Saturday, May 31, 2014

Avoiding Meldon Viaduct

View on YouTube

When the storms earlier this year swept away part of the sea wall at Dawlish, I blogged about the possibility of reopening the Southern Railway's inland route from Exeter to Plymouth.

If this scheme does go ahead, a diversion around the trestle viaduct at Meldon - fragile and listed - will have to be made.

How the flash boys have corrupted financial markets

John Lanchester reviews Flash Boys: Cracking the Money Code by Michael Lewis in the current London Review of Books.

Lewis, he says, shows how computer technology and the ability it gives traders to exploit price differences that exist only for microseconds have made the traditional picture of financial markets laughable.

Lanchester writes:
We want a market to be people buying and selling to and from each other, in a specific physical location, ideally with visible prices. In this new market, the principal actors are not human beings, but algorithms; the real action happens inside computers at the exchanges, and the old market is now nothing more than a stage set whose main function is to be a backdrop for news stories about the stock market. As for the prices, they move when you try to act on them, and anyway, as Lewis says, there’s the problem of the ‘dark pools’, which are in effect private stock markets, owned for the most part by big investment banks, whose entire function is to execute trades out of sight of the wider public: nobody knows who’s buying, nobody knows who’s selling, and nobody knows the prices paid.
As so often, it seems that those who defend "the market" are, in reality, defending the exercise of naked corporate power.

Lanchester waxes lyrical on the waste it all represents:
After finishing Flash Boys, I found it hard not to think about those missing oceanographers, the computer geniuses and engineers and physicists and entrepreneurs, all those brilliant minds, all that passion and energy disappearing into the black hole of money, lost to all the more productive and interesting things that we humans can do. It’s hard not to feel a sense of loss when you think of what these people would have done, if they hadn’t been sucked into the enterprise of making money out of money. If we ever get enough distance to look back with some sense of perspective on the delirium of modern finance, I think this is what will stand out clearly: that sense of human and intellectual waste.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Paul Simon and the ghost station at Ditton near Widnes

Ditton station, originally Ditton Junction, opened in 1871 and was closed by Railtrack in 1994.

As the blurb on Youtube says:
Take a look over the road bridge wall and there are still 5 platform faces still in existence, and a large footbridge. There are many trains which pass this point every hour and large sidings adjacent to the station. 
The station was rebuilt in the early 1960's with a booking office at road level, and the footbridge linking it to the platforms. It was the first to close after privatisation of British Rail in 1994. 
Unfortunately the view is obscured by surrounding vegetation, but it is still a very eerie place despite all the passing trains.
You can see pictures of the station in happier days on the Disused Stations site.

Wikipedia suggests that it may be the station where Paul Simon wrote Homeward Bound, though there is a plaque making that claim on Widnes station.

It also quotes Simon as saying: "If you'd ever seen Widnes, then you'd know why I was keen to get back to London as quickly as possible."

Six pieces of advice Nick Clegg should take

Rowena Mason in the Guardian has been talking to Liberal Democrats from beyond Nick Clegg's immediate circle and come up with some good advice for him.

She has come up with six changes that may might help him get through the next year:
  • Show humility and declare a new direction
  • Acknowledge that the party compromised too much in coalition
  • Stop trying to align the Lib Dems with Osbornomics
  • Swallow the reality of polling
  • Boost the morale of ground troops
  • Talk less about principled points, more about everyday concerns

How the SNP has nationalised childhood

Stuart Waiton (whom I once got to write for Liberator) writes for Spiked about the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act recently passed by Holyrood:
The new act will mean that, from birth, each child in Scotland will have a specific state-appointed professional, a ‘named person’, to oversee their interests, and, in particular, to oversee their safety. Initially, this named person is likely to be a health visitor or midwife, the role later being taken over by school teachers who will have the ‘duty’ and responsibility to act as the child’s guardian.
The trouble with nationalism as a political ideology is that it does not give you any clue about what line you should take on many issues.

Here the minister in charge. Aileen Campbell, seems to have swallowed the views of the professional left whole. The relationship between parent and child is seen as problematic, whereas the relationship between child and state (as mediated through public-sector professionals) is seen as uncomplicated.

Waiton describes Campbell's views as follows:
For Campbell, the new powers and duties being given to the state guardians are simply another service to help families in trouble and further ensure that children are protected in society. 
Indeed, Aileen Campbell at times appears to be nonplussed by her critics, incapable of seeing why her caring approach is not instantly celebrated. The claims of state snoops undermining the family, she argues, are simply ‘misunderstandings’ and ‘misrepresentations’ of the new law. 
When someone raised the point that this act undermined the role of parents in child-rearing, Campbell, somewhat comically, replied, ‘we recognise that parents also have a role’.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

These Children are Safe (1940)

These Children are Safe (1940) from British Council Film on Vimeo.

There has been a lot of news coverage today of the British Council project of putting its archive films online.

In fact, as regular readers will know, some of these films have been available for a while. What happened today was that the final 25 were made available.

I believe that The Children are Safe, a look at the wartime evacuation of children and a piece of propaganda for it, is one of this final batch.

End female genital mutilation

Liberal Democrats are breaking the taboo on female genital mutilation (FGM). Our goal is to end FGM within a generation.

Back our campaign here.

Nick Clegg and his straw men appear to have learnt nothing

Judging by this briefing to Nick Robinson, at any rate. Robinson says that Clegg
believes that the party must "stop looking in the rear view mirror" - in other words stop mourning the voters they've lost as a result of forming a coalition with the Tories. 
They need instead, he argues, to look forward to the voters they can gain by proving that they are a serious party of government with responsible economic policies.
Nick Clegg, or whoever it was from his office who briefed Nick Robinson, is merely repeating a line from his speech to the party's 2012 spring conference. There is no sign of a willingness to listen or of new thinking.

In fact, this is pretty much the only argument that Clegg has against his party critics, which is perhaps why he uses it so often.

As Simon Titley wrote on Liberator's blog in July 2013:
In May, I posted here about Clegg’s statement after the local elections and his speech to last September’s party conference. On both occasions, he said that his way is the only way; anyone who disagrees is simply not interested in winning power. His way is the future; anyone who disagrees wants a return to the past. 
He referred to the Liberal Democrats as having been a “party of protest” before he took charge. He travestied party members as people who want to “turn back” and create a “stop the world I want to get off” party. He warned them to “stop looking in the rear view mirror”. 
In his speech at the ALDC conference in Manchester last Saturday, he repeated similar arguments. He scorned party members who want to “turn back the clock” and be “the third party forever”, who are calling for “an eternity in opposition” and “hankering for the comfort blanket of national opposition”. 
These are straw men. We know this because in none of these attacks does Clegg ever name his critics or supply specific references to the speeches or writings where they have expressed such views. These imaginary enemies are conjured up because Clegg needs a ‘defining other’, a pantomime villain against whom he can contrast his virtues.
If Nick is determined to go on using this tactic, it makes James Gurling and his review look pretty silly, doesn't it?
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Six of the Best 440

Flick Rea
"Our main task in the next few months and years is to make sure that we don’t see a loss of the valuable experience of members, activists and former elected representatives to the Party. It is important to develop a support network for those who have lost their seats. When people have not been re-elected they can feel as if they have been cast out into the wilderness and that their hard work over many years has not been appreciated. We have to make sure that we continue to harness all that expertise to enable the Party to grow again." On Liberal Democrat Voice, Liz Lynne makes her pitch to be the next president of the Liberal Democrats.

