Thursday, August 27, 2015

Alistair Darling: From the International Marxist Group to the Lords



Alastair Darling was given a peerage today, so it is time to remember how far this particular Lord has come.

Time, indeed, to wheel out my favourite George Galloway quote:
When I first met him 35 years ago Darling was pressing Trotskyite tracts on bewildered railwaymen at Waverley Station in Edinburgh. He was a supporter of the International Marxist Group, whose publication was entitled the Black Dwarf.
Later, in preparation for his current role he became the treasurer of what was always termed the rebel Lothian Regional Council. Faced with swinging government spending cuts which would have decimated the council services or electorally ruinous increases in the rates, Alistair came up with a creative wheeze.

The council, he said, should refuse to set a rate or even agree a budget at all, plunging the local authority into illegality and a vortex of creative accounting leading to bankruptcy.

Surprisingly, this strategy had some celebrated friends. There was "Red Ted" Knight, the leader of Lambeth council, in London, and Red Ken Livingstone newly elected leader of Greater London Council. Red Ally and his friends around the Black Dwarf were for a time a colourful part of the Scottish left.

The late Ron Brown, Red Ronnie as he was known, was Alistair's bosom buddy. He was thrown out of Parliament for placing a placard saying hands off Lothian Region on Mrs Thatcher's despatch box while she was addressing the House. And Darling loved it at the time.

The former Scottish trade union leader Bill Speirs and I were dispatched by the Scottish Labour Party to try and talk Alistair Darling down from the ledge of this kamikaze strategy, pointing out that thousands of workers from home helps to headteachers would lose their jobs as a result and that the council leaders - including him - would be sequestrated, bankrupted and possibly incarcerated. How different things might have been. 
Anyway, I well remember Red Ally's denunciation of myself as a "reformist", then just about the unkindest cut I could have imagined.

Those new Liberal Democrat peers in full

According to Guido Fawkes:
  • Sir Alan Beith – former MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed and former Chair of the Justice Select Committee
  • Sharon Bowles – former MEP for South East England
  • Sir Malcolm Bruce – former MP for Gordon, and former Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats
  • Lorley Burt – former MP for Solihull and former Chair of the Liberal Democrats 
  • Rt Hon Sir Menzies ‘Ming’ Campbell CH, CBE, QC – former MP for North East Fife and former Leader of the Liberal Democrats 
  • Lynne Featherstone – former MP for Hornsey and Wood Green and held several ministerial positions 
  • Don Foster – former MP for Bath and former Liberal Democrat Chief Whip 
  • Jonny Oates – former Chief of Staff to the Deputy Prime Minister in the coalition government 
  • Shas Sheehan – former Councillor for Kew and involved in several community groups 
  • Sir Andrew Stunell – former MP for Hazel Grove and former Department for Communities and Local Government Minister 
  • Dorothy Thornhill MBE – Mayor of Watford; former Councillor and Assistant Headteacher

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Sun names some of the 11 new Liberal Democrat peers

An 'exclusive' from SunNation this evening:
The Sun can reveal they will include at least two ex-MPs thrown out by voters at the general election three months ago, Lorely Burt and Lynn Featherstone. 
Three long-serving Lib Dem grandees who stood down as MPs in May – Sir Alan Beith, Sir Menzies Campbell, and Sir Malcolm Bruce – are also being enobled, alongside defeated ex-MEP Sharon Bowles and Mr Clegg’s former chief of staff Jonny Oates.
The report also says that Danny Alexander and Vince Cable will be knighted.

Later. The full list of Lib Dem peers is here.

What the defeated Lib Dem MPs are doing now



Total Politics has caught up with the career moves of some of the Liberal Democrat MPs who lost their seats in May.

David Laws is now executive chairman of the think tank CentreForum and Steve Webb is now director of policy and external communications at Royal London, the mutual insurance and pensions company.

Other MPs have relaunched themselves as consultants. Total Politics lists Jeremy Browne (who stood down before the election) among them, but a recent report in City AM had him working as a lobbyist for the City of London in Brussels.

