Thursday, March 22, 2018

Christopher Hitchens warns about Vladimir Putin in 2005

Excerpts from a speech given at the University of Western Ontario on 8 March 2005.

Natural England may seek corporate sponsors for long-distance paths

Bad news for those who believe
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
and seek respite from this in long-distance walking.

Today's Daily Telegraph reports that Natural England is examining the option of inviting big business to sponsor long-distance footpaths:
Natural England, the Government’s adviser on protecting the natural environment, is examining ways to maintain a network of National Trails. 
Funding cuts have prompted concerns about the long-term sustainability of maintaining the trails which include the Hadrian’s Wall Path, Cotswold Way and the Thames Path. 
But Natural England believes the routes are "prime for sponsorship".

It is wrong to send people to prison for making a joke - even if they don't share your politics

When Paul Chambers was charged and convicted after sending a humorous tweet threatening to blow up an airport, liberals and the left were up in arms.

Earlier this week a Scottish YouTube comedian, Mark Meechan (known as Count Dankula), was found guilty of a hate crime after posting a video of himself training his girlfriend's dog to give a Nazi salute in response to anti-Semitic commands.

So far liberals and the left have been silent. The only exception is the video from David Baddiel and Ricky Gervais that I have posted above.

The impression I get is that, while people on our side of the political divide are keen on free speech, we are even more keen that bad things should happen to people who do not share our views.

As I wrote after someone was jailed in a forgotten (though not by him, I suspect) case in 2012:
We all tell black jokes from time to time. They appear after every tragedy or disaster - you could even argue they are part of our way of coping with such events. Certainly, the Forces and the emergency services, who have to deal with this sort of thing far more often than the rest of us, are noted for the dark shade of their humour. 
When does it become acceptable to repeat such jokes online? I have no idea and no idea of how to find out. 
The result is likely to be a cowing of British society.
And, judging by this tweet, the Scottish Police are all in favour of that cowing.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Forget “the Lib Dem family”: Let’s have proper leadership elections

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The first Liberal Party leadership election I followed was the one between David Steel and John Pardoe in 1976.

I can recall two incidents from the campaign, the first of them being that Steel’s camp suggested Pardoe wore a wig. (Years later someone from that era told me there might have been something in it.)

The second is that the Steel-supporting Clement Freud (MP, panel-show contestant and rapist) produced a quotation from A.A. Milne to describe Pardoe’s campaigning style:
With one loud Worraworraworraworraworra he jumped at the end of the tablecloth, pulled it to the ground, wrapped himself up in it three times, rolled to the other end of the room, and, after a terrible struggle, got his head into the daylight again, and said cheerfully. "Have I won?"
Steel, incidentally, would be Rabbit, with the posse of advisers, assistants and minor Commonwealth dignitaries that used to accompany him being his equivalent of the Friends and Relations.
The point of all this is to remind my fellow Liberal Democrats that our leadership elections are not always very enlightening.

So while it would have been to see someone stand against Vince Cable last summer, there is no guarantee it would have led to the debate about our future that those keenest on a contest wanted to see.

Because I can think of two contested Lib Dem leadership elections where the debate that was ducked.
Let me first take you back to 2007 and the contest between Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne.

The most noteworthy event of the campaign was an joint appearance on BBC1’s The Politics Show on Sunday morning where a briefing from Huhne’s camp was produced by the interviewer. It was headed “Calamity Clegg” and listed instances where Clegg had endorsed cuts in public spending.
I blogged about it at the time:
Clearly, the headline "Calamity Clegg" was a huge misjudgement on someone's part - and adopting the American "flip-flop" charge was silly and vulgar - but surely we are allowed to discuss policy in a leadership campaign? 
Nick Clegg began this one by pledging to take the party out of its comfort zone, but has since failed to give us much idea of what that might involve. He can hardly complain if another candidate starts to speculate on his intentions as a result. 
And dismissing any attempt to debate policy as creating "synthetic differences ... [which] our opponents will use against us" is just silly.
As the ensuing years were to show, Nick Clegg was less wedded to high levels of public spending than the bulk of the party – just look at the cuts in local government funding the Coalition brought in if you doubt me.

This disagreement over public spending should have been at the heart of the contesnt, but there was a widespread attitude withln the party that it was poor taste of Huhne to raise it at all.
Fast forward to 2015 and Tim Farron vs Norman Lamb.

