Tuesday, September 30, 2014

David Cameron has lost his way and the Tories should split

I have read two good articles today on the problems facing David Cameron and the Conservatives.

Alex Massie writes about how David Cameron has lost his way:
What is David Cameron for? What kind of party, what kind of government, does he want to lead? If he knows, he’s done a grand job keeping his thoughts to himself. 
And yet there were once ideas. There was compassionate conservatism and the Big Society. There was the Global Race. Nor were these necessarily contradictory. A reformed, retooled, Britain is necessary to leave Britain better placed to thrive in the years ahead; that doesn’t mean rejecting social solidarity – social decency – at home. On the contrary, the two could be woven together. 
Events matter. Of course they do. But they need not – at least not necessarily – knock a government off-course. Cameron was elected as a new kind of Tory but, too often, has governed as just another Tory. He has counterfeited his own promise.
And Ian Birrell has a radical idea for curing the party's malaise:
The failure to learn the lessons of the past by banging on endlessly about benefits, Europe and immigration is astonishing. There needs to be more, not less, modernisation. Instead, the Tories focus fruitlessly on these fearful older voters largely lost to Ukip, an inevitably declining sector of the electorate, while reinforcing an image that drives away the younger, female and ethnic minority voters needed to survive and thrive as a political force. 
Ultimately, the question is not why are these MPs defecting, but why do politicians with such divergent views stick together? Perhaps politics is going through a process of disruption similar to that driven by technology in almost every other aspect of life. It does seem absurd to expect our tired model of binary party politics to endure in a time of transparency, with all that tedious tribalism and parroting of lines. 
In the short term, the Tories must decide either to offer an optimistic vision of the future or just pander to the pessimists in a probably doomed bid to win the election. 
Beyond that, it is hard not to wonder if these divisions need to be resolved with a cathartic full-blown split, as with Labour in the early 1980s – although this time it would be the militant tendency on the flank shearing off. As always in politics, there are egos and personal vanities in play. Yet what really binds the many decent and tolerant conservatives to those misanthropes filled with fear and rage against modernity?

Another clip from Brond has appeared on Youtube



A couple of days after I wrote my post on Brond, another clip from series appeared on Youtube. Not only that, it contains the dialogue about the Scottish soldier that I quoted.

There are also some photos of John Hannah in the drama to be found on a fan site.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The Well-Behaved Orphans' quiz

Thursday

I have never been a great lover of school dinners – I date the beginning of my long career in public service to my time on the Escape Committee at prep school – so when I heard about Clegg’s new policy I was less than impressed. I am, however, at a loss to know how to intervene as the man simply won’t listen to me on the subject.

Still pondering, I take myself off to give the prizes at the annual Well-Behaved Orphans’ quiz. There are no shocks and the bookies’ favourite – a bright little nine-year-old – wins by several lengths and secures the traditional bag of toffees.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10.

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

NHS boob job mum Josie Cunningham doesn't give birth to Curtis Davis's baby

The Leicester Mercury wins Headline of the Day by a distance.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Marksman: A BBC drama from 1987

The other day I blogged about the Channel 4 drama Brond from 1987. Since then, I have not only had a tweet from John Hannah, I have swapped tweets with the person who played the boy on the bridge in its extraordinary opening:

But there is another television drama I remember from that year that is even more obscure. Some sources even maintain it was never shown, but I know they are wrong because I watched it.

The Marksman was due to be shown in August 1987, but suddenly became controversial because of the Hungerford massacre. Here is Robin Corbett, Labour MP for Birmingham Erdington, speaking in the Commons in December of that year:
I suspect that the House will want to take this matter more seriously than does the hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale). Does the Minister agree that it would be quite proper to request the BBC to change its decision to start showing the three-part series "The Marksman", which was withdrawn immediately after the violence at Hungerford? The pain and distress that would be caused by that film, which I understand concerns a character who goes round blowing people apart in order to get what he considers to be vengeance, would hit immediately those families in Hungerford and elsewhere who have been involved in shooting incidents.
But the BBC did show The Marksman, though it seems to have been re-edited in the light of events in Hungerford. It remained, however, a gory drama in which a hitman revenged the killing of his young son.

The cast list is impressive: David Threlfall, Richard Griffiths, James Ellis, Leslie Ash, Craig Charles. And the theme music was by Richard Thompson, aided by some poetry written and performed by Charles.

Yet today there is not a clip from The Marksman to be found on Youtube and nor will you find any of Richard Thompson's music there.

What I recall most of all is the performance of Michael Angelis, a stalwart of BBC dramas in those days.