"The rise of UKIP is about one thing more than any other - the general public losing hope in it's politicians," says So Sam said...

Richard Osley on the unsinkable Flick Rea: "A mayoral shouldabeen, she saw her party, in happier times, expand from acorns to the Town Hall cabinet. Regardless of how and why, it was some achievement when the Lib Dems found themselves the largest group in Camden in 2006. But now she sits alone. It is a remarkable testament to her own popularity, but also the fall of a party right in front of our eyes."

IanVisits takes a rare chance to walk through Brunel's tunnel under the Thames.

A forgotten wartime tragedy in which more than a hundred people lost their lives in a bomb shelter in Kennington Park is desbribed by Vauxhall, Kenningon and the Oval (pdf file).

Hastings Battleaxe discovers the extraordinary churches of Romney Marsh.

Write a guest post for Liberal England

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

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

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

  • Political defections: Storms of protest or signs of political climate change? - Alan Wyburn-Powell
  • Transition Town Market Harborough - Darren Woodiwiss
  • Bullying on Leicester City Council - Ross Grant
  • Pubs must help themselves if they are to survive - Matt Wright
  • One woman’s view of being a senior citizen - Eileen Ward-Birch
  • The perfect Christmas gift for a carer - Jon Pollard
  • Politic360: Mending online political discussion - Jason Brown
  • A new hole in the safety net - Anonymous
  • Memories of Snailbeach in the 1950s - Christina Samson
  • We are all the poorer for soundbite politics - Tony Robertson
  • Wednesday, May 28, 2014

    Old Boston

    In January I posted the video Country Town, which looked at Boston during the Second World War.

    I have since found a whole website devoted to the website devoted to the history of this Lincolnshire town: Old Boston - I have borrowed the image here from it.

    It specialises in the quirky and ephemeral aspects of local history, and I particularly like its picture of Freiston Shore - "the poor man's Skeggy":
    There was no sandy beach there, Punch and Judy or amusements of any kind, all it consisted of was marshland, muddy creeks to bathe in, borstal boys and old gun placements designed to keep the Germans away if they tried to conquer England through Lincolnshire.
    That was the 1950s and 1960s, but the post also records a serious (and failed) 19th-century attempt to turn Freiston into a proper seaside resort.

    David Howarth on the changes the Liberal Democrats must make

    David Howarth, who was MP for Cambridge between 2005 and 2010 before giving up his parliamentary career to return to academia, is the party's most impressive intellectual. His introduction to Reinventing the State comes nearer than anything I have read to express a coherent Lib Dem philosophy.

    You can find it on the Social Liberal Forum website under the title "What is Social Liberalism?" and it is well worth reading.

    But what I want to blog about here is something David had written today on Liberal Democrat Voice: What does the evidence tell us about our strategy should be?

    The evidence he refers to is the findings of the British Election Study, which was published on 7 May.

    As David points out, Lib Dem strategy since we entered the Coalition has been centred on two hopes: that the economy would come right and that voters would give us the credit for this.

    What do the findings of the study tell us about the likelihood of this strategy coming good? David writes:
    The answers are very unhelpful for our current strategy. Optimistic voters think – by over 5 to 1 – that we are not responsible for the conditions that give rise to their optimism. In contrast, those same optimists think the Conservatives can claim credit for the coming economic improvement by a majority of 4 to 1. 
    If one looks at crucial subgroups of voters, such as electors who voted Liberal Democrat in 2010 but have moved to Don’t Know (more than a fifth of our 2010 vote), the situation is nearly as bad: a 4 to 1 majority against giving us credit and a majority of 4 to 3 in favour of giving the Conservatives credit.
    The problem here, as David points out, is that the argument that austerity has led to recovery is an inherently Conservative point of view so, not surprisingly, it is the Conservatives who get the credit for it.

    David concludes: "As an electoral strategy this looks hopeless, even irrational."

    Most of the debate following the Lib Dem debacle in the local and Euro elections has centred on the leadership.

    I am not Nick Clegg's greatest fan, but the only conceivable alternative to his leading us at the next general election was a Vince Cable caretaker leadership.

    Today's events have made that much less likely, so it the strategy that must change. And David Howarth says the British Election Study has some important lessons for us:
    What are the views, for example, of voters who have a high propensity to vote for us but who are not voting for us now? By more than 2 to 1 they favour redistribution of income, by 3 to 1 they are for greater environmental protection and by 8 to 1 they oppose further privatisation of public services.
    In short, potential Lib Dem voters believe in the policies the party has traditionally stood for. Over to you, Nick.

    How to help the Liberal Democrats in the Newark by-election

    Polling day in  Newark is 5 June. If you want to travel there to help the Lib Dem candidate David Watts, you have a problem. There is no Liberal Democrat HQ to report to.

    I have asked the East Midlands party, and the best thing to do is to email Marilyn Rayner and tell her you are coming. I am sure you will be found plenty to do.

    The party is planning an action day on Saturday 31 May, with a stall in Newark marketplace. Full details are on the East Midlands Lib Dems website, and that is the best place to look for the latest news of the campaign.

    Newark is an interesting town, and the constituency also includes Southwell. I recommend a trip to Southwell Minster - the most beautiful cathedral you have never heard of.

    Iain Sinclair to speak in Leicester, 5 June

    From the Leicester Centre for Creative Writing blog:
    We’re delighted to have a series of talks coming up from three award-winning writers: Sara Maitland, Iain Sinclair and Louis de Bernières. All three will be exploring the notion of place in relation to their writing. 
    Celebrated author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernières will be talking on the 3rd June; on the 5th of June we have the great cartographer of the London of the imagination, Iain Sinclair; and on the 12th June we have novelist, non-fiction writer, and explorer of solitude, Sara Maitland. 
    All events will be in the Clephan building on Bonner’s Lane, at the main DMU campus, and begin at 6pm. These events are entirely free of charge.

    Tuesday, May 27, 2014

    Bosworth Hall, Dr Johnson and George II

    This is Bosworth Hall, where Dr Johnson lodged while he was teaching at the town's grammar school. Now a hotel, it was built by the Dixie family during the reign of William and Mary.

