Monday, May 22, 2017

Lord Bonkers' Diary: "Not as strong and stable as she thought"

The prime minister visits Rutland in today's entry. With hilarious consequences.


Despite the blustery weather, I call on one of my neighbouring landowners - the fellow is a died-in-the-wool Tory, but a Decent Sort in his way. I find him in a state of great excitement as the prime minister is also on his estate.

"She has come to Rutland to meet the voters," he explains. "And where is she?" I ask. "She's locked herself in my gardener’s potting shed and refuses to come out." After I have offered the observation that Meadowcroft would never put up with it, we brave the wind to see how she is getting on.

A cluster of journalists surrounds the door - occasionally one jots a question on a piece of paper and slides it under the door - but of ordinary voters there is no sign. "She wanted me to have my domestic staff lined up to listen while she made a speech, but somehow that didn't seem quite cricket to me," my host observes.

Just then a tremendous gust lifts the shed clean off the ground and deposits it several fields away in a duck pond. "Not quite as strong and stable as she thought," I remark, as we watch a muddy figure wade to the shore with a mallard on her head.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

The Financial Times lists Theresa May's nine U-turns

Henry Mance, political correspondent of that well known left-wing publication the Financial Times, has helpfully listed Theresa May's major policy shifts over the past 12 months.

They are:
  • Brexit
  • A British bill of rights
  • Hinkley Point
  • Workers on boards
  • National insurance
  • Early election
  • Energy price caps
  • Social care
  • Foreign worker lists
The sad thing is that where May is in the right, such as on Europe and workers on boards, she lacks the courage to stand up for her views.

A North Korean flag is flying above Ingleby Barwick - and nobody knows why

Our Headline of the Day comes from the Middlesbrough Gazette,

Thanks to a reader for the nomination.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

A train passing the Magic Roundabout, Hemel Hempstead

First there was a train crossing the old A41 and the canal on the way from Boxmoor gas works to Heath Park Halt.

Then there was a train crossing the viaduct over Marlowes.

This one shows a train passing the Plough Roundabout, which was known as Moor End Roundabout when I went to primary school nearby and later became famous as the Magic Roundabout.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Freddie and Fiona at the New New European

The old boy's young friends turn up in all the most important places.


To the offices of the New New European. Who should I find working there but my old friends Freddie and Fiona? "We've written an article about Skegness," says one. "You won't have heard of it, but it's a funny little place in something called 'Lincolnshire'." "All the people there voted for Brexit, so we had a good laugh at them." "And now Paul Nuttall has decided to stand there, so we have laughed at them even more."

I ask if they have ever been to Lincolnshire. "Oh no, we’ve never been to the North." "Well, I did go to Hertford once, but I didn't like it. You couldn't get artisan quinoa."

"And do you think," I further ask, "that laughing at the good people of Skegness will make them less likely to vote for the odious Nuttall? Don’t you want them to change their minds and support Europe as they did in 1975?"

"That’s not what the New New European is about. What we are interested in is selling our newspaper in North London."

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Six of the Best 694

"There can’t be many people who realise their dad has Alzheimer’s from listening to the BBC’s Today programme. But six years ago, hearing my brilliant and erudite father, the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Goodhart, stumbling and pausing through his interview with John Humphrys, I knew something was very wrong." A moving article and a suitable tribute to his father by Benjie Goodhart.

Amelia Tate asks if 'dark ads' on Facebook will really swing the general election.

The peerless Ian Jack discusses the derided British Rail sandwich and its part in the privatisation of our trains.

Nicholas Barber on 'universe-shrinking': "What happens is that the characters in a science-fiction or thriller franchise are initially sent off on adventures in the wider world. James Bond goes after Goldfinger, Doctor Who defends the Earth against the Daleks, and so on. But after a while that world grows smaller and smaller until there is nothing in it which isn’t connected to the protagonists."

"He thinks you were before your time. Personally, I don’t think we’re ever going to reach the time that you’re in." Andy Murray introduces to Anthony Newley, an important but largely forgotten figure in post-war culture, and in particular his 1960 television series The Strange World of Gurney Slade.

"As any football manager will tell you, 'A win is a win'. Or even, as Gertrude Stein liked to say during her brief spell in the hot seat at Turf Moor 'A win is a win is a win'." Backwatersman follows the progress of the 2017 cricket season.

Squeeze: Pulling Mussels (from the shell)

They do it down on Camber Sands,
They do it at Waikiki
A live version of the Squeeze single that got to no. 44 in the charts in 1980.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Lord Bonkers' Diary: A hard border

A second day at Bonkers Hall, and his lordship considers the significance of Brexit for his native county,


Rutland, of course, will remain in the European Union. Every day ships laden with pork pies and stilton set sail from Oakham Quay to cross Rutland Water and then the North Sea. They return with wines, exotic spices and all the things that make life jolly. Why would anyone want to throw that away?

This afternoon I join a party of military engineers to inspect out border with Leicestershire. Some have spoken of a 'hard border' after Brexit. Surveying its  tank traps, minefields and the Rutland Military Canal, we conclude that it would be difficult to make it any harder.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Friday, May 19, 2017

Eddie McCreadie returns to Stamford Bridge

Eddie McCreadie was the left back in the glamorous Chelsea team that won the FA Cup in 1970 and the European Cup Winners Cup the following year.

Move on to the 1976/7 season and things had gone sour. The club was heavily in debt, could not afford to sign any new players and been relegated.