He played a club owner who, after auditioning a new comic, would put an arm around his shoulders and say: "It's not enough to be Irish [or Jewish or whatever]: you've got to be funny." Then he would slip a banknote into the comic's top pocket and say: "But don't ever change."

I think his fondness for that last phrase did for him when he used it in what was meant to be an anonymous phone call.

I don't suppose The Marksman will ever be seen again, but I still use the "It's not enough to be..." line today when I see some new comedians on television.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Chevening Oil PLC

Wednesday

The tang of autumn is in the air and the leaves (or so my private polling informs me) are turning. It is time to think of winter and how I shall heat the Hall. At one time I would simply have ordered so many sacks of nutty slack from my own mines in the North of Rutland, but Ed Davey gave me a disapproving look last time I mentioned them.

So I have decided to use oil instead. I had assumed that, when I asked for quotes that from my own rigs on Rutland Water would come in as the cheapest, but it turned out that a fellow from down Kent way put in the juiciest tender. I phoned the manager of Chevening Oil to give him the good news and have a chat, but he was distinctly cagey about where he sourced the stuff. Still, I placed an order that will fill the tanks here in my cellars.

Afterwards, I wrote a note of advice to Clegg about the importance of keeping warm in winter. I could not help noticing last year that he had a distinctly blue tinge to his face and a permanent drip at the end of his nose.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10.

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

Six of the Best 466

Stephen Tall looks at Lord Ashcroft's poll of Lib Dem/Tory marginals on Liberal Democrat Voice.

"I suspect ... this is the symptom of an underlying disease - that the media exists entirely within a Westminster bubble. Mr Collins thinks the deficit is a "real" problem not because there's empirical or theoretical evidence that it is, but simply because the groupthink of Very Serious People says so." Stumbling and Mumbling introduces us to the useful concept of 'bubblethink'.

Europe's domination of the Ryder Cup means the event is losing popularity in America, explains Art Spander for Bleacher Report.

Internet Curtains visits the north Nottingham suburbs of Bulwell, Highbury Vale and Basford.

"These North Country witches have no need for fancy, expensive props and familiars, instead relying on their ‘Woolworth’s broomstick and a tabby cat’." The Downstairs Lounge celebrates the genius of Jake Thackray.

A Guiding Life attended the recent revival of Arts Fresco here in Market Harborough.

Introducing Clegg's children


According to Radical Bulletin in the new issue of Liberator (and I know of no more reliable source), the deputy prime minister's special advisers are known among disrespectful Liberal Democrat MPs as "Clegg's children".

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Steam in the Lune Gorge



Some wonderful footage from the 1950s.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Danny Alexander in the gym

Tuesday 

Whilst I attribute my rude health to my annual bathe in the spring that bursts from the hillside above the former headquarters of the Association of Liberal Councillors in Hebden Bridge, and admit that a certain cordial sold to me (at no small cost) by the Elves of Rockingham Forest has done no harm, I like to visit the Westminster gymnasium from time to time to keep in trim.

Who should I meet there this morning but our own Danny Alexander? He is not wearing glasses and his hair is now a rich chestnut. He nods to me whilst attempting to clean and jerk a particularly heavy set of barbells (not to be confused with the fish, which are, in my experience, far lighter). Fortunately I am able to steady the First Secretary to the Treasury before he does himself a serious mischief. I must admit he looks better for the face lift – or is it just the effect of vitamin pills?

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10.

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

Leicester Mercury column on devolution and local government

I forgot to check, but I was due to have this First Person column printed  in Friday's Leicester Mercury.

Bring back proper local government

Because the three party leaders panicked in the last week of the referendum and promised the Scottish parliament more powers, everyone is saying something must be done about England.
Some want only English MPs allowed to vote on laws that affect only England. Others want an English parliament. And some want regional government.

There is something to be said for all of these ideas, though English votes on English law would make little difference in practice. And, while I like the idea of an English parliament meeting in York or Manchester rather than Westminster, I doubt people would want to pay for a whole new level of government.

The same goes for regional assemblies, and they have another problem. If you want to start a pub argument, ask people where the boundaries of the East Midlands are and which city should be its capital and home to its regional assembly. (We both know the answer is not Nottingham, but you try convincing them of that.)

But the problem with the government of England goes deeper than any of these proposals allow. The real problem is the decline of local government that has been going on for decades.

The Labour government of 1945 is remembered for nationalising privately owned industries like coal, steel and the railways. But it also nationalised many services that had been run by local councils: water, gas, electricity and health.

In those days a city like Leicester also ran its own buses and trams. Now even schools have effectively been nationalised. Central government sets the curriculum and, if the secretary of state is Michael Gove, tries to tell pupils and teachers what to wear.