The idea that Farron’s Evangelical variety of Christianity might prove a difficulty for him as leader was in the air, but for the most part it was raised obliquely.

Lamb put a lot of emphasis on his support for the ‘right to die’ because, I suggested at the time, it was an issue where most Lib Dem members agreed him but one where Farron’s beliefs would make it hard for him to do so.

If Lamb had raised Farron’s religion more directly, I doubt his action would have been well received within the party. Certainly, when some of Lamb’s supporters engaged in what sounded like negative push-polling, it was an embarrassment to him.

The result was that Farron’s religion was not discussed and the suggestion it might prove a handicap to him as leader was never broached.

It looks to me as though we Lib Dems are too scared of rocking the boat to have really informative leadership elections/

Some like to talk of the “Lib Dem family,” but in my experience happy families are those that can have lively discussions, even rows, and make their peace afterwards.

We Lib Dems, by contrast, resemble an unhappy family where everyone is sat around the dining table on their best behaviour and terrified of saying the wrong thing.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Six of the Best 776

"Labour under Jeremy Corbyn has more than ever become wedded to centralised statism and a return to the 1970s, whilst the Greens continue to support an anti-growth, anti-free trade agenda. Neither of these positions are compatible with our vision of a liberal Britain." Andy Briggs on the Lib Dem spring conference's rejection of a "progressive alliance".

Kiron Reid explains why the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe has been observing the elections in Russia.

"It has been described as one of the most loving and tender films about England ever made. It’s a picture that’s steeped in nature, in thrall to myth and history; a reaffirmation of the English character, customs and countryside from a time when many viewers may have wondered whether this underpinning had been kicked clean away." Kourosh Ziabari celebrates A Canterbury Tale.

"While Miss Havisham has always been regarded as a bit of a freak, especially in certain productions of the novel in plays and films, her behaviour, while at the far end of the spectrum, also seems understandable." Lorraine Berry asks what this famous Dickens character can teach us about grief.

Jonathan Liew pays tribute to Kevin Pietersen on his retirement: "For all the bad blood and the rancour, all the fraught meetings and snide briefings, the knives in the back and the knives in the front, the essential truth about Pietersen and England was this: they were stronger together, and weaker apart. "

Chris Dale has photographs of the railways of North Devon in the 1960s.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

A Warship in the Derbyshire snow

The Ecclesbourne Valley Railway, which runs from Duffield to Wirksworth in Derbyshire, held a diesel event this weekend.

The most interesting visitor was the Warship D832 'Onslaught'. These class 42 locomotives, known as Warships because that was what they were all named after, ran on British Rail's Western Region between 1958 and 1972.

Start Again? Lib Dems in talks about new party with moderate Labour and Tory MPs

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From today's Sunday Times (behind its paywall):
Senior Labour MPs appalled by Jeremy Corbyn’s performance over the Salisbury poisoning have been in secret talks with the Liberal Democrats and at least one Conservative MP about forming a new political party called Start Again. 
Plans for a new pro-European centre party have been openly discussed as part of cross-party discussions on Brexit, according to sources present. 
One of those involved in the plotting — a former member of the shadow cabinet — told The Sunday Times that Corbyn’s refusal to blame Russia for the attack would cause MPs to abandon Labour. “This is a watershed moment,” the MP said. “It has caused a number of people to question why we are in this party.”
There are not many names named, but Chuka Umunna, Chris Leslie and Anna Soubry all get a mention.

There would be an irony in calling a new party Start Again unless it turned out to be devoted to something more than maintaining the status quo.

R.E.M.: I Believe

R.E.M. were huge in the 1990s - arguably the biggest band in the world. Listening to their music now makes you yearn for a decade when the good guys seemed to be winning.

I Believe is a track from the 1986 album Life's Rich Pageant.

The band specialised in songs with lyrics that sounded significant but resisted explication, leaving listeners to supply their own meaning.

Still, "I believe in coyotes and time as an abstract" sounds like the beginning of a serviceable creed.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

West Bay station, Bridport, in 1982

After I posted a distant view of a tidily restored West Bay station that I took in 1997, I remembered that this was not the first time I had been there.

I first visited West Bay in 1982 and remember photographing the old station when it looked very different.

Had I kept the photo? I had.

Disused Stations confirms that this is West Bay and explains the scene. In the summer of 1982 the old station building served as the office for a boatyard.