I once blogged about the fate of defeated MPs:
The plight of former MPs is not one to attract public sympathy, but they can have a hard time. In a Guardian article in 2004 Michael White quoted Joe Ashton: 
"It's not like losing your job in a factory, when everyone loses their job and rallies round. You may be living in a rural area, no contacts, no way to keep in touch. You can be lonely and isolated, your kids may be slagged off at school or even taken out of private school if you're a Tory. If you claim benefit the local paper gets to hear about it." 
And White went on to say: 
When Labour was defeated in 1979, 38 ex-MPs had not found a job after a year. In 1997 it was the Tories' turn: 126 lost their seats. Familiar stories of depression and drink, debt and divorce, began circulating.
Today you can find the Association of Former MPs on the Politics Home website.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Bishop's Castle in 1962



A film report made in the days when this Shropshire town was unsuccessfully defending its status as England's smallest borough.

Click on the image to view it on the British Film Institute site.

The Harborough Mail praises J.W. Logan


Mourning the closure of the town's magistrates court in 2011, the Harborough Mail described my hero J.W. Logan thus:
When the Doddridge Road court opened in Harborough, seven magistrates would sit together as a single bench, instead of the modern three. 
In 1911, JW Logan, MP for Harborough, took the chair: an exemplary employer, if controversial and sometimes pugilistic as a politician, he was a JP for 40 years.
No MP could ask for a better epitaph.

Call for early improvements to Market Harborough station





From the Leicester Mercury:
Rail campaigners are calling for action on plans to improve access for disabled people at a county railway station. 
They want Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin to ensure an early start to proposed upgrades at Market Harborough station. 
They fear the planned improvements may be delayed until 2019 at the earliest following the mothballing of track electrification.
Knowing the two people quoted by the Mercury, I am confident this campaign,it is in good hands.

Labour's confusion over its own leadership contest



Here is Harriet Harman reported by BBC News today:
Harriet Harman has said 3,000 alleged "cheats" have so far been excluded from voting in the Labour leadership contest, with more expected. 
The acting Labour leader said: "It is not funny or clever for people from other parties to try to cheat their way into our system." 
And only people who supported the "aims and values" of the Labour Party would be allowed to take part.
But she adopted a different tone back in May. A Labour Party press release quoted her as follows:
"The public - not just Labour members - will be able to ask questions of leadership and deputy leadership candidates at hustings events. 
"Hustings will be staged in the towns and suburbs where Labour hoped to win in the general election, but where the party failed to make inroads. 
"Labour members will be encouraged to bring supporters of other parties, or non-voters, to hear speeches by the contenders."
It's seems pluralism's flowering in Labour soil lasted only a short time.

As Nick Tyrone argued recently, Labour's problem is that it never decided whether its £3 supporter rate was meant to turn its leadership contest into a sort of open primary or not.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Stiperstones and The Bog filmed by a drone



A little bit of Shropshire goodness for you to be going on with.

Mind you, flying over the Stiperstones has its dangers:
She followed his pointing finger and saw briefly in the moonlight a small aeroplane against a shifting background of cloud. It was swooping low in silence, but soon rose sharply as the engines roared again, and disappeared over the tree-tops in the direction of the mountain. 
"But he can't land on the Stiperstones," Peter said. "It's too rough up there. It would turn over at once." 
Malcolm Saville The Neglected Mountain (1953)

John Harris on the threat to our bus services


John Harris writes on the Guardian website (and presumably in tomorrow's paper, though the site no longer tells you that):
Across the country, meanwhile, with George Osborne now planning November’s spending review and looking at cuts in departmental budgets of up to 40%, the money channelled from local councils to public transport looks especially vulnerable. Already, bus transport is in the midst of a huge crisis, just as it is needed more than ever. 
Buses are a vital requirement for young people and most Britons on limited incomes. Around 40% of people over 60 use a bus at least once a week; one of the many certainties that comes with an ageing population is an increased demand for public transport. Everyday reality, however, is headed in exactly the opposite direction.

Six of the Best 533

Labour never decided whether its £3 supporters' rate was designed to turn its leadership election into an open primary or not, explains Nick Tyrone, and that is why it is in trouble now.

Christopher Salmon, police and crime commissioner for Dyfed-Powys, has some trenchant views on policing: "investigating crime is the police’s job, not a choice. That four out of five burglaries go unsolved suggests they need to up their game, not opt out of it".

Remember when blogrolls were a thing? Fred Clark does. And he wants to revive them.

Jordan Adcock looks at cinema's switch to digital projection.

"Sometimes in cricket you just know it's one man's day. Those days might come along once or twice in a career, but on that day, he can't miss." Geoff Lemon saw the Australians humbled by a fellow countryman in their warm up game against Northamptonshire.

