Thursday, June 22, 2017

The woods at Delapre Abbey


When I set off to photograph Northampton's Eleanor Cross I imagined a hot uphill walk beside the London Road.

But that road turned out to be fringed by woodland, so I could make my way along shaded paths.

These woods are part of the Delapre Abbey estate and this part of it became somewhat degraded after the second world war. A notice explains that they are being restored to how they would have been in the late 1930s.

The abbey itself is still undergoing restoration work, but - importantly - the cafe was open on Saturday.






Six of the Best 701

Canterbury Cathedral
Michael Mullaney analyses the Liberal Democrat performance in this month's general election: "Whilst increasing our MPs, and having four narrow misses, we have at this election still suffered a further loss of second places, a further loss of deposits, and a continuing fallback in large parts of Britain, particularly the North, the Midlands and Wales."

Political bots are poisoning democracy, say Hadley Newman and Kevin O'Gorman.

Gavin Stamp says we should not expect England great cathedrals to look after themselves.

"The spare performances ... add to the album’s intimacy, sparking a revealing listen that at times comes off like something maybe you shouldn’t be hearing. There are confessions, slipped-out secrets and the sense that the heart on display here was temporarily caught off guard." Michael Gallucci pays tribute to Joni Mitchell's album Blue.

"Are you a cavalier or roundhead?" Huw Turbervill revisits the tensions between David Gower and Graham Gooch. Me? I loved both of them.

Brian Sayle climbs Cadair Idris.

And finally a musical bonus...

Norman Lamb shows why he should have stood for the Liberal Democrat leadership



Norman Lamb contributed an article to the Guardian website under the headline 'Why I won’t be the Lib Dems’ next leader'.

The odd thing is that, beyond the opening observation that Norman has "just fought a gruelling campaign to win my North Norfolk seat," the article read as though he was announcing his decision to stand for the Liberal Democrat leadership.
He writes:
We need to understand why so many people get frustrated with remote power – something that Liberals should understand. The European Union is too often dysfunctional and sclerotic, yet progressive internationalists have been reluctant to admit this. While we have always recognised the need for reform of the EU, the Liberal Democrats have been perceived as being too tolerant of its failings.
And:
I want the Liberal Democrats to use our potentially pivotal position in parliament to force cross-party working on the profound challenges we face: not just the Brexit negotiations, but how we secure the future of the NHS and our care system.
And:
In my work as a health minister in the coalition, I became more and more outraged by the way people with mental ill health and those with learning disability and autism are treated by the state. So often I heard stories of people being ignored, not listened to. 
The dad of a patient at Winterbourne View (the care home where abuse of residents was exposed by Panorama), who told me he felt guilty because there was nothing he could do for his son: no one would listen to his complaints. The teenage girl with autism held in an institution for over two years, treated like an animal. No one would listen to her family’s pleas. I helped get her out and she now leads a good life – but one minister can’t intervene in every case.
I suppose the reason Norman is not standing is that he feels his views on Europe are too far from the party mainstream.

But there is a lot in his article I agree with, while Norman's difficulties over Europe seems to me symptomatic of a deeper problem for the Liberal Democrats.

Our revival on councils and then in parliament was built on the voters' perception that Liberals (and the Liberal Democrats) were the ones who would stand up for local people - perhaps particularly in wards and towns that tended to get the rough end of political decisions.

More recently, we have also rather fancied ourselves as the party of the liberal establishment - the party of technocrats and lawyers.

There is an obvious tension between these two identities and one that is most apparent in the traditional Liberal strongholds in the South West and in Norman's own North Norfolk seat, which has much in common with them.

If Norman had stood, we would have been more likely to face up to our split identity. I am not sure I would have voted for him, but he would certainly have made for a more enlightening contest.

Middlesbrough firm selling model railway figures of couples having sex

Thanks to a nomination from a reader, the Middlesbrough Gazette wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Northampton ghost sign


You can find this on the south side of the Nene close to site of the old Northampton Bridge Street railway station.

It is hard to read, but could end "Coal and Cattle Station".

Six of the Best 700

Vince Cable has announced that he is a candidate for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats.

