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.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Alan Moore and Iain Sinclair on The Last London

Two of the grand old, grumpy old, men of psychogeography in conversation at The House of the Last London, Gallery 46, Whitechapel.

There will be no Arts Fresco this year

The organisers of Arts Fresco - Market Harborough's celebrated street theatre festival - have announced that it will not take place in 2018:
The organising committee for the Arts Fresco street theatre festival in Market Harborough has unanimously agreed to give the festival a year off in 2018. 
After another tremendously successful event in 2017 with record visitor numbers, high profile UK and international performers, and highly positive feedback from acts and the audience, we now need to focus on generating more sustainable, longer-term funding models to secure the festival’s future, and also to give the volunteer organising committee a well-deserved break. 
The festival will return on Sunday, 22 September 2019.
First news of the plans for next year will appear on the Arts Fresco website.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Six of the Best 771

Waseem Yaqoob explains why university staff are striking: "The success of the strike will depend to a large extent on how students respond. Jeremiads about the future of the universities depict the students as consumerist monads. But a survey carried out earlier this week reveals that, though students are split on the strike, most of them blame the government, their university or their vice chancellor. Only one in twenty blames the union."

"Many of the students I see complain that the moment they have a free hour, their parent rushes in to fill it." William Stixrud and Ned Johnson make the case for "the self-driven child".

Generation Tree pays tribute to the pioneers who planted trees in Britain's parks and streets.

Scientism is taken to task by Massimo Pigliucci. It's: "An exaggerated trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science applied to all areas of investigation (as in philosophy, the social sciences, and the humanities)."

"Tippett’s music is brimming with energy and ebullience, seemingly celebrating the challenge of humanity to bring together darkness and light. It engages with questions of war, sexuality, race, and class in ways that are highly relevant in today’s world of heightened political and social tensions." Will Frampton says Michael Tippett is a composer for our time.

The Gentle Author on the rediscovery of three lost panels by East End artist Cecil Osborne (1909-96) that once hung in St Pancras Town Hall.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Private Eye, snobbery and The Antiques Roadshow

There is a silly little item in the current Private Eye.

It begins:
Hard times at the BBC, where it appears even the treasured Antiques Roadshow must make cutbacks. 
The roster for the forthcoming series has been announced and settings will include the spectacular Crathes Castles (sic) in Aberdeenshire, Buckfast Abbey in Devon, Eltham Palace in Greenwich and, er, Media City in Salford.
It's years since I made a point of watching the show, but what made Antiques Roadshow interesting was precisely that ordinary people could turn up with extraordinary and valuable objects.

And in its early days at least, the programme often came from pretty mundane locations - Market Harborough Leisure Centre, for instance.

In fact it was Roadshow's later obsession with historic houses that put me off it. The inserts in which the presenter fawned over Lord and Lady Muck and their treasures were usually a bore.

Behind this item, I fear, lies Private Eye's original sin of snobbery. How, they ask, could people in somewhere like Salford possibly have anything of interest to show us?

Church spires should be beacons of energy in the landscape

From BBC News the other day:
Church spires could be used to boost mobile and broadband coverage in rural areas under an agreement between the UK government and the Church of England. 
The government has committed to achieving good-quality mobile connectivity across the UK by 2022. 
While the agreement encourages churches to sign up, they will still have to negotiate the usual planning process. 
Digital analysts welcomed the development but said "the devil would be in the detail".
I have heard of churches being used to boost signals in this way before and I like the idea. They are and should be beacons of energy in the landscape.

The danger, I suppose, is that this scheme may bring ancient ley lines to life and cause wolves to run or the darkness to rise. Worse, it may turn out that it is the Devil in the detail.

But on the whole I think it's a chance worth taking.

Eels: The Deconstruction

This is the title track from an album to be released in April.

It sounds very Nineties to me, but then that is when Eels started out.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Round 94 of Andrew Bridgen vs Keith Vaz

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It is no secret that Andrew Bridgen (Conservative MP for Leicestershire North West) and Keith Vaz (Labour MP for Leicester East) do not get on, much as it was no secret that relations were a little strained between the Montagues and Capulets.

The latest round in their long bout can be found in a Mail Online article from last week.