But Chelsea got back into the top division at the first attempt. The team consisted of a few survivors of the glory years (Peter Bonetti, Ron Harris, Charlie Cooke) and a host of youngsters. It was captained by an 18-year-old Ray Wilkins and managed by Eddie McCreadie.

Something went wrong - legend has it that Chelsea refused to buy him a car - and McCreadie left as manager. He has lived in America for the past 40 years and never been back.

Until now.

Yesterday's Daily Mirror reported:
Chelsea legend Eddie McCreadie is making an emotional return to Stamford Bridge this weekend for the first time in 40 years. 
The Blues hero landed at Heathrow this morning on a flight back from the United States.
And today's Sun says:
Chelsea legend Eddie McCreadie has been back to Stamford Bridge – for the first time in 40 years ... 
McCreadie, 77, still lives in the States in Tennessee keeping one eye on his old club. 
McCreadie told TalkSPORT: “I watch all the games in the United States. 
“I’m absolutely thrilled with the success they’ve had. I’ve come back here and the stadium, the facilities, it’s a remarkable change.” 
McCreadie was back at the Bridge on Friday to check out his old stomping ground and will appear at a special night on Saturday to mark the launch of a new book.
On Saturday McCreadie will be at the launch of a book about him and his era at Chelsea. You can here all about it on the Chelsea Fancast.

The Sun also suggests he will be at Stamford Bridge on Sunday when Chelsea are presented with the Premiership trophy.

Leicester West's Tory Spartans turn into snowflakes

Remember Jack Hickey, chair of Leicester Conservatives?

He was the one who told the Leicester Mercury:
"West is the target. It's where we think we can do well. 
"We are huge underdogs. We are outnumbered, we are outmatched but we are like the 300 Spartans. 
"We are fewer but we are better."
Well, things have moved on. First, because Hickey also told the Mercury that he would not seek to be a candidate himself and then emerged as the Tory candidate in Leicester West.

And second because the Spartans of Leicester Conservatives have turned out to be more like snowflakes.

Here is today's Leicester Mercury:
The Tories have accused a national pro-EU pressure group of trying to 'skew the vote' in the battle for Leicester West. 
Conservative candidate Jack Hickey has raised concerns about Open Britain's aim to get anti-Brexit supporters to travel to the constituency in the run up to the election on June 8 to support Labour's Liz Kendall who is defending a majority of just over 7,000. 
Open Britain itself says it is not trying to skew the vote but simply campaigning against what it describes as a 'a hard, destructive Brexit'
That's right: a candidate for the party that brought you the Battlebus2015 operation is now whingeing because activists are travelling to his constituency to campaign for another candidate.

This far from Spartan reaction confirms what I am hearing about the Conservatives campaign's failure to make progress in Leicester West.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: At the top of my hawking tower

With the latest issue of Liberator on its way to subscribers, it is time to spend another week with Lord Bonkers. We arrive on his estate to find preparations for polling day in full swing.


I am writing this at the top of the hawking tower at Bonkers Hall; I have set up my HQ here for the local elections. The view commands a sweep of country from the shores of Rutland Water to the Uppingham road. Armed with a pair of field glasses or a sharp-eyed orphan, I will get an early warning if any other party has the cheek to put up in the Bonkers Hall ward.

With the Bonkers Patent Shuttleworth Press installed in the room below, and a spiral staircase giving easy access to the kitchens, I decided to run the local general election campaign from here too.

Looking out, I see my tenants queuing to collect today’s Focus leaflet. I am gratified that they even come out in the rain, though my tried and tested slogan 'Remember your rents fall due on Lady Day' probably has something to do with that.

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

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Six of the Best 693

"Our new manifesto offers some serious proposals to address some fundamental causes of racial unfairness in society. This shows that Lib Dems are keen to walk the walk on equality." Lester Holloway looks at the party manifesto's proposals for making Britain a more racially equal society.

A Discursive of Tunbridge Wells podcast discusses involuntary treatment in the mental health system.

Katharine Schwab on the rediscovery of Britain's miles of lost cycleways.

Claire Cock-Starkey wins Name of the Day and examines the 18th-century fashion for hiring ornamental hermits. (They live on at Bonkers Hall, of course.)

Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks was released 50 years ago, The BBC Radio 4 series Soul Music celebrates the anniversary by listening to the poignant, thoughtful and life-changing memories of those who love it.

"The West Ferry Printing Works has always been quite mysterious, when it was open, you seldom saw anyone go in or come out. The dark mirrored glass made it difficult to see inside. It seemed just the place where a Bond villain would hang out." Isle of Dogs Life on the short life of Rupert Murdoch's printing works.

Harborough Mail wins Headline of the Day

The judges, rather than laughing, preferred to treat this as a sad story about the decline of the local press.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Approaching Heath Park Halt over the Marlowes viaduct

Another 1958 glimpse of Heath Park Halt, which was the southern terminus for passengeers of the Harpenden to Hemel Hempstead line.

This time we see a train arriving at the halt from the north. It crosses the viaduct that carried the line across Marlowes, which was just then taking shape as the main shopping street of Hemel Hempstead new town.

Now watch Boxmoor gas works to Heath Park Halt,

The future of Britain: it's in your hands

A vote for the Liberal Democrats on June 8 is a vote to put the future of Britain in your hands.

