  • donate
For those old-fashioned people who just want to turn up and help, the campaign HQ is at 65b Sheen Lane, near Mortlake station.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Lowestoft: First Class Golf



A poster produced for the London & North Eastern Railway, which dates it to between 1923 and 1948.

John Harris on the likely Liberal Democrat revival



John Harris is a political commentator without equal, as he proved when he wrote from the Liberal Democrat conference one year:
Hats off to ... the brilliantly idiosyncratic folks gathered around the ginger group Liberator, who rightly treasure an underrated aspect of this lot: their internal democracy, which makes a mockery of the big two party's annual bunfights, and Labour's squashing of its membership and activists in particular.
So it is encouraging him to see him write this in the Guardian:
As also evidenced by a steady stream of council byelection results, a proper Lib Dem revival may only be a matter of time. 
Whatever the contortions of the Labour leadership, I wonder about the Labour leaders of our big cities, and the first minister of Wales, and at what point they may break from their hopeless party line, and begin to pointedly question something that will so deeply damage the places where they hold power. 
All the time, it gets louder: the early stirring of a messy realignment, and the birth pangs of 48/52 politics, whose consequences – on both sides of the divide – could be just as seismic as Brexit itself.
Or as I wrote in July:
Maybe the tectonic plates really are moving. Already, Remain and Leave across the UK, and Yes and No in Scotland, seem more vital and more coherent identities than the old party labels.
Some form of realignment now seems inevitable. The danger for the Liberal Democrats is that it will take place without our being a major player.

That danger seems lessened now. We should remain tribal until it disappears, but in the long run wonderful things may happen.

Harriet Smith Award supper with Sal Brinton in Rutland

The road to Edith Weston. Photo  © Marathon

Rutland and Melton Liberal Democrats are holding a supper to celebrate their vice president Fay Howison winning the Harriet Smith Award.

Sal Brinton, the party president, will be there to present the award. She will also do a question-and-answer session with those attending.

The supper takes place on Wednesday 9 November at Rutland Sailing Club, Gibbotts Lane, Edith Weston, Rutland LE15 8HJ.

Full details and a form to complete and email can be found on the East Midlands Liberal Democrats site.

We all know who Fay Howison and Sal Brinton are, but some readers may want further explanation.

The Harriet Smith Liberal Democrat Distinguished Service Award is made each year to a party member who has never been elected to public office and who has demonstrated excellence and commitment.

Harriet Smith was an all-round Liberal and Liberal Democrat good egg and was also a member of the Liberator collective. She died in 2006 and there are some lovely tributes to her in Liberator 312 (that link downloads a pdf of the whole issue).

Edith Weston, despite what Lord Bonkers will tell you, is not a charming girl. She is a village on the shores of Rutland Water.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

ITV3's weirdest scene: Dirty Den, Mr Derek, Steve Winwood and the North York Moors Railway



Villains try to blow up a train they believe is carrying the prime minister, only to be foiled by Leslie Grantham. He is revealed to be a Special Branch office and not the antiques thief the locals have taken him for.

All this happens to the strains of Dear Mr Fantasy by Traffic.

And you wonder why I like ITV3.

Liberal Democrats make a flying start in the Richmond by-election

© David Hawgood
The Guardian's Alexandra Topping has ventured to the far end of the District Line:
In the the backroom of the part-converted garage that serves as the Liberal Democrat’s tiny constituency office for Richmond Park, a production line of party members is bundling up leaflets, soon scooped up by rosette-wearing activists who head out to pound the leafy streets. 
Holding five-week-old Oliver while his dad straps on a baby sling to take him canvassing, Gareth Roberts, the Lib Dem leader of the opposition in Richmond council, looks around with a grin. “It’s a bit like in Jaws – we’re going to need a bigger boat,” he says. 
The news of Zac Goldsmith’s resignation, which has forced a byelection in the affluent west London suburb, is less than 24 hours old, but already the Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron, has paraded for television cameras on Richmond Green and local activists are hitting the ground running.
I spent the 1983 general election campaign pounding the mean streets of Kew. Time for a nostalgic return.