    The Dixie family fortune was lost in the 19th century, and the house and estate were sold in the 1880s to pay gambling debts. After the estate had changed hands a few times, it was bought by Leicestershire County Council and became a hospital - Bosworth Park Infirmary - in 1931.

    When the hospital closed in the 1980s, it was converted in the Bosworth Hall Hotel. Though that website is convinced the hotel is in Warwickshire, it is really in Leicestershire.

    Wikipedia has a story about Sir Wolstan Dixie, the fourth baronet, who was "legendary for his ignorance":
    A neighbouring squire ... objected to Dixie barring access to a footpath across his land. The ensuing fight must have been memorable, for Dixie at least: when he was presented to the Germanic King George II at a levee as Sir Wolstan Dixie “of Bosworth Park”, the king, wanting perhaps to show some knowledge of important English battles, said, “’Bosworth-Bosworth! Big battle at Bosworth, wasn’t it?’ 
    ‘Yes, Sire. But I thrashed him’, replied Sir Wolstan, oblivious of any other fight than his own”
    This reminds me of a story told of the late Otto Hardy from Loughborough, who took his chess very seriously. (Since you ask, we met once in the county league and I won.)

    One day, as he was about to go into a building in Leicester to play a county match, he was stopped by three Liverpool fans, who were festooned in red scarves, in town to see their team play Leicester City and unsure of the way to Filbert Street.

    "Excuse me, mate, do you know where the match is?" they asked.

    "Oh yes," replied Otto, "it is upstairs on the first floor."

    Nick Clegg: Nice video, shame about his staff

    This Nick Clegg video has been sent to party members this evening.

    It is good to see some recognition that it is possible for local campaigners to work hard and lose, though the stuff about defeated candidates sharing in others' successes is a bit schmaltzy for my taste.

    More importantly, I still wait for some recognition from Nick that something needs to change we are not to suffer similar disappointments at the next general election.

    It is all very well saying we have the right strategy, but event if that is true, it is perfectly possible (as my chess career proved depressingly often) to have the right strategy and implement it badly.

    And two very basic points about Youtube for whoever posted this for Nick.

    First, I assume you want this video to be widely shared. So why have you posted in such a way that anyone trying to share it gets the message:
    This video is unlisted. Be considerate and think twice before sharing.
    Second, take a look at the still image you get before you start playing it. Is that the image of Nick you want to project?

    I thought not. So change it.

    Later. The still image has been changed - well done, guys - but the video still asks you to think twice before sharing it.

    My Comment is Free article on children's books: 157 comments and rising

    My article posted on the Guardian's Comment is Free pages yesterday - "It's not just outdoor play that's gone – so has a whole genre of children's fiction" - has now received 157 comments.

    Unusually for a comments thread on that side, the comments are friendly and enlightening. They are well worth studying if you are interested in children's books or the question of children's freedom to roam.

    This is the most comments I have received on a Comment is Free article, proving that children's books are bigger than chess or even cats.

    Monday, May 26, 2014

    "Worky nosey grindstone": The Lib Dem leadership channels Stanley Unwin

    Last night I posted a song from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to cheer up all my Liberal Democrat readers.

    I fear, however, that our leaders have paid more attention to the scene that comes immediately before it.

    If you remember Professor Stanley Unwin, you may like to see his grave at Long Buckby.

    If changing the leader isn't the answer, what will the Liberal Democrats change?

    I was tempted to sign the LibDem4Change petition calling on Nick Clegg to resign because the party machine’s response to Thursday’s debacle and to the group’s letter was so inept.

    First we had the email, sent out under the name of poor Annette Brooke, telling us there was nothing to worry about - “All of these results tell the same story - in many of our strongest areas we are winning elections.”

    If I had just been defeated or seen my candidate defeated in a former Liberal Democrat like Islington or Liverpool, that would have read to me like an “I’m all right Jack” message from our MPs.

    We also had the ritual repetition of “where we work, we win,” as if our defeated candidates had not worked hard too.

    Once the petition started gaining significant numbers of signatures, the party’s media operation sprang into life. Why don’t we encourage loyalists to join the Lib Dem Friends of Cake Facebook group, they reasoned, then we can say that the petition has fewer names than people who have liked that group ha ha ha ha ha.

    So early on Sunday morning this line was given to sympathetic journalists like George Parker and even to Paddy Ashdown.

    I don’t like to be harsh, but I suggest the party’s chief executive finds who it was who thought it was a clever idea to patronise members’ justified concern in this way and moves him or her to duties for which he or she is more suited.

    It would be interesting to know, for instance, the total number of paper clips at Great George Street.

    And there has been Danny Alexander’s performance. The more he tells us that things are going to carry on as they are, the more despondent I feel. It was noticeable how more authoritative Martin Tod was when they appeared together on television. But I have calmed down.

    I would rather see Vince Cable as party leader at the next general - I think he is simply a more able politician. But, though I can imagine a scenario in which the MPs got together and asked the party to support him as the only candidate, that does not appear likely to happen.

    It is clear that Nick commands the loyalty of a large section of the membership and that they would be outraged if he were forced out. I don’t wholly understand this, but it is a fact and one that must be taken into account. The Conservatives, for instance, have never got over the assassination of Margaret Thatcher.

    So we soldier on, if only to allow Nick Clegg to lose and teach his supporters a few home truths and because it would be easier for a new leader (who would probably not be Vince and certainly not be Danny) to begin rebuilding after an election.

    So the important question is the one Andrew Neil asked Paddy Ashdown on Sunday: If changing the leader is not the answer, what are we going to change?

    And if I hear Danny Alexander promise no change once more, or if I see good Lib Dem members being ridiculed by 12-year-old SPADs, then I will sign that bloody petition.
    Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

    An email from Bill Newton Dunn

    A characteristically graceful response to defeat arrives from Bill Newton Dunn:
    Dear Jonathan Calder 
    I'm sure you will have heard from the news that unfortunately we were not successful in our bid to retain an MEP in the East Midlands. Results from across the country have sadly not gone our way. 
    Despite the best efforts of members across the region, we have not been able to overcome the national tide and the UKIP surge has cost us dear. We bucked the trend in 2009 but sadly we couldn't repeat that result this time. 
    I wanted to say thank you for all the support you have given me, not just in this campaign but ever since I joined the Lib Dems over 13 years ago. Representing the East Midlands in the European Parliament for over 30 years has been a great joy and I am proud of what we have achieved together for the region. 
    Over the next few days there is bound to be all sorts of media comment and speculation about the future of the party. It is vital that we remain united and dig deep to rebuild and look ahead to next year's local and Westminster elections. The first step on this path is the Newark By-election on June 5th. 
    I look forward to continue working with you in order to ensure future success for the Lib Dems in the East Midlands. 
    With thanks and best wishes 
    Mind you, as Liberally Scott proves, Bill expressed himself rather more saltily in a live interview with BBC Radio Five Live.