"Let me right at the outset define what I mean by alienation. It is the cry of the men who feel themselves the victims of blind economic forces beyond their control. It is the frustration of ordinary people excluded from the processes of decision making. The feeling of despair and hopelessness that pervades people who feel with justification that they have no say in shaping or determining their own destinies." Richard Smith rediscovers a 1972 speech by Jimmy Reid.

Adrienne LaFrance explains why "at this chaotic moment in global politics, conspiracy theories seem to have seeped out from the edges of society and flooded into mainstream political discourse".

Research into the damage done by firearms is suppressed in the United States, reports David Hemenway.

Remember the retired naval office who fired off salutes in Mary Poppins? Laura Reynolds visits the real-life model for his house in Hampstead.

"Maybe cats will continue to defy domestication. They could carve out a place as one of the only animals to befriend humans without ever falling completely under our control." Annalee Newitz finds that a study of ancient and modern cat genomes has revealed an unusual history.

Monday, June 19, 2017

York Layerthorpe station in 1981


I once blogged about the Derwent Valley Railway (DVR):
When I was an undergraduate at York, the bus from the university into the city used to cross a bridge over an overgrown single-track railway. 
This was the Derwent Valley Light Railway, which in those days ran from Layerthorpe in the city for four miles out to Dunnington. When it opened in 1913 it had run almost to Selby: in 1981 it was to close altogether. 
One day I walked the line to Dunnington and back. Though it shows track that had long gone by then, the video above gives a good idea of the way the line looked in its final years. So decrepit was it that I was surprised when I met a very mixed freight train coming the other way.
That video has disappeared from YouTube, but I have found three photographs I took that day. I think it was in 1981, the last year of the DVR's operation.

This is the first, showing the line's York terminus at Layerthorpe. As with a lot of my shots from those days, there is too much empty foreground, and here the gents' loo receives undue prominence. Still it's nice to have found it.

The DVR was privately owned, but connected to the British Rail system via the Foss Islands Branch, which ran from a junction with the York to Scarborough line to Layerthorpe.

That branch too closed in 1988 when Rowntree's switched to using road transport.

Hay Meadow Festival at The Bog, Shropshire, on 24 June


This sounds fun in a gentle sort of way:
A fun filled family day to celebrate wildflower meadows and their wealth of wildlife. FREE ENTRY, everyone welcome! 
We have a packed programme of activities planned. These include guided meadow walks, family bug hunts, and the launch of the new Stiperstones Butterfly Trail. 
Try your hand at scything, or show off your scything skills in the competition arena, along with hay bale lobbing and hayrick building. Alternatively, head for the arts & crafts tent where you’ll find lots of hay to play and create with.
Full details on the Stiperstones & Cordon Hill Country Landscape Partnership Scheme site.

Tory MP uses Grenfell Tower debate to attack firefighters' union


Those watching the East Midland segment of Sunday Politics yesterday lunchtime will have seen a debate on the lessons of Grenfell Tower between Heather Wheeler (Conservative MP for South Derbyshire) and Toby Perkins (Labour MP for Chesterfield).

When Perkins suggested that the disaster has something to do with cuts to local authority spending Wheeler was outraged.

And when Perkins started to quote figures from the Fire Brigades Union, we were treated to this outburst:
"Well they would. The word is in the clue (sic) 'union', mate. That's the clue."
Note that Wheeler was so angry at the mention of the firefighters' union that she could not get her words in the right order.

To use the aftermath of Grenfell Tower as the occasion for an attack on the firefighters' union is outrageous and Wheeler should apologise.

You can watch the exchange yourself on the BBC iPlayer. The discussion on Grenfell Tower begins at 40:45.

To end on a more sweet-smelling note, here is how the residents of the area around Grenfell Tower treat their firefighters.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Six of the Best 699

"Grenfell Tower should mark a point of no return. No return to the frenzied deregulation, cost-cutting and rampant inequality of the last four decades. These are not new evils. They have been lurking for many years. But it took the light of a burning building for the whole nation to see them." Jonathan Freedland says this disaster must be a turning point.

And Henry Porter says it has become a metaphor for Britain's year from hell.

Alwyn Turner looks at the appeal of revolutionary violence to the ageing Labour left: "When the Tories and their friends in Fleet Street attacked the current Labour leadership for past association with terrorists and enemies of the country, it wasn’t a smear campaign; it was an admittedly lurid but essentially truthful account. It may not have had the impact on the general election that was intended, but the facts remain."