First Clun now Madeley? Wild boar in Shropshire

A wild boar yesterday. Photo by
Thimindu Goonatillake
Important news from the Shropshire Star. Someone believes his garden in Madeley is being dug up by wild boar:
Jan Mckelvey, conservation manager at Shropshire Wildlife Trust, said they have already had confirmed sightings of boar in the Clun Valley, with one recently caught on a camera trap. 
She said the Severn Valley woodland that surrounds Madeley would offer excellent habitat for the boar. 
But she said that the damage caused by boar can be confused with that of a very active badger. 
She has urged people who have actual sightings of wild boar to contact officials at the trust.
You often see very active badgers jogging in Shropshire parks, so she could well be right.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Disused railway stations in the Scottish Borders



The reopened Waverley Route currently ends at Tweedbank, just north of Melrose. I am not sure how further restoration would be reconciled with the town's bypass.

Six of the Best 636

"The gargantuan task undertaken by all involved would, as we know now, have an outcome which seems completely deserved, and is now being rightly celebrated." Katharine Pindar reports on the Liberal Democrat campaign in Witney.

James Bloodworth asks why so many Westerners, from right and left, love Vladimir Putin: "Whether they like it or not, those who choose to appear on RT are acting as useful idiots for a revanchist imperial power that shows little interest in the causes conventional 'progressives' profess to care about."

Carolyne Willow argues that councils mustn't be excused from their legal duties to vulnerable children and care leavers.

Janet Harris looks at the dilemmas encountered by the media in commemorating disasters such as Aberfan.

"What if, in the mad dash two decades ago to repurpose and extend editorial content onto the Web, editors and publishers made a colossal business blunder that wasted hundreds of millions of dollars?" asks Jack Shafer.

The curse of Winnie-the-Pooh did for both A.A. Milne and Christopher Robin, says Lucinda Smyth.

Julian Knight makes the case for staying in the European Union



I have been learning more about Julian Knight, the Tory MP who blocked me for retweeting him.

As that tweet showed, he is not one to go to for betting tips. If he tells you to back Rutland Lad in the 2.30, then pile in on its rival.

But he does speak sense on Europe.

Here he is writing for the Solihull Observer in February:
After my discussions with local employers, and having weighed the arguments carefully, I have decided to vote to Remain in the EU. 
The UK is doing very well: we’re creating a record number of jobs, and have one of the strongest economies in Europe. I have written often and proudly of our community’s exceptional employment record. 
But as the Chancellor has warned, the recovery remains fragile. The fall in the value of the pound after Boris Johnson called for Brexit highlights the disruption we risk if we leave the EU. I think that’s too high a price to pay. 
As our own Jaguar Land Rover warned: "The current uncertainty around EU membership leads to uncertainty for our customers, suppliers and may impact long-term investment plans." 
And Paul Kehoe, CEO Birmingham Airport, told me: "Birmingham Airport benefits from access to the European Market, and the air travel and cargo that this generates. The UK’s position within a reformed Europe is something I believe is of benefit to the Midland’s Engine and to the wider UK economy." 
I’m also conscious of Solihull’s character as an exporting town, with strong trade and business links all over the world but especially in the EU. I can't champion a course which might put local jobs at risk, or stymie the outside investment which could produce the jobs of tomorrow and start the next chapter of the Solihull success story.
I wonder if he will have the courage to refuse to champion that course now?

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Jonathan Meades on Marmite



Talking of brewers, read how Jonathan Meades' uncle trashed Burton-on-Trent.

The trial of Gordon Anglesea

On Friday a jury unanimously found the retired police superintendent guilty of four counts of indecent assault against two boys in the 1980s.

In 1994 he won libel settlements against the Observer, Private Eye and HTV Wales after they publicised similar claims against him.

The Welsh investigative site Rebecca has a full account of this year's trial:
The six-week trial was a raw, bad-tempered affair. 
The jury were unhappy because they were in court for less than a third of the time. 
Barristers for the prosecution and defence sniped at one another throughout. 
At one point the judge warned the trial was in danger of becoming a "pantomime". 
What follows is a long, detailed account of one of the most important court cases in recent Welsh criminal history. 
It is unsparing and some readers may find it harrowing …

Tom Jones: Green, Green Grass of Home



In his 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded, Jon Savage writes:
It was the silence and dark tones that reinforced the horror of the news report, as both the BBC and ITV gave Aberfan blanket coverage. By the early afternoon, viewers nationwide were seeing the black tide, the faces contorted by grief and pain, the crowds of rescuers, the small bodies being carried out under blankets. 
The rolling reports would continue over the next few days: as Tony Austin later wrote, "Aberfan showed that TV observation of grief is acceptable to the vast majority, even if it opened eyes to scenes that they would not wish to see."
He goes on to say that the pall cast by Aberfan had an effect on Britain's pop culture beyond the two large charity concerts that were held in South Wales in December.

