Sunday, May 01, 2016

Lost lines: Harrow to Stanmore



Another video from Londonist.

I remember crossing the bridge at Belmont by bus on the way to see my mother's aunt in Wealdstone.

Six of the Best 594

"People who are not very bright have this terrible tendency to pick a side in major intractable geopolitical conflicts, and support it as if it was a football team." Dan Davies offers a fair-minded account of Labour's problem with antisemitism.

John Blake puts Ken Livingstone right on Hitler and Zionism.

"The evidence built into a startling indictment of South Yorkshire police, their chain of command and conduct – a relentlessly detailed evisceration of a British police force." David Conn on the lessons of Hillsborough and the longest inquest in British legal history.

The Shropshire Star collects local residents' memories of the filming of Powell and Pressburger's Gone to Earth in 1949: "I shall never forget Jennifer Jones’ feet. She did all the running up Pontesford Hill and up to the Devil’s Chair in bare feet, and her feet were bleeding. She was absolutely brilliant, a lovely looking girl."

James Curry remembers his grandfather, the Revd J.P. Martin, who wrote the immortal Uncle books.

Adam Gopnik reviews a new biography of Paul McCartney.

Billy Fury: Silly Boy Blue



It's a sign of how quickly music developed in the 1960s that Billy Fury and David Bowie seem to belong to quite different eras.

But here (played by Danny Baker yesterday morning) is an early Bowie song recorded by Fury.
Anorak Thing explains its genesis. Bowie's manager Kenneth Pitt:
managed to convince Billy Fury's manager Larry Parnes that Bowie had something to offer his client. By 1968 Billy Fury's hit days were long gone. Despite a switch from Decca to Parlophone in January 1967 he hadn't scored a hit on EMI's label. Game for a chance at anything Parnes agreed to record a version of "Silly Boy Blue", a track that had already graced Bowie's debut album, as Fury's next single. Sadly it did nothing for either the artist or the composer.
Which is a shame, because it was a good record.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Leicester Oral History Trail 6: Church Gate



The latest of these recordings deals with what is now a slightly disreputable street.

Read about its history in the city council's Church Gate Conservation Area character appraisal.

Zac Goldsmith: "I'm a Bollywood fan"



This must be most awkward exchange since Tony Blair was asked to name one of the Newcastle United players he claimed to have watched as a schoolboy in the 1960s.

Thanks to Tom King on Twitter.

Electoral Commission asks for more time to consider Conservative election expenses

From the Channel 4 News website today:
The elections watchdog has asked for more time to pursue possible criminal prosecutions regarding Tory election spending, as a summit is called to consider the evidence revealed by Channel 4 News. 
Following months of investigations by Channel 4 News, the Electoral Commission has requested an extension to the time limit available to pursue possible criminal prosecutions regarding Conservative Party campaign spending returns. 
Bob Posner, Director of Party and Election Finance & Legal Counsel at the Electoral Commission said, “The police and the CPS both have the power to apply to the Courts to extend the time limit on bringing criminal prosecutions for electoral offences to allow for full investigations to take place. We have requested that they consider doing this.” 
Representatives of the Electoral Commission and the Crown Prosecution Service will hold also hold a summit with a number of police forces to discuss the Conservative Party’s election expenses next week.
Meanwhile the Cornish Guardian reports:
A Devon and Cornwall Police spokesman said that following complaints from "a small number" of members of the public, officers had launched an inquiry into allegations that Mr Mann's declared election expenses did not portray an accurate picture of his spending. 
Mr Mann has vigorously denied any wrong-doing but has conceded that he did not know details of how some of the Conservative Party campaigning in his constituency had been accounted for. 
The national party repeatedly sent campaigners to North Cornwall in a touring "Battle Bus." 
At issue is whether the travel and accommodation expenses for those campaigners should have been declared locally, or as part of a national campaign spend
If the Electoral Commission, as it should, is taking this affair seriously, there is much more chance of it coming to something substantial than there would be if it were left to isolated local campaigners.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Ashdon Halt revisited



When I posted the video of disused stations in Essex, I was rather taken with Ashdon Halt. Its platform building, an old coach, was still in situ years after the last train called.

