Friday, October 21, 2016

50 years ago tonight Cliff Michelmore in Aberfan

I posted this on Liberal England back in March to mark Cliff Michelmore's death.

It was broadcast 50 years ago tonight.

The Liberal Democrats are back - and the Tories should be worried

Don't take my word for it: read Stephen Bush in the New Statesman:
One thing is clear: the "Liberal Democrat fightback" is not just a hashtag. The party has been doing particularly well in affluent Conservative areas that voted to stay in the European Union. (It's worth noting that one seat that very much fits that profile is Theresa May's own stomping ground of Maidenhead.) 
It means that if, as looks likely, Zac Goldsmith triggers a by-election over Heathrow, the Liberal Democrats will consider themselves favourites if they can find a top-tier candidate with decent local connections. 
They also start with their by-election machine having done very well indeed out of what you might call its “open beta” in Witney. The county council elections next year, too, should be low hanging fruit for [them].

Gary Lineker "needs to decide if he's a political activist or BBC sports journalist - he can't be both"

So said Alec Shelbrooke, a Tory MP who has hitherto flown beneath the radar of this blog, of Gary Lineker.

But he can be both. There are plenty of precedents.

The great John Arlott fought Epping for the Liberal Party at the 1955 and 1959 general elections.

Not only that: he was a regular panelist on Any Questions? which made him about the best known Liberal in the country before the party's revival under Jo Grimond.

A second member of the Test Match Special team, Alan Gibson, was a supporter of the Liberals. He fought Falmouth and Camborne in 1959.

And, as Andrew Hickey remined me on Twitter today, David Icke was one of the Green Party's principal spokespeople when  he still worked for BBC Sport.

If Shelbrooke would prefer a right-wing example, he need look no further that Denis Compton.

While a member of the BBC's television commentary team for test matches he fronted the organisation Freedom in Sport, which sought to re-establish fixtures with Apartheid-era South Africa.

So Gary Lineker could certainly be a political activist and a BBC sports journalist if he chose. So far, of course, he has done no more than offer an opinion.

Trouble ahead on the Midland main line

The delay in the electrification of the Midland main line from St Pancras is going to cause problems.

In the summer of 2015 the government announced a pause in the project. It was soon restarted, but that good news was accompanied by the news that it will take four years longer than originally planned.

The electrification will reach now Kettering and Corby by 2019, and be extended to Leicester, Derby, Nottingham and Sheffield (and, indeed, Market Harborough) by 2023.

This will cause problems. East Midlands Trains, which runs the service on this line, is due to phase out its High Speed Trains by 2020.

A press release from Leicestershire County Council calls on the government to order new 125mph bi-mode trains that can use diesel or electric power, so they can still be used when the line is electrified.

In a spirit of bipartisanship, it also quotes Sir Peter Soulsby, the elected Mayor of Leicester:
“Replacing high speed trains with slower, second-hand stock is simply unacceptable. The government needs to offer an assurance that that the high speed trains due to be withdrawn in 2020 will be replaced with stock of equivalent or better specification."
But I doubt we will see those new trains. With money being poured into HS2, corners will have to be cut elsewhere.

If you add to that the fact that the opening of HS2 will lead to fewer trains on the Midland main line, there is clearly trouble ahead.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Aberfan was foreseeable and foreseen

I do not have clear memories of the day Aberfan happened - I was six at the time - but in my lifetime there has been no British tragedy that comes close to it in enormity.

As Huw Edwards' documentary made clear the other evening, the slide of the tip above Aberfan was foreseeable and foreseen.

That programme owed a lot to the work of Martin Johnes and Iain McLean, who wrote a book, Aberfan: Government and Disasters, on it in 2000.