Part of that effect, he argues, was this song:
Dominating everything that month ... was Tom Jones's "Green, Green Grass of Home", which went to #1 on 3 December and stayed there for the rest of the year. ... It was a country song ... with a death-haunted lyric that offered some surcease within a nation still coming to terms with the events of late October.
For, despite its American origins, it remains hard not the see the success of "Green, Green Grass of Home" as a response to Aberfan.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

In search of the Newhaven Marine ghost train



Vicki Pipe attempts to track down the 'Parliamentary train' that runs once a day (weekdays only) at 8.15pm from Newhaven Marine to Lewes. Except that Newhaven Marine station is closed, so you can't get on it.

We had a line like that in the East Midlands. The branch from Derby to Sinfin Central reopened in 1976 but had its passengers trains removed in 1993. Latterly there had been just one early-morning working each day.

After that, if you presented yourself at Derby station at the right ime and demanded to be taken to Sinfin North or Sinfin Central, you would be sent in a taxi.

This arrangement persisted until 1998, when the line was again formally closed to passengers.

The Witney campaign offers the Liberal Democrats a road out of the wilderness



It's not me saying that: it's Bagehot in The Economist.

You can add his name to the list of journalists saying encouraging things about the Liberal Democrats after our result in Witney.

Stephen Bush and Chris Deerin are already on it.

Bagehot writes
While the Lib Dems have been doing well in council by-elections in such places in recent months, this was the first parliamentary test. 
Their campaign focused heavily on Brexit. Residents were urged to reject Mrs May’s nativist overtures at her party’s conference and to send the government a message about the need to keep Britain in the single market and avoid a “hard” break with the European club. 
And while these messages did not propel Liz Leffman ... the local candidate, across the winning line yesterday, she obtained a larger-than-expected vote share (the Tories had warned it could reach 30%, which discounting the usual expectations management suggested they anticipated something nearer 20%) ...
So treat Witney as a proof-of-concept. A more starkly liberal personality, deftly conveyed through relevant issues and particularly the ongoing battles over Brexit, offers the Lib Dems a way—albeit a long and treacherous one—out of the political wilderness.
His piece commends the approach advocated by David Howarth and Mark Pack in their booklet The 20% Strategy: Building a core vote for the Liberal Democrats - that link will take you to this year's second edition.

I retweeted Julian Knight - you won't believe what happened next


Following the encouraging performance by and the Liberal Democrats in Witney, I had something at the back of my mind.

Hadn't some Tory MP or other said on Twitter that we would do well to hold our deposit?

A bit of searching and I was able to retweet the above - with the words "Look what I've found..." preceding it.

Guess what happened next?

I had not heard of Mr Knight before, but - despite his best efforts - I shall keep an eye on the member for Solihull in future.

Brexit could save the Lib Dems



Who says? Chris Deerin, that's who:
The Lib Dems, despite what many of us thought, are not necessarily done for. They have not kicked the bucket, run down the curtain or joined the bleedin’ choir invisible. And for this they have Cameron and his disastrous referendum to thank. 
Clegg and co may justifiably view Brexit as a calamity, but as the old political truism has it, every crisis contains an opportunity. And as Alex Salmond is fond of saying, you must play the ball as it lies.
And:
Brexit also seems likely to serve as something of a ground zero. Such is its epochal import that much of what has gone before could be wiped away — clean slates and fresh starts and all that. 
The Lib Dems have long been dogged by their (entirely sensible) u-turn on tuition fees, but it surely now seems a bit pre-war to continue holding it against them. 
And where that spell in coalition government counted was judged harshly in the short–term, it may play to their advantage over a longer period. After all, they didn’t screw up in power. 
Quite the opposite: their ministers competently delivered a decent number of social-democratic policy wins, including taking the lowest earners out of income tax, ensuring extra money was spent on the most disadvantaged schoolchildren, and keeping the government focused on the environment. 
The idea that the party is unfit for office has been debunked.
If you are a Liberal Democrat wanting more encouragement, read Stephen Bush.

Friday, October 21, 2016

50 years ago tonight: Cliff Michelmore in Aberfan



I posted this on Liberal England back in March to mark Cliff Michelmore's death.

It was broadcast 50 years ago tonight.

The Liberal Democrats are back - and the Tories should be worried



Don't take my word for it: read Stephen Bush in the New Statesman:
One thing is clear: the "Liberal Democrat fightback" is not just a hashtag. The party has been doing particularly well in affluent Conservative areas that voted to stay in the European Union. (It's worth noting that one seat that very much fits that profile is Theresa May's own stomping ground of Maidenhead.) 
It means that if, as looks likely, Zac Goldsmith triggers a by-election over Heathrow, the Liberal Democrats will consider themselves favourites if they can find a top-tier candidate with decent local connections. 
They also start with their by-election machine having done very well indeed out of what you might call its “open beta” in Witney. The county council elections next year, too, should be low hanging fruit for [them].