    Macaulay Culkin storms off stage after fans interrupt his Pizza Underground kazoo solo

    The Independent wins our Headline of the Day Award.

    My article on Comment is Free: It's not just outdoor play that's gone – so has a whole genre of children's fiction

    I have another article on Comment is Free this morning - I am told it almost made the printed edition of the Guardian:
    This shrinking of the child's world has had numbers put on it by the filmmaker David Bond. His mother, he calculates, roamed across 50 square miles at the age of 11, but as a boy in the 1970s he was confined to just one. Today, his son and daughter do not leave the garden unaccompanied. 
    Books for children reflect this narrowing. Where adventure stories used to depict a landscape alive with youngsters finding buried treasure, thwarting robbers and rounding up Nazi spies, the constraints on modern children mean authors must now invent whole fantastic worlds before their young heroes can enjoy any freedom. It's not just outdoor play that has disappeared: a whole school of literature has died with it.

    From the ashes of disaster grow the roses of success

    A video for my fellow Liberal Democrats.

    Sunday, May 25, 2014

    The consequences of the rise of populist parties across Europe

    The European Leadership Network has published a short guide that ELN reviews the foreign and security policies of eight of the continent’s leading populist parties.

    The guide's conclusions are:
    • The Euro-sceptic attitudes of all of these parties will present a challenge to the future of the European project. This is likely to come through mainstream parties toughening their approach to Europe to stem the populist surge.
    • The paper’s authors find the parties all share a favourable attitude to Russian Premier Vladimir Putin and all, bar one, support Russia’s approach to the crisis in Ukraine. A growth in support for these parties in this week’s elections may increase Putin’s influence in European politics.
    • The results may presage a coming challenge to NATO cohesion as two of the more influential parties (SYRIZA in Greece and the FN in France), favour exit from the Alliance.
    • The management of any future crisis in the euro-zone may be heavily undermined by the rise of the populist parties, especially if government’s attempt further austerity as a solution.
    You can download the guide from the European Leadership Network website.

    The Pretenders: Human

    Chrissie Hynde was on Danny Baker's Radio 2 show yesterday morning - you can listen to it on the BBC iPlayer for the next six days (it starts at around 1:06:40).

    In the course of it Baker played this Pretenders track from 1999. As Human on the Inside, it had been a minor Australian hit for the duo divinyls, who are best known for their hit I Touch Myself.

    Hynde's story is fascinating. She came to Britain from Ohio in her early twenties because she loved horses and the music scene. She landed a job at the NME and then formed the Pretenders - the other members came from the rock heartland of Hereford.

    Saturday, May 24, 2014

    The Batter of Bosworth wins Chip Shop of the Day

    Read more about today's winner, to be found in Station Road, Market Bosworth, in this Leicester Mercury article.

    Ukip's candidate problem

    Rafael Behr has written an intelligent analysis of the many challenges facing Ukip. It contains this telling passage:
    A big problem is finding candidates who have enough character to stand out in a campaign, thus easing the pressure on Farage to be constantly front-of-house, and without looking creepy or betraying views that make wavering supporters flinch. 
    A very senior figure in Ukip once complained to me that it attracted “people who have failed at everything else in life, are feeling angry about it and are looking for someone to blame”.

    Six of the Best 439

    George Potter explains, on Liberal Democrat Voice, why he has signed the LibDems4Change petition - and sets off a long comments thread.

    Evidence into Practice is wary of schools' new enthusiasm for modifying children's character.

    "Today we must act to prevent an ugly America. For once the battle is lost, once our natural splendor is destroyed, it can never be recaptured. And once man can no longer walk with beauty or wonder at nature his spirit will wither and his sustenance be wasted." John de Graaf passes on the wisdom of Lyndon Johnson for Grist.

    For Real Whitby, Tim Hicks explains how Jimmy Savile was able to manipulate the Surrey Police investigation and on how disappearing intelligence reports helped him to evade detection.

    Press Gazette shares the views of the BBC given anonymously by some of its employees: "Management is mainly by email. Some managers have very little understanding what their staff do day day and the contribution they make to the output. The audience is supposed to be at the heart everything we do, I see very little evidence of that."

    "'But Baroness,' so many of my friends have said, 'you must be devastated. You yourself are fabulously wealthy, so you cannot have wanted the Captain for his money—you must have truly loved him.' It’s true. But so, I am sure, does his new fiancée, his children’s nanny. Her wardrobe is made of curtains. She’s definitely not a gold digger or anything." Melinda Taub tells Baroness Schraeder's side of The Sound of Music on Timothy McSweeney's Internet Tendency.

    Friday, May 23, 2014

    Woodhouse Eaves remembers its youthful dead

    Designed by the Leicester architect Howard Henry Thomson, the Woodhouse Eaves war memorial stands on a rock near the church. It is odd to see a First World War monument in an English village that is so obviously influenced by German romanticism.

    The church porch was given in memory of an 18-year-old called Lewis Eric Tuckett, who died in 1913 - "in particularly tragic circumstances," according to the church guide book.

    It seems he committed suicide during his second year at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, while suffering from acute pneumonia and pleurisy The report in the London Standard suggests he was in condition of delirium before his death.

    A couple of years later and many youths from the village had died. They are remembered by Thomson's cross.

    Another Leicester councillor quits "divided and backstabbing" Labour

    The Leicester Mercury reports:
    A Leicester city councillor has quit the city's Labour party after claiming his former colleagues were divided and guilty of backstabbing. 
    Councillor Wayne Naylor says he has left the party with “a heavy heart” after 12 years and will now represent the city’s Braunstone Park and Rowley Fields as an independent member.
    Why the resignation? Apart from some unlikely claims about Labour members "being suspended or expelled across the country for actively demonstrating against Tory cuts," it seems that Naylor's support for another councillor who recently resigned from the Labour group, Barbara Potter, is behind this decision.

    Because of the first past the post electoral system, Labour has 52 out of 54 councillors in Leicester - as well as the elected mayor, whom they are somehow supposed to hold to account while he wields the Labour whip on the council.

    This absurd overrepresentation has not helped Labour councillors' behaviour on the authority, but they now seem set on providing the missing opposition from among their own ranks.

    Richard III can be buried in Leicester Cathedral

    Today the High Court ruled that the exhumation licence granted to the University of Leicester is a valid legal document, which means that the planned reburial of Richard III in the city's cathedral can go ahead. This is very good news.

    You can read the court's judgment online - and if you have any interest in Richard III and his discovery, it is will worth doing so.