Cambridge Analytica whistleblower offered to help the Lib Dems

For more than a year we’ve been investigating Cambridge Analytica and its links to the Brexit Leave campaign in the UK and Team Trump in the US presidential election
says Carole Cadwalladr, presumably in tomorrow's Observer.

Her article is an interview with Christopher Wylie, and he turns out to have previously offered his services to the Liberal Democrats:
“I wanted to know why the Lib Dems sucked at winning elections when they used to run the country up to the end of the 19th century,” Wylie explains. “And I began looking at consumer and demographic data to see what united Lib Dem voters, because apart from bits of Wales and the Shetlands it’s weird, disparate regions. And what I found is there were no strong correlations. There was no signal in the data. 
“And then I came across a paper about how personality traits could be a precursor to political behaviour, and it suddenly made sense. Liberalism is correlated with high openness and low conscientiousness, and when you think of Lib Dems they’re absent-minded professors and hippies. They’re the early adopters… they’re highly open to new ideas. And it just clicked all of a sudden.” 
Here was a way for the party to identify potential new voters. The only problem was that the Lib Dems weren’t interested. 
“I did this presentation at which I told them they would lose half their 57 seats, and they were like: ‘Why are you so pessimistic?’ They actually lost all but eight of their seats, FYI.”
An earlier Carole Cadwalladr article mentioned that a former Lib Dem, Mark Gettleson, was also part of the Cambridge Analytica/Leave nexus. He was involved with Norman Lamb's leadership campaign in 2015.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Peter Phillips' first election as a Liberal candidate

The other day I described Peter Phillips as "the doyen of Shropshire Liberal Democrats".

As proof of this status he has sent me a photograph of a school election he fought as the Liberal Party candidate in 1964. He is on the far right of the picture.

He tells me it was a grammar school, so the Conservative candidate got more votes than Labour and the Liberals combined.

The quadruple murderer who appeared on Bullseye

The death of Jim Bowen this weeks brings to mind the strangest episode in the history of his programme Bullseye.

Let's begin on the Pembrokeshire coast. In 1989 a middle-aged couple, Peter and Gwenda Dixon, were murdered while walking the coastal path. Before they were killed they were forced to disclose the PIN number of their bank card, which was later used to withdraw money.

Their murder attracted much media attention and there was a theory that they had somehow discovered an IRA arms dump, but no one was arrested for it. I recall an article from some years after the crime where a local police officer said "They met a devil on the path."

Someone was convicted for the Dixon's murders, but it was 20 years after they took place. The culprit was a local farmer, John Cooper, who also turned out to have murdered another couple in 1985 after they disturbed him breaking into their house.

At his trial for these four murders a clip from Bullseye was shown, because Cooper had appeared on the show two moths before the Dixons were shot.

And you can see Cooper in the clip above - he had already committed two murders. He is the one Jim Bowen has his arm around as it begins to play.

Cast a sceptical eye on the contestants next time you watch a game show.

Romanian man requests the annulment of his death declaration, loses case

Our Headline of the Day comes from Romania Insider.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Six of the Best 775

Daisy Benson says Liberal Democrat women will increasingly shape the party's future.

"An immigration-customs check, with armed guards and police dogs; then, a sort of demilitarised zone so the helicopters can see anyone making a run for it, with all trees in the zone removed; followed by another strict immigration-customs check. If you put anything like it in Ireland, I can only imagine the reaction." Nick Tyrone shows that the USA-Canada border is not model for Ireland.

Keith Frankish offers his choice of the best books on the philosophy of mind.

"On Margate Sands./I can connect/Nothing with nothing." Jenny Uglow visits an exhibition inspired by T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland.

Rob Baker on the British actress Kay Kendall, who died in 1959 aged just 32.

"In that 'ghost village' there was no sign of modern technology, no electric or phone wires, no antenna, no street lights, no garden." In enthusiastic English, Alberto Miatello discusses the Kersey time slip of 1957, in which three naval cadets appear to have seen the village at least 50 years before.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Ken Dodd: How tickled we were

I was sad to hear of the death of Ken Dodd. He was a great clown and felt like our last link to the world of the music hall.

There is also comfort as you get older in figures that, as far as you are concerned, have always been there. Now one more of them has gone.

The photograph above shows the statue of Dodd at Liverpool Lime Street. I am not sure it quite catches him - the one of the Labour MP Bessie Braddock that stares across at him is better.