Boris Johnson moos 'like a cow' and devours cakes on bakery visit

The Daily Telegraph wins Headline of the Day.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Vince Cable on the chances that a new political party will be formed

Interviewed by Ned Simon for Huffington Post, Vince Cable has been discussing the possibility that a new political party will be formed after the general election:
Vince Cable has said the creation of a new political party in the UK depends on how the Liberal Democrats perform at the general election. ...
Cable said “politics after the election may be more interesting than before it” if Jeremy Corbyn refuses to quit and the Labour party “fragments”. ... 
Cable, 74, said it was “possible” a new party could emerge from the ashes of a left-wing collapse at the hands of the Tories as the structure of politics was now extremely “unpredictable”. 
“It depends what happens to us. I’m not predicting that. I think we will do much better. But how much better I can’t say,” he said
The dilemma for Liberal Democrats who are attracted by the idea is that, in order to be successful, a new party would have to win over a large body of Labour MPs, who would then proceed to dominate it.

Indeed, if we don't do well on 8 June then a new party may happen without our participation being seen as that important.

Elsewhere in the interview Vince suggests that Brexit is no longer the main concern of voters as they are focus more on bread-and-butter issues like health and education.

And he is pretty damning about Theresa May's predecessor:
Cable said David Cameron’s decision to hold an EU referendum was “one of the biggest political miscalculations in our history” which has had “devastating consequences”. 
“It was almost as bad as losing America in the 18th Century. He had to go. Of course he had to go,” he said of Cameron’s decision to resign.

Six of the Best 692

Nick Barlow says those hoping for a British Macron have failed to grasp the fundamental differences between French and British politics.

"The further away the problem, the easier it feels to resolve the ethics." Matthew Spencer discusses what the environment and development communities can learn from each other when it comes to achieving political impact,

Isabelle Fraser, daughter of the documentary maker Nick Fraser, on his stroke and accepting a special Bafta on his behalf.

David Butterfield offers 10 commandments for the public house. He is right about most things and "the handled glass and its quaint dimples" is an abomination.

"It was a surprise to find, when visiting Marion Park in Charlton where much of the film’s famous park sequences were shot, that Antonioni and his sound recordist, Robin Gregory, had merely emphasised something that was already there." Adam Scovell in the importance of sound in Blow-Up.

In the Middle Ages there was a superstition that the king of England must not enter Lincoln. Caitlin Green examines its origins. She mentions that Leicester had the same superstition. As Richard III discovered, it was well founded.

Oswestry town centre street sealed off because of burning toast

Our Headline of the Day Award returns to its natural home: the Shropshire Star.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Boxmoor gas works to Heath Park Halt, 1958

A valuable scrap of footage.

Boxmoor gas works stood close to Hemel Hempstead station on the Euston main line. But passenger trains from Harpenden never made it that far, terminating at Heath Park Halt.

This video, shot from the footplate, shows the line crossing the old A41 and then the Grand Union Canal before arriving at Heath Park Halt.

The whole line was closed when Hemel Hempstead new town was built, which in retrospect seems an odd decision. It could have linked the town's main line station with its main shopping centre and industrial estates.

Lib Dems stand down in favour of the Greens in Skipton and Ripon

A pact too far?

In return for the Green Party not fielding a candidate in Harrogate and Knaresborough, the Liberal Democrats have agreed not to fight Skipton and Ripon.

As the Craven Herald says:
What makes this deal more remarkable is that the Lib/Dems have been second to the Tories in every general election from 1992 to 2010. And for two general elections prior to 1992 the Liberals were runners up.
Going back a little further, the Liberal Party won the old Ripon constituency in a 1973 by-election and came within a few hundred votes of winning Skipton at the October 1974 general election.

Are we, in an overoptimistic attempt to regain Harrogate, ceding traditional Liberal territory to the Greens? What will the long-term consequences of these local pacts be?

A reminder of why everyone always receives a great reception on the doorstep

There was a rare outbreak of honesty from a general election candidate today as Julian Huppert, who hopes to regain Cambridge for the Liberal Democrats, sent this tweet.

Generally, of course, every candidate reports that they have received "a great reception on the doorstep". So much so that you see people making fun of such tweets whenever they appear.

Why do they do it?

One reason, as I blogged a couple of years ago, is this:
Let me to take you back to a Guardian account of the Hartlepool by-election of 2004 and what happened to the Liberal Democrat candidate Jody Dunn: 
On August 27, Dunn had written in her blog about a dispiriting evening out canvassing with Simon Hughes. "It didn't just rain last night, it poured," she wrote. "In fact the evening became one of the more farcical moments of the campaign. We'd picked what appeared at first to be a fairly standard row of houses. As time went on however, we began to realise that everyone we met was either drunk, flanked by an angry dog or undressed." 
We have all had evenings of canvassing like that. But the account goes on: 
The blog had continued with a joke about how Dunn looked like Worzel Gummidge in the rain. Ed Fordham had checked the copy as usual before posting it online. Nothing he read had sounded alarm bells. 
The Labour printing machines turned again, and this time Hartlepool woke up to the news on its doormat that Dunn had accused them all of being "either drunk, flanked by an angry dog, or undressed". 
And given the opportunity, other parties would no doubt behave just as Labour did. 
So it's much safer always to say you have received a great reception on the doorstep than tell the truth.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Emperor Haile Selassie visits Bishop's Castle

I once quoted Michael Coles' Reminiscences of Wistanstow:
In 1936 the Italians invaded Abyssinia and the Emperor Haile Selassie had to flee, He was given refuge by this country and one day whilst I was at Craven Arms railway station he arrived with his entourage to stay at Walcot Hall on the way to Lydbury North, which was a mansion owned by the Stephenson Ink people.
This film shows Haile Selassie at Bishop's Castle. I suspect it was shot on the same visit, if not on the same day that Michael Coles saw him.