    It ends by saying:
    We agree that it is time for Richard III to be given a dignified reburial, and finally laid to rest.
    As to why I am so pleased, besides the obvious benefits to Leicester, see my post from last September on Richard III and The Hon. Mr Justice Haddon-Cave. At least the old boy came out on the side of the angels today. Top judging. I bet he has the Latin.

    I had dinner recently with one of the archaeologists involved in the project. She said that it had been obvious they had found Richard from the moment that, much to their surprise, the skeleton was unearthed.

    Thursday, May 22, 2014

    The Zachary Merton Convalescence Home, Woodhouse Eaves

    Earlier this week I quoted a Charnwood Borough Council document that says Woodhouse Eaves once contained "a remarkable number of recovery and convalescent homes".

    Chief among them was the Zachary Merton Convalescence Home, which was built to house injured war veterans. The home also contained a mental hospital wing known as Beacon Lodge.

    This home has long been derelict, but I believe it is still to be found in the woods above the village. Redevelopment is planned if it is not already taking place.

    Midlands Heritage has some striking photographs of the site. To find it I would have had to have gone in for some serious trespassing, and I was not in the mood for it.

    But I did find these monumental gate posts on the road into Woodhouse Eaves.

    Theresa May's speech to the Police Federation conference

    Now the polls have closed it is safe to pay tribute to Theresa May's extraordinary speech to the Police Federation conference yesterday.

    It is worth reading the whole thing, but this was the key passage:
    I do not want to have to impose change on you, because I want you to show the public that you want to change. I want you to show them that you have the best interests of the police and of the public at heart. But make no mistake. If you do not make significant progress towards the implementation of the Normington reforms, if the Federation does not start to turn itself around, you must not be under the impression that the government will let things remain as they are. 
    The Federation was created by an Act of Parliament and it can be reformed by an Act of Parliament. If you do not change of your own accord, we will impose change on you. 
    And there are three changes I plan to make even before we reach that point. First, it is not acceptable that when the Federation is sitting on vast reserves worth tens of millions of pounds, it is in receipt of public funds to pay for the salaries and expenses of the chairman, general secretary and treasurer. We have already said we would reduce this spending from £320,000 to £190,000 per year but I can announce today that this funding will be stopped altogether from August. Instead, the money will go into a new fund to accelerate the introduction of Police First – a new scheme designed to attract the brightest young university graduates into the police. 
    Second, I want Federation representatives to earn the right to represent their members. So in common with changes made elsewhere in the public sector, I plan to change the law so that officers will have to opt in to join the Federation. This will mean that officers no longer become Fed members by default. 
    I also plan to change the law so that officers who have chosen to become members also have to opt in to pay full subscription fees. Federation members already have the option of not paying full fees if they do not want to use all Federation services. But not many officers know this, and, again, the default position in practice is that officers should automatically pay full fees, regardless. I believe that’s wrong, and it promotes some of the worst problems exposed by the Normington Review. 
    Third, I want to make the Police Federation more accountable. That means, today and on an annual basis thereafter, the Home Office will use its existing legal powers to call in the Federation’s central accounts. I will also change the law so the Home Office can without any question call in the accounts for any money held by the Federation – including all so-called “Number Two‟ accounts. And I will bring forward proposals to make the Police Federation – that is, the national organisation and all the regional branches – subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
    Everyone has said it is a speech that only a Conservative home secretary could have made, and that is true. But that does not tell the half of it.

    Which other current Conservative minister could you imagine having the courage to make a speech like this? Michael Gove perhaps. Certainly not David Cameron or Boris Johnson.

    Theresa May deserved her prominence in the betting for next Conservative leader. But will the membership appreciate her courage?

    Jeremy Browne explains the Global Race

    Or perhaps it is Tony Blair explaining the principles of New Labour.

    Appleby Magna vs the modern world

    Two news items from the Appleby Magna & Appleby Parva website - the villages are in the North West of Leicestershire:
    The proposed route for the second phase of HS2 has been announced, and if it is accepted the line will pass between Appleby Magna village and the M42.
    As part of the county council cutbacks, the No. 7 bus is to be replaced by a much reduced on-demand service.

    Woman claims she was raped by man who later became MP and cabinet minister

    Exaro has posted a video made by a woman who says she was raped in the 1960s by a man who later became a Conservative MP and a cabinet minister:
    The woman - known as “Jane” to protect her identity - told Exaro how the ex-minister, before he became an MP, tricked her into his flat, locked her in, then raped her. She was a 19-year-old student at the time. 
    Jane believes his modus operandi was well practised and is convinced that she is not his only victim. 
    We are identifying neither the former Conservative cabinet minister nor the alleged victim for legal reasons. Jane gave a detailed account of the alleged attack, and of how the Metropolitan Police Service decided against proceeding with the case.
    I will admit to being too fond of political scandal and gossip, but it is well worth listening to Jane's story.

    Wednesday, May 21, 2014

    Richard III: High Court ruling to be revealed on Friday

    The Leicester Mercury reports that the High Court will reveal its judgment on Richard III on Friday at 10am.

    The court will decide whether the original exhumation licence, which states that the remains of Richard III will be reburied in Leicester, should be upheld or dismissed.

    As the Mercury says:
    If the Ministry of Justice document is revoked, it means the former monarch’s final resting place is no longer determined, and a public consultation will be carried out to decide where his remains will be reinterred. 
    However, if the three judges choose to support the exhumation licence, which is held by the University of Leicester, the remains of Richard III will be reburied at Leicester Cathedral next spring. The cathedral and Leicester City Council will be able to press on with preparations for a grand royal ceremony.

    Tuesday, May 20, 2014

    Bullingdon Club film to open just before Tory Conference

    Joshi Herrman writes in the Evening Standard:
    It’s almost as if someone is trying to get David Cameron, Boris Johnson and George Osborne’s backs up. First, Laura Wade’s acclaimed play, Posh, started its run at the Royal Court during the 2010 election campaign. 
    Now, the film adaptation — The Riot Club — has released its barnstorming trailer during another election season, a year before the General Election and with a release date (September 12) set so that it will be showing in cinemas just before the senior Conservatives whose university lives it lampoons and denounces are gathering in Birmingham for their crucial party conference.
    He goes on to describe the play on which the film is based:
    Posh, by playwright Laura Wade, now 36, debuted on the Royal Court’s main stage in 2010, opening during the election campaign. Set in a country pub outside Oxford, where the exclusive Riot Club (read Bullingdon Club) are drinking port and eating a 10-bird roast, it was a critical success — nominated for Best New Play at both the Evening Standard Awards and Theatregoers’ Choice Awards in 2011. 
    When director Lyndsey Turner brought it back in a bigger production at the Duke of York’s theatre (with a few cast changes), the Standard’s chief theatre critic, Henry Hitchings, described it as “a heady blend of timely satire and outrageous romp”, writing that: “Wade deftly skewers the sense of entitlement that swirls like a sickly perfume around a certain kind of upper-class thug. Her characters seem to have everything, yet whinge relentlessly.”