Below, in the style of a harassed moden journalist, are three tweets about the great man.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Procul Harum: Shine on Brightly

This is the title track from a 1968 album that was an early essay in prog rock - one of the tracks was 17 minutes long.

Don't panic, this one is only three and a half minutes long and still sounds good.

Now listen to Pandora's Box by Procul Harum.

Friday, March 09, 2018

New plans may save Leicester's Black Boy pub

The developers who failed in their attempt to demolish the old Black Boy pub in Leicester have come up with a new scheme for the site that incorporates the building.

Stuart Bailey, the chairman of Leicester Civic Society, has seen the plans and tells the Leicester Mercury:
"They are for retail use on the ground floor - perhaps even a pub - then flats above. 
“The extensions proposed are at the rear away from the frontage. 
“It looks a very good scheme and it saves the historic fabric of the building.”

Thursday, March 08, 2018

West Bay station, Bridport, in 1997

This is West Bay station in Dorset, which marked the end of an extension to the Bridport branch.

It was hoped that West Bay would be developed as a tourist resort - the name was newly coined because it was thought to sound more attractive than Bridport Harbour. But it never really happened and the line closed to passengers in 1930 and to goods in 1962.

But the station was still there, restored and home to a couple of vintage railway carriages when I photographed it from the hill above in 1997.

You won't believe how the station looked in 1982.

Two Lib Dem councillors return to the City of York Council executive

Welcome news from The Press:
Two senior Liberal Democrats are making a dramatic return to City of York Council’s executive - six months after being suspended by former council leader David Carr. 
Former council deputy leader Keith Aspden and Cllr Nigel Ayre have been re-appointed under a new deal struck between the authority’s coalition partners, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives. 
Cllr Aspden will be group leader and executive member for economic development and community engagement, while Cllr Ayre will be executive member for culture, leisure and tourism.
David Carr was recently ousted by his fellow Conservative councillors. He never said what the allegations were against Aspden and Ayre, and the police long ago announced they would not be investigating them, but he was convinced that their suspension was necessary.

It was Carr's suspension of a Conservative councillor for apparently doing no more than conscientiously declaring an interest that led to his downfall. Maybe he just liked suspending people?

The council is currently run by a joint Conservative/Lib Dem administration.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

4 Cowley Street is now a £36m mansion

It's hard not to shed a tear for days that are gone at this news from the Daily Mail:
A wealthy American has paid £1 million to rent the Lib Dems' former headquarters for a year - in Britain's most expensive 'try-before-you-buy' property deal. 
The top end of the housing market has suffered in recent years on the back of political uncertainty, Brexit and increased stamp duty. 
And this has led to an increase in super-tenants who choose to 'test drive' a mansion before committing to buying. 
One estate agent has now claimed to have set a record for a 'try-before-you-buy' client after they struck a £1 million deal on the £36million Westminster mansion.
The Mail has photographs of the interior of the old place after its conversion into a mansion and you can find the full particulars on the the site of Savills the estate agent..

A Grade II Listed building, 4 Cowley Street was constructed in 1904-5 by the architect Horace Field as offices for the North Eastern Railway.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Tony Robinson says let's not be beastly to the Leavers

Tony Robinson is interviewed here on Sixteen Million Rising, which bills itself as "the UK's First 'Grassroots' Pro-European Radio Show!"

His argument that we should be encouraging about any movements towards us be Leave supporters, and not dismissive, seems to me exactly right.

Robinson also touches on the current state of the Labour Party - well worth a listen.

Lidl worker filmed repeatedly slapping man with a pork joint

Ladies and gentlemen, we have our Headline of the Day.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Do Not Adjust Your Set

Broadcast between 1967 and 1969, Do Not Adjust Your Set was an ITV comedy series for children.

It starred three-fifths of the Monty Python team in the shape of Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Eric Idle. The show also used animations by an American called Terry Gilliam, which was how they came to meet.

Two more actors on the show were Denise Coffey and David Jason. It is their contributions that I remember most clearly.

The latter rather expected to be asked to join the others in their new project, which became Monty Python, but he wasn't.

But then this wasn't David Jason's only early disappointment. He rather specialised in playing elderly characters and was put up for the part of Corporal Jones in Dad's Army, but that went to Clive Dunn.

The show also featured the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. In his commentary of the DVD of the Rutles film All You Need is Cash, Eric Idle says the sense of humour of the Bonzos' lead singer Viv Stanshall was a strong influence on the Python team.

All in all, this was a casket of riches to set before children.