Politics meets neuropsychology as Jerry Useem finds that leaders tend to lose mental capacities - most notably for reading other people - that were essential to their rise.

"The murky water of Dunwich conceals so much: not just porpoises but old merchant houses and graves and churches and even, perhaps most astonishingly of all, an ancient aqueduct." Tom Cox visits Britain's lost city.

Millie Thom on the celebrations of the 800th anniversary of the Battle of Lincoln Fair.

Back to Northampton's Eleanor Cross


Having blogged last month that Northampton's Eleanor Cross was in danger, I thought I had better take a look.

I was having a stiffener yesterday lunchtime, prior to undertaking the walk up the hill to the cross, when the news came via Twitter that the Department for Culture, Media & Sport has granted consent for repairs to be made to it.

When I got there the only sign to the untutored eye that something is amiss was that plants had established themselves within it.

Reader's voice: But what is an Eleanor Cross?

Liberal England replies: You will find the answer here.





Politics and class in Kensington



This is from a Liberal Democrat News column I wrote in November 1999, before most of my readers were born.

I had been down to Kensington and Chelsea to give me something to write about help in a by-election. The Conservative candidate was Michael Portillo.

Sent out canvassing, I found that few residents were in:
So instead I talked to a council workman who was sweeping up the leaves. He soon explained my difficulty: "They'll all be at their places in the country." He also pointed out a house that had just had a million pounds spent on it. It hadn't been bought for a million, you understand, just renovated. 
"Mind you," he went on, "this is a funny area. You've got judges living here, and junkies down the road." 
"Judges and junkies: I like that," I said, thinking I might steal the line for this column.
"Judges and junkies in juxtaposition," he replied, effortlessly topping it. 
And he was right; it is a funny area. Politics in Kensington and Chelsea remains polarised on class lines to an extent you rarely see nowadays. Not a single council ward has changed hands here since 1982.

Paul Simon: Take me to the Mardi Gras



I got an unexpected invitation to a party last night.

The music had already been chosen, but someone asked what tracks I would choose to drink beer to on a summer evening.

I think this would be one of them.

Later. After posting this I came across the blog Every Single Paul Simon Song and its post on Take me to the Mardi Gras:
It is a gossamer breeze, a tall glass of cool iced tea, and a hammock on a beach. It is about escaping to a place of music (the whole first verse) and warmth, both physical-- "You can wear your summer clothes"-- and emotional-- "You can mingle in the street." It almost seems to be more about Aruba or Provence than raucous, randy New Orleans.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Grimsby and Immingham Tramway in 1961



Seen here in its last year of operation, this electrified line was built to take workers from Grimsby to the Great Central Railway's dock complex at Immingham.

Liberal Democrats will not challenge the North East Fife result



The Scottish Liberal Democrats have decided against mounting a legal challenger to result in North East Fife last week.

There the SNP held on to the seat by 2 votes after three recounts. The Lib Dems had been ahead until the last recount.

BBC News quotes Willie Rennie, the leader of the Scottish Lib Dems:
"Many people have asked us to challenge the result in court. 
"We have given this careful consideration and, despite legal advice that we would have grounds to challenge the result, it has been decided not to go to court. 
"We have decided there is insufficient evidence to justify a lengthy and expensive legal challenge. It would be expensive for us, expensive to the taxpayer and an inconvenience to the voters, so we could not sanction that without sufficient evidence to warrant it."
Somewhere behind this decision, I suspect, it the memory of what happened in Winchester 1997.

There the Lib Dems' Mark Oaten won by 2 votes. The Conservatives challenged the result and another contest was called.

Oaten won it with a majority of 21,556.

Jo Swinson needs to calm her "allies" down

An ally after being calmed down
Last night this story appeared on the Daily Telegraph website:
Vince Cable is too old to be Liberal Democrat leader, allies of frontrunner Jo Swinson have claimed, as they insisted the party must not go “from the dad to the grandad” when Tim Farron is replaced. 
Senior party sources view Ms Swinson, who is yet to announce that she will run, as the overwhelming favourite to take over from Mr Farron, with supporters of the current leader expected to “swing behind” the newly elected MP for East Dunbartonshire.
Jo needs to calm her "allies" down and quickly.