The video above shows Ashdon Halt in 2011 1997 and whilst open.

The station was on the old Great Eastern line between Audley End and Bartlow, It opened in 1911 and closed when the line was closed in 1964.

You can read more about it on Disused Stations.

Six of the Best 593

"Oakeshottian conservatives prefer the devil they know; idealists, rationalists and managerialists think they can improve upon it." Chris Dillow returns to one of his favourite themes: the trouble with the Conservatives is that they are no longer Conservative.

Anoosh Chakelian meets Piers Corbyn, brother of the Labour leader.

"Our National Parks are dominated by sheep farms and grouse or deer estates, leaving almost all our hills bare. Nature is protected in isolated reserves which provide important refuges for biodiversity. But these refuges are not joined up, and so are very fragile in the long-term." Helen Meech makes the case for rewilding.

St Peter's Seminary, Cardross, is a celebrated modernist ruin on the Firth of Clyde. John Grindrod has photographs of it from the 1960s: "What's immediately apparent is how beautiful the building is. The arches, the windows, the concrete, the strange forms and shadows."

Richly Evocative introduces us to the elusive, slippery territory that is Ashley Vale in, St Werburghs, Bristol.

Taylor Parkes celebrates The Professionals.

The Long Mynd and Stiperstones shuttle bus starts tomorrow


Running every Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday until 2 October, this service connects Church Stretton with the remote country around the Long Mynd and Stiperstones - and with some very good pubs too.

A sad paragraph at the bottom of the Shropshire Hills Shuttle Buses page says:
Unfortunately, Castle Connect, which ran between Ludlow, Knighton, Clun and Bishop’s Castle will not be running in 2016. This route was set up three years ago as part of Shropshire’s Sustainable Transport Project. Now that funding has ceased, the cost of running this service for another year was in danger of putting the future of the Long Mynd & Stiperstones Shuttle at risk. Thank you to all who supported this route over the last couple of years. We are looking at other options to better link the towns with the hills, and will be applying for new grants to support this.
My photo shows the shuttle bus near the car park beneath the summit of the Stiperstones, with the Long Mynd in the distance behind it..

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway in 1960


In 2014 I travelled on the Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway. After doing so I posted an old video of the lost line from through the streets of Welshpool that once connected the line's Raven Square station with the town's mainline station.

Click on the photo above to go to the BFI site and view film shot in 1960. It shows the whole line, including that abandoned section.

There you will also learn about the man who shot it:
Footage shot by Ion Trant, originally from Dovea Farm, Tipperary, Ireland. He farmed Maesmawr farm, Welshpool (plus the adjoining farm, Cefn Du and a Radnorshire hill farm, Esgairdraenllwyn) with his wife, Janet (nee Lewis). Conscious of a growing gulf between town and country, he welcomed school visits to his farm and created the BBC children’s series "Country Close-Up" (1956-62), featuring his land and children.

The health effects of losing a political career

What happens to MPs who lose their seats?

Yesterday I blogged about a paper by Dr Peter Bull on Jeremy Corbyn and prime minister's questions. A second paper in the symposium looked at the effects of electoral defeat.

Dame Jane Roberts from the Open University, a psychiatrist and former Labour leader of Camden, and the psychologist Dr Ashley Weinberg from the University of Salford, set out to answer this question.

After each of the last three general elections Dr Weinberg has asked MPs from the previous parliament to complete a standard questionnaire about their psychological wellbeing. Out of 88 respondents, 16 of those MPs had chosen to retire, 12 had been defeated and 60 had held their seats.

Analysing the questionnaire results Dr Weinberg found higher levels of psychological strain amongst the MPs who had either won or been defeated and the lowest among those who had chosen to retire. The former MPs expressed mixed responses to leaving the Commons, some finding it very difficult and other acknowledging the benefits for their health.