Gary Lineker "needs to decide if he's a political activist or BBC sports journalist - he can't be both"



So said Alec Shelbrooke, a Tory MP who has hitherto flown beneath the radar of this blog, of Gary Lineker.

But he can be both. There are plenty of precedents.

The great John Arlott fought Epping for the Liberal Party at the 1955 and 1959 general elections.

Not only that: he was a regular panelist on Any Questions? which made him about the best known Liberal in the country before the party's revival under Jo Grimond.

A second member of the Test Match Special team, Alan Gibson, was a supporter of the Liberals. He fought Falmouth and Camborne in 1959.

And, as Andrew Hickey remined me on Twitter today, David Icke was one of the Green Party's principal spokespeople when  he still worked for BBC Sport.

If Shelbrooke would prefer a right-wing example, he need look no further that Denis Compton.

While a member of the BBC's television commentary team for test matches he fronted the organisation Freedom in Sport, which sought to re-establish fixtures with Apartheid-era South Africa.

So Gary Lineker could certainly be a political activist and a BBC sports journalist if he chose. So far, of course, he has done no more than offer an opinion.

Trouble ahead on the Midland main line


The delay in the electrification of the Midland main line from St Pancras is going to cause problems.

In the summer of 2015 the government announced a pause in the project. It was soon restarted, but that good news was accompanied by the news that it will take four years longer than originally planned.

The electrification will reach now Kettering and Corby by 2019, and be extended to Leicester, Derby, Nottingham and Sheffield (and, indeed, Market Harborough) by 2023.

This will cause problems. East Midlands Trains, which runs the service on this line, is due to phase out its High Speed Trains by 2020.

A press release from Leicestershire County Council calls on the government to order new 125mph bi-mode trains that can use diesel or electric power, so they can still be used when the line is electrified.

In a spirit of bipartisanship, it also quotes Sir Peter Soulsby, the elected Mayor of Leicester:
“Replacing high speed trains with slower, second-hand stock is simply unacceptable. The government needs to offer an assurance that that the high speed trains due to be withdrawn in 2020 will be replaced with stock of equivalent or better specification."
But I doubt we will see those new trains. With money being poured into HS2, corners will have to be cut elsewhere.

If you add to that the fact that the opening of HS2 will lead to fewer trains on the Midland main line, there is clearly trouble ahead.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Aberfan was foreseeable and foreseen



I do not have clear memories of the day Aberfan happened - I was six at the time - but in my lifetime there has been no British tragedy that comes close to it in enormity.

As Huw Edwards' documentary made clear the other evening, the slide of the tip above Aberfan was foreseeable and foreseen.

That programme owed a lot to the work of Martin Johnes and Iain McLean, who wrote a book, Aberfan: Government and Disasters, on it in 2000.

In a new article for this week's 50th anniversary - The Political Aftermath of the Aberfan Disaster - they write:
The disaster simply would not have happened had the NCB [National Coal Board] taken local fears about the tips more seriously or enforced its own rules on tip safety. But it was an organization hampered by mismanagement yet protected from market and political pressure by being part of the state and a dominant local employer. 
Before the disaster, the NCB’s economic and local political power meant no one, including the small local authority in Merthyr, was able to challenge it to do more about fears on tip safety. After the disaster, the NCB’s economic and national power meant its interests took precedent over those whose children it had killed.
And in a point Edwards passed over, they emphasise that mines were being closed in the 1960s (at a faster rate than they were under Margaret Thatcher).

Lord Robens, the head of the NCB and a Labour Party bigwig, was seen as the only man who could oversee these closures without causing a coal strike. So he stayed on despite his organisation's culpability.

Hard evidence that voters will turn against hard Brexit


A YouGov poll in August asked voters how much they would be willing to pay to reduce European immigration.

The most popular answer, endorsed by 62 per cent of respondents, was Nothing.

Yes there are those who would pay to reduce it, but by the time YouGov got to the most expensive option - paying 5 per cent of your income - only 15 per cent of respondents were left in favour.

Leave based their campaign on a false prospectus: the idea that we could leave the European Union and be better off. See the photo above if you doubt me.

The reality is that we will be worse off, and the evidence is that this will not be popular with voters.