Violent Leicester crook told police he had knuckleduster to crush ice for Mother's Day drinks

The Leicester Mercury wins our Headline of the Day Award.

The judge is quoted as saying:
"I don't accept for one moment the knuckle-duster was to be used to crush ice."
The Award judges are of much the same view.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Norman Baker never lets you down



Other former Liberal Democrat MPs may plot to remove their party's leader, but not Norman Baker.

He runs a bus company and plays good music.

John Wycliffe's church in Lutterworth


This Doom painting over the chancel arch is the most impressive thing to be seen in St Mary's, Lutterworth, today.

The church is famous for its connection with John Wycliffe ("the morning star of the Reformation"), who was the first man to translate the gospels into English.

As well as a monument to him, you can see an arch through which he must have been carried, a pulpit which may contain wood from the one from which he preached and what may be a fragment of his cape.

I looked round St Mary's on Saturday. I was lucky in that it was open only because a visiting party from Cambridge was expected but had been delayed. Very Barbara Pym.

When they arrived they turned out to be studious Japanese.





"We must have names": Who were the men in sandals?



We Liberal Democrats are quick to boast that our leader is elected by one member, one vote.

Trouble is, it seems the same leader can be removed by a self-elected cabal.

Rumour has it that the group that did for Tim Farron consisted mainly of Lib Dem peers, but we don't know that for sure.

So I am happy to endorse this Liberal Democrat Voice comment by Bill le Breton:
We must have names. I have therefore emailed the Chair and Chief Executive of the ALDC – the body that represents the front line campaigners in this Party thus; 
"On behalf of the Party’s Councillors and Campaigners will you both please insist on being told the names of those who visited our former Leader and gave him the ultimatum to resign and publish these to the members of the Association." 
May I urge you to do something similar – the email address is https://www.aldc.org/contact-aldc/ 
You do not have to be a member of the Party or of the Association or a Councillor to reach out to them. They have the authority to speak for the activists and the passionate.
A comment by Martin Bennett on the same post, incidentally, lends support to my suggestion that it was not Tim's Christianity that caused him problems so much as his rather idiosyncratic interpretation of it:
"To be a political leader – especially of a progressive, liberal party in 2017 – and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible’s teaching, has felt impossible for me." 
It is the Biblical stuff that is the problem, more specifically Tim Farron’s personal interpretation of an evangelical modern translation of the Bible. Here Tim admits to a problem. It is clear that there was a problem, otherwise the questions could have been easily brushed aside, but it is a problem that is very personal to Tim Farron. 
No translation of the Bible prior to the 20th century interpreted the Hebrew or Greek explicitly as homosexuality, but in evangelistic translations eunuchs and gentle or feminine mannered men emerge as homosexuals.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Basil Brush and Mr Derek



BBC Genome has a nice article on one of my childhood heroes, occasioned by the fact The Basil Brush Show was first aired today in 1968:
Basil Brush started his own show in the traditional Crackerjack slot at five to five on a Friday afternoon. The first series of The Basil Brush Show debuted on 14th June 1968. Again scripted by George Martin, it was produced by Johnny Downes, and Basil was partnered by actor Rodney Bewes, late of The Likely Lads. 
In Basil’s inimitable fashion he was addressed as ‘Mr Rodney’. The first series also benefited from impressive musical acts, including Manfred Mann, The Alan Price Set and The Kinks. 
The series performed well enough, and a second series followed in March 1969, although Rodney Bewes had bowed out to concentrate on his ITV sitcom Dear Mother… Love Albert and was replaced by another young actor, Derek Fowlds, later famous for roles in Yes Minister and Heartbeat – but for now known by Basil as ‘Mr Derek’. 
Fowlds became perhaps the best remembered of Basil’s partners, interacting well with his furry friend through several series until he called it a day in 1973. They made guest appearances on It’s Lulu, and landed a 'best of' show and a Christmas morning programme in 1970.
Most of the programmes Fowlds made with Basil were wiped. There used to be a longer video of them together on Youtube, but at the moment the scrap above is all that is to be found there.