Tim Farron on the stump in Cornwall

Laura Silver from BuzzFeed has been following Tim Farron on the campaign trail in Cornwall:
Amplifying doubts about Brexit could be a pivotal strategy for Farron and his party. [Andrew] George, the Lib Dem parliamentary candidate, wants to tell the Brexit-supporting fishing industry that the likes of Nigel Farage played a “cruel hoax” on them by suggesting there would no longer be quotas on the number of fish that could be caught if Britain left the EU, or that foreign boats could be banished from British waters. 
“It’s the equivalent of putting it on the side of a red campaign bus. It’s as honest as that,” he added. 
Johnny, a fisherman BuzzFeed News met in Padstow who preferred to not give his surname, said he voted Leave but that his perspective could be shifting as he fears the fishing industry had been “sold up the river”.
Elsewhere she finds Tim Farron's low media profile (almost inevitable in a new leader) and the aftermath of coalition as barriers to votes returning to the Liberal Democrats.

We should listen to Tony Blair's interview with Alastair Campbell

There was a sharp tweet from John Lubbock earlier today:

As a description of debate between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, that is accurate.

But I have the discouraging feeling that Tony Blair may be as good as it gets for the centre left. If that feeling is well founded, it means that both parties will have to come to terms with him.

At any rate, the exchange between Blair and Alastair Campbell in the video above is useful in its honesty about the problems of being in politics and being prepared to oppose the interests of big business.

And one of the few advantages of having been blogging for so long is that I can refer you to what I wrote when Blair stood down as prime minister:
Today's media consensus is that the public has undergone a long process of disillusionment with Tony Blair. 
My own experience has been the reverse. When he was first elected it seemed obvious to me that he was an actor more than a statesman - and a terribly bad actor at that. All those speeches with his voice thick with unshed tears - the best known is his reaction to the death of the Princess of Wales, but there were many more - were so palpably insincere that I was convinced that the public would see through him any day. 
Well, it took years to happen, and by the time it did I started to find myself with a grudging respect for his longevity and skill as a political operator. Still, I cannot pretend to be anything other than delighted that he is going.
Maybe I would not have been so delighted if I had foreseen what was to follow him.

Tom Waits: I Hope That I Don't Fall in Love with You

From Tom Waits' debut studio album, Closing Time, which was released in 1973.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Stalking the Obelisk, Boughton

The Obelisk, which was built by Wentworth as a memorial to his friend William Cavendish, the fourth Duke of Devonshire, loomed up in the distance as I walked around Boughton on Saturday. 
One day I will go back and photograph it close up, though I have the feeling that it is one of those buildings that will move around the landscape if you try too hard to pin it down.
That's what I wrote last summer after visiting Boughton and its follies, just to the north of Northampton.

I went back today, taking the Obelisk by surprise by approaching it from rear via Boughton village and a woodland walk.

If I had attacked it from the front - from among the bungalows that lap at its base - it would surely have seen me coming.

As I wrote last summer it was erected by William Wentworth, second Earl of Strafford, as a memorial to his friend William Cavendish, the fourth Duke of Devonshire. Cavendish was educated at Boughton as a boy.

Six of the Best 691

"Ever since she took over from David Cameron last summer, she has spoken as if Britain is a nation harmoniously united, aside from the divisive forces of party politics and liberal elites seeking to thwart the 'will of the people.'" William Davies dissects Theresa May's vapid vision of a one-party state.

Bernard Aris looks at the history of internationalism in the Liberal Party and the Liberal Democrats.

The privatisation of the Forensic Science Service in 2010 has brought about a crisis in the criminal justice system, argues Jerry Hayes.

Bethlem Museum of the Mind on the rumour of a Petition of the Poor Distracted Folk of Bedlam from 1620.

Northamptonshire Britain's Best Surprise visits Kelmarsh Hall, which is down the road from here. I shall go back this summer to see the exhibition of artwork by MacDonald (brother of Eric) Gill.

"The presence of the 'slick, flashy' Spivs gave post-war British cinema an excuse to make their own version of the 1930s Hollywood gangster movies – still loved and regularly watched by much of the UK cinema audiences after the war." Rob Baker looks at this genre of films.

The evidence behind the Lib Dem call to legalise cannabis

The Liberal Democrat call for a regulated market in cannabis this week has attracted more media interest than out policies normally do.

You can read the evidence behind this policy in the report A framework for a regulated market for cannabis in the UK: Recommendations from an expert panel.