BFI Screenonline says of it:
Do Not Adjust Your Set, named after the caption broadcasters used to screen during faulty transmissions, included a number of elements that today seem out of place in children's TV. Aside from a naked, but carefully posed, Eric Idle, the series also parodied adult programmes, such as the antiques quiz show Going for a Song (BBC, 1965-77), another idea that would become a mainstay of Monty Python. 
Overall, the programme's sketch content was, as befitted its audience, fairly childish, but the overall tone of silliness was punctuated with moments of a more surreal nature, such as a shop sketch in which Palin repeatedly gives Jason a tin of shoe polish instead of his groceries. 
There were two regular features. The first was the adventures of Captain Fantastic, played by Jason, a super-hero parody about a man in a bowler hat and buttoned up raincoat whose nemesis Mrs Black, played by Coffey, is "the most evil woman in the world". The segment, with a voice-over explaining the action, consisted largely of speeded up film and slapstick pratfalls. 
The second regular spot was a musical performance from the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, a distinctly odd group that had a top five hit in 1968 with 'I'm the Urban Spaceman'. Band member Neil Innes, a longtime Python collaborator, later provided the music for The Rutles ... a Beatles parody written by Idle.
Anyway, after a glimpse of the Bonzos, the video above shows a sketch from the series.

Six of the Best 774

Natalie Bloomer lists 32 homeless people who have died on our streets this winter. She is sure there are many more.

"The Social Liberal Forum is publishing this book to contribute to a Progressive Alliance of Ideas, People and Campaigns. Contributors including leading Liberal Democrats and people from other political backgrounds and some from outside formal parties." Gordon Lishman will tell you all about it.

"Whatever the people in charge did or didn’t know, they should stand down. Horrendous crimes happened on their watch. They owe it to the hundreds of lives wrecked as a result of what happened under their noses for years. There are too many names on the headed paper that have not changed in 30 years." Adam Breeze has turned his back on Crewe Alexandra.

Modernism in Metro-Land looks at John Betjeman's television documentary Metro-Land, which was first screened 45 years ago.

"1963’s Tom Jones might be amongst the least timeless of the 89 films to date that have taken home the Best Picture prize. Tony Richardson’s adaptation of Henry Fielding’s 1749 novel, which chronicles the adventurous life of a womanising troublemaker of dubious origin played by Albert Finney, is a British film that found a home in Hollywood at a crucial moment in which the American film industry was desperately looking elsewhere for inspiration, relevance, and a fresh identity in the age of television." Landon Palmer analyses a British Oscar winner.

Marc Freeman on the great American television comedy M*A*S*H.

The children of Sussex spinners of the 1970s: 2. Theo Barclay

A little idle googling last October led to the discovery that Giles Cheatle, a left-arm spinner who played for Sussex in the 1970s, has a daughter. And that daughter, Lauren Cheatle, is a promising left-arm seamer and a member of the Australian women's squad.

The post about them has a lovely photograph of her in action.

In a charity shop on Saturday I picked up a copy of John Barclay's Lost in the Long Grass.

Barclay played in the same Sussex side as Cheatle as an opening batsman and off spinner. He later became the club's captain, though Cheatle had left for Surrey by then.

A little more googling revealed that Barclay is the father of the Theo Barclay who has just published Fighters And Quitters: Great Political Resignations:
Each chapter focuses on a different episode, from the former minister who faked his own death in the 1970s to Geoffrey Howe's perfectly executed plot to topple the Prime Minister in the 1990s and Chris Huhne's swift journey from despatch box to jail cell in the 2010s.
You can watch Theo Barclay talking about the book on a recent edition of The Daily Politics - the item starts at 53.00.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Stiperstones snow 1 Tesco 0

Peter Phillips, doyen of Shropshire Liberal Democrats, sends me this photograph of a Tesco delivery van abandoned in a snow-choked lane deep in the county's hills.

He speculates that the locals may prevent its contents going to waste, much as happened in Whisky Galore.

IICSA report on child migration programmes

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The Independent Inquiry on Child Sexual Abuse is not attracting much media attention, even though its hearings on Cyril Smith and Knowl View appear to have led to the resignation of the Labour leader of Rochdale.Borough Council.

It has now produced its first report, which is Child Migration Programmes and it appears to be a good piece of work.

It bears out what another of my alter egos, Professor Strange, has argued. These programmes were not a secret, as later commentators so often maintain: they were widely discussed and controversial at the time.