Andrew Bridgen wants the National Crime Agency to use new powers created to crackdown on crime gangs to investigate the Labour MP. 
Mr Bridgen claimed in a letter that Mr Vaz owns eight homes in the UK, more property in India and sends his children to fee-paying schools on his MP salary of £74,962. 
Mr Vaz received an extra £15,025 a year during his time as chairman of the home affairs committee until he resigned in September 2016 amid a rent boy scandal. 
Mr Bridgen said in the letter this income did not justify the expenditure and called for an 'Unexplained Wealth Order investigation'.
Mr Vaz referred MailOnline to Carter Ruck. A spokesman said: "Mr Vaz considers Mr Bridgen's cowardly actions in peddling malicious, highly defamatory and utterly false allegations in this way to be wholly reprehensible, albeit unsurprising given Mr Bridgen's track record. 
"Mr Vaz will be considering appropriate legal action against Mr Bridgen and also ask the NCA or other relevant authorities to investigate Mr Bridgen for wasting public resources by pressuring them into investigating his vexatious and malicious 'complaints''."

Lib Dem councillor takes temporary charge of City of York Council

The Ludlow & Tenbury Wells Advertiser once described Ludlow Town Council as "beleaguered" and "in meltdown".

So far The Press (which was called the Yorkshire Evening Press when I was a student) has avoided such language when talking about City of York Council, but the day cannot be far off.

Take yesterday's report:
York's Conservative leader says he is "in talks" on renewing the deal to run the city council with the Lib Dems, after councillors failed to agree on a new leader. 
Cllr Ian Gillies was elected leader of City of York Council's Conservative group earlier this month, but last night could not get enough votes to become the council leader - with the Liberal Democrats and opposition councillors voting down his nomination. 
With his predecessor Cllr David Carr resigning and accusing his fellow Conseravtives of betrayal, that left with authority with no leader and Lib Dem deputy council leader Cllr Andrew Waller in temporary charge. 
A second Conservative councillor, Suzie Mercer, also resigned from the party.
Since the 2015 elections the council has been run by an uneasy Conservative and Liberal Democrat administration.

Relations between the two parties were not helped when David Carr had two Lib Dem councillors suspended from the executive for reasons that remain obscure.

Ben Bradley apologises to Jeremy Corbyn over tweet and makes payment to charity

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Ben Bradley, the Conservative MP for Mansfield, has apologised unreservedly for his tweet claiming Jeremy Corbyn had "sold British secrets to communist spies".

He has also pledged never to repeat the claims in any form, agreed to make a substantial donation to charities of the Labour leader’s choosing and meet his legal costs.

Corbyn will divide the donation between a homeless charity and a food bank in Mansfield.

The Labour Party website has the wording of the apology Bradley will tweet:
On 19 February 2018 I made a seriously defamatory statement on my Twitter account, ‘Ben Bradley MP (@bbradleymp)’, about Jeremy Corbyn, alleging he sold British secrets to communist spies. I have since deleted the defamatory tweet. I have agreed to pay an undisclosed substantial sum of money to a charity of his choice, and I will also pay his legal costs. 
I fully accept that my statement was wholly untrue and false. I accept that I caused distress and upset to Jeremy Corbyn by my untrue and false allegations, suggesting he had betrayed his country by collaborating with foreign spies. 
I am very sorry for publishing this untrue and false statement and I have no hesitation in offering my unreserved and unconditional apology to Jeremy Corbyn for the distress I have caused him.
There are serious questions to be asked about the Labour left's attitude to the Soviet Union and its satellites, but (like its attitude to the Provisional IRA) I suspect it is all too long ago to concern most voters.

Bradley - despite his expensive education - turns out to be about the least-equipped person to raise those questions. I am reminded of the demise of Katie Hopkins.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Six of the Best 770

Otto English takes a look at the record of the 62 Conservative MPs who signed the European Research Group letter to Theresa May.

"The frenzied desire to ‘give the Jews a good kicking’ led the room to reject local MP Tulip Siddiq’s alternative offer of a report on her parliamentary activities instead. Apparently, as we seek a full-on return to the Dark Ages, the ritual ‘humiliation of the Jews’ must come before any competing business." Philip Rosenberg on the institutional racism in his local Labour Party.

"The idea that black people only inhabit urban areas, and that the English countryside has always been white, is a myth. Yes, many black and brown people who came to the UK settled in our larger cities, but not exclusively – there are a multitude of rural histories which are yet to be heard." Louisa Adjoa Parker uncovers some of them, from slavery to African American WW2 GIs.

Barney Ronay says Britain is choking on a toxic obsession with Winter Olympic medals

"During his stint, Orwell enjoyed a spectacular fall out with the editor which saw him nearly quit... and moaned about his rates of pay (although his weekly wages of 8 guineas - the equivalent of £220 today - would be a fortune with today's tight budgets)." Yakub Qureshi discovers George Orwell's three years on the Manchester Evening News.

Tim Worthington remembers Chris Morris's Blue Jam.

A Leicester ghost sign

Clarendon Park, actually.