An in-depth qualitative study by Dame Jane Roberts involved interviews with 30 politicians, including MPs and council leaders who had chosen to stand down, been defeated at an election or continued serving. Where possible, she also spoke to the partners of the former politicians.

The interviews showed council leaders were consistently positive about their experience of the role while MPs held mixed views. Whether the exit was voluntary or involuntary accounted for some difference in the experience of the transition from office, but the picture was more complicated than this distinction alone.

Some MPs reported relief from the chains of office and the media glare, but many acknowledged a deep sense of loss and dislocation, while their partners attested to the impact of the transition on home life.

The researchers said:

"Our findings suggest that the health effects of losing a political career should be taken more seriously. It was striking that the defeated MPs reported that so little advice was available about handling career transition.

"This is about not about politicians having special treatment – quite the reverse. It’s about the political world catching up with the rest of the working world and politicians being afforded similar consideration as others who are made redundant or retire.”

The best case for Remain has been made by... Jeremy Clarkson



Here are some paragraphs from the best case I have seen for Britain's continued membership of the European Union:
In 1973 my parents held a Common Market party. They’d lived through the war, and for them it seemed a good idea to form closer ties with our endlessly troublesome neighbours. For me, however, it was a chance to make flags out of coloured felt and to eat exotic foods such as sausage and pasta. I felt very European that night, and I still do. 
Whether I’m sitting in a railway concourse in Brussels or pottering down the canals of southwestern France or hurtling along a motorway in Croatia, I feel way more at home than I do when I’m trying to get something to eat in Dallas or Sacramento. I love Europe, and to me that’s important.
And:
Isn’t it better to stay in and try to make the damn thing work properly? To create a United States of Europe that functions as well as the United States of America? With one army and one currency and one unifying set of values? 
Britain, on its own, has little influence on the world stage. I think we are all agreed on that. But Europe, if it were well run and had cohesive, well thought-out policies, would be a tremendous force for good
Can you guess who wrote them?

Of course you can. I have pasted a photo of him above.

But this column by Jeremy Clarkson, published in the Sunday Times on 13 March of this year.

It's support for full-blown federalism will scare some off - I am not its greatest admirer itself - but it captures an enjoyment of our European identity that has been wholly absent from the Remain campaign.

That campaign has concentrated on pointing to the disasters that may befall Britain if it leaves the EU and pointing to the contradictions in the Leave case. Its arguments are right, but are unlikely to inspire anyone.

So why hasn't Jeremy Clarkson been up front and centre of the Remain campaign? He would appeal to great swathes of voters likely to have so far remained untouched by it.

Maybe he was asked and said no, but it is hard to resist the conclusion that maybe, just maybe, the leadership of the pro-EU campaign does not consist of the best and brightest who could have been found.

Incidentally, Clarkson's article is lodged safely behind the Sunday Times' paywall, but I found the full text of it on a Top Gear bulletin board.

It was a little like stumbling across a site devoted to a fetish you do not share. I was not so much surprised as puzzled.

No, Clarkson's views are not mine, but I do admire the easy flow of his prose as a columnist. From that point of view, a young writer could do much worse than adopt him as a model.

And what I always objected to was not so much Top Gear itself so much as the BBC's absurd promotion of it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Disused railway stations in Essex


A short but interesting selection. It runs from Blake Hall (once part of the Central Line) to Tollesbury, where my mother's mother's family all came from.

A special word for Ashdon Halt too.

How Jeremy Corbyn has changed prime minister's questions

Dr Peter Bull, a psychologist from the University of York, appeared on Daily Politics today talking about his research into Jeremy Corbyn's approach to prime minister's questions.

As you can see above, he found that Corbyn's tactic of sourcing questions from members of the public has reduced the confrontational nature of PMQs in that David Cameron is less likely to reply to such questions with a personal attack on him.

It happens that the programme picked up this research from a press release I wrote in my day job.

Dr Bull is presenting his research tomorrow at the annual conference of the British Psychological Society in Nottingham.