Meanwhile the government is so afraid of being blamed for council tax rises that it has made it next to impossible for councils to vary that much too.

What England needs is a reversal of this process. Responsibility must be returned from national government to local government. That way we should have more diversity and experiment, and elected representatives would be closer to the people they serve.

It would also lead to a revival of interest in local politics, because who ran your council would suddenly matter a lot more. It might also attract more impressive candidates to stand for the council, because those councils would wield real power.

One thing voters, politicians and the media would have to do is agree to give up complaining about a “postcode lottery”.

Different councils would have different spending priorities and come to different decisions. But that’s the real point about local government. It’s local.


Jonathan Calder blogs at Liberal England 

Wreckless Eric: Whole Wide World


Thanks to Mark Reckless for reminding me of this single from 1977.

Wreckless Eric (real name Eric Goulden) was a stalwart of Stiff Records in those days. He later fell out with the company and moved to France and then the United States, where he still plays.

Man gets his arm stuck in Newport postbox

A clear winner of our Headline of the Day Award.

But which Newport is it?

Newport in Gwent? Newport, Isle of Wight?

No, it's Newport in Shropshire.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Tyseley Motive Power Depot open day, September 1968



Crowds of spectators wandering around the depot, and not a high-visibility jacket in sight.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Abolishing the trolls on the Severn Bridge

What is that thump on the doormat? It is the conference issue of Liberator, complete with some fitting to Simon Titley.

Which means it is time to begin another week at Bonkers Hall.

You have been warned.

Monday

I am delighted to read that the Welsh Liberal Democrats are proposing to abolish the trolls on the Severn Bridge. For many years I have been urging just this move upon them, but without any joy. “The time is not right,” said Mike German. “There are other priorities,” said Kirsty Williams. “Wibble, wibble: are both those feet mine?” said Lembit Opik.

It is certainly good news for travellers to and from the Principality. For myself, whenever obliged to cross the Severn, I obtained three billy goats from Chepstow Goats (“No ifs, no butts, good service”) and was able to ward the trolls off; others, perhaps less well prepared, have had less happy experiences.

Incidentally, I was once unable to obtain any billy goats when returning from giving a speech in Ystradgynlais and decided to improvise by summoning Nanny. I don’t know what she did to the trolls, but she certainly terrified me.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10.

Why few in the charitable sector are mourning the resignation of Brooks Newmark

A Guardian report from earlier this report explains:
David Cameron's new minister for civil society has been branded patronising and dismissive after he told charities to "stick to their knitting" and keep out of politics. 
Brooks Newmark, who was appointed in the summer reshuffle, made the comments amid worries among charities that the new Lobbying Act that will limit their ability to campaign on issues of the day. 
In his first major speech since he took on the role, Newmark used the opportunity to criticise charities who "stray" out of their remit of helping people. 
Asked about the ability of charities to campaign, he said: "We really want to try and keep charities and voluntary groups out of the realms of politics. Some 99.9% do exactly that. When they stray into the realm of politics that is not what they are about and that is not why people give them money." 
In comments first reported on Civil Society, he added: "The important thing charities should be doing is sticking to their knitting and doing the best they can to promote their agenda, which should be about helping others."

The difference between Brooks Newmark and Mark Reckless

Newmark was reckless: Reckless is a no mark.

Comedian Seann Walsh cancels gig after catching train to Hereford instead of Hertford

I have never heard of Mr Walsh - perhaps he is popular with the young people? - but he has helped the Mirror win our Headline of the Day Award.

Not only that: he has reminded me of the acquittal of Jeremy Thorpe at the Old Bailey.

The evidence in the case suggested that the supposed hitman, Andrew Newton, had looked for Norman Scott in Dunstable rather than Barnstaple.

And failed to find him.

Lord Bonkers on the Mitford sisters




Writing in 2009, the old brute said:
I seem to recall that one of them married Hitler; they were an absolute scream

Friday, September 26, 2014

All Saints, Margaret Street, London W1



This video from the Khan Academy introduces us to an extraordinary High Anglican church just off Oxford Street.

The Sporting Memories Network




I missed it at the time, but on 10 July this summer Tony Jameson-Allen from the Sporting Memories Network was the lunchtime guest on Test Match Special.

He spoke about the work of the organisation, which was established to promote and develop the use of sporting memories to improve the wellbeing of older people and to help tackle dementia, depression and social isolation.

I can't embed in, but you can listen to the interview here. Listen in particular for Bill's Story.

The other guest was the great South African allrounder Mike Procter, who spoke about the work of his own Mike Procter Foundation.