    Michael Crick goes to the UKIP Carnival

    His report for Channel 4 News earlier this evening.

    Six of the Best 438

    How bad will the 2015 general election be for the Lib Dems? Nick Tyrone takes an optimistic view.

    "While the drug policy debate seems to be heading irreversibly towards decriminalisation and regulation, the sex work debate is a car crash in comparison." Ewan Hoyle looks at the chances of achieving the decriminalisation of sex work.

    Evidence into Practice asks if teachers can stop believing in fashionable pseudoscientific ideas about learning.

    "By the time they reach high school, nearly 20 percent of all American boys will be diagnosed with ADHD. Millions of those boys will be prescribed a powerful stimulant to 'normalize' them. A great many of those boys will suffer serious side effects from those drugs." Ryan D'Agostino writes for Esquire on the drugging of the American boy.

    Katy Pickersgill on Prison Voices: Crime, Conviction and Confession, 1700-1900 looks at solitary confinement in Great Expectations.

    Myles Power witnesses an embarrassing evening for Psychic Sally in Middlesbrough.

    Giles Clarke wins Snob of the Day

    Here is Giles Clarke, chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, talking to the BBC about Alastair Cook:
    "He is a very determined guy, a very good role model and he and his family are very much the sort of people we want the England captain and his family to be."
    Over to Daniel Brigham on The Cricketer site:
    To be clear, Clarke – who runs the English game, remember – thinks that the England captain and his family should be a certain “sort of people”. ...
    Just as George Bush wanted American families to be more like the Waltons than the Simpsons, it appears that Clarke wants the England captain’s family to be more like the Crawleys than the Royles. 
    We can only guess, but being nicely dressed, owning a big pile in the country and enjoying a penchant for shooting wildlife might tick some big boxes. 
    There is, of course, absolutely nothing wrong with the England captain having a nice family. At very best, though, it should be a bonus. It certainly should not be a prerequisite.
    I do hope I am not going to have to make this award too often.

    Tiredness causes racism, hay fever causes sexism

    Media Guardian previews a Radio Times interview in which John Inverdale seeks to explain his comments about last summer's Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli. You may recall he said:
    "I just wonder if her dad, because he has obviously been the most influential person in her life, did say to her when she was 12, 13, 14 maybe, 'listen, you are never going to be, you know, a looker. 
    "'You are never going to be somebody like a Sharapova, you're never going to be 5ft 11, you're never going to be somebody with long legs, so you have to compensate for that. 
    "'You are going to have to be the most dogged, determined fighter that anyone has ever seen on the tennis court if you are going to make it', and she kind of is."
    Why did he come out with all that? Apparently he tells the Radio Times:
    "I was feeling so ill that day, I had terrible hay fever and all I could think of was that I wanted to go home to bed. I had Andy Murray in the final the next day. I knew I had to be on form. Your mind is going all over the place, we're on air from 12 noon till 7pm with not a single word written and you've got to fill the time."
    Inverdale helpfully adds:
    "I'm not making excuses here, just trying to explain."

    Monday, May 19, 2014

    Tea at St Paul's, Woodhouse Eaves

    After lunch comes tea, and I had already seen signs saying that they were doing teas in St Paul's, Woodhouse Eaves, that afternoon.

    The church was built in 1836/7 and one of the benefactors was Sir William Henry Salt, the eldest son of Titus Salt of Saltaire fame. William Henry was married to Emma Harris, the daughter of John Dove Harris, who was twice Mayor of Leicester and one of the city's MPs between 1865 and 1874. He was a Liberal.

    Inside you will find a tablet to the memory of the Revd A.J.W. Hiley, who was a grandson of Dr Arnold, the famous headmaster of Rugby School, and the vicar of St Paul's between 1898 and 1929. What is interesting is that it was paid for by the congregations of the local Noncomformist churches - a rare tribute.

    And the meal? The cakes look delicious but I just had a mug of tea.

    Lord Bonkers on the death of Lawrence of Arabia

    Lord Bonkers writes exclusively for Liberal England:
    T.E. Lawrence - "Lawrence of Arabia" - died on this day in 1935.  I had long been an admirer of his novels and was shocked to hear the news. 
    It later transpired that he died in a motorcycle accident after, uncharacteristically, swerving to avoid two schoolboys.
    Lord Bonkers went on to assure me that there is no truth in Alan Bennett's suggestion in Forty Years On that Lawrence "was known at school as 'Tee Hee Lawrence' because of his high-pitched girlish giggle".

    Police chief says half the Met's armed officers could stop carrying weapons

    The Guardian reports:
    A police chief has said more than half of his force's armed officers could stop carrying weapons because of plans by the police watchdog to ban them from conferring with each other as they write up statements following a shooting.
    The police chief quoted is Commander Neil Basu of Scotland Yard.

    But would it be such a tragedy if there were fewer armed police?

    Kenneth Clarke is a liberal Conservative not a Liberal Democrat

    "Ken Clarke is now a Liberal Democrat in all but name," complains Steerpike on his Spectator blog.

    This is nonsense.

    Clarke is a liberal Conservative - a breed that used to be common, but is not almost extinct. And the Conservative Party is much weaker because of it.

    In his early days as leader, it looked as though David Cameron had grasped that, in order to win a majority, his party had to reach out to voters who are not instinctive Conservative voters. And in order to do that, he would have to reverse its rightward drift.

    Some even saw the formation of the Coalition as a tactical masterstroke on his part. He had co-opted the Liberal Democrats to take the place of his own party's vanished liberal wing.

    Few now see Cameron in those generous terms and Steerpike sounds like a Labour activist from the 1980s saying some moderate MP who refused to back the Militant or Bennite line was a "Tory" who should be thrown out of the party.

    The truth is that the Conservative Party, which has not won a majority for 22 years now, needs many more people like Kenneth Clarke if it is to thrive.

    Ironworks centre plans knife angel after Uri Geller gorilla

    The BBC News Shropshire pages win Headline of the Day.

    Sunday, May 18, 2014

    A dapper young Ming Campbell

    Mary Rand and Menzies show off the uniforms for the British team at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

    Ming took part in the 200m, winning his first round heat but going out in the second, while Mary Rand won three medals: gold in the long jump, silver in the pentathlon and bronze as part of the 100m relay team.

