Saturday, November 22, 2014

Liberal Democrats deliver Welsh control of rail services


ITV News quotes Eluned Parrott AM, the Welsh Liberal Democrat transport spokesperson, on today's decision to hand control of the Wales and borders rail franchise to the Welsh Government:
"Today's announcement is a landmark as it means decisions on Welsh train services will now be made in Wales. The fact that this power closer to the people of Wales shows just how strong the Liberal Democrat influence is in the Wales Office. 
"Until now, the Governments at either end of the M4 have been able to pass the buck between them over who is to blame when things go wrong. Now we will know absolutely where responsibility lies for making improvements to services and giving Wales the trains it deserves. 
"The Welsh Government have less than four years to decide what all of Wales needs now and in the future, run a franchise competition, select an operator and then ensure they have the trains they need to deliver decent services. This will be no mean feat, but with matters resolved and commuters knowing where to look for answers, our rail services will be properly accountable at last."

Thursday, November 20, 2014

How we made Keep on Running


The Guardian's How We Made series turned on the Spencer Davis Group 1965 number one Keep on Running earlier this week, interviewing Spencer Davis and Pete York.

Spencer Davis recalls:
The first radio stations to play it were the black ones in America, because we sounded black. When they saw pictures of four little white boys, they dropped us from their playlists, but by then the song had taken off.
Thanks to Catalina Island Museum for the photograph of the Spencer Davis Group, which I believe comes from Spencer Davis's own collection. He lives on the island, which lies off the coast of California,

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Matthew Sweet at the University of Leicester


I have just got back from hearing Matthew Sweet lecture at the University of Leicester.

His Centre for Victorian Studies Annual Lecture The Victorian World: Prison to Playground - complete with clips from Doctor Who and Penny Dreadful - looked at our changing view of the 19th century.

We are moving from the view exemplified in Viz's occasional strip Victorian Dad to something more nuanced and playful. But both views tell us more about ourselves than they do about the Victorians.

Afterwards I talked to Matthew about William Hartnell, forgotten child stars and Dirk Bogarde.

I also met Professor Keith Snell, who supervised my dissertation on Richard Jefferies many years ago, and (gulp) the granddaughter of one of the Conservative councillors I was on Harborough District with.

The most unexpected thing about the evening was that, during his lecture, Matthew mentioned one of this blog's other heroes: J.W. Logan MP.

As he wrote in the Guardian this summer:
In August 1895 the MP for Leicester launched a campaign against the "grossly demoralising and corrupting character" of the penny dreadful. By a sweet coincidence, his name was John Logan.
The coincidence is that the television series Penny Dreadful was created by another John Logan.

In fact my John Logan was MP for Harborough between 1891 and 1904 and between 1910 and 1916, but it must be him.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Simon Hughes on the Tory and Labour arms race on prisons



Speaking to a CentreForum and Prison Reform Trust event today Simon Hughes said:
The sad reality is that the political consensus needed for real reform remains the victim of an arms race between the two largest parties on who can sound toughest on law and order. 
Michael Howard’s 1993 declaration that ‘prison works’, contrary to all the evidence in so many cases of course, became an ideology which was then enthusiastically embraced by Labour Home and Justice Secretaries including Jack Straw, David Blunkett and John Reid. 
That misguided consensus has been directly responsible for a near doubling of the prison population: from about 44,000 in the early 1990s to the 84,656 people in prison at the end of last week.
You can read the whole speech on Simon's own website.

Six of the Best 474

Gareth Epps celebrates victory over the pubcos: "Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined it possible to win this vote against a Government whip, although reports that half the 56 Liberal Democrat MPs voted for a Fair Deal are equally wonderful."

Yvette Cooper’s speech on immigration means that left and right have reached an illiberal consensus, says Nick Tyrone.

Tim Wigmore, on the New Statesman's The Staggers blog, asks what the point of police and crime commissioners is.

British politics is becoming more European, but that may not be a good thing, argues Ian Traynor in the Observer.

"Archers fans do not want daily death and destruction, we do not want drama at every turn and we certainly don’t want shocking out of our loyalty. We listen because the cast is wonderful, the storylines are believable and entertaining and we’re not left feeling slightly grubby for enjoying it." Biff Raven-Hill fears an institution may be in danger.