In a new article for this week's 50th anniversary - The Political Aftermath of the Aberfan Disaster - they write:
The disaster simply would not have happened had the NCB [National Coal Board] taken local fears about the tips more seriously or enforced its own rules on tip safety. But it was an organization hampered by mismanagement yet protected from market and political pressure by being part of the state and a dominant local employer. 
Before the disaster, the NCB’s economic and local political power meant no one, including the small local authority in Merthyr, was able to challenge it to do more about fears on tip safety. After the disaster, the NCB’s economic and national power meant its interests took precedent over those whose children it had killed.
And in a point Edwards passed over, they emphasise that mines were being closed in the 1960s (at a faster rate than they were under Margaret Thatcher).

Lord Robens, the head of the NCB and a Labour Party bigwig, was seen as the only man who could oversee these closures without causing a coal strike. So he stayed on despite his organisation's culpability.

Hard evidence that voters will turn against hard Brexit

A YouGov poll in August asked voters how much they would be willing to pay to reduce European immigration.

The most popular answer, endorsed by 62 per cent of respondents, was Nothing.

Yes there are those who would pay to reduce it, but by the time YouGov got to the most expensive option - paying 5 per cent of your income - only 15 per cent of respondents were left in favour.

Leave based their campaign on a false prospectus: the idea that we could leave the European Union and be better off. See the photo above if you doubt me.

The reality is that we will be worse off, and the evidence is that this will not be popular with voters.

Hard evidence for what I argued last week: the Conservatives are chasing public opinion and it will end in tears.

BREAKING... Tensions revealed in Tories' Witney campaign

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

London Zoo escaped gorilla ‘drank five litres of undiluted squash’ during escape

The Independent wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Weedon Bec's military history comes back to haunt it

Back in July 2013 I photographed the former Royal Ordnance Depot at Weedon Bec in Northamptonshire.

Today came news that there is still ordnance in the village - under a children's playground.

BBC News reports:
A parish council fears it could be facing bankruptcy over the £1m cost of clearing a mound where two World War Two hand grenades were found. 
The mound near a play area in Weedon Bec, near Daventry, was being cleared by the parish council in July when the explosives were found. 
The bomb squad was called but the council found the cost of clearing the site had risen to more than £1m.
The report goes on to say that the mound is thought to contain waster from "nearby Weedon Barracks," though these were demolished in the mid 1950s. They stood next to the Royal Ordnance Depot.

It also reports the Ministry of Defence says it is "examining ways" to "provide financial support to the parish council".

And quite right too.

I'm all for grazed knees, but live hand grenades are probably going a bit far for a playground.

Labour councillor defects to the Tories - for 24 hours

Strange goings on in Swindon, where a Labour councillor crossed the floor to join the Tories, thought again and then rejoined the Labour group a day later.

The Swindon Advertiser has the story:
Matthew Courtliff, who was elected to represent the Lydiard and Freshbrook ward just five months ago, made the shock decision on Tuesday evening following a meeting with council leader David Renard. 
After completing the paperwork to officially join the Conservative group, Coun Courtliff released a statement citing concerns with the direction of Labour under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership as the motive behind his decision. 
He said he looked forward to Theresa May’s leadership and offered his support for the Conservative group’s vision for Swindon ... 
But before the dust had even settled on the defection, Coun Courtliff had a change of heart and performed a dramatic u-turn. 
On Wednesday morning he declared that he had made “a terrible mistake” and described the day’s events as “the most stupid 24 hours of my life.” 
Following a meeting between Coun Grant and Coun Courtliff, the Swindon Labour Group confirmed that he would remain a Labour councillor representing the residents of Lydiard and Freshbrook.
Winston Churchill adds: Anyone can rat, but it takes a certain amount of ingenuity to re-rat.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Glastonbury bus in 1963

© National Railway Museum and SSPL

There are lots of lovely images on the National Railway Museum site that can be used for free by non-commercial sites.

Six of the Best 635

Adam Bienkov on the threat to Jeremy Corbyn from Labour's left.