I had originally wanted to aim the release at last Sunday's papers, but it was not possible to finalise it in time. Then a colleague had the bright idea of giving it a Wednesday embargo to coincide with today's PMQs.

In February I blogged here that Cameron had learnt how to deal with these questions from the public.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Stuart Lee in conversation at Oxford Brookes University



If you enjoyed 55 minutes of Stewart Lee talking about comedy, then you may enjoy this hour and 25 minutes of him doing so even more.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Leicester Oral History Trail 5: Clock Tower



Plenty of tram-related goodness in the latest episode.

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 yourself, please send me an email so we can discuss your idea.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

King's Lynn to Hunstanton in 1968



John Betjeman travelled on this line in 1962.

This colour footage of it was shot six years later - a year before it closed.

Click on the picture to view it on the BFI site.

Did the rise of the SNP really spook Lib Dem voters in England?



Last July I began a post like this:
A myth is growing up about the Liberal Democrat debacle at the last general election. It holds that we lost almost all of our seats because the Conservatives ruthlessly targeted them and won over former Liberal Democrat voters. 
So they did, but there is little sign that our lost voters went to the Conservatives instead.
My assurance was based on my reading of an article by Seth Thévoz and Lewis Baston on the Social Liberal Forum site.

Here are a couple of the paragraphs I quoted back in July:
The Conservative-facing seats showed a remarkably consistent pattern; the main factor at play was Lib Dem collapse rather than Conservative recovery. In each of the 27 seats lost to the Conservatives, the collapse in Lib Dem votes was sizably larger than any increase in Tory votes, by a factor of anything up to 29.
And:
This means that although the Lib Dem position in many Tory-facing seats is dire following a collapse of the party’s vote, the Conservative position is not necessarily ‘safe’ or stable; the Conservatives have won many of these seats on relatively small popular votes, and there still exists in these constituencies a reasonably large non-Conservative vote which could potentially be mobilised around a clear anti-Conservative candidate with a more appealing pitch than that of the 2015 Lib Dem campaign. 
Nor is the Conservative vote appreciably growing much in such areas. In seats like Lewes, Portsmouth South, St Ives, Sutton and Cheam, and Torbay, the increase in Conservative votes was negligible, and Lib Dem defeat can be laid down entirely to so much of the Lib Dem vote having vanished.
I thought of this article when I read the review of David Laws' new book Coalition that Nick Thornsby has written for Liberal Democrat Voice.

Or, to be more accurate, when I read the comments on that review.

In one of them Nick himself says:
The conclusion he [Laws] comes to is that the coalition was probably worst for the party in terms of 2015 results, but that whatever route we took was always going to result in a fairly significant loss of seats, either in a later election in 2010, or in 2014/5. 
The particularly big factor in that is Scotland, and the SNP’s rise there would almost certainly been as drastic whatever we did, which had the double-edged effect of denying us seats in Scotland and scaring our voters in the south-west into voting Tory.
In reply Glenn says:
The Lib Dem vote was not scared by the SNP or Miliband or The Greens or frankly even UKIP. Many more former Lib Dem voters voted for these parties than for the Conservatives. The vote simply split enough in enough seats to give Cameron an edge. This is a government formed on a small majority, not a landslide victory or masses of popular support.
And, Adrian Sanders - the defeated Liberal Democrat MP in Torbay - agrees:
“our voters in the south-west into voting Tory.” No, no, no, this is not what happened. Firstly there was no great swing to the Tories – 500 votes in my seat while I lost over 7,000. Our voters mostly stayed loyal. It was tactical voters who deserted us for Ukip, Labour and the Greens, not the Tories.
This debate matters, because our analysis of what went wrong at the last election must be central to our attempts at recovery.

Are we trying to soothe people who voted Conservative last time and praying for something to change in Scotland? Or are we trying to reassemble the coalition of anti-Conservatives that returned us in these seats between 1997 and 2015?

My feeling, backed by the original article by Thévoz and Baston, is that we should adopt the latter approach,

Roy C: Shotgun Wedding



This reached number 6 in the UK singles chart in 1966 and number 8 when it was re-released in 1972 (which is when I remember it from).