    Issan Ghazni breaks his ankle in a bizarre delivering accident

    An email arrives from the number 2 candidate on the Liberal Democrats' list for the East Midlands Euro constituency:
    Just to inform you that whilst out delivering Euro-leaflets today in the Forest Fields area of Nottingham, a few of the glossy pages fell to the floor and my foot accidentally stepped onto them. I then slipped and fell with the full weight of my body falling onto my left ankle. The result is that I fell and broke my bone in two places above my ankle!
    Get well soon, Issan.

    In the mean time, readers may care to remember one of Lord Bonkers' favourite charities. That is the Home for Distressed Canvassers in Herne Bay - where he believes David Laws should still be residing.

    James O'Brien on that interview with Nigel Farage

    From the Mail website this morning (and presumably in today's newspaper):
    I asked about Romanians, he talked about people-traffickers. I asked about Germans, he talked about easily identifiable ‘difference’. 
    I have no explanation for this save a conviction on Farage’s part that one’s country of origin or ethnicity determines one’s values and decency. 
    When we moved on to the question of his finances, events took an even stranger turn. 
    Asked why he had reverse - ferreted on a pledge to publish his personal accounts, I offered him the transparency agreement employed by every Labour MEP in the European Parliament. 
    He sneered, stumbled, spoke of employing an auditor and finally looked up in shock as communications director Patrick O’Flynn tried to halt proceedings, eventually ‘helping’ Farage from the studio by those tailored lapels.

    Clegg allies plot to remove him

    The Sunday Times wins our Headline of the Day Award.

    John Renbourn: Just Like Me

    Electric Eden introduces us to John Renbourn:
    Born in London in 1944, he was encouraged to explore the medieval and Elizabethan lute tradition by his classical guitar teacher. 
    He was drawn, by way of skiffle, to the American blues picking of Elizabeth Cotten, Brownie McGhee and Ramblin' Jack Elliott while studying at Kingston College of Art, which at that moment was a breeding ground for as many upcoming musicians as artists - undergraduates included Eric Clapton, Sandy Denny and members of The Yardbirds.
    Renbourn's beatnik credentials were as impeccable as his art-school grounding: in the early 1960s he lived in a barge on the Thames and followed the European busking trail, even writing a bluesy eulogy to the National 7 highway through France to St Tropez.
    In 1967 he formed Pentangle with, among others, Bert Jansch and Danny Thompson. That band split at the start of 1973, and Renbourn recorded Just Like Me the same year.

    It was intended for a solo album that was never completed and was not released until 1996 and his Lost Sessions LP.

    Saturday, May 17, 2014

    Six of the Best 437

    Lynne Featherstone explains why so much of her casework as an MP arises from the failings of the Labour-run Haringey Council.

    Alex's Archives introduces us to the concept of "the free market priesthood".

    "These reports demonstrate that OFSTED judgements are not reliable; they do not tell us about a relevant difference in quality, only differences in either circumstances or the personal inclinations of inspection teams." Scenes from the Battleground shows that identical schools can receive different ratings from OFSTED inspectors.

    Detritus of Empire suggests that the decline and fall of the Roman Empire began in York.

    "During his cross-examination of Bunton, Mr E.J.P. Cussen for the prosecution, asked: ”Are you not sure your object was to steal the portrait from the National Gallery in revenge for the way you had been treated by the authorities over your television licence”? Another Nickel in the Machine writes on Kempton Bunton and the Great Goya Heist at the National Gallery - and much else besides.

    The Silly Mid Off on the sad fate of Leslie Hylton, who is the only test cricketer (thus far) to be executed. "Leslie Hylton’s Wisden obituary does not mention his demise, merely passing judgment on his cricketing career."

    Woodhouse Eaves was once a significant tourist destination

    J.B. Firth, in his Highways & Byways in Leicestershire, is very taken by Charnwood Forest, which he calls “the most romantic district in Leicestershire”:
    It is a fragment of Wales taken up and set down boldly in the heart of England, for no ostensible reason save the freakishness of Nature. In this small space are found are found all the varied delights of the most picturesque scenery – hills and airy summits clad with heath and bracken, pleasant woods, spacious parks, fair sheets of water, and the ruins of ancient mansions and religious houses. There is nothing like Charnwood Forest elsewhere in England.
    I was in Charnwood Forest today, visiting Woodhouse Eaves. It is a large village, so large that I suspect it began as a number of townships that have grown together. This was once marginal land and the surviving early artisan dwellings, together with the surprisingly wild landscape, put me in mind of the Stiperstones.

    The major reasons for the village’s later expansion is that it was once a significant tourist destination. The Woodhouse Eaves Village Design Statement, published by Charnwood Borough Council, explains its rise:
    As the city of Leicester and the other towns of north-west Leicestershire were industrialised during the 19th century, and their air became polluted or ‘unwholesome’ in the terminology of the time, people felt a need to escape to the country, even for the briefest of periods. 
    At the same time rising prosperity meant that larger numbers of people were able to have short holidays. The advent of the railways also made it easier for ordinary working people as well as members of the more prosperous middle class to reach outlying villages such as Woodhouse Eaves. 
    With its already varied natural attractions and rural, almost upland setting, Woodhouse Eaves thus became an early tourist destination. Numerous tea-rooms, bed-and-breakfast establishments, shops and other services came into existence during the late Victorian period. Several of the most architecturally interesting houses in the village were just such commercial premises during Woodhouse Eaves’ period as a significant tourist venue. 
    These years similarly saw the opening of a remarkable number of recovery and convalescent homes, these being established to take advantage of the relatively high altitude and fresh breezes during the late Victorian, Edwardian and post-First World War years. 
    These large new buildings were, however, on or beyond the outskirts of the main village itself. One such establishment proclaimed that ‘our country residence with beautiful grounds, an abundance of fresh air untainted by obnoxious fumes of city traffic, helps to restore health together with a high standard of nursing care’. 
    These were the decades when the Charnwood Forest, including Woodhouse Eaves, became known as ‘the playground and the sanatorium of the Leicestershire towns’ 
    And today, the first hot day of the year, the countryside was alive with hikers and Scouts, giving it something of the atmosphere of its 1930s heyday

    Those days have gone, but one of their legacies is that there are still plenty of places to eat in Woodhouse Eaves. I ate in the sun outside Gino’s Pear Tree, a superior Italian restaurant.

    Originally Ye Pear Tree Inn, this ornate Edwardian building would indeed look at home in an inland resort like Church Stretton - or quite possibly in the Black Forest.

    Is a right to be forgotten practicable?

    Ed Lucas writes in the Economist:
    The court’s desire to protect victims of misunderstanding and malice is understandable. But a right to be forgotten would be hard to implement. 
    Even if Google is made to censor its search results in Europe, in America the First Amendment’s free-speech provision usually trumps privacy concerns. 
    With modest technical know-how, European internet users will be able to make American-style searches. Europe will hardly want to build a Chinese-style firewall to prevent that.