Here is the report on the response to this of Her Majesty's Government:
Many reports on child migration were available to HMG during the 1950s. Perhaps the most significant was the Ross report (1956). Ross visited 26 out of 39 institutions in Australia to which British child migrants were sent. 
The reports on many of these places were extremely critical. The conditions at several of them were judged to be so bad that they were put on a ‘blacklist’ and regarded as not fit to receive any more child migrants. Still, HMG did nothing effective to protect the children. 
We concluded that the main reason for HMG’s failure to act was the politics of the day, which were consistently prioritised over the welfare of children. HMG was reluctant to jeopardise relations with the Australian government by withdrawing from the scheme, and also to upset philanthropic organisations such as Barnardo’s and the Fairbridge Society. 
Many such organisations enjoyed patronage from persons of influence and position, and it is clear that in some cases the avoidance of embarrassment and reputational risk was more important than the institutions’ responsibilities towards migrated children.

L.A. Salami: Generation L(ost)

David Christiensen explains:
London-based Lookman Adekunle Salami, known as L.A. Salami, is equally adept playing a full club or a quiet living room. On stage he’s a whirl of acerbic energy, eschewing guitar to throw himself into singing and leading his band in between asides to the audience. His songs are crowded with restlessness observations of modern life and indictments of modern urbanisation, the treatment of refugees and race.
He released this single last year.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Floods at Nottingham Station, 1947

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This extraordinary photograph shows Nottingham station - Nottingham Midland as it would have been in those days - during the floods of 1947.

I once blogged about those floods, which hit the Fens hardest but affected other areas too.

The waters that inundated Nottingham Midland must have come from the Trent via the Nottingham Canal, which runs beside the station.

You can also see the overbridge that carried the Great Central on its way to Nottingham Victoria and Sheffield.

I remember it from my trainspotting days in the 1970s - in fact it was used by freight trains until 1973.

These took a complicated route involving the locomotives running round their trains in the city centre to serve the Ministry of Defence depot at Ruddington.

The need for the bridge disappeared when a simple curve was put it at Loughborough for the Ruddington trains to use and it was removed in the early 1980s.

When Nottingham's new tram system was extended south of the city a few years ago, a viaduct was built on the same alignment.

Ian Jack on The Causes of Brexit

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England has been in a dreadful state for some weeks. Lord Coodle would go out, Sir Thomas Doodle wouldn’t come in, and there being nobody in Great Britain (to speak of) except Coodle and Doodle, there has been no Government. It is a mercy that the hostile meeting between those two great men, which at one time seemed inevitable, did not come off; because if both pistols had taken effect, and Coodle and Doodle had killed each other, it is to be presumed that England must have waited to be governed until young Coodle and young Doodle, now in frocks and long stockings, were grown up. 
Charles Dickens skewered a certain school of political journalism in Bleak House, but that school is pre-eminent today.

It's all about who's up and who' down among a small cast of players. Hot takes are filed on the hour. And, though I have always had a weakness for gossip myself, it's almost all instantly forgettable.

At my more thoughtful I prefer commentators like Neal Ascherson and Ian Jack who can bring a historical perspective to bear on contemporary events.

In today's Guardian Ian Jack sets out The Causes of Brexit (as he had to The Causes of the First World War as a schoolboy) and identifies eight of them:
  • Deindustrialisation
  • Immigration
  • Cultural dementia
  • The Dam Busters
  • English exceptionalism
  • The playing fields of Eton
  • The newspapers
  • Complacency
He writes under this last head:
During the Scottish referendum campaign in the summer of 2014 I met a painter and decorator on the island of Bute who said he was voting for Scottish independence. “You have to.” Why? He knew people in Sunderland, “and every one of them wants to leave Europe”. Sunderland, with its big car factory that exported cars to the continent? Surely not. “Yes, they want to leave.” He laughed at the daftness of it. I didn’t believe him.
And there was a lot of complacency about.

David Cameron and George Osborne had convinced themselves they were political geniuses. So what if the right wanted to limit who could vote in the referendum to skew the electorate in favour of Leave? They were bound to win it anyway.

Who was put in charge of the Remain campaign? Jack Straw's son, whose life had hardly been one of political struggle, and the mastermind of the Liberal Democrats' 2015 general election campaign.

And if half the passion that has been put into Remain since the referendum had been evident during the actual campaign the result might have been different. That said, much of that passion has been devoted to laughing at or demonising the people who voted Leave, which is hardly likely to win them over.