Patrick Baty on the Hope Mausoleum in Dorking. Buried in the 1960s, it has been uncovered this year.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Linda Lewis: Rock-a-Doodle-Doo



Nothing to do with Smashie and Nicey, this was a hit for Linda Lewis in 1973.

As her website says:
Linda Lewis is one of Britain's most respected and talented singer songwriters, whose career spans more than four decades. With her five-octave vocal range, she has fused folk, soul, pop and reggae into a unique signature sound that is now an integral part of the pop music landscape.
All that is true, but maybe she has never quite enjoyed the success her talent deserves.

Tim Farron among the racks of vinyl

I missed it at the time, but at the end of last month the Telegraph ran an endearing sketch of Tim Farron in Jon Tolley's record shop in Kingston:
He flipped through the racks of LPs, murmuring excitedly. “Joy Division at the front there! Marvellous.” Lovingly he fondled an album by The Clash. “Now, is this the UK version or the US version? Ah, it’s the UK version – the US version has (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais on it, and this doesn’t!” 
It was strangely endearing to watch: an actual political leader, muttering about track listings like a character from Nick Hornby. It’s hard to imagine David Cameron or Jeremy Corbyn, say, demonstrating such an unashamedly nerdish enthusiasm for music. 
“Oh, I’m a massive trainspotter,” said Mr Farron proudly. “Huge pop anorak.” He’d lost count of his records, but they were “in the four figures”. They were kept in “Daddy’s pop cupboard, as the kids call it”. He even still listened to cassettes in “my banger” (his car). 
He appears to have inherited his passion from his father, who “was a DJ in the Seventies on Friday and Saturday nights in a nightclub not far from Preston. I used to get his cast-offs. On one occasion I deliberately damaged one of his Chic records so I could have it.”

The March to Spalding line

© Dave Hitchborne
The most substantial British railway line I have travelled on that has since closed is the Woodhead route from Sheffield to Manchester.

After that comes March to Spalding. When I was a student in York there was a regular service from Doncaster to Cambridge and I once used it to have an afternoon in Ely.

March to Spalding was closed in 1982 and all freight workings were diverted via Peterborough.

It was an expensive line to operate because of all the level crossings in the flat Fenland landscape. The photograph above, taken from Geograph, shows the signal box that controlled one of them being reclaimed by nature.

There is some chatter on the net about reopening it, but I don't know how well founded it is. The line from March to Wisbech looks a more likely candidate.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Building up Mason Crane



This blog has long taken an interest in the career of the Yorkshire leg spinner Adil Rashid. He will either make his England test debut against Pakistan in Sharjah later this year or never make it at all.

So it may be time to start talking up the next prospect: Hampshire's Mason Crane.

Cricinfo described his impact on a game earlier this year:
Mason Crane bamboozled Warwickshire to become the youngest Hampshire player to take a County Championship five wicket haul on Day Two at the Ageas Bowl. 
Leg spinner Crane, who is 18 and 171 days, beat Alex Kennedy's 106-year record by 21 days as he posted figures of 5 for 35. This is only his second first-class match after making his debut against Durham last month.
Already that sage judge Steve Harmison has called for him to be picked for England this winter.

I suppose one should counsel caution - I know there is a view at Sussex that Ian Salisbury was doing fine until the England coaching set up got hold of him - but it is hard not to be excited at the prospect of a young leg spinner in the England test team.

And if you want to feel old, turn to this report in the Southern Daily Echo:
As an eight-year-old only child glued to the 2005 Ashes series, Shoreham-born Crane was inspired by Warne’s mesmerising performances that summer. 
He has been hooked on leg-spin ever since.

Friday, August 21, 2015

45 years of John Barleycorn Must Die






In the Studio has a documentary marking the 45th anniversary of the Traffic album John Barleycorn Must Die.

I can't embed it, so hurry over to that site to listen to it.

What is left of Herne Bay pier



Back in 2013 I blogged about French Dressing, Ken Russell's first film, in which Herne Bay pier featured prominently.

This is what is left of the pier today. A stub still runs out from the shore, but this landing stage has been left improbably far out to sea - apparently halfway to the Essex coast.

But then the view from Herne Bay is like that. Behind the wind farms you can see the remains of the Maunsell forts.

Five consequences of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader



No one really knows, of course, but it does look at though Jeremy Corbyn will be the next leader of the Labour Party.