Hard evidence for what I argued last week: the Conservatives are chasing public opinion and it will end in tears.

BREAKING... Tensions revealed in Tories' Witney campaign

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

London Zoo escaped gorilla ‘drank five litres of undiluted squash’ during escape

The Independent wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Weedon Bec's military history comes back to haunt it


Back in July 2013 I photographed the former Royal Ordnance Depot at Weedon Bec in Northamptonshire.

Today came news that there is still ordnance in the village - under a children's playground.

BBC News reports:
A parish council fears it could be facing bankruptcy over the £1m cost of clearing a mound where two World War Two hand grenades were found. 
The mound near a play area in Weedon Bec, near Daventry, was being cleared by the parish council in July when the explosives were found. 
The bomb squad was called but the council found the cost of clearing the site had risen to more than £1m.
The report goes on to say that the mound is thought to contain waster from "nearby Weedon Barracks," though these were demolished in the mid 1950s. They stood next to the Royal Ordnance Depot.

It also reports the Ministry of Defence says it is "examining ways" to "provide financial support to the parish council".

And quite right too.

I'm all for grazed knees, but live hand grenades are probably going a bit far for a playground.

Labour councillor defects to the Tories - for 24 hours


Strange goings on in Swindon, where a Labour councillor crossed the floor to join the Tories, thought again and then rejoined the Labour group a day later.

The Swindon Advertiser has the story:
Matthew Courtliff, who was elected to represent the Lydiard and Freshbrook ward just five months ago, made the shock decision on Tuesday evening following a meeting with council leader David Renard. 
After completing the paperwork to officially join the Conservative group, Coun Courtliff released a statement citing concerns with the direction of Labour under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership as the motive behind his decision. 
He said he looked forward to Theresa May’s leadership and offered his support for the Conservative group’s vision for Swindon ... 
But before the dust had even settled on the defection, Coun Courtliff had a change of heart and performed a dramatic u-turn. 
On Wednesday morning he declared that he had made “a terrible mistake” and described the day’s events as “the most stupid 24 hours of my life.” 
Following a meeting between Coun Grant and Coun Courtliff, the Swindon Labour Group confirmed that he would remain a Labour councillor representing the residents of Lydiard and Freshbrook.
Winston Churchill adds: Anyone can rat, but it takes a certain amount of ingenuity to re-rat.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Glastonbury bus in 1963

© National Railway Museum and SSPL

There are lots of lovely images on the National Railway Museum site that can be used for free by non-commercial sites.

Six of the Best 635

Adam Bienkov on the threat to Jeremy Corbyn from Labour's left.

The Troubled Families programme was bound to fail and ministers knew it, says Jonathan Portes. "The programme’s evaluation ... is the perfect case study of how the manipulation of statistics by politicians and civil servants led directly to bad policy and to the wasting of hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money."

The National Union of Journalists explains why Newsquest staff have gone on strike.

"The image of the architect presented by Ladybird is beautiful, warm and unintimidating and the flat-roofed house on his graph paper is thoroughly modern." Nick Campbell attended an event this week on 'Ladybird Books and Constructing the Future Past of Modern Britain'.

Allison McNearney examines the unsolved theft of Ireland's Crown Jewels in 1907.

"Nobody intended for the planet to be swarmed with house cats either. In many ways, their online dominance is an extension of their earthly conquests." Abigail Tucker explains why cats have taken over the internet.

Former Conservative PCC charged with disclosing information in case involving Conservative MP

From the Northants Herald & Post today:
Northamptonshire's first ever Police and Crime Commissioner appeared in court today ... accused of passing information about Wellingborough MP Peter Bone. 
Adam Simmonds, aged 39, denied disclosing information relating to a criminal investigation into the Conservative MP when he appeared at Westminster Magistrates' Court.
Simmonds was elected in 2012 and stood down at the PCC elections earlier this year.

The Herald & Post goes on to quote the words of the prosecuting counsel:
"This is a case relating to the disclosure of information regarding a criminal investigation into a then and current Member of Parliament.
"This was done by this defendant having received information in his capacity as Police and Crime Commissioner and passing it to a number of colleagues in the Conservative Party between the dates that we have heard. 
"It is plainly serious to disclose this information and plainly in breach of trust as a public servant, as he received this information in a professional capacity."

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Heart of Wales Line in 1978


Click on the image about to view this film on the British Film Institute site.