Anyway, read Ian Jack's piece for yourself and read him in the Guardian every Saturday - there is an archive of his columns on the paper's website.

Six of the Best 773

Rally round Theresa May? No chance, says Cicero.

Tim Crook argues that the public has a right to know about Max Mosley's past: "His past connection with the xenophobic Union movement clearly haunts his present. Its participation in British elections exploited and sowed the winds of interracial conflict. It was associated with violence and it caused fear and anxiety for so many non-white British people."

"It is important that we are viewed as integral and valued members of university otherwise universities view us merely as financial pawns and our concerns will only ever be tackled from a financial perspective." Maelo Manning says students should support striking university staff.

Philip Wilkinson celebrates The Leaves of Southwell.

"To get here Barry’s had to battle through a mile of snowdrifts, cross the swing-bridge over the canal, negotiate two major roads and cross the hilly disused farm behind the library that will soon become a shopping centre. On his own. In the snow. Five days after his own ninth birthday." Things really were different in 1963, as Ronnie Hughes shows.

JohnBoy pays tribute to the Leicester-born humourist Michael Green, who has died at the age of 91.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Stewart Lee and Iain Sinclair on The Last London

We've heard Iain Sinclair talking with Alan Moore about London. Here he is doing it with Stewart Lee.

As the blurb from the London Review Bookshop says:
Iain Sinclair has been writing about London for most of his adult life, and if any of us can even begin to understand this peculiar sort of city that we sort of call a sort of home, then it's with Sinclair that we begin. 
The Last London (Oneworld) is the culmination of Iain's London project, although 'project' is far too determined a word to describe a body of work so many-layered, so prodigiously polyvalent. 
At our event at St. George's, Bloomsbury, he talked about the book and the city with comedian, writer and film director Stewart Lee, another Londoner from elsewhere.

The Lib Dems checked Stasi files for Agent Cob

An intriguing paragraph from Keven Maguire's Commons Confidential in the New Statesman:
Maybe the Sun, Daily Express,​ Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph weren’t particularly interested in the truth when smearing Comrade Corbyn as a Cold War spy. But Mansfield’s expensively humiliated Tory vice chair Ben Bradley could have saved himself a small fortune and a grovel if he’d asked the Lib Dems. 
The sneaky yellow peril checked Stasi files three years ago and discovered that Corbyn wasn’t on the books. Eastern bloc agents were uninterested in the secrets of Jezza’s damson jam recipe.
Once gaining such intelligence would have involved Paddy Ashdown conducting a break in like Peter Guillam in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

These days we probably send a student along to the library with a packet of sandwiches.

Demolition of Bishop's Castle chapel put on hold

From the Shropshire Star:
Work was scheduled to start on January 22 to bring down Bishop's Castle Methodist Chapel, which members say is no longer fit for purpose. 
But when fences and machinery appeared at the site, concerns were raised to Shropshire Council about what the loss of the building would mean for the town. 
The council has now issued an 'Article 4 Direction' on the building, which introduces the requirement for planning permission for something which would not normally need it - in this case demolition. 
The direction, under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 2015, will expire after six months unless it is confirmed by the council in that time.
It's not a great building, hut it is an important part of the Station Street scene and I hope it will be saved.

George Osborne finally hits an economic target

From BBC News:
David Cameron and George Osborne have hailed their austerity plan after the former chancellor's deficit reduction target was finally met. 
The day-to-day deficit has been eliminated two years later than Mr Osborne wanted when he set it in 2010. 
Mr Osborne tweeted: "We got there in the end - a remarkable national effort." Mr Cameron replied: "It was the right thing to do."

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Six of the Best 772

"To paraphrase Neil Kinnock, how did we end up in the grotesque chaos of a Conservative government – a Conservative government – setting about the seemingly deliberate demolition of the United Kingdom and its economy?" William Davies tries to work out the answer.

Adam Bennett argues that the Liberal Democrats should adopt Universal Basic Income as a policy.

"While the Lancet paper is a nice piece of work, it tells us very little that we didn’t already know, and it has a number of limitations. The media reaction to the paper is frankly bananas." Neuroskeptic takes a cool look at the widely reported study of the benefits of antidepressants.

"My university and, I’m betting, the lion’s share of universities in the pre-92 sector, have a peculiar sickness: an addiction to free labour. Like other addictions, it started innocently enough, but has become an all-consuming monster." Marianne O’Doherty offers a personal view of the university pensions strike.