That expert panel was made up of:
  • Steve Rolles, Senior Policy Analyst, Transform Drug Policy Foundation (Chair)
  • Mike Barton, Chief Constable, Durham Constabulary
  • Niamh Eastwood, Executive Director, Release
  • Tom Lloyd, Chair of the National Cannabis Coalition and former Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire Police
  • Professor Fiona Measham, Professor of Criminology, Durham University
  • Professor David Nutt, Founder of DrugScience and former Chair of the Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs
  • Professor Harry Sumnall, Professor of Substance Use, Centre for Public Health, Liverpool John Moores University
To give you a taste of the report:
The prohibition on cannabis production and supply: 
  • Creates opportunities for criminal entrepreneurs, fuelling a vast and socially corrosive criminal market, associated with violence, people trafficking and slavery, including of children 
  • Ensures that people who use cannabis have little or no information about the potency of the product they are consuming 
  • Ensures people who use cannabis buy from potentially risky illicit markets that put them in contact with dealers of other more harmful drugs 
  • Has progressively tilted the market towards more risky products (with higher THC and lower CBD) that are more profitable to the criminal entrepreneurs who control the trade 
  • Has led to the rapid expansion of markets for more risky synthetic cannabis analogues (e.g. ‘spice’)

Friday, May 12, 2017

St Pancras Old Church on St Pancras's Day

Having begun the day by wishing you a happy St Pancras's Day, there was only one place to go.

St Pancras Old Church stands just to the north of the railway station and to the west of the line.

As St Pancras Old Church History explains:
St Pancras Old Church has been a site of Christian worship since the 4th century. It is thought that this church is on a site that has offered worship for more than 1700 years. Fragments of Roman material can still be seen here and there in the fabric of the current building. 
The monuments and reuse of stone chart the history of the church’s development over time. Spanning eight centuries since Fulcherius in the late 12th century the incumbents stretch down to the present day, Fr James Elston becoming the Team Vicar in 2012.
And the last two times I have been there the church has been open.

In the churchyard you will find Sir John Soane's mausoleum, an influence on the design of the classic red telephone box, and the Hardy Tree.

Happy St Pancras Day

As John Betjeman wrote:
Saint Pancras was a fourteen-year old Christian boy who was martyred in Rome in AD 304 by the Emperor Diocletian. In England he is better known as a railway station.
Today is also Steve Winwood's birthday.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Arts Council grant for the Richard Jefferies Museum

Good news from Swindon Link. The Richard Jefferies Museum at Coate has receive a donation of £55,000 from the Arts Council towards a programme of arts and heritage activities.

The website quotes a couple of reactions:
Hilda Sheehan, who organises most of the museum's events as well as being a poet and mainstay of the Swindon Poetry Festival, said: "This is such good news for us. We are a tiny museum and really want to reach as many people as possible. Having a grant from the Arts Council means we can bring in really good artists and internationally renowned poets and not have to charge the earth for people to enjoy them."
Museum manager Mike Pringle said: "We have only been developing the museum for a relatively short while after taking it over from the Council. This helps us to go even further, developing local arts and heritage through our relationships with local services such as the Alzheimer's Society, the Downs Syndrome Society, Mind, local schools, community groups, libraries and galleries. We think that arts which respond to this sort of audience participation grow in new and unexpected ways, and bring our museum to life."
The museum occupies Coate Farm, which was the birthplace of the 19th-century nature writer Richard Jefferies.

For more on the man and the location see the guest post on Liberal England by Rebecca Welshman. It was written before the museum's recent renaissance.

Tensions between May and Hammond mean the government is neither strong nor stable

What makes a government weak and unstable?

Tensions between the prime minister and the chancellor that's what.

It was when Margaret Thatcher fell out with Nigel Lawson in 1989 that she started to look vulnerable. She did not last much longer.

Which is why the most important political news today is this one behind The Times paywall:
Relations between the chancellor and Theresa May’s top team have deteriorated following a series of clashes over policy and presentation. 
Philip Hammond infuriated senior Downing Street aides by effectively committing the prime minister to ditching a promise not to raise VAT, tax or national insurance days after she called the election and before the policy had been settled, The Times has learnt. 
Yesterday, both sides denied reports that Mr Hammond had initially opposed Mrs May’s promise to cap energy bills for 17 million households as they sought to present a united front before the launch next week of the Conservative manifesto.
The report goes on to say that Hammond's relations with Theresa May's chief of staff Nick Timothy are particularly strained. The latter is said to have been "incandescent" at briefings (blamed on Hammond's aides) that he is economically illiterate.

All of which strengthens the impression that Theresa May is a control freak surrounded by a group of tantrum-prone manbabies.

The claim that her government is strong and stable is as false as the one that a big majority will somehow improve the deal she gets from the European Union,

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Darlington to Middleton in Teesdale in 1963

More evocative footage of a lost branch line, This one closed to passengers the year after the film was shot.

Now a Market Harborough school imposes 'hands behind back' rule

It's reached Market Harborough. It's reached a Market Harborough school where, in an earlier life, I was a governor.

The Daily Mail reports:
A primary school has been accused of 'going back to Victorian times' by insisting children walk around the grounds with their hands behind their backs. 
Teachers at Market Harborough Church of England Academy say the antiquated rule is for the 'safety' of pupils and to encourage a 'calm' atmosphere. 
The ruling is also in force when youngsters finish their lunchtime break and return to classrooms. 
Angry parents have dubbed the new rule 'draconian' and blasted the school in Market Harborough, Leicestershire, for 'going back to Victorian times'.
I blogged about this bizarre idea when it was imposed upon a London primary school. Now it has arrived here.

The Mail quotes the Harborough school's head:
'As part of our commitment to providing a safe and orderly environment, we have recently introduced the practice of children gently placing their hands behind their backs as they move round school in large groups, or when they enter the building at lunchtimes.
I love the 'gently' - as though children placing their hands behind their backs with insufficient care might be a risk.