The political significance of Grenfell Tower


The fire at Grenfell Tower is horrific. And there is little you can say beyond that after you have praised the emergency services.

But I have a feeling that this is a disaster that will have deep political implications.

It is not just that residents had repeatedly raised their concerns about safety and even been threatened with legal action by the council for their pains.

Because Grenfell Tower has forced us to face up to a London in which the poor live in dangerous accommodation close to luxurious buildings that the rich keep empty.

Our age needs its Dickens to shame us into action.

The men in sandals come for Tim Farron



Tim Farron more than doubled the Liberal Democrat membership and presided over an increase in the number of Lib Dem MPs at last week's general election.

But that was not enough for those anonymous "Lib Dem sources".
I am sorry to see Tim go. I think he did as well as could be expected in the near impossible circumstances in which he won the leadership.

The election campaign came too soon for him, with the result that a lot of voters did not know who he was. But with the exception of interview with Andrew Neil, he did well.

The Lib Dems' problems, as shown by the fall of our vote last week, run deep. We need some hard thinking about what the party is for and where our future lies. A leadership election is as likely to distract from that as aid it.

Tim's statement today was perhaps the worst thing he has done as leader.

No doubt it was true that:
“To be a political leader – especially of a progressive, liberal party in 2017 – and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible’s teaching, has felt impossible for me.”
But I would suggest this shows the problem with the rather sectarian Evangelistic Christianity that Tim favours. Charles Kennedy being a Catholic never seemed to worry him or anyone else.

Maybe it also reveals a problem with modern liberalism. It is not enough for people to tolerate the currently approved progressive view: you have to embrace it or you are no liberal.

Nick Cohen says behind a paywall somewhere that, while we say we are fed up with indentikit PPE-and-think-tank politicians, the truth is that anyone who departs from model is hounded for it.

I suspect Tim's rise and fall shows the truth of that.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Sir Frank Whittle remembered in Lutterworth


The jet engine was invented by Sir Frank Whittle in the years before the Second World War.

Much of the development work took place at the Ladywood foundry in Lutterworth.

Whittle is remembered by a sculpture of a jet on a roundabout just outside the town and by this more modest memorial in its centre.

Six of the Best 698

British journalism failed in its coverage of the general election, argues Brian Cathcart.

John Pugh explains why the Liberal Democrats lost Southport: "We lost in Southport not because we’d forgotten how to campaign or even because of the genius of our opponents but because the party did not have a clear enough national message that connected emotionally and personally with the local electorate and in a quasi- presidential election in 2017 that mattered."

"One glimmer of hope is that the DUP, for all its sectarian history and obscurantist beliefs, is pragmatic about economic policy. It will kill off the idea of the idea of the UK leaving the EU customs union which is fundamental to the economy of the island of Ireland." Vince Cable on politics after the election.

Oliver Wainwright looks at the failure of Richard Rogers' new gateway to Cambridge.

"A borstal was an obvious recruiting ground for the army because they were only permitted to detain healthy boys who could withstand the tough regime of drill-instruction, training and education, all of which began before dawn." Conor Reidy on the Irish Borstal boys who chose to go to the First World War.

Alex White meets some fox cubs.

Roger Helmer to quit the European Parliament


Reaction to the news that Roger Helmer is to stand down as one of the East Midlands MEPs is meeting with a mixed reaction across the region.

Reports are reaching us of wailing and gnashing of teeth in Market Bosworth and the more remote regions of Kesteven, while there has been dancing in the streets of Matlock.

As we go to press there are Facebook rumours of outbreaks of public disorder in Cropwell Bishop.

But I thought it would be appropriate if Liberal England paid its own tribute to Mr Helmer. He has certainly given us plenty to write about.

He first spoke of retiring from the European parliament in 2011 when he was still a Conservative. But when the Tories declined to allow him to be succeeded by a self-proclaimed expert on UFOs and alien abductions, he decided to say on and cross the floor to Ukip.

In August 2012 he was obliged to move his office from the Harborough Innovation Centre, a facility for start-up tech companies opened with the help of public money. "I have to admit I'm not a start-up tech company,” he admitted.

That same month he was a few seconds from providing this blog with a scoop.