National Railway Museum stages controversial exhibition... on trainspotting



From York Mix:
“We’ve not tackled anything quite like this before,” is the first thing Amy Banks says when asked about the National Railway Museum’s brand new project. 
“It was quite a controversial subject that we realised we needed to talk about. We wanted to get across a sense of travel and adventure. That desire to record and document what’s happened”.
And what is the controversial subject the NRM is tackling? Trainspotting.

Time I think to reprint a column I once published in Clinical Psychology Forum as Professor Strange...

******

Trainspotting, autism and what it means to be normal

Saturday afternoon on Platform 1. Freight trains and passenger trains coming and going. My notebook filling with engine numbers. The packet of sandwiches that Mother made me. The summer sunshine burning my bare knees. An excited shout goes up. I rush to join the throng and taste again the oily tang of steam.

Yes, I enjoyed my visit to York last Saturday and may well go again this weekend. Yet when I look around me, I see that trainspotting is thoroughly out of fashion.

I do not refer to the adventures of Begbie, Spud and Sickboy: they are very much in fashion. Though, as I said in my review in Steam Railway Quarterly, anyone who watches the film of Mr Welsh’s book in the hope of gaining an insight into the operation of Gresley’s A4 Pacifics on the LNER is likely to be sadly disappointed.

Rather, I refer to the hobby which enthralled generations of schoolboys. It flourished in the decades after the Second World War as families became affluent enough to spare the cash for their children to explore the railway system.

That sort of trainspotting is more than out of fashion: it is rapidly being turned into a mental illness. The other day I was looking at a piece on the narrow gauge railways of North Wales written by Bill Bryson. He said: ‘I had recently read a newspaper article in which it was reported that a speaker at the British Psychological Society had described trainspotting as a form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome.’

It is just as well that he or she did not describe it in those terms in my hearing, but we have come far from the days when boys were expected to be interested in trains. I can recall, as a young practitioner, having families referred to me because the son did not want to be a train driver when he grew up. ‘We’re at our wits’ end, Doctor Strange,’ the tearful parents would say. ‘We have tried everything, but he’s just not interested in railways.’

I was able to reassure them, puffing on my pipe, that it was just a phase the lad was going through and that they should not worry too much – though some parents had found Strange’s Herbal Supplements™ wonderfully efficacious in similar cases.

Not that trainspotting was without controversy. Popular stations could be overrun with children in the holidays. Questions were asked in the House about problems at Tamworth, and when overzealous spotters were picked up wandering around locomotive depots, magistrates would call for the hobby to be banned.

Yet it is not the criminogenic properties of trainspotting that have led to its decline, nor has it been the result of advances in the understanding of autistic spectrum disorders. In part it is because we are all – children included – far too cool to be interested enough in anything to call it a hobby. And in part it is because there has been a change in our idea of what it means to be normal.

When I was young, to be normal was to be male, white and upper middle class and to wear a tweed jacket and smoke a pipe. I must say that always seemed perfectly reasonable to me, but as I was male, white and upper middle class, wore a tweed jacket and smoked a pipe, I suppose it would.

Today to be normal is to be female and quite often it is to be a mental health professional too. Just think of the articles which treat a willingness to take part in workshops as a sign of normality in psychiatric inpatients when this activity plays no part in the lives of 99 per cent of the population.

So ‘normality’ is a slippery concept, and what it means has changed markedly over the years. That is why I have never made any great efforts to appear normal myself.

******

That's quite enough from Professor Strange, but for more on trainspotting I recommend the book Platform Souls by Nicholas Whitaker. In a just world it would have done for the hobby what Fever Pitch did for football.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Channel 4's Brond from 1987 - John Hannah and Stratford Johns



We are used to films and television programmes being available to watch pretty much whenever we want to view them. But I have strong memories of a series that was shown only once in 1987 and has never been issued on video or DVD.

Brond marked the first screen appearance of John Hannah as Robert and a late starring role for the mighty Stratford Johns.

I remember it most for its stunning opening, which Notes from New Sodom describes for us:
it opens with a young John Hannah ... as a young Glasgow Uni student who's out jogging. He stops to catch his breath on a bridge ... where a wee kid is leaning over, looking down into the river. 
As the Hannah character watches we see Stratford Johns (from classic British cop show, Z-Cars) walk down the road towards him and, in passing, with the utterly casual callousness of a one-handed shove, push the kid over the edge. And then wink at Hannah as he walks on.
It is that wink I remember most of all. In winking at Hannah he is also winking at the camera and us the viewers.

The plot was hard to follow and hard to recall after so many years - I must have watched it on a snowy portable someone lent me shortly after I bought my own house. But I recall that it involved Scottish and Irish terrorism and Stratford Johns as Brond was an intelligence boss or gang boss or quite possibly both.