The answer is clear. The people of Market Harborough must point at the people responsible for this decision and roar with laughter whenever they appear in public.

Six of the Best 690

Conservative member Peter Reynolds says Theresa May is not strong and stable but cowardly, evasive and weak.

"This divorce is not going well. And the proceedings have only just started. There is a long road ahead. Heaven knows what sort of country we will be at the end of it. But, as with any divorce, we can be fairly confident that it is the children who will suffer the most." Chris Patten on what Brexit means for Britain's future.

Leonard Pozner, whose son Noah died at Sandy Hook, writes about dealing with the conspiracy theorists and hoaxers who have taunted him ever since,

Is it time do divorce Facebook? Mark Pesce asks the question.

A London Inheritance on his father's experience of VE Day.

Dirty South introduces us to Battersea and its pubs.

More titbits on Dr Teck Khong, the Ukip candidate for Harborough

Last night I introduced you to Dr Teck Khong, Ukip's candidate for Harborough on 8 June,

He has featured on this blog a couple of times before.

Dr Khong was on the shortlist of three from which the Conservative candidate for the 2011 Leicester South by-election was chosen, but did not make the cut.

And he was himself the victim of a racist speech by one of his Conservative colleagues on Oadby and Wigston Borough Council in 2015.

I wish him joy in Ukip.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Viewing the remains of Roman Leicester

The excavations of Roman remains off Great Central Street in the centre of Leicester were opened to the public on Saturday and Sunday.

So long were the queues to view them that it was decided to open the site between noon and two every day this week.

I went along today, finding the entrance to the site directly opposite the old Leicester Central station.

Even on a weekday I had to queue for over an hour to get in to view it.

As the Leicester Mercury told us:
Key discoveries include the remains of one of the largest and highest-status Roman mosaic floors ever found in the city, two Roman streets containing a number of buildings and rare evidence of the first Anglo-Saxon migrants to arrive in the city following the demise of Roman Leicester.
This site was formerly occupied by the Stibbe factory, which supplied machinery to the local hosiery trade. That was built in the 1960s and its concrete pillars rather dominate proceedings.

The dig will continue until the late summer before the site is redeveloped as a hotel. The mosaics will be lifted and displayed there of in one of the city's museums.

The sheer bloody uselessness of Jeremy Corbyn

The problem with Jeremy Corbyn is not his left-wing politics, The problem is that he is no good as a leader.

On the great issue facing the country - Brexit - he has managed to convince Leavers that he supports Remain and convince Remainers that he supports Leave.

We saw that in microcosm today.

This morning he announced that the issue of Brexit is "settled", dismaying those of us who hope Britain will yet escapte this self-inflicted disaster.

This afternoon he refused seven times to say he would definitely take Britain out of the EU, dismaying those who still believe Brexit is the cat's pyjamas.

And then there is the inept way he and his team handle the media. This goes right back to the night he was elected Labour leader and that grim-faced silent walk as journalists tried to interview him.

Today he told Buzzfeed News that he would stay on as Labour leader if he lost the election. Then he denied to the BBC that he had done so and Buzzfeed were banned from Labour events.

Sure enough, Buzzfeed was able to produce a recording of Corbyn saying just what it reported he had.

So don't see Corbyn as a socialist martyr, See him as a bloody useless leader.

Introducting Dr Teck Khong, Ukip's candidate for Harborough

On Sunday Ukip announced they would be standing a candidate in the Harborough constituency as the new Conservative candidate, Neil O'Brien, is a "big Remainer".

Today they named that candidate: Dr Teck Khong.

This came as something of a surprise as he was until today a Conservative member of Oadby and Wigston Borough Council. He also fought Bradford North for the Tories at the 2005 general election and Twitter gossip is that he was disappointed not to be allowed to fight a seat this time.

I don't know if he had his eye on Harborough, but because of the snap election a shortlist of three outside names was imposed on the constituency party by the national Conservative Party.

There is an idiosyncratic biography on his website, but I decided to dig a little deeper.

Dr Khong's attendance record at Oadby and Wigston is not impressive.

More worrying is this article on Tell MAMA from last year:
t has been brought to our attention that the Conservative Councillor, Cllr Dr Teck Khong, has an interesting network of friends on social media. Of particular interest has been the fact that he is a serving councillor on Oadby and Wigston Borough Council in Leicestershire. 
He also lists his profession as a General Practitioner in his register of interests and also is a Board member on the Governing Body of Leicester City’s Clinical Commissioning Group. He also lists an interest in a company called Healthwebwide Limited, which is also listed in his register of interests. 
So far so good. Yet, a look at the social media activity of Cllr Khong leaves much to be desired in the comments that he seems to ‘like’.
And the article goes on to list a number of anti-Muslim tweets that he has liked on Twitter.

People like tweets for all sorts of reasons, but a post on Thoughts of a Leicester Socialist gives more cause for concern.

It says of Dr Khong:
In September 2008 he felt moved to leave positive comments under a bile-filled article titled “How modern Islam has made UK citizens homeless in their own homes.” 
This article warned that Britain was on the way into turning into “some sort of semi-Islamic republic”; and the bigoted author made clear that: “Unlike other valuable and rich cultures and religions that integrate successfully, modern Islam seems steadfast in its principles of war and violence.” 
Sympathising with the general thrust of the article Dr Zhong (sic) commented: 
“What saddens me and many with similar historical backgrounds is the lack of allegiance to the adopted home with newcomers who have been attracted to these shores in the first instance. Even worse is to contemplate the destruction of the very host that offers a haven of hope. ‘When in Rome…’ seems to have slipped into oblivion.”
That article was on Conservative Home and you will find three comments on it from Dr Khong.