Former Freemason, 51, found drunk and naked inside a huge pipe organ with a toy gun and remote-controlled police car says he got lost while trying to hand out cheeseburgers to the homeless

By general acclamation among my Twitter followers, the Daily Mail wins this blog's prestigious Headline of the Day Award.

Strictly speaking, the decision was up to the judges. But, hearing the mob baying at the gates, they soon caved in.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Remembering Jabberwocky

Jabberwocky in 1977 was Terry Gilliam’s first film as a solo director.

Here, 40 years on, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin and Annette Badland remember making it.

The live-action remake of The Sword in the Stone

Disney's live-action remake of The Sword in the Stone appears to be happening.

A while ago it was reported that Bryan Cogman, a writer on Game of Thrones, was working on the script.

Now the Hollywood Reporter says the film may have found its director. It's Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, best known for 28 Weeks Later:
Fresnadillo’s hiring points to the direction in which the remake will head. The filmmaker is known for his dark tones. 
Which sounds distinctly promising.

The Sword in the Stone was the last cartoon issued by his studio in Walt Disney's lifetime. I have seen clips from it, which seem pretty good bar the young Arthur's American accent.

But I've never sought out a copy to watch all the way through - you can read about it on Reel History.

Other reports say the remake will not be released in cinemas but via a new television service Disney is planning as a rival to Netflix.

Why Vince Cable doesn't go to PMQs any more

Vince Cable, reports Isabel Hardman, has been to only three out of the six Prime Minister's Questions held this year. He does turn up when he has a question allocated, which is now around once a month.

And she also quotes Vince's explanation for his absence:
"There’s no point sitting there like a stuffed dummy every single week just to watch a Punch and Judy show when I can be doing more important work for my constituents and on policy. If there is a Prime Minister’s statement, then I always turn up because I get to ask a question."
Vince is right.

In part this decision is a function of the Liberal Democrats' diminished strength in the Commons, but it is also a comment on the gruesome spectacle PMQs have become.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
They are pretty much the House of Commons at its worst, but unless you are a political anorak PMQs are all you get to see of it.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A hard life: The Grange, Rothley

Once I had photographed the Saxon cross at Rothley I found myself running out of energy. It was the precursor to a nasty bout of man flu I have been down with this week.

But I did photograph another building, It looked as though it had at one time been noble, suffered a hard life and was now preserved (with a touch of the mortician's art being used).

I was more or less right.

The Grange began life as a farmhouse in the 18th century and was enlarged to become a large country house at the end of the 19th.

In 1950 it became the headquarters of Barrow Rural District Council - as in Barrow upon Soar. The authority proceeded to surround it with "tasteless modern outbuildings".

It was in this condition that it was taken over in 1974 by Charnwood District Council, a new authority centred on Loughborough. They leased space on to other statutory bodies.

In 2008 The Grange was bought from the council by William Davis, who converted it into flats and built some more around it.

Rothley Parish Council has some pleasing photos of the buildings in a derelict condition awaiting restoration and redevelopment.

Six of the Best 769

"The smaller party in a future coalition must be wary of sacrificing too many of its core values for the sake of government unity." Judi Atkins draws some lessons on how to make coalition work from Britain's 2010-15 experience.

"We live in an age of increasing polarisation and fraction with bitter conflicts between opposing groups, whether this is in the case of Trump, Brexit, One Nation or other extremist or populist movements. These results remind us that we should be wary of assuming that our followers are thoughtful and caring but their followers are brainwashed and hateful — not least because from their perspective the opposite is likely to be true." A University of Queensland press release quotes the psychologist Nik Steffens on how we see members of ingroups and outgroups.

Maya Kosoff on the problems facing Twitter.

Londonist looks at the chances of York Road station on the Piccadilly line north of King's Cross being reopened.

"The view comes courtesy of Britain’s growing rubbish problem from a boom in commerce through the 60s, 70s and 80s. You’re actually standing on one of the biggest rubbish tips in Britain." Helia Phoenix takes us to a favourite Cardiff viewpoint.

Anthony Teague celebrates 'Stand by Me' and Ben E. King.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Ben Bradley MP and his expensive education

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Ben Bradley, the accident-prone Conservative MP for Mansfield, has been in the news again today.

This time it was for tweeting a thumping libel of Jeremy Corbyn and then deleting it in the face of threatened legal action.

Those Conservatives who defend Bradley generally do so by accusing his critics of snobbery.

But is he really a local, working-class boy made good?

Go to Ben Bradley's website and you will find his biography begins:
Born in 1989 in Ripley, 28 year old Ben initially went to study Sports Science at Bath University, but after deciding the course wasn't for him, trained and worked as a Landscape Gardener. 
Why no mention of the schools he attended? If you are running as the local candidate there is nothing better than being able to say you attended local schools.