In August 2013 he told Stephen Nolan of his belief that girls aged under 16 could consent to sex.

And in October 2014 he performed the considerable feat of discovering a Thai massage parlour in Lutterworth.

Since then things have been quieter. But, truly, we shall not see his like again.

A few minutes later. A report on the Guardian site suggests we may not have heard the last of Mr Helmer:
Roger Helmer, a key member of Ukip’s top team, is resigning from the European parliament, ahead of a demand to repay around £100,000 of EU money for alleged misuse of public funds.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The last week of the Woodhead Route



This electrified line from Sheffield to Manchester closed in the summer of 1981.

Note that in those days goods trains still had a guard's van.

Liberal Democrat attitudes to existing grammar schools



The Liberal Democrat manifesto was in no doubt:
The Conservatives want to take us back 50 years, to an outdated system of grammar schools and secondary moderns, ignoring all the research and expert advice that show it will damage the life chances of so many children.
And Tim Farron was certainly in no doubt after the election result was known:
"Even a modest extension of grammar schools is still unacceptable. It is a betrayal of the principle of comprehensive education. It needs to be thrown out of the window. 
"This election delivered a message to the Conservatives, people do not want to go in this direction. Theresa May needs to axe her plan for grammar schools like its architect Nick Timothy has been axed. 
And he added: "People want a country that is fairer not the rose tinted spectacles of the 1950s."
Both quotes, it is true, are about the Conservatives' plans to open new grammar schools. But if the evidence is so clear, and if feelings are running so high, you would expect Lib Dems to campaign locally to close the existing grammar schools where they still exist.

I once asked if this happens, but received no clear answer,

A clue to the position on the ground came in a New Statesman article about Tom Brake's campaign to hold on to his Carshalton and Wallington seat:
From there, it was north through the heart of Wallington, formerly part of Surrey, where three of Sutton’s five grammar schools are found. 
“Sutton is very popular because of the grammar schools,” Brake says. “Parents often make a point of moving to Sutton to access them. The downside is they are selective in their nature. It means that unless a child does well – not just well, but really well – in the 11-plus exam or the equivalent, then the fact that you live in Sutton is no guarantee that your child will get a place there. They are very high performing, there’s no doubt about that.” 
Theresa May has paved the way for more grammar schools to be set up. Is Brake pro or anti-grammar? 
“Well, I think provision of schools is something that should be locally decided,” he says. “Our party position, and my personal view, is that it’s something local councillors should be allowed to make a decision on.”
I am not getting at Tom. He did tremendously well to hold his seat and I am very glad he did.

And if that is the party position on selection, I am happy to support it. It certainly was the the old Liberal Party's view back in the 1970s when this was last a live issue.

But given how few powers local authorities now have in education I wonder if it now makes much sense as a policy.

There does tend to be a disconnect between Liberal Democrat national and local campaigning. The former calls for the extension of the market: the latter is concerned with protecting the victims of that extension. I wonder if our policy on selection in education is another example of that.

You may that such a disconnect is inevitable in the rough and tumble of elections, but I think it might do the party good to face up to its existence.

Confusion over date of Queen's Speech

Michael Gove signed letter promising to maintain all EU payments to farmers


Yesterday Michael Gove returned to the cabinet as environment secretary.

Which makes an article on the Why Vote Leave website dated 14 June 2016 particularly interesting.

It begins:
Thirteen Government ministers and senior Conservatives have today committed that every region, group and recipient of EU funding will continue to get that money after a ‘Leave’ vote in the EU referendum. 
In an open letter, the signatories - who include Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Priti Patel - assure those people and organisations who currently receive money from the European Union that their funding is safe if we Vote Leave. 
In the letter they say:
"There is more than enough money to ensure that those who now get funding from the EU - including universities, scientists, family farmers, regional funds, cultural organisations and others - will continue to do so while also ensuring that we save money that can be spent on our priorities.
"If the public votes to leave on 23 June, we will continue to fund EU programmes in the UK until 2020, or up to the date when the EU is due to conclude individual programmes if that is earlier than 2020.
"We will also be able to spend the money much more effectively. For example, some of the bureaucracy around payments to farmers is very damaging and can be scrapped once we take back control."
The article goes on to reproduce the full letter.