The Economic Voice quotes an ecstatic Paul Nuttall:
"That Tech has chosen to support UKIP at this time shows clearly that the scales are beginning to fall from the eyes of Tories about the vacuum where a serious Brexit policy lies in Theresa May's Conservative Party"
But the truth is that today Ukip is attracting people who are prejudiced against Muslims and precious few others.

Tim Farron's hovercraft ride keeps up a Liberal tradition

Exciting times at Burnham-on-Sea today as Tim Farron and Tessa Munt visited the Hovercraft Search and Rescue Centre.

Tim spoke to the workers, media and supporters before taking a ride in one of the things.

Which reminds me of two earlier encounters between Liberal leaders and hovercraft

In 2008 Nick Clegg and Tessa made the same visit to Burnham.

And Rod Liddle once told the story of Jeremy Thorpe's 1974 visit to Sidmouth:
I sat in the bar with a drip feed of genteel alcohol and listened to one of the younger locals — he'd have been in his late seventies, I would guess — talk about the last time there'd been a shipwreck in these parts. 
They all remembered it very well, though it must have been 30 or 40 years ago now. A privately hired hovercraft had, somewhat ill-advisedly, attempted to gain access to Sidmouth harbour. It was not successful in so doing, apparently. Some way out it foundered and began to sink. And yet this terrible wrecking also brought forth bounty of a kind. 
As the craft flapped pointlessly in the surf, many yards from shore, a magisterial figure in a smart suit emerged from within its bowels and waded, with steadfast expression and immense resolve, through the waves, a look of destiny upon his face. 
People looked on in amazement and trepidation. For it was the Right Honourable Jeremy Thorpe MP — and he'd come to do a spot of canvassing.
Hovercraft, incidentally, have proved something of a disappointment. Back in the 1960s hovercraft rides or displays were part of every ambitious fête and we were in no doubt that they were going to be part of the future. Somehow it never quite happened.

Jonathan Meades was right when he said that the future happened briefly in 1969.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Nottingham to Lincoln by water

The British Waterways hotel boat Water Wanderer makes its way from Nottingham to Lincoln via the River Trent and the Roman canal the Fossdyke.

I would guess this dates from around 1970.

The old Hippodrome in Brighton

After my flirtation with restoration at Embassy Court, let's return to derelict Brighton.

The old Hippodrome is tucked in, rather unexpectedly, just behind the seafront.

It was built in 1897 and Wikipedia tells its colourful history:
Shows of all types were staged there, and top-name entertainers such as Sarah Bernhardt, Sammy Davis, Jr., Gracie Fields, Harry Houdini, Buster Keaton, Lillie Langtry and Laurel and Hardy appeared. 
Laurence Olivier played the venue early in his stage career—but fell over on his first entrance on his début. 
One of Charlie Chaplin's first roles was a bit-part in theatre impresario Fred Karno's comedy Saturday to Monday, staged in May 1907; and Vivien Leigh gave an acclaimed performance in George Bernard Shaw's play The Doctor's Dilemma. 
Local stars also featured: Max Miller, the Brighton-born music hall entertainer and comedian, appeared on many occasions during the mid-20th century; and conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, whose vaudeville career began in their home town in 1911 at the age of three, topped the bill with their variety show.
The article goes on to say that 4000 people attended concerts by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in 1964, but that could not help the Hippodrome closing the following year.

It was bought by the Rank Organisation and turned into a Mecca Bingo hall and remained open in that guise until 2007.

Hopes of restoring it remain, those this whole quarter of the city seem run down at present. Our Brighton Hippodrome has the latest news.

The building's glory is its interior, as you will see from the video below.

Ten thoughts on the prospects for a progressive alliance

1. In Scotland, Yes lost the referendum, but the 45 per cent who backed it united behind the SNP and became an unstoppable force in first-past-the-post elections. But it is the 52 per cent who backed Leave who have united after the European referendum - or largely so - and united behind the Conservative Party. That is the problem that has made other parties dream of a progressive alliance.

2. Jeremy Corbyn is electorally toxic, which makes an electoral agreements between Labour and other parties impossible. He would drag them down with him. You may think this unfair, but it is a fact.

3. Prospects for cooperation between the Liberal Democrats and the Greens are limited because, with the exception of Brighton Pavilion, Green targets are Liberal Democrat targets too. And these days the Greens seem closer to Corbynite Labour than anyone else.

4. Two years ago the Liberal Democrats were in a coalition government with the Conservatives. Even with the game-changer of Brexit, it would puzzle the voters if we now announced that keeping them from power was more important than anything.

5. There are many good people in the Labour Party and we should seek to work with them. The comments by Vince Cable of Rupa Haq today were obviously true and not a gaffe.

6. So out line should be 'No coalition with Corbyn' and we should leave open the possibility of cooperation with Labour at some point in the future.

7. If we do have arrangements with the Labour Party they must be agreed locally - as has already happened in a handful seats - and not be imposed from the centre - it may be that the culture of the Labour Party makes this impossible. As a survivor of the Alliance years I remember the effort spent on seat negotiations and how little was gained from them.