Go to the Ben Bradley entry on Wikipedia and the mystery is solved. Ben Bradley attended Derby Grammar School.

Despite its name, this school was founded in 1995 and has always been a private, fee-paying establishment.

And its current fees are £12,993 a year.

No wonder Ben Bradley doesn't mention it on his website.

I imagine Bradley's Conservative defenders have assumed that because he has a Nottinghamshire accent he cannot come from a wealthy family.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
It's sad that people from the affluent South East of England often know so little about the country they live in.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Restoring the Thames and Severn Canal

The Thames and Severn Canal, which was finally abandoned in 1941, ran for 28 miles from the Stroudwater Navigation in Stroud to the Thames just above Lechlade.

Efforts have been underway to restore it since the 1970s and the Inland Waterways Association explains the progress that has been made:
Cotswold Canals Trust aims to restore the Thames & Severn Canal from its junction with the Stroudwater Navigation in Stroud through to the River Thames. 
With the Stroudwater Navigation, the restored canal would re-create an alternative through route between the rivers Thames and Severn from the Kennet & Avon Canal and one that would avoid the tidal Bristol Avon, which is unsuitable for inexperienced boat owners. 
Showpiece sections of the canal have been restored, including both ends of Sapperton Tunnel at the summit, to demonstrate the advantages of restoring the whole canal.
The film above shows the restoration of Wallbridge Lower Lock in Stroud, the first on the canal. Some of the photographs included demonstrate just how much had to be done to recover the canal there.

When making tea add the milk first

These days we all make tea in mugs with teabags, when you have to put the milk in last.

But for those civilised people who still use a teapot, the answer to the age-old debate is that you should put the milk in first.

An old press release from the Royal Society of Chemistry explains the science behind this conclusion:
Milk should be added before the tea, because denaturation (degradation) of milk proteins is liable to occur if milk encounters temperatures above 75°C. If milk is poured into hot tea, individual drops separate from the bulk of the milk and come into contact with the high temperatures of the tea for enough time for significant denaturation to occur. This is much less likely to happen if hot water is added to the milk.
Why did this question use to occupy us so much?

This is England, so it's no surprise that the answer involves class and snobbery.

Fortnum & Mason explain:
Putting the milk in last was considered to be the ‘correct’ thing to do in refined social circles, but the reason for this is often forgotten. In the early days of tea-drinking, poor-quality cups were inclined to crack when hot tea was poured into them, and putting the milk in first helped to prevent this. 
When finer and stronger materials came into use, this was no longer necessary – so putting the milk in last became a way of showing that one had the finest china on one’s table. 
Evelyn Waugh once recorded a friend using the phrase ‘rather milk-in-first’ to refer to a lower-class person, and the habit became a social divider that had little to do with the taste of the tea.

An important interview with Vince Cable

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Ned Simons from Huffington Post interviewed Vince Cable on Valentine's Day - the Lib Dem leader was planning to meet his wife Rachel at a "nice romantic restaurant down by the river" later.

They had a wide ranging and enlightening conversation. Here are a few of the more important things Vince said.

On Brexit:
Cable says had Theresa May gone for a soft-Brexit, by which he means keeping the UK in the single market and customs union, a lot of pro-EU voters would have gone along with it. 
“I think a lot of Remainers would have said ‘ok fine, we would rather not leave, but this is something we can cope with and it’s not going to cause a lot of economic harm’,” he says. 
“The fact they are pursuing a much more extreme and also very uncertain outcome means that these divisions are not going to go away. They are becoming more extreme and acute. People will want to have a fresh look at this when they know what the outcome is. 
On the Lib Dems:
“There are some good things happening,” Cable says of his party’s position. “We have this record level of membership, lots of enthusiastic young people. We are the youngest of the three parties, I’ve discovered, in terms of average age. You go around the country and lots of kind of idealistic young people, full of energy who want to do things and that’s really good. 
“I think the other thing that pleasantly, I’m not going to say pleasantly surprised me, but which is good - we’ve got a very good cohesive team. It would be nice to have a lot more than 12 MPs, but they are pretty harmonious and work together. They are very good and it has made my life a lot easier.”
On the Coalition:
Cable says being a minister was “constantly battling against internal things”. 
“We worked pretty well together and we got agreement, but it was hard work. It was tough. Very tough,” he says. 
“But you know. I survived the obstacle course. Being in opposition is almost by definition easier. I came in politics to do things. I don’t regret having been in government.”
Going back to Brexit, Vince mentions having heard someone say that there is a kind of non-violent civil war going on.

There are certainly parallels with the English Civil War when you look at divides like Court vs Country, but the Brexiteers do not have a Cromwell.

Boy do they not have a Cromwell.