The Troubled Families programme was bound to fail and ministers knew it, says Jonathan Portes. "The programme’s evaluation ... is the perfect case study of how the manipulation of statistics by politicians and civil servants led directly to bad policy and to the wasting of hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money."

The National Union of Journalists explains why Newsquest staff have gone on strike.

"The image of the architect presented by Ladybird is beautiful, warm and unintimidating and the flat-roofed house on his graph paper is thoroughly modern." Nick Campbell attended an event this week on 'Ladybird Books and Constructing the Future Past of Modern Britain'.

Allison McNearney examines the unsolved theft of Ireland's Crown Jewels in 1907.

"Nobody intended for the planet to be swarmed with house cats either. In many ways, their online dominance is an extension of their earthly conquests." Abigail Tucker explains why cats have taken over the internet.

Former Conservative PCC charged with disclosing information in case involving Conservative MP

From the Northants Herald & Post today:
Northamptonshire's first ever Police and Crime Commissioner appeared in court today ... accused of passing information about Wellingborough MP Peter Bone. 
Adam Simmonds, aged 39, denied disclosing information relating to a criminal investigation into the Conservative MP when he appeared at Westminster Magistrates' Court.
Simmonds was elected in 2012 and stood down at the PCC elections earlier this year.

The Herald & Post goes on to quote the words of the prosecuting counsel:
"This is a case relating to the disclosure of information regarding a criminal investigation into a then and current Member of Parliament.
"This was done by this defendant having received information in his capacity as Police and Crime Commissioner and passing it to a number of colleagues in the Conservative Party between the dates that we have heard. 
"It is plainly serious to disclose this information and plainly in breach of trust as a public servant, as he received this information in a professional capacity."

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Heart of Wales Line in 1978

Click on the image about to view this film on the British Film Institute site.

The blurb there says:
Here are station names as familiar and reassuring to users of this line as the shipping forecast area names are to sailors and radio listeners: Bynea, Llandeilo, Llandovery, Cynghordy (and viaduct), Llanwrtyd Wells, Llangammarch, Garth, Llandrinod Wells, Dolau, Llanbister Road (where a single sheep stands on the line as the train approaches), Llangunllo and the Knucklas Viaduct.

Man stole 13 blocks of cheese from Leicester supermarket – but ‘didn’t know what to do with it’

Thanks to the Leicester Mercury, we have our Headline of the Day.

Nick Clegg sets out the problems Brexit may cause the UK food and drink industry

Nick Clegg has published the third of his Brexit Challenge papers.

This one looks the potential challenges facing the UK's food and drink industry after Brexit and has already received considerable media coverage.

Nick writes:
UK membership of the EU affects almost every aspect of the food chain, from the pesticides that can be used on our crops, to the profitability of our farms, to the labelling of products in our shops; from the employment conditions of agricultural workers to hygiene standards in factories; and from the subsidies paid to farmers to the quantity of fish that can be caught. The impacts of Brexit will be felt by everyone. 
While some manufacturers will hope that Brexit leads to the opening of new markets, the reality is that exporting will become more complicated and difficult in the short term. The food and drink industry will have to adapt quickly to disruption of their access to established markets and to uncertainty about the entire regulatory framework. 
Consumers will have to get used to higher prices even beyond the impact of the falling value of the pound.
You can read the whole paper on the Liberal Democrats website.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The railway through Desborough

Some nice vintage photographs of the railway through this small Northamptonshire town.

Many are of Desborough and Rothwell station (between Market Harborough and Kettering on the Midland main line), which closed in 1968.

Donald Trump's defence witness Anthony Gilberthorpe

One of the torrent of accusations against Donald Trump is that he groped a woman called Jessica Leeds on a US internal flight more than three decades ago.

However, a witness has come forward to say that no such assault took place.