8. The best arrangements are probably tacit ones where parties agree not to campaign in each other's target seats. This is more or less what happened between the Liberal Democrats and Labour in 1997 and it was very successful.

9. Remember that parties cannot deliver their voters en bloc to another party.

10. If the voters want to get rid of the Tories, they will organise themselves to do so, as 1997 proved. In more than one Liberal Democrat target seat, Labour came from third place to win.

Llamas delay trains between Hildenborough and Sevenoaks on Southeastern line

Kent Online wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Liberal England adds: Did I ever tell you that I was derailed by cows in Kent?

Readers reply hurriedly: Yes.

Six of the Best 689

"In my first general election the Liberal Party’s policy was that employees and shareholders should have equal rights to share the profits of an enterprise and the determination of a company’s direction. This was no wishy-washy Theresa May proposal to allow one token employee to sit on a Board. This was full blown industrial democracy." Iain Brodie Brown says this is one of the distinctive ideas that Liberal Democrats can bring to a progressive alliance.

Dave Gorman argues that "the ownership of public assets should be transferred from the state to the public".

It doesn't take a dictator to smother a free press say Jakub Dymek and Zsolt Kapelner looking at developments in Hungary and Poland.

"In 2006, David Cameron gave a speech in which he said that Google was democratizing the world, because 'making more information available to more people' was providing 'the power for anyone to hold to account those who in the past might have had a monopoly of power.' Seven years later, Britain’s Conservative Party scrubbed from its Web site ten years’ worth of Tory speeches, including that one." Jill Lepore asks if the internet can be archived.

Peter Kinderman says everyone is crazy but nobody is mentally ill.

Robin Le Mesurier (the son of John Le Mesurier and Hattie Jacques) remembers he was a Womble, talking to Adrian Lee.

David Steel bigs up Tim Farron

On the New Statesman website, the former Liberal Party leaders praises the current Liberal Democrat leader as "the most under-rated politician in the UK today".

Sir David writes:
I have known and highly regarded him since I first met him as leader of the student Liberals at Newcastle University. 
In 2005 he defeated a right-wing Tory MP by just 250 votes. At the next election in 2010 he jumped to a 12,000 majority, much of which he retained in the debacle in 2015. 
Twice he has persuaded me to address his annual constituency fundraising dinner saying “it is just over the border” – actually more than a 200 mile round trip over Hadrian’s Wall. I was deeply impressed by his hold on the good people of Cumbria. 
Indeed his election as party leader against Norman Lamb, who had been an excellent minister, was partly because party members wanted someone less identified with the post-Coalition disaster. 
He is a committed Christian, which I regard as a plus, and I do not understand the fuss about his alleged views on homosexuality or abortion since we have always accepted that these are matters of conscience for individual MP’s not for party diktat. 
His track record as MP showed him willing to oppose some of the errors of the party, especially the student fees fiasco. He is vehemently anti-Brexit.
I prefer the slightly mischievous David Steel of today to the David Steel who led the Liberal Party when I joined it.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

The revival of Embassy Court, Brighton

My photography, as regular readers will know, tends to feature derelict and decrepit buildings. So let's celebrate restoration for once.

Close to Brighton's West Pier is a modernist block of flats. A decade or more ago it looked in a bad way, yet you suspected it had been quite a building in its day.

That block turns out to be Embassy Court, once home to Rex Harrison, Terrence Rattigan, Max Miller and Keith Waterhouse. You can read a discussion of its celebrated residents and visitors on the Embassy Court site.

That page also explains the building's decline:
Embassy Court’s decline was decades in the making but the rot truly set in during the mid 1980s. A succession of freeholders came and went, seemingly with little interest in maintaining the block. The decline in the value of leases brought speculators and absentee landlords into the picture. During the 1990s some flats were abandoned, others were squatted, rented out to struggling economic migrants and – to the horror of some – students! 
These new arrivals at first sat uneasily alongside the often elderly and temperamentally conservative residents who had made their homes here in the 1970s.
The good news, as I saw when I was in Brighton last week, is that Embassy Court has been restored.

Conran + Partners tells the story:
Embassy Court is arguably Brighton’s finest twentieth-century building and an outstanding example of modernist design. With its roof terrace and 11 storeys of sea-view apartments, the building was once the glamorous home of the wealthy and famous, but after years of decline was left near-derelict. 
We were appointed by the management company Bluestorm to bring the 1930s building back to life. The work was completed in 2006, including the careful restoration of the exterior to its original appearance and drastic upgrading of services. The sun terrace – previously closed off due to a lack of railings – has also been reinstated allowing spectacular sea views. 
It received a Highly Commended Large Scale Residential Award in the 2006 Sussex Heritage Trust Awards.
By the entrance you will find a blue plaque commemorating the World War II hero Captain Edward Zeff, a former resident.

Is Danny Alexander trying to tell us something?

After he lost his seat at the last election, Danny Alexander - Sir Daniel Alexander - was found a new job by his old boss George Osborne.

He was appointed vice president of China's new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and went out to Beijing to work - much in the way we used to send teenagers out to the furthest outposts of the Empire to make men of them.

But is Danny happy out there?

Take a look at the tweet above, which he retweeted a couple of days ago. Could it be that Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey are calling to him?

As Andy Stewart put it:
Because these green hills
Are not Highland hills
Or the island hills
They're not my land's hills
Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceAnd fair as these
Green foreign hills may be
They are not the hills of home