Paul Nettleton reviews a new biography of Stevie Nicks.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Norman Baker rocks bus and coach industry awards night

Route One, the bus and coach industry magazine, gave out its annual awards at a gala dinner in Birmingham on 5 November.

The entertainment was provided by the comedian Tim Vine and by the former transport Norman Baker and his band The Reform Club.

Hurry over to the Route One website to hear them sing their single Piccadilly Circus.

Thanks to a reader for the link.

Arc Of A Diver: The Steve Winwood Story



I know, I know.

But this BBC profile from 2004 has some nice interviews - with Muff Winwood and Van Morrison among others - that I have not heard before.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

An otter in the Welland at Market Harborough today



They're back! Or at least one of them is.

Thanks to @solarpilchard on Twitter.

Free seed kits from Grow Wild

Supported by the Big Lottery Fund and led by Kew Gardens, Grow Wild, says its website, is an exciting four-year programme that will bring people together to sow UK native wild flowers.

Grow Wild believes that together we can transform and bring colour to where we live: turning unloved spaces into wildlife-friendly wild flower havens.

It has thousands of free seed kits to share so people can transform their local spaces into beautiful, inspiring and colourful wild flower havens.

Thanks to a tweet from Ludlow's Andy Boddington.

The Wailers: Concrete Jungle



When Bob Marley first toured Britain in 1973 he did not get separate billing. The band did not become Bob Marley and the Wailers until the following year when Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer left because they did not want to tour.

This song, which turns up regularly on BBC compilation shows, is part of a set recorded for The Old Grey Whistle Test in the middle of that Catch a Fire tour. Maybe it shows Marley and his very best.

And there is a random clip of Stanley Unwin at the start too.

Now read about Bob Marley's father.

Friday, November 14, 2014

George Watson remembered

I suggested in yesterday's post on George Watson that his death may have gone unnoticed, but it seems that was not the case.

There were obituaries in Times Higher Education, on the St John's College, Cambridge, website and (though it is no longer easily available) The Times.

And the journalist and former England cricketer Ed Smith devoted an article to him in the New Statesman. This showed him as an academic as well as a politician:
During the upheavals within English studies in the 1970s and 1980s, he was among the first and most strident opponents of deconstruction. He also charted, with mischievous delight, the migration of ex-Marxists towards new creeds that helped them to avoid dealing with awkward wrong turns in their pasts. 
“There is one important respect in which politics is more honest than academe,” he wrote in 2005. “In politics, when you are shown to be wrong, you have to change your mind to survive. Professors are unfortunately under no such compulsion . . . Ex-Marxists took refuge in subjectivism: no perception is false, all values are merely personal. It turned out to be a cosy place for the disillusioned.”
Many thanks to the excellent Backwatersman for sending me the link to this piece.

Thanks also to my Liberator colleague Stewart Rayment for telling me that George Watson stood as the Liberal candidate for the Leicester constituency in the 1979 elections to the European parliament.

I voted in York in that election, so I missed the chance to vote for him.

Six of the Best 473

Birkdale Focus says that foisting mayors on Northern cities is a disgrace.

At the end of October the Liberal Democrats won a significant council by-election in York. On the ALDC site Steve Galloway (who was the city's leading Liberal when I was a student there) tells us how it was done.

Is your MP a potential defector? Dr Alun Wyburn-Powell and his handy six-point guide will help you judge.

As Easy As Riding a Bike on the debate over cycle helmets.

David Rudkin's 1974 television play Penda's Fen is "an unforgettable hybrid of horror story, rites-of‑passage spiritual quest and vision of an alternative England," says Sukhdev Sandhu on the Guardian website.

The Crimson Rambler has a short "film" of the 2014 cricket season.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

In the supersonic, scientific, psychedelic seventies...



Those words must come from another Cadbury's commercial in this series, but I can still remember when they seemed scarily modern.

The Imitation Game, Hugh Alexander and Jack Good



David Boyle blogs about The Imitation Game, the new film about Alan Turing that stars Benedict Cumberbatch.

Looking at the IMDB entry for the film, I am drawn less to the names of the actors than to the names of the real figures they are playing.