The blurb there says:
Here are station names as familiar and reassuring to users of this line as the shipping forecast area names are to sailors and radio listeners: Bynea, Llandeilo, Llandovery, Cynghordy (and viaduct), Llanwrtyd Wells, Llangammarch, Garth, Llandrinod Wells, Dolau, Llanbister Road (where a single sheep stands on the line as the train approaches), Llangunllo and the Knucklas Viaduct.

Man stole 13 blocks of cheese from Leicester supermarket – but ‘didn’t know what to do with it’

Thanks to the Leicester Mercury, we have our Headline of the Day.

Nick Clegg sets out the problems Brexit may cause the UK food and drink industry

Nick Clegg has published the third of his Brexit Challenge papers.

This one looks the potential challenges facing the UK's food and drink industry after Brexit and has already received considerable media coverage.

Nick writes:
UK membership of the EU affects almost every aspect of the food chain, from the pesticides that can be used on our crops, to the profitability of our farms, to the labelling of products in our shops; from the employment conditions of agricultural workers to hygiene standards in factories; and from the subsidies paid to farmers to the quantity of fish that can be caught. The impacts of Brexit will be felt by everyone. 
While some manufacturers will hope that Brexit leads to the opening of new markets, the reality is that exporting will become more complicated and difficult in the short term. The food and drink industry will have to adapt quickly to disruption of their access to established markets and to uncertainty about the entire regulatory framework. 
Consumers will have to get used to higher prices even beyond the impact of the falling value of the pound.
You can read the whole paper on the Liberal Democrats website.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The railway through Desborough



Some nice vintage photographs of the railway through this small Northamptonshire town.

Many are of Desborough and Rothwell station (between Market Harborough and Kettering on the Midland main line), which closed in 1968.

Donald Trump's defence witness Anthony Gilberthorpe



One of the torrent of accusations against Donald Trump is that he groped a woman called Jessica Leeds on a US internal flight more than three decades ago.

However, a witness has come forward to say that no such assault took place.

As the New York Post reports:
The man says he was sitting across from the accuser and contacted the Trump campaign because he was incensed by her account — which is at odds with what he witnessed. 
“I have only met this accuser once and frankly cannot imagine why she is seeking to make out that Trump made sexual advances on her. Not only did he not do so (and I was present at all times) but it was she that was the one being flirtatious,” Anthony Gilberthorpe said in a note provided to The Post by the Trump campaign.
If the name Anthony Gilberthorpe sounds familiar, it is probably because of a news story from 2014.

Then the Daily Mirror reported:
Senior Tory cabinet ministers were supplied with underage boys for sex parties, it is sensationally claimed. 
Former Conservative activist Anthony Gilberthorpe said he told Margaret Thatcher 25 years ago about what he had witnessed and gave her names of those involved. 
His allegations that he saw top Tories having sex with boys comes after David Cameron launched a Government inquiry into claims of a cover-up. 
Anthony, 52, said: “I am prepared to speak to the inquiry. I believe I am a key witness.” 
Trawling seedy streets during a Tory conference, Gilberthorpe says he was asked to find underage rent boys for a private sex party at a top hotel. 
Today, more than three decades later, he claims he was acting on the orders of some of the most senior figures of Margaret Thatcher’s government.
The Mirror went on to say:
He says one person who attended a party is a current serving minister. 
Others said to be present at the parties included Keith Joseph, Rhodes Boyson, Dr Alistair Smith and Michael Havers
And back in 2007 who was it who witnessed the collapse of a building in Westminster?
Eyewitness Anthony Gilberthorpe told BBC News 24: "I heard a mighty explosion and about two floors and the roof of a building to my left hand side was literally showering down in front of me. 
"So I literally threw myself, literally jumped up and threw myself, to the right hand side of the road not knowing whether I was going to be hit." 
Mr Gilberthorpe saw a van driver step out of his vehicle moments before it was hit by a huge piece of debris. 
"What I did see which was quite shocking was a huge boulder went right through his vehicle, literally where he had been 15 seconds previously and I think that's the most frightening thing that I actually witnessed.
I don't know how convincing a witness Mr Gilberthorpe will make for Trump, but he certainly has an interesting life.

Dave Davies: Death of a Clown



With killer clowns in the news, I have been thinking of this 1967 single by the bass player from the Kinks.