Terence Towles Canote on how Petula Clark and Harry Belafonte changed television history.

The original giant station clock from St Pancras can be found on a farm at Thurgaton in Nottinghamshire. Thurgarton History explains why.

Jonathan Meades in the New Forest

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The great man has reviewed New Forest: The Forging of a Landscape by Hadrian Cook for the Literary Review:
There have also been clearances. The forest’s gypsies suffered the ignominious fate, almost a century ago, of being herded into compounds, which Augustus John described as concentration camps. John, unmentioned by Cook, also railed against fences, hedgerows and enclosures as manifestations of land theft, to be corrected by squatting - hence places such as Nomansland. 
All along the beguiling, ragged forest edges - within or without the boundaries, according to which agency’s map and regulations you consult - there were proto-villages and scrappy hamlets that have been lost forever. They were precious and perhaps inevitably destined to be provisional. There was some affinity with plotlands and even Appalachian dirt farms.

Don't go along with Jacob Rees-Mogg's act by attacking him for being posh or old fashioned.

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The thing about really posh people is that they make it look effortless. Think of Prince William or David Cameron. 
True, Cameron's inner Flashman could soon appear if he was thwarted, but Prince William probably does not even think of himself in this way. It just comes naturally to him. 
At the other end of the spectrum are those for whom being posh is hard work. They make everything a little bit too obvious. 
Take Boris Johnson. He was plucked from the same North London primary school the Miliband brothers attended and sent to prep school and then Eton. 
You feel that he has been trying a little too hard to fit in ever since.

I went on to suggest that Jacob Rees-Mogg is a Johnson not a Cameron.

Michael White, writing in The New European recently, shared this analysis:
It prompted me to make inquiries of my own into the Rees-Moggs, routinely described in newspapers which should know better (but no longer do) as aristocratic. That is not so and prompts one of my grander friends to dismiss Mogg’s elaborate style as “very nouveau, a faux gent”. 
Reference books quickly reveal that Richard Mogg (1690-1729) purchased the medieval manor of Cholwell in Somerset in 1726 and that by 1805 the family’s heiress, Mary Mogg Wooldridge, had married a Welshman, called John Rees who doubled up their names and coats of arms. 
The couple’s son, William Rees-Mogg, pulled down Cholwell in 1855 and rebuilt, as upwardly-mobile Victorians did. Minor gentry on the make, vicars, farmers, soldiers, sheriffs of Somerset, a familiar story to readers of Trollope novels. 
Jacob’s own father, another William Rees-Mogg (1928-2012), was editor of the Times and much else, a great quangocrat who married his secretary and ended up in the House of Lords. Cholwell had long been sold, the Moggs had become Catholic – William’s mother was an Irish-American, a Catholic and (Heaven forbid!) an actress.
As well as from his business activities, Jacob's money comes from his marriage to Helena de Chair, the daughter of a Conservative MP and his heiress fourth wife,.

Jacob's father William Rees-Mogg ended up as editor of The Times, but it took him a long time to be accepted into the establishment.

When he did his National Service in the RAF he was not given a Commission. Too brainy, presumably. Not in the 1st XV at Charterhouse.

Being a Rees-Mogg is hard work, as an Old Etonian informant of White's confirmed:
"True blue bloods were always rather lovable yobs, like mongrels," he explains. "Would-be grandees accumulated behavioural traits they had read about in PG Wodehouse. Jacob doesn’t get noblesse oblige, an ethical system destroyed by Thatcher. His clothes are issued by a theatrical costumer, his children’s names a pale imitation of Evelyn Waugh."
Which suggests that if there is a political point to all this is that we should play along with his act by calling him "the Member for the 18th century" or anything like that. It is just how he wants to be seen.

Meanwhile, the only electorate that matters to Jacob Rees-Mogg at the moment is the rapidly declining and rapidly ageing Conservative membership.

They love someone playing the toff. After all, they fell for Boris Johnson's act and have now fallen for Rees-Mogg's more elegant one.

If I were an ambitious young Tory I would go the full Bertie Wooster, wear a monocle and play the banjolele. That electorate would probably fall for it.

Theresa May warned two days before the referendum that Brexit would make a hard Irish border inevitable

We shall see if she has the courage to repeat that truth in her speech tomorrow.

This video was posted on Twitter today by Open Britain.