The video above is the only extract from Brond I can find online (there is another television series from 1987 I shall blog about one day where nothing seems to remain).

But there are stills on a couple of unlikely websites. VHiStory goes through an old video tape - and shows Brond flipping the boy off the bridge - and IMCDB is interested in the cars used in the production.

Notes from New Sodom quotes some dialogue from the series that has a contemporary resonance:
BROND: You shouldn’t upset him like that. He’s a good man. 
ROBERT: A good soldier. He told me before. 
BROND: Oh yes. Kilts and trumpets at dawn. Loyal and brave. A Scottish Soldier. 
ROBERT: How can he be so stupid? Doesn’t he know how much you despise him? 
BROND: He has medals, did you know that? Soldiers get them. And he has some that are not given easily, or for nothing. He went to the wars and came home again. He’s a patriot. He’s been going to war a very long time. He’s the man who built the British Empire. 
ROBERT: What’s the British Empire to do with this? 
BROND: He’s fought against Napoleon, and in the Crimea. In the last war he fought in the desert. In 1916 he fought on the dry plains of the Somme and drowned in its mud when winter came. Kenya, Korea –- he’s been there. He’s still in Ireland. And only last week he came back from a little group of islands in the South Atlantic. And every time he came home, he found things were worse that when he’s gone away – but he had never learned to fight for himself.
What I remember above all about Brond is its atmosphere. And that had a lot to do with this extraordinary them music by Bill Nelson and Daryl Runswick.



Later...
Even later...
Later still. Another clip from Brond has appeared on Youtube.

When did 'offence' become a trump card?

A protest campaign and blockade has forced the Brett Bailey’s Exhibit B at the Barbican.

Lord Bell was Hilary Mantel investigated by the police because she has published a short story about Margaret Thatcher.

It has not been a good week for supporters of free expression in the arts.

A protestor against Exhibit B is quoted by the BBC as saying:
"It's not educational, it actually causes huge offence."
Meanwhile, says the Guardian:
Tory MP Conor Burns told the Sunday Times that the story represented a grave offence to the victims of the IRA.
It seems the merest Tory backbencher has learnt what left-wing activists have long known: if you can claim 'offence' in modern Britain, that is a trump card.

How and when did that come about?

Nick Clegg's case for military action in Iraq



In his email to Liberal Democrat members - kindly reproduced by Lib Dem Voice - Nick Clegg gave three reasons why we should support renewed military action in Iraq:
  1. the threat from ISIL to Britain has already been made clear by the sickening sight of British hostages being executed on television;
  2. unlike the 2003 war in Iraq this intervention is legal – we are responding to a direct request for help from the legitimate Government of Iraq and Parliament will vote before any action is taken;
  3. we’re acting as part of a broad coalition of countries, including many Arab countries, to deal with a real and immediate threat.
Points 2 and 3, of course, will only reassure those who think the action is wise in the first place.

And point 1 does not convince me. ISIL is an appalling movement, but it surely poses more of a threat to the Kurds and the Yazidis than it does to Britain. And as far it does pose a threat to Britain - seizing hostages, fomenting terrorism here - it is not clear that bombing will reduce that threat.

I am not a pacifist and will support humanitarian military action if it is clear what the goal is. But is it clear in Iraq today? Are we looking to contain ISIL or destroy it? And is that latter idea any better than a fantasy?

More than that, I think that Western leaders have lacked a strategy in the Middle East. We are afraid of the rise of Islamism, yet we have swept away the dictators who acted as a bulwark against it - Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi and there were plenty who wanted to bomb Bashar Assad only last year.

At one time we were seeking a rapprochement with Gaddafi - one of the very first posts on this blog made fun of Tony Blair's meeting with him. But we seem to have concluded that both sides are pretty appalling and fought both in a piecemeal fashion.

And our leaders seem to lack historical perspective. Compare that with Paddy Ashdown, who recently wrote:
What is happening in the Middle East, like it or not, is the wholesale rewriting of the Sykes-Picot borders of 1916, in favour of an Arab world whose shapes will be arbitrated more by religious dividing lines than the old imperial conveniences of 100 years ago.
That is surely right. Have we really gone to war to defend those borders?

Still, have a look at the video of Nick Clegg and decide for yourself. His arguments there are more developed and more convincing than those in his email.

Chief constable was ordered not to investigate Greville Janner

A story partly behind The Times paywall this morning quoted Mick Creedon, chief constable of Derbyshire, as saying that, as a detective sergeant in 1989, he was ordered by his superiors not to investigate Greville Janner, then Labour MP for Leicester West.