Harry Golombek, who mentioned Turing to me when I met him 30 years ago (in the days before everyone had of Turing), does not feature, but two of his fellow chess players who were at Bletchley Park do.

One of the leading characters is Hugh Alexander. I once quoted an article about him by Dominic Lawson.

Following a short spell in civvy street after the war, Alexander became head of cryptanalysis at GCHQ. He was also Britain's top chess player for much of the period between 1933 and 1958, all but held his own against Soviet grandmasters and would have done even better
were it not for the fact that Britain would not allow Alexander to play either behind or even anywhere near the Iron Curtain, so valuable did they believe the contents of his brains would be to our Cold War foes.
And you will also see I.J. "Jack" Good, a strong player who emigrated to America.

I remember preparing a letter from him, containing deep analysis of Andressen's Immortal Game, for publication during my first post-university job with Chess of Sutton Coldfield.

But enough about me. Here is the trailer for the film...

George Grimes Watson 1927-2013

[Later. More on George Watson here.]

I learn from Mark Pack that the Liberal Party thinker George Watson died last year. I am sorry that I missed his death at the time

Watson was part of the party's intellectual renaissance under Jo Grimond. Mark links to a tribute by Julian Huppert:
“George Grimes Watson was a great thinker, an English don and a life-long liberal. 
“He stood for Parliament in 1959 in Cheltenham, unsuccessfully, and then became a Fellow at St John’s College Cambridge, where he became a noted scholar in literature, literary criticism and liberal political thought, including being a key member of the unservile state group, rethinking liberalism and welfare. 
“His 1959 campaign literature shows how little has changed, with one section saying 'Liberals made them get rid of identity-cards – but the State Still has far too much power in our lives’, ‘The Home Secretary thinks the police ought to tap private phone-calls’ and 'We need the European Common Market – Tory policy closes the door of Europe in our faces.' 
“He was a deep thinker and a great liberal, and is much missed.”
As Julian's tribute was posted today, I fear I may not be the only person to have missed George Watson's death.

According to his Wikipedia entry, Watson was taught by C.S. Lewis and went on to teach Douglas Adams himself.

I have read Watson's The English Ideology, which was subtitled "Studies in the Language of Victorian Politics".

As I recall, it is more interesting than that may make it sound, Watson argues that the English ideology is representative government and that the writers who described and championed it, such as Disraeli and Trollope, deserve more attention than its flashier critics such as Ruskin and Carlyle.

The reason for Mark's post today is that the Electoral Commission’s table of party donations for the third quarter of 2014 reveals that George Watson left almost a million pounds to the Liberal Democrats in his will.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
I hope we spend it wisely.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Historical child abuse inquiry meets Inspector Morse


This report from the Independent suggests the inquiry into historical child abuse is turning into an episode of Inspector Morse or Lewis or something like that:
Scotland Yard is carrying out a search of the Barbara Castle archives at the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library to try and locate a copy of the ‘Dickens Dossier’, the missing file containing allegations of organised child abuse by politicians and other prominent figures. 
The Met is working in conjunction with archivists at the library to sift through more than 850 boxes of documents relating to the life and career of the former Labour cabinet minister and MP for Blackburn, ranging from the 1930s, when she was first elected as a London councillor, until her death in 2002. 
A source close to the investigation told the Independent that “preliminary searches” had already been carried out but that it would take several weeks to complete the search of the archives.

Your chance to own an enamelled sign from Northampton Greyfriars bus station


Suddenly it is fashionable to admire architecture from the 1970s, and I find my own taste being educated in that direction.

But I still find it hard to mourn the Greyfriars bus station in Northampton. This was a building that killed two people: they were run down by buses as they avoided the dreadful underpasses you were meant to use to reach it.

So maybe the best way to remember the old place is that suggested by a study of the Northants Herald & Post:
A collection of 42 enamelled signs from the Greyfrairs Bus Station in Northampton are set to go on sale at a Northamptonshire auction house. 
The signs will be sold in pairs on Wedensday, November 19 at a prices of £30-£40 per pair at JP Humbert Auctioneers in Towcester.
You can see a few of the signs in my photo above, which I like to think captures the atmosphere of the old place.