As the New York Post reports:
The man says he was sitting across from the accuser and contacted the Trump campaign because he was incensed by her account — which is at odds with what he witnessed. 
“I have only met this accuser once and frankly cannot imagine why she is seeking to make out that Trump made sexual advances on her. Not only did he not do so (and I was present at all times) but it was she that was the one being flirtatious,” Anthony Gilberthorpe said in a note provided to The Post by the Trump campaign.
If the name Anthony Gilberthorpe sounds familiar, it is probably because of a news story from 2014.

Then the Daily Mirror reported:
Senior Tory cabinet ministers were supplied with underage boys for sex parties, it is sensationally claimed. 
Former Conservative activist Anthony Gilberthorpe said he told Margaret Thatcher 25 years ago about what he had witnessed and gave her names of those involved. 
His allegations that he saw top Tories having sex with boys comes after David Cameron launched a Government inquiry into claims of a cover-up. 
Anthony, 52, said: “I am prepared to speak to the inquiry. I believe I am a key witness.” 
Trawling seedy streets during a Tory conference, Gilberthorpe says he was asked to find underage rent boys for a private sex party at a top hotel. 
Today, more than three decades later, he claims he was acting on the orders of some of the most senior figures of Margaret Thatcher’s government.
The Mirror went on to say:
He says one person who attended a party is a current serving minister. 
Others said to be present at the parties included Keith Joseph, Rhodes Boyson, Dr Alistair Smith and Michael Havers
And back in 2007 who was it who witnessed the collapse of a building in Westminster?
Eyewitness Anthony Gilberthorpe told BBC News 24: "I heard a mighty explosion and about two floors and the roof of a building to my left hand side was literally showering down in front of me. 
"So I literally threw myself, literally jumped up and threw myself, to the right hand side of the road not knowing whether I was going to be hit." 
Mr Gilberthorpe saw a van driver step out of his vehicle moments before it was hit by a huge piece of debris. 
"What I did see which was quite shocking was a huge boulder went right through his vehicle, literally where he had been 15 seconds previously and I think that's the most frightening thing that I actually witnessed.
I don't know how convincing a witness Mr Gilberthorpe will make for Trump, but he certainly has an interesting life.

Dave Davies: Death of a Clown

With killer clowns in the news, I have been thinking of this 1967 single by the bass player from the Kinks.

Dave Davies explained its genesis in an interview with Yahoo!:
One night I nodded off at a party and woke up and saw all these decadent people running around. I had a vision of being a circus clown. I thought, “What are we doing?” We were going from day to day to day like performing seals. 
And that’s where I got the idea for “Death of a Clown.” I went back to me mum’s house with the same old out-of-tune piano and I plunked out three notes, and it turned into the song.
And Wikipedia adds some details:
The song is co-written with his brother Ray Davies, who contributed the 5-bar "La la la" hook; Ray's first wife, Rasa, sings this phrase as well as descant in the second verse, while Ray himself sings harmony in the refrain. Nicky Hopkins played the distinctive introduction, using fingerpicks on the strings of a piano.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Six of the Best 634

Britain's need to attract large flows of foreign capital to keep it functioning limits are freedom of movement in foreign and industrial policy, argues Duncan Weldon.

Stephen Evans says the demonisation of Louis Smith for 'mocking Islam' is illustrative of a troubling return of the concept of blasphemy.

Nottingham's parking levy has paid for two new tram lines and railway and bus improvements, reports Charlie Sorrel.

The Dulwich Raider celebrates the micropub revolution.

"Brilliant and sometimes maddening, “Jerusalem” is Alan Moore’s monumentally ambitious attempt to save his hometown, Northampton, England - not to rescue it from the slow economic catastrophe that’s been gnawing at it for centuries, but to save it “the way that you save ships in bottles,” by preserving its contours and details in art." Douglas Wolk reviews the novel.

"The big change is the proximity to death ... I am a tidy kind of guy. I like to tie up the strings if I can. If I can’t, also, that’s O.K. But my natural thrust is to finish things that I’ve begun." David Remnick interviews Leonard Cohen, who has a new album coming out at the age of 82.