The Needle has a little more of the report.

The date of 1989 may be significant. Frank Beck was not arrested until April 1990 and did not accuse Greville Janner in court until November 1991.

I should add that Mr Janner has always denied allegations of this sort when they are made against him.

Has the homophobic monk been to Lincoln?

We have previously blogged about sightings of a homophobic monk in Brighton, Cambridge and Market Harborough.

Now The Lincolnite reports:
Leaflets depicting homosexuality as “the Devil’s delusion” are sparking anger from Lincoln residents who received them in the post. 
Police are investigating reports, which suggest the Park Ward area of Lincoln has been targeted with the “offensive” flyers. 
The leaflets, which do not state the involvement of a particular church, states that: “All sexual activity outside of the matrimonial union of one man and one woman is sin, and therefore immoral.”
No mention of a monk, but the leaflet the website reproduces looks very like the ones he gives out.

Thanks to @blackwellharb on Twitter.

Later. Thanks to @Backwatersman for pointing me to this report in The Sentinel from Stoke-on-Trent. No mention of a monk's habit though.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Saville theatre where Steve Winwood and I sang


The other day I came across a blog post about my first (and so far only) appearance on the West End stage.

I was 8 and the family had gone to see Danny La Rue in Queen Passionella and the Sleeping Beauty. I was one of the children asked up on to the stage to sing during this (sort of) pantomime.

Thinking about it, given La Rue's slightly risqué reputation, there probably weren't many children there, which made it more likely I would be chosen. (But then I must have been one of the few children who was allowed to stay up to watch Frankie Howerd in Up Pompeii!)

Reading about Queen Passionella after rediscovering that post, I found that it was staged at the Saville theatre.

The Saville was in Shaftesbury Avenue and had a remarkable history. Opened in 1931, it was leased by the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein in 1965.

According to Wikipedia, he presented:
both plays (including works by Arnold Wesker) and rock and roll shows. The venue became notorious for its Sunday night concerts. During one by Chuck Berry, members of the audience stormed the stage and the police were called to clear the theatre. 
The venue saw the last UK appearance of The Jimi Hendrix Experience in August 1967, before their groundbreaking Monterey Pop Festival performance. The Move and Procol Harum also appeared on the bill. An eclectic mix of bands such as Nirvana, Cream, Fairport Convention, the Incredible String Band and The Bee Gees, also appeared there.
The Beatles borrowed the Saville to make their "Hello, Goodbye" promo (an early music video) in November 1967, and on 8 December 1967, Yoko Ono performed her The Fog Machine: Music of the Mind there, which included a projection of her film Bottoms (Film No. 4) in the men's room during the concert. The Rolling Stones played two shows on 21 December 1969. 
The theatre was sold in 1969, and returned to presenting theatrical productions and under the new management it presented the London première of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, a production that brought Leonard Rossiter to public attention.
Then I saw this tweet:
That's right: Traffic's first appearance was 47 years ago today and at the Saville Theatre. That is about 18 months before my appearance there.

Today the Saville theatre is a cinema - the Odeon Covent Garden - but I am sure that it remembers me and Danny and Steve.

Advice to Ed Miliband: Get a lectern

Whether Ed Miliband forgot to mention the deficit or decided to drop that passage because he sensed a restive audience, I don't know. But whatever the reason for that omission, the time has come for him to drop the stunt of giving his conference speeches from memory.

The first time he did it, people were impressed. But once you have seen it done a couple of times, you are not impressed at all. It begins to look like showing off.

Ed Miliband's defence of the technique is that it makes it easier for him to connect with people. But that sounds to me like a hangover from the early days of his leadership when we were told he was a brilliant communicator.

He is not, though he is not an awful one either. Miliband's real weakness is that people think he lacks leadership qualities.

In short, he needs to acquire some gravitas. And speaking from a lectern with a written speech - a speech that is not afraid to mention the deficit - would be a good first step.

County council launches proceedings against David Parsons

Read the Leicester Mercury for the latest twist in the saga of David Parsons - former Conservative leader of the county council and former Ukip prospective parliamentary candidate:
Legal proceedings have been launched against former Leicestershire County Council leader David Parsons to recover £1,500 he still owes the authority. 
Officials at County Hall say Mr Parsons has stopped paying monthly installments to clear the costs of 26 trips he made using the council’s chauffeur-driven car during his nine-year stint as leader. 
The trips were deemed "not sufficiently connected" to his role as leader after an investigation by officers. 
Officials found two more trips were deemed to be inappropriate for the use of the council chauffeur, because of the short distances involved.
Much more about David Parsons on this blog.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Six of the Best 465

Mark Pack says the party's federal executive has submitted a mess to conference on one member, one vote. He wants your help to sort it out.