What will that mean? Here are five likely consequences.

1. Whether the Liberal Democrats like it or not, they will be seen as a centre party.
I know it sounds improbable, but an SWP activists once said a wise thing to me: when you are a small party to rarely get to choose the agenda on which you fight.

Well, the Liberal Democrats are certainly a small party now and, whether we like it or not, we shall be seen as a centre party for as long as Corbyn is Labour leader. The strategy we pursued under Charles Kennedy of outflanking Labour from the left will not be open to us - unless we advocate liquidating the Kulaks or something like that.

I am sure Tim Farron will thrive as a populist centrist, but this future is in some ways a depressing prospect.

2. The Green surge will grind to a halt
I don't know how real a phenomenon the Green surge ever was, but as far as it existed it consisted of the Greens hoovering up all sorts of disaffected left-wingers, many of whom had no particular connection with traditional Green concerns,

More than one longstanding environmentalist has complained to me that this led to the Green Party rather abandoning environmentalism to embrace the anti-austerity cause. This led the party to put forward an incoherent policy platform at the last election, as Natalie Bennett so effectively demonstrated.

Now those disaffected left-wingers will flock to Corbyn's Labour and leave behind a Green Party that is smaller but truer to environmentalism.

3. Social media will be hell
We have all enjoyed laughing at Labour for abstaining on welfare cuts, but under Corbyn it will not be like that. On Twitter every day will be #cameronmustgo day and Labour activists will be filled with passionate intensity.

I am increasingly of the opinion that, by acting as a combined echo chamber and grooming parlour, Twitter is positively harmful to political parties, but that is the way it is going to be from now on.

Oh, and when Labour loses the next election, it will all be the media's fault or the Liberal Democrats' fault or the fault to Labour MPs who did not back Corbyn.

4. Labour will be in a constant state of crisis
As Nick Cohen argued the other day, the election of a party leader against the wishes of the great majority of its MPs will be a unique phenomenon in British politics.

I do not imagine many of those MPs will take his victory quietly. Add to this the opposition of the press, Corbyn's enthusiasm for sharing platforms with unsavoury characters and his eagerness to make excuses for Putin's near-fascist regime and you can see that his leadership will exist in a state of perpetual crisis.

It will be fun to watch, but ultimately will not be good for the health of British politics.

5. It will be harder for the Liberal Democrats to make a comeback
Most of the seats the Liberal Democrats have any hope of winning at the next election are held by the Conservatives. In order to win them we have to win over people who have voted for us in the past but opted for David Cameron last time.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceIt is entirely possible that a Corbyn leadership will not last as long as the next election, but as long as he is there he will offer the Conservatives a powerful argument against change and taking another chance on the Liberal Democrats.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A tin tabernacle in Herne Bay


Wandering the back streets of Herne Bay, I failed to find one of Lord Bonkers' favourite causes: the Home for Distressed Canvassers.

On reflection, it is probably housed in one of the grand 19th-century houses facing the sea at the Eastern end of town on the way in from Reculver.

What I did find was this fine tin tabernacle, now home to the Army Cadets.

Six of the Best 532

Jennie Rigg proves there are respectable arguments against bringing in one member one vote at the Liberal Democrat Conference.

"I am not a social conservative. I'm a Liberal who happens, most of the time, to be socially conservative in his behaviour," explains Andrew Brown.

Kara Bloomgarden-Smoke on how a mother allowed her young son to travel home from Downtown Manhattan on his own and started a social movement.

"The life-saving work of the American medical team on that October day served as clear and demonstrable proof that ambulances shouldn’t just be about 'scoop and run' – there was a time and a need for 'stay and play' as well and ambulancemen needed to be combat medics just as much as they needed to be drivers." The Harrow & Wealdstone railway crash of 1952 had an important influence on the development of NHS care, as London Reconnections shows.

Silver Scene remembers Hayley Mills' reign as as America’s favourite child actress.

"Not many people shopping below or just walking by Nottingham’s Victoria Shopping Centre realise that their is a roof garden situated just above there heads," says Railway Maniac's blog. Sadly, it is no longer looked after.

Morris dancers and blind footballers in mass brawl

The Suffolk Gazette wins our Headline of the Day award.

I'm not sure I believe a word of the story below its headline, but the judges were unanimous.

Later. Suffolk Gazette is a parody site. When I put this to the judges they suddenly remembered an urgent appointment elsewhere.