Michael Gove's war on 'soft' subjects was misconceived

Triangle ABC is larger than triangle DEF. How do you think triangle DEF feels about this?
It's a joke from an old Punt and Dennis radio show,but I thought of it when I read that some 'soft' subjects are no longer to be offered at A level.

According to the Independent, these include History of Art, Statistics, Classical Civilisation and Archaeology.

These strike me as perfectly valid areas of study for a sixth-former: Statistics is one of the many subjects I wish I knew more about.

More fundamentally, as the joke above shows, any subject can be hard of soft depending on how you examine it.

Somewhere behind the pressure to stop offering such subjects is the idea that teenagers are raw material for the economy without individual talents of interests.

The cull of soft subjects was an initiative from Michael Gove. However, since then he has told us that "people in this country have had enough of experts".

So why bother with academic rigour at all?

Friday, October 14, 2016

Alan Garner: The Edge of the Ceiling

An interview with the writer from 1980.

He can sometimes leave you feeling you have been hit over the head with a volume of English folklore, but he is a remarkable talent.

Midland Railway locomotive shed to be restored as the home of the University of Northampton Students Union

Two summers ago, after exploring the pleasingly derelict lands now being redeveloped as the University of Northampton's new Waterside campus, I wrote:
Somewhere in the middle of it there is a "rare and little altered example of a Midland Railway locomotive shed". All the security fencing makes it impossible to photograph at the moment, but I hope it will be retained and restored as part of the redevelopment here.
The good news this week is that the old shed is indeed going to be restored.

The University of Northampton Students' Union reports that it has
received a confirmed grant of £1,323,300 from the Heritage Lottery Fund ... for the restoration of its Engine Shed building on the University of Northampton’s new Waterside Campus. 
Thanks to National Lottery players, this exciting project will see the Grade II Engine Shed and adjacent office buildings brought back into use as a vibrant hub of student activity, whilst supporting a number of innovative community engagement projects with local partners and businesses. 
The Engine Shed was constructed in 1873 at the junction of the main London and North Western Railway line and the former Northampton branch line. The project aims to carry out essential conservation work, which will see the largely derelict shell of the Engine Shed restored to its former grandeur. 
The building’s structural roof trusses, windows and decorative brickwork will also be retained alongside original train tracks, which will be carefully recovered and replaced following development works.
Because property is like theft, man, I have borrowed this photo from the union's website.

Why should 1066 be the most famous date in our history?

Daniel Hannan says the Norman Conquest was "a cataclysm for the English people" and for once he is right.

Certainly, there is something odd about the way that 1066, the date of an invasion, has become the most famous date in our history - the date that every schoolboy used to know.

Why should this be?

The answer may lie in a post I wrote remembering an afternoon when David Starkey appeared on Richard and Judy:
Starkey said the idea that 1066 is the most important date in British history is a recent one. In fact it dates from 1914 - the year when all things French became good and all things German bad. German Shepherd Dogs turned into Alsatians and the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha turned into the House of Windsor. 
Until then we had been very aware of our Saxon heritage and believed that the roots of our democracy lay in that era. After 1914 the Norman Conquest became almost a Year Zero and the Saxon kings were relegated to become a faintly embarrassing pre-history.
Starkey, in between the academic bitchery, does sometimes come up with something profound.

I remember him saying that David Cameron and Nick Clegg has modelled themselves on Tony Blair. But the Blair playbook said nothing about economic recessions, with the result that they were at a loss to know what to do when they came to power in the middle of one.

Later. If you want to improve your own knowledge of the period, Michael Wood's series King Alfred and the Anglo Saxons is currently on the BBC iPlayer.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

A Shropshire slideshow

Following Music in Leicester, here is another slideshow using a new Getty Images feature.

A warning for the Tories: Chasing public opinion can end in tears

The government thinks it is on to a good thing. Brexit won a majority in the referendum, so if it carries it out then it will be popular with the voters.