"Somehow or other, the next government is going to have to find us a more effective, more innovative form of government, handing powers out widely to cities and counties, as part of a wider settlement that is far more important than the development of an English parliament at Westminster (another kind of centralisation, it seems to me)." David Boyle on the United Kingdom after the Scottish referendum.

"In 2013, Jersey quietly rose to the top spot of the global rankings of offshore tax shelters, as measured by the Global Financial Centres Index, edging out the Cayman Islands, Monaco, Gibraltar, the British Virgin Islands and Cyprus. Yet because it is so small and tends to shirk publicity, many have never heard of it." Leah McGrath Goodman takes us inside the world's top offshore tax shelter.

Museworth remembers 1989, when Mstislav Rostropovich played Bach among the rubble of the Berlin Wall.

"By the time Caruana won his fifth straight game to open the tournament, destroying Nakamura while playing with black, the commentators were struggling to situate this performance in historical context." Seth Stevenson reports on the Sinquefield Cup, one of the most remarkable chess tournaments ever held.

Flashbak lists the greatest songs ever banned by the BBC.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Mike Nesmith as Frank Zappa, Frank Zappa as Mike Nesmith



From episode 57 of The Monkees, which was first broadcast in America in March 1968. The series was a staple of children's television in Britain for a few years after that.

Austerity: Will Labour activists still stick their fingers in their ears?



For those prepared to listen it has always been clear that a Labour government would implement austerity policies too.

During the last general election campaign Alistair Darling conceded that if Labour were re-elected it would its  public spending cuts will be "tougher and deeper" than those implemented by Margaret Thatcher.

And in October 2013 Rachel Reeves, the shadow work and business secretary, vowed to be tougher on benefit claimants than the Tories.

Yet through all this Labour activists have clung to the belief that austerity was all down to the personal wickedness of Conservative and Liberal Democrat ministers and would be reversed as soon as Labour came to power.

Will Ed Balls' speech today finally make them return to the same planet the rest of us live on?

I quote:
People know we are the party of jobs, living standards and fairness for working people. 
But they also need to know that we will balance the books and make the sums add up and that we won’t duck the difficult decisions we will face if they return us to government. 
Working people have had to balance their own books. 
And they are clear that the government needs to balance its books too. 
So Labour will balance the books in the next parliament. 
These will be our tough fiscal rules. We will get the current budget into surplus and the national debt falling as soon as possible in the next parliament. 
Tough fiscal rules that our National Policy Forum endorsed in July, demonstrating that, however difficult, our party can unite in tough times to agree a radical, credible and fully costed programme for government. 
And we will legislate for these tough fiscal rules in the first year after the election and they will be independently monitored by the Office for Budget Responsibility. 
So in our manifesto there will be no proposals for any new spending paid for by additional borrowing. 
No spending commitments without saying where the money is coming from. 
Because we will not make promises we cannot keep and cannot afford.
Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceIt ought to, but my money is on their continuing to stick their fingers in their ears and go "la la la".

Wok This Way wins Chinese Takeaway of the Day


Today's winner can be found in High Street, Oakham.

Direct rail service from London Euston to Shrewsbury returns


Welcome news in the Shropshire Star today: the Office of Rail Regulation has given its approval for a direct rail link service between Shrewsbury and London.

There will be two workings each way from Monday to Saturday, and one on Sunday.

The good news for me is that the service will call at Coventry. When I first started going to Shropshire I used sometimes to catch a train from Leicester to Coventry and pick up the Shrewsbury service there.

These days getting from Leicester to Coventry involves a change of trains at Nuneaton, but it will still be well worth it to avoid the experience of changing at Birmingham New Street.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Rev comes to Market Bosworth


From the Leicester Mercury:
An unholy row has erupted after a parish priest announced that a ceremony to mark his civil partnership is to be staged at his church. 
A local parishioner has said that the service to celebrate the partnership between the Reverend Dominic McClean and his male partner at St Peter’s Church in Market Bosworth amounts to a “gay wedding”.
Thanks to...

...for giving me an excuse to use one of my photos of St Peter's, Market Bosworth.

The English question and the whale in the bathtub



The West Lothian question should not trouble a Conservative over much. Why overturn a constitutional arrangement that works in the name of abstract principles like ‘fairness’ or ‘justice’? That’s the sort of folly that Liberals and Radicals go in for.

But David Cameron had to act on it and act quickly. Because today large parts of the Conservative Party are hardly Conservative at all. The brighter among them do care about abstract principles, but most are Angry White Men who believe the disappointments of their lives and the failings of British society are the fault of Europe or the Scots or some other group institution or group.