Dave Davies explained its genesis in an interview with Yahoo!:
One night I nodded off at a party and woke up and saw all these decadent people running around. I had a vision of being a circus clown. I thought, “What are we doing?” We were going from day to day to day like performing seals. 
And that’s where I got the idea for “Death of a Clown.” I went back to me mum’s house with the same old out-of-tune piano and I plunked out three notes, and it turned into the song.
And Wikipedia adds some details:
The song is co-written with his brother Ray Davies, who contributed the 5-bar "La la la" hook; Ray's first wife, Rasa, sings this phrase as well as descant in the second verse, while Ray himself sings harmony in the refrain. Nicky Hopkins played the distinctive introduction, using fingerpicks on the strings of a piano.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Six of the Best 634

Britain's need to attract large flows of foreign capital to keep it functioning limits are freedom of movement in foreign and industrial policy, argues Duncan Weldon.

Stephen Evans says the demonisation of Louis Smith for 'mocking Islam' is illustrative of a troubling return of the concept of blasphemy.

Nottingham's parking levy has paid for two new tram lines and railway and bus improvements, reports Charlie Sorrel.

The Dulwich Raider celebrates the micropub revolution.

"Brilliant and sometimes maddening, “Jerusalem” is Alan Moore’s monumentally ambitious attempt to save his hometown, Northampton, England - not to rescue it from the slow economic catastrophe that’s been gnawing at it for centuries, but to save it “the way that you save ships in bottles,” by preserving its contours and details in art." Douglas Wolk reviews the novel.

"The big change is the proximity to death ... I am a tidy kind of guy. I like to tie up the strings if I can. If I can’t, also, that’s O.K. But my natural thrust is to finish things that I’ve begun." David Remnick interviews Leonard Cohen, who has a new album coming out at the age of 82.

Michael Gove's war on 'soft' subjects was misconceived



Triangle ABC is larger than triangle DEF. How do you think triangle DEF feels about this?
It's a joke from an old Punt and Dennis radio show,but I thought of it when I read that some 'soft' subjects are no longer to be offered at A level.

According to the Independent, these include History of Art, Statistics, Classical Civilisation and Archaeology.

These strike me as perfectly valid areas of study for a sixth-former: Statistics is one of the many subjects I wish I knew more about.

More fundamentally, as the joke above shows, any subject can be hard of soft depending on how you examine it.

Somewhere behind the pressure to stop offering such subjects is the idea that teenagers are raw material for the economy without individual talents of interests.

The cull of soft subjects was an initiative from Michael Gove. However, since then he has told us that "people in this country have had enough of experts".

So why bother with academic rigour at all?

Friday, October 14, 2016

Alan Garner: The Edge of the Ceiling



An interview with the writer from 1980.

He can sometimes leave you feeling you have been hit over the head with a volume of English folklore, but he is a remarkable talent.

Midland Railway locomotive shed to be restored as the home of the University of Northampton Students Union


Two summers ago, after exploring the pleasingly derelict lands now being redeveloped as the University of Northampton's new Waterside campus, I wrote:
Somewhere in the middle of it there is a "rare and little altered example of a Midland Railway locomotive shed". All the security fencing makes it impossible to photograph at the moment, but I hope it will be retained and restored as part of the redevelopment here.
The good news this week is that the old shed is indeed going to be restored.

The University of Northampton Students' Union reports that it has
received a confirmed grant of £1,323,300 from the Heritage Lottery Fund ... for the restoration of its Engine Shed building on the University of Northampton’s new Waterside Campus. 
Thanks to National Lottery players, this exciting project will see the Grade II Engine Shed and adjacent office buildings brought back into use as a vibrant hub of student activity, whilst supporting a number of innovative community engagement projects with local partners and businesses. 
The Engine Shed was constructed in 1873 at the junction of the main London and North Western Railway line and the former Northampton branch line. The project aims to carry out essential conservation work, which will see the largely derelict shell of the Engine Shed restored to its former grandeur. 
The building’s structural roof trusses, windows and decorative brickwork will also be retained alongside original train tracks, which will be carefully recovered and replaced following development works.
Because property is like theft, man, I have borrowed this photo from the union's website.

Why should 1066 be the most famous date in our history?



Daniel Hannan says the Norman Conquest was "a cataclysm for the English people" and for once he is right.

Certainly, there is something odd about the way that 1066, the date of an invasion, has become the most famous date in our history - the date that every schoolboy used to know.

Why should this be?

The answer may lie in a post I wrote remembering an afternoon when David Starkey appeared on Richard and Judy:
Starkey said the idea that 1066 is the most important date in British history is a recent one. In fact it dates from 1914 - the year when all things French became good and all things German bad. German Shepherd Dogs turned into Alsatians and the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha turned into the House of Windsor. 
Until then we had been very aware of our Saxon heritage and believed that the roots of our democracy lay in that era. After 1914 the Norman Conquest became almost a Year Zero and the Saxon kings were relegated to become a faintly embarrassing pre-history.
Starkey, in between the academic bitchery, does sometimes come up with something profound.