Except that public opinion doesn't work like that.

Take the Iraq War.

A Daily Telegraph article in July looked at new polling by YouGov.

It was no surprise to find that there had been a major shift in opinion on Iraq. In 2003 53 per cent of voters thought the war was right. Now only 26 per cent think it was right.

But more significant - and more worrying for the Conservatives - is another figure.

Today, only 37 per cent of voters think they thought the war was right in 2003, while 43 per cent think they thought it was wrong and 20 per cent don't know.

From which I conclude that if Brexit starts to go wrong - and there is every sign that it will - then the voters will decide that they never wanted it in the first place.

Public opinion can be volatile and voters are more likely to blame politicians when things go wrong than blame themselves.

So if MPs - Tories included - think Brexit will harm Britain then they should have the courage to say so and vote accordingly.

In the words of that great Whig Edmund Burke (Conservatives claim him as their own but do not read him):
Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
Later. More detail on YouGov's Iraq polling here.

The League of Gentlemen to return?

Jasper Jackson writes in the Guardian:
Mark Gatiss hopes to bring his dark comedy The League of Gentlemen back to TV screens, with Brexit providing the perfect excuse to revive the gruesomely insular characters of Royston Vasey. 
Speaking on BBC Radio 6 Music, the Sherlock and Doctor Who writer said he had talked to his co-creators about bringing back the show after more than a decade. 
"We’re hoping to [do it again] … We’ve talked seriously about doing something. We’re not quite sure what it is yet but we’d love to do something, it is 10 years," he said. 
Referring to the show’s “local shop for local people”, run by Edward and Tulip "Tubbs" Tattsyrup, Gatiss said: “I think increasingly, talking about prescience, we have become a local country for local people and I wonder if there is something Brexity in us that we can do. 
"Michael Gove’s resemblance to Edward from the local shop is not a coincidence."
I don't suppose the other three team members will be delighted to see it described as Mark Gatiss's dark comedy, but this has to be good news.

The only worry is how the show will feel almost 20 years on. When it first appeared, to anyone who had grown up in the provinces in the 1970s it did not seem a comedy so much as a documentary.

Gatiss says the series has gained new fans through YouTube and that he is
unsure whether a new show would feature similar characters, or whether the national mood would be better suited to new creations.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Nick Clegg: The comeback kid?

Serena Kutchinsky writes in the New Statesman:
After spending half a decade as a political pariah, Nick Clegg seems to be on his way to a comeback of sorts. The former Liberal Democrat leader has teamed up with his old political rival, Ed Miliband, and a small but significant group of Tory Remainers, to lead the call for there to be full parliamentary scrutiny of the government’s Brexit plan. 
Earlier this week, he found himself resoundingly cheered from the Labour benches as he demanded to know how the government could claim the right to know what Brexit means. 
During today’s parliamentary debate on Brexit he went further, effectively accusing the Prime Minister of hypocrisy over her reluctance to allow parliamentary scrutiny, in an impressive speech which won plaudits from the twitterati. 
As the former Deputy Prime Minister, Clegg understands the inner-workings of both the Tory party and Whitehall better than most politicians. He also has a firm grip on the intricacies of Brussels bureaucracy. Before becoming an MEP in 1999, he worked as European Commission trade negotiator.
Yes, the Brexit crisis could be the making of Nick.

Wellington to Craven Arms revisisted

Last year I posted three videos (part 1, part 2 and part 3) following the old railway line from Wellington to Craven Arms in Shropshire.

Holden Webster, who made those videos, has now gone back to the line to record the good news that the Telford Steam Railway (which he visited in part 1) has recently been extended.

With the closure of Ironbridge power station, there is a chance that it will be extended again.

“Sad”, “limp”, “depressing” and “cowed”: the unwanted genitalia popping up all over Brussels

Photo: Myrabella

CityMetric wins our Headline of the Day Award.