In view of the turn 2016 has taken, I better point out that Roy C - Roy Charles Hammond - is still with us.

Read more about his career on his own website.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Leicester Oral History Trail 4: Leicester Market



The fourth of these videos cover Leicester Market - described these days as "the largest covered market in Europe," though I don't know who measures such things.

Six of the Best 592

Andrew Hickey says the Liberal Democrats should support Basic Income: "The person receiving the benefits will always know better than some Whitehall bureaucrat who earns a hundred grand a year what they most need to spend money on at any given time."

Internet voting is a terrible idea. In a video, Andrew Appel explains why.

"Having first placed Eliot in his historical and literary context, then having pointed to what is unique in him, Obama ends by showing how he speaks to any individual reader who pauses to listen. This is what the finest literary criticism has always done." Edward Mendelson discovers Barack Obama the literary critic.

Railway Maniac uncovers Ilkeston's forgotten history as a spa town.

"The last time I had seen Panesar at Wantage Road the club shop was fully stocked with Monty merchandise – “I Love Monty” and “Sikh of Tweak” t-shirts, the ill-advised “Monty’s Cricket Madness” DVDs (a compilation of cock-ups, whose cover made him look as though he had just been pulled up for driving a minicab uninsured), those masks." Backwatersman sees Monty Panesar return to play for Northamptonshire.

Curious British Telly on a forgotten (by me at least) comedy starring Rik Mayall - Believe Nothing.

Could Willie Rennie win North East Fife?



Early this week the Telegraph looked at the prospects for the Holyrood election in North East Fife, which is the seat Ming Campbell used to represent at Westminster.

The Liberal Democrat candidate is Willie Rennie:
Rennie is not prepared to predict victory in the constituency (he is more likely to get in as a regional list MSP), but says the fact the Lib Dems came second in the general election last year by around 4,000 votes is “not insurmountable”. 
He adds: “It’s the right combination of a good team, the right message and the right circumstances locally plus the best candidate you could possibly ever get.” This last comment is accompanied by a trademark chuckle. 
“Because I am from that part of the world I understand the area, I have got a good network of councillors, a good activist base. I would like to do it, but it’s up to the voters and I never take anything for granted.”

St George, the dragon and Danger Mouse in Leicester


Like many other cities, Leicester is keen to develop St George's Day as a folk festival. Quite what it should contain is still up for grabs, but there seems to be a consensus that morris dancers are a central feature.

Today Danger Mouse put in an appearance. I am sure he played a part in the legend of St George, but I forget whether he fought on the saint's side or that of the dragon.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Lost lines: Addiscombe and Woodside to Selsdon



Another video from Londonist. This time there are plenty of interesting remains to seek out.

Six of the Best 591

"This tells you everything you need to know about the desperate, empty campaign being run by a gang of politicians who’ve stepped beyond mere incompetence, and have ended up somewhere truly nasty, surrounded by supporters who love every bit of it." Rupert Myers is damning about the Brexiteers' assault on President Obama.

Monroe Palmer outlines the improvement to the government's Housing Bill that Liberal Democrat peers have battled to make.

"The premise of Russian foreign policy to the West is that the rule of law is one big joke; the practice of Russian foreign policy is to find prominent people in the West who agree. Moscow has found such people throughout Europe; until the rise of Trump the idea of an American who would volunteer to be a Kremlin client would have seemed unlikely." Timothy Snyder dissects Donald Trump's admiration for Vladimir Putin.

It is good to see Jerzy Skolimowski’s Deep End getting a mention alongside the usual suspects in this Steve Rose survey of films about Britain from the 1960s.

Jessica Fielding brings us the Yorkshire Television schedule for Monday 19 April 1971 - Richard Beckinsale, Austin Mitchell and Ena Sharples in unexpected colour.

The defunct Glasgow Central Railway line left behind a trail of stations, tunnels, shafts, cuttings and bridges throughout the west of the city. Alex Cochrane explores its remains.