    Roger Helmer: I was surprised by the vehemence with which some party spokesmen attacked the concept of voluntary repatriation

    A headline in tomorrow's Observer runs:

    Ukip shock over byelection candidate who backed voluntary repatriation


    When you take into account Helmer's views on rape, the ability of girls under 16 to consent to sex and much else besides, it would be a shock if he didn't support voluntary repatriation.

    Friday, May 16, 2014

    Wellingborough: A railway accident and a zoo

    Some archive footage and photographs of the Northamptonshire town of Wellingborough.

    Subjects covered include the railway accident of 1898 and the zoo park, which operated between 1943 and 1970.

    How are Norman Baker and Simon Hughes faring as ministers?

    The two Liberal Democrat ministers were dispatched to the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice by Nick Clegg with the instruction to make the liberal voice heard more clearly, says Nigel Morris in the Independent.

    How is it going?
    For Mr Baker it means trying to assert himself with a Secretary of State famed for her work ethic, attention to detail – and occasional reluctance to delegate. He has amassed a wide-ranging brief that brings in crime reduction, tackling violence against women, reducing animal experiments and gun licensing. 
    After an initial wariness, the pair have built a mutual respect and Mr Baker has achieved a higher profile than his predecessor, Jeremy Browne, who found himself isolated. 
    Mr Hughes has only been at the MoJ less than five months and has spoken of his determination to boost diversity in the legal profession and cut the number of women in prison. 
    The outside observer might imagine there is precious little meeting of minds with Chris Grayling. But the Tory Secretary of State’s hawkish language belies a strong commitment to rehabilitation shared with his Lib Dem minister.
    Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

    The right to be forgotten and Orwell's memory hole

    A couple of days ago I blogged that the "right to be forgotten" is a worrying development. Now a story on BBC News shows what it may lead to:
    Google has received fresh takedown requests after a European court ruled that an individual could force it to remove "irrelevant and outdated" search results, the BBC has learned. 
    An ex-politician seeking re-election has asked to have links to an article about his behaviour in office removed. 
    A man convicted of possessing child abuse images has requested links to pages about his conviction to be wiped. 
    And a doctor wants negative reviews from patients removed from the results.
    I expect "the BBC has learned" all this because Google has been careful to tell it, but this report does show some of the dangers of this newly minted right.

    Over to Canada and Don Pittis on CBC News:
    The European Court has shown the horrible danger of an ephemeral electronic storage system. 
    Suddenly a government or court can rule that information no longer exists in an easily accessible form. A paragraph from an electronic book, an article in an electronic newspaper, cannot be searched. And whoosh, history has changed. 
    It sounds like an excerpt from George Orwell's dystopian novel 1984 where The Ministry of Truth could decide which facts were acceptable. 
    "For some reason they were nicknamed memory holes," Orwell wrote. "When one knew that any document was due for destruction … it was an automatic action to lift the flap of the nearest memory hole and drop it in, whereupon it would be whirled away on a current of warm air to the enormous furnaces which were hidden somewhere in the recesses of the building."

    Thursday, May 15, 2014

    Blackbird of the Day

    Taken outside my office in Leicester this lunchtime.

    Ladbrokes make Lib Dems clear favourites to hold Bath at the general election

    An encouraging story for you from The Bath Chronicle:
    The Liberal Democrats are rock solid favourites to hang on to the Bath seat at next year’s general election, according to bookmaker Ladbrokes. 
    The firm is the first to release odds for the constituency currently held by Don Foster, who is retiring at the May 7 poll. 
    Ladbrokes has given recently-selected candidate Steve Bradley odds of 1/16 on, with Conservative Ben Howlett second at 6/1.

    Chairman of the Independent Schools Association wins Snob of the Day

    Last November Robert McCartney, chairman of the National Grammar Schools Association, won our Snob of the Day Award for his suggestion that:
    "Many, many parents from deprived areas, including what is generally called the dependency classes, are essentially not particularly interested in any form of academic education. Their interests are directed towards pop culture, sports."
    Today that award goes to Richard Walden, chairman of the Independent Schools Association.

    He wins it because, according to the Daily Telegraph:
    The state education system is producing a generation of "amoral" children who fail to understand the difference between right and wrong, according to a leading private school headmaster.
    Walden does have something important and sensible to say about state schools being forced to concentrate too much on their place in the league tables. But there are plenty of examination mills in the private sector too, so it is foolish in the extreme to reduce this debate to one of state vs private education.

    What lies behind his remarks, besides simple snobbery, is hard cash. Outside the South-East of England, many private schools are struggling. Parents are short of money and the state sector, with its academies and free schools, is looking more attractive to them these days.

    Which is probably why you will find this in the Telegraph report:
    He also calls on the Government to provide taxpayer-funded places at private schools to address a shortage of provision in the state education system, particularly for primary-age pupils. 
    This would provide a less "risky" alternative to the creation of new free schools - state institutions run independently of local council control - following a series of high-profile failures in recent months, he suggests. 
    "I do not believe it is necessary for government to pour millions into trying to establish new schools in many areas where there are already good independent schools," he says. "A new school is risky: it takes time to develop the ethos you want and initially it may not work. 
    "If politicians would take courage and channel funds into placing pupils at already well-established independent schools, they would know in advance the likely outcomes for the pupils."
    So how do you persuade the struggling upper middle classes to keep paying school fees? Easy. You try to spread the idea that all state schools turn our amoral children, that's how.

    How Lord Bonkers dealt with Nick Clegg's spot of teenage arson

    As John Humphrys has woken up to the Nick Clegg teenage arson story only seven years after the rest of us, I thought I would republish this entry from Lord Bonkers' Diary:
    The pride and joy of my gardener Meadowcroft is his collection of rare hairy cacti. He gathers them from the arid south of Rutland and tends them in the way that a particularly attentive she wolf looks after her whelps. 
    I well remember his fury when a young whipper-snapper from Westminster School burnt down the glasshouse where he keeps them. My first reaction was to hand the lad over to the Proper Authorities, but learning that he was some sort of nephew of my (how shall I put it?) old friend Moura Budberg, I relented and dealt with the matter myself. I informed the errant youth that he would work for Meadowcroft until he had made full and proper restitution for the loss of the aforementioned prickly crop. 
    Over the years Nick Clegg (for it was he) has had himself elected to the European Parliament and the Commons, but he still comes to the Hall regularly to do odd jobs. (What with compound interest and the strength of the Rutland pound, debts can take a long time to pay off.) 
    This afternoon Meadowcroft and I find Clegg perched on a garden seat writing a speech. “Never mind being a scholard,” says my favourite horticulturalist, belabouring him with a broom, “get out and sweep up they leaves.” “I think Clegg has just left his comfort zone,” I observe as he rushes out to work in the garden.