I remember him saying that David Cameron and Nick Clegg has modelled themselves on Tony Blair. But the Blair playbook said nothing about economic recessions, with the result that they were at a loss to know what to do when they came to power in the middle of one.

Later. If you want to improve your own knowledge of the period, Michael Wood's series King Alfred and the Anglo Saxons is currently on the BBC iPlayer.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

A Shropshire slideshow


Following Music in Leicester, here is another slideshow using a new Getty Images feature.

A warning for the Tories: Chasing public opinion can end in tears



The government thinks it is on to a good thing. Brexit won a majority in the referendum, so if it carries it out then it will be popular with the voters.

Except that public opinion doesn't work like that.

Take the Iraq War.

A Daily Telegraph article in July looked at new polling by YouGov.

It was no surprise to find that there had been a major shift in opinion on Iraq. In 2003 53 per cent of voters thought the war was right. Now only 26 per cent think it was right.

But more significant - and more worrying for the Conservatives - is another figure.

Today, only 37 per cent of voters think they thought the war was right in 2003, while 43 per cent think they thought it was wrong and 20 per cent don't know.

From which I conclude that if Brexit starts to go wrong - and there is every sign that it will - then the voters will decide that they never wanted it in the first place.

Public opinion can be volatile and voters are more likely to blame politicians when things go wrong than blame themselves.

So if MPs - Tories included - think Brexit will harm Britain then they should have the courage to say so and vote accordingly.

In the words of that great Whig Edmund Burke (Conservatives claim him as their own but do not read him):
Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
Later. More detail on YouGov's Iraq polling here.

The League of Gentlemen to return?


Jasper Jackson writes in the Guardian:
Mark Gatiss hopes to bring his dark comedy The League of Gentlemen back to TV screens, with Brexit providing the perfect excuse to revive the gruesomely insular characters of Royston Vasey. 
Speaking on BBC Radio 6 Music, the Sherlock and Doctor Who writer said he had talked to his co-creators about bringing back the show after more than a decade. 
"We’re hoping to [do it again] … We’ve talked seriously about doing something. We’re not quite sure what it is yet but we’d love to do something, it is 10 years," he said. 
Referring to the show’s “local shop for local people”, run by Edward and Tulip "Tubbs" Tattsyrup, Gatiss said: “I think increasingly, talking about prescience, we have become a local country for local people and I wonder if there is something Brexity in us that we can do. 
"Michael Gove’s resemblance to Edward from the local shop is not a coincidence."
I don't suppose the other three team members will be delighted to see it described as Mark Gatiss's dark comedy, but this has to be good news.

The only worry is how the show will feel almost 20 years on. When it first appeared, to anyone who had grown up in the provinces in the 1970s it did not seem a comedy so much as a documentary.

Gatiss says the series has gained new fans through YouTube and that he is
unsure whether a new show would feature similar characters, or whether the national mood would be better suited to new creations.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Nick Clegg: The comeback kid?



Serena Kutchinsky writes in the New Statesman:
After spending half a decade as a political pariah, Nick Clegg seems to be on his way to a comeback of sorts. The former Liberal Democrat leader has teamed up with his old political rival, Ed Miliband, and a small but significant group of Tory Remainers, to lead the call for there to be full parliamentary scrutiny of the government’s Brexit plan. 
Earlier this week, he found himself resoundingly cheered from the Labour benches as he demanded to know how the government could claim the right to know what Brexit means. 
During today’s parliamentary debate on Brexit he went further, effectively accusing the Prime Minister of hypocrisy over her reluctance to allow parliamentary scrutiny, in an impressive speech which won plaudits from the twitterati. 
As the former Deputy Prime Minister, Clegg understands the inner-workings of both the Tory party and Whitehall better than most politicians. He also has a firm grip on the intricacies of Brussels bureaucracy. Before becoming an MEP in 1999, he worked as European Commission trade negotiator.
Yes, the Brexit crisis could be the making of Nick.

Wellington to Craven Arms revisited



Last year I posted three videos (part 1, part 2 and part 3) following the old railway line from Wellington to Craven Arms in Shropshire.

Holden Webster, who made those videos, has now gone back to the line to record the good news that the Telford Steam Railway (which he visited in part 1) has recently been extended.

With the closure of Ironbridge power station, there is a chance that it will be extended again.