It is from this latter group that most Conservative activists and increasing numbers of their backbench MPs are drawn. Such people believe the Scots already get more than their fair share from the English taxpayer – hence the imperative on Cameron to be seen to offer the English something once he had decided to issue a pledge in an attempt to buy off the Yes campaign in the Scottish referendum.

And if he hadn’t acted, not only would his own party have been in revolt against him, Nigel Farage would likely have emerged as the champion of the disaffected English.

So it looks as if we are to have English votes for English laws. In theory this is a fair reform, but the practical problems are that it will either make no difference (that would be the situation in most parliaments) or that it would lead to the UK being governed by one party and England by another and prove to be unworkable.

So, much as the idea of an English parliament meeting in York appeals, I cannot see it as a sensible option. Nor am I attracted by the idea of artificial English regions, each with its own assembly and capital.

I agonised about these problems in a book review in Liberal Democrat News a few years ago:
What to do about England in the new devolved United Kingdom is a question that will not go away. A Useful Fiction quotes Anthony King’s description of the country under the current settlement as “a huge whale in a small bathtub”, and without the counterbalance that the new parliaments offer in Scotland and Wales, it is England that has suffered most from the demise of local democracy. 
The traditional Liberal answer is to call for assemblies to be set up in the English regions, but I do not find this attractive. There are problems on agreeing where the boundaries should be drawn and the inconvenient fact that on the only occasion when plans for an assembly were put to the public (in the North East in 2004), they were voted down decisively. 
More than that, the regional system Labour has set up acts like a shadow, unelected variety of local government that makes it easier for Whitehall to force new infrastructure projects through in the force of popular opposition.
Perhaps the real problem is that English regional government appeals to those who do not feel comfortable with Englishness at all. Many on the liberal-left who are indulgent to Celtic nationalism still fear that England is too big and too irredeemably Tory to be allowed a modern constitutional form. They would rather see English identity hobbled by a collection of smaller assemblies.
If we are not to have an English parliament or a comprehensive system of regional government, then we shall have to learn to live with a looser solution where large cities and counties that want more power are given it and those that do not continue under a regime much like the one that exists at present. At the very least, we are going to have to give up the expression ‘postcode lottery’.

And as for coming to terms with Englishness, I commend a Spectator article by Nick Cohen:
The danger for Labour is that it could find itself portrayed as the enemy of the English. It is a novel position for the party. Most Labour politicians are wary of the left intelligentsia – and vice versa – and know the dangers of the electorate thinking them unpatriotic. But patriotism is changing. It is not enough for a political party to show that it loves Britain; it has to show that it loves each of its constituent parts. For Labour, the only national party with strong roots in England, Wales and Scotland, the balkanisation of Britain, represents a moment of danger. 
The question now is no longer: does Labour love Britain? But does Labour love England? Maybe not enough to allow fair treatment for the English electorate.  Labour is giving every indication that it will not accept English votes for English laws. It wants to devolve more powers to English cities and regions, as do the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.  But it is not contemplating a federal Britain, and is refusing to cooperate with David Cameron’s attempts to answer the English question. 
I sympathise with its reasons. I don’t want to see Welsh and Scottish politicians excluded from English life, not least because they are the men and women most likely to forward left wing interests. I hate the prospect of the petty, almost racist, populism of the Scottish nationalists spreading south. But my Britain is going or gone. The Labour Party cannot expect others to stand by an archaic system, rigged for the left’s benefit.
Who will benefit from the new system born from Salmond’s populism and the panic of the leaders of the UK parties in the face of it remains to be seen. But that is the battle we must now fight.

Leonard Cohen: Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye



It seems odd to be wishing a 1960s musician a happy 80th birthday, but we had better get used to it. Even Steve Winwood is 66 these days.

Here is Leonard Cohen at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 and he is just as cool today as he was then.

I have chosen two other Leonard Cohen songs as Sunday music videos - I must be grown up:

John Leech to speak at East Midlands Lib Dems conference




The autumn conference and annual general meeting of the East Midlands Liberal Democrats will take place in Hinckley on Saturday 1 November.

The keynote speaker will be John Leech, Lib Dem MP for Manchester Withington, and the four candidates to be the party's new president have also been invited.

Book via the East Midlands Lib Dems website.

“It was as black as the night sky”: The Beast of Harborough returns

The Hatborough Mail reports that the Black Beast of Harborough was seen near Lubenham on two consecutive evenings earlier this month.

We have previously reported sightings of the Beast near Arthingworth and Foxton.