This blog will be voting Liberal in Market Harborough on 6th May

I was planning tonight to write something amusing about James Taylor’s resemblance to Orinoco Womble, or perhaps just some  thoughts about last weekend’s goings on at Grace Road, but then I thought I really ought to say something about the election (which is tomorrow, I believe).

Happily for me there isn’t a great deal of choice, living where I do.  The Labour Party barely exists in Market Harborough, and certainly has no pretensions to winning the seat.  I have no intention of voting for the BNP, UKIP, or the English Democrats.  So it’s a straight choice between the Liberals and the Tories.

I am, as regular readers of this blog will know, deeply conservative in some ways, but those ways are too deep, or possibly just too perverse to find any expression in the modern Conservative Party.  I can dimly imagine some kind of Oakeshott-Scrutonite conservative party, perhaps manifesting itself as a load of hereditary peers shuffling around in carpet slippers doing as little as possible, that I might consider voting for (or at least consider a Good Thing) but that is very far from what we have on offer tomorrow  (“Vote for change – vote Conservative” my arse) so it’s a definite no from me.  And I am old enough to remember the last time we had a Conservative government and believe me – for any younger readers – it was rough.  The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’s description of the reign of Stephen and Matilda (“Men said openly that God and His Angels were asleep“) often struck me as apt during the 1980s, and I don’t fancy going through that again.

I have to say, incidentally, that in my very limited dealings with our sitting Tory MP – Edward Garnier – mainly in connection with the triumphant campaign to protect the half-hourly off peak rail services from Harborough Station – I’ve found him very helpful, and indeed liberal.  Perhaps if I knew more about him I’d like him less, but it’s certainly nothing personal.

So my advice – if you happen to live in the Harborough constituency and are not already a committed member of the Liberal Democrats (making this a very narrow form of narrowcasting indeed) – would be to get down to the polling station tomorrow and cast your vote for Zuffar Haq.  This isn’t simply a process of elimination, incidentally: I have voted Liberal more often than not in the past, and am delighted this time to have the chance to vote for a candidate who has a genuine chance of winning the seat.

Back to the cricket at the weekend.

Compare the Devils : a day out in the Peak District

Would you like to see my holiday snaps?  Dread words.  However, I thought you might be interested to see a few I took yesterday on a day trip to Castleton in the Peak District.   Just talk amongst yourselves while I set up the projector …

This is the magnificent view from the top of Treak Cliff (if you look hard you can see the cement works in the middle distance)

This is that traditional feature of a day out in Derbyshire, a pipe band.  They are, I think, the Sheffield City Pipe Band, and appeared from out of nowhere to set up a fearsome drone outside the Visitor Centre.  They may have been recreating an event from the ’45 Rebellion, when the army of the Young Pretender advanced a few miles South of here before retreating North at Swarkestone, on the Trent.  But I imagine they were just having a nice day out.

This is the chancel of St Edmund’s Church –

and this is Castleton’s most famous landmark, the approach to the Peak Cavern, also known as the Devil’s Arse.  This cavern is so famous it has its own website –   I believe this has led to some confusion with the blog of the leader of the Libertarian Party and notorious ex-potty mouth, Chris Mounsey.  Did millions of pre-historic sea creatures die and the very earth tear itself asunder so that people can read the sweary ravings of Mr. Mousy?  I don’t think so.   –  Simples!

Ambient Liberalism : an Ending (Ascent)

I was interested to see Eno contributing to the Liberal Democrats’ election campaign by providing the background music to tonight’s party political broadcast.  At first I thought it was “Final Sunset”, from Music for Films – which I suppose might have been apt in one way – but I think it was, in fact, “An Ending (Ascent)”, from Apollo, which sounds a bit more hopeful.

Here is another (litter free) visual interpretation of the same piece of music.

Cable, Osborne and Darling : the verdict

I did manage to catch a bit of last night’s debate between the three Chancellors.  I think it was quite shrewd to time it so that it overlapped with Eastenders.  A fair percentage of viewers will have switched over – “I suppose we ought to hear what they’ve got to say” – half way through the debate and, by contrast with the appalling display of ill-temper and shouting on  BBC1, the 3Cs must have seemed like the epitome of sweet reason.

So, here’s my verdict –

George Osborne – nice chap, but about as well qualified to be Chancellor of the Exchequer as I am (i.e. not at all).

Alistair Darling – can’t improve on Michael White’s description (from the Guardian) – “looking … as if he’d lost his car keys but knew he’d find them.”

Vince Cable – reminds me of that period in the seventies when Brian Clough used to appear on the TV on expert panels and in interviews explaining exactly where the current incumbent as England football manager was going wrong and what he would do instead.  A nation would say from their sofas, settees and armchairs – “He really ought to be the Manager, you know.  Of course, they’ll never give him the chance …”

Dinner jacket for sale, one careful owner

Came across a rather lovely dinner jacket today in the Harborough branch of the British Heart Foundation.  The label revealed that it had been made in 1963 for a Mr. C.G. Heath, by Bernard Weatherill of Conduit St.  This was, of course, the family firm of the one-time Speaker of the House of Commons, who wasn’t merely a Director of the firm, but a competent tailor in his own right. 

Unfortunately Mr C.G. Heath, whoever he was – perhaps the one who wrote A Brief Introduction to the Industrial Relations Act in 1971 – seems to have been a bit of a Stout Party – it rather flapped around me when I tried it on – otherwise I would have snapped it up.  I already have one dinner jacket, but I always insist on dressing for dinner and it does no harm to have a little variety in one’s life.

Quite probably it’s still there – priced at £9.99 – and might make someone a nice Christmas present, as a little piece of both sartorial and political history.  Single-breasted, by the way and reveres, rather than notched lapels.

One of my great-grandfathers was a tailor – for the once all-mighty KICS (the Kettering Industrial Co-Operative Society).  He never became Speaker of the House of Commons, though he did lead a campaign against Myxamotosis (mainly in the Kettering area, I suppose).  His arguments were based on the superiority of traditional ferret-based methods of rabbit control (as well, of course, as on the cruelty of the disease itself).

Weatherill’s firm was well thought of enough to have pieces in the collections of the V&A and the London College of Fashion.  Here is an illustration of the latter –

A Weatherill jacket

Crossing the floor (and back again) : Sally Bercow and Brian Eno

Thinking of Sally Bercow (which I find I have been doing to a disturbing extent since she first introduced herself to the public) and, in particular, her switching of parties (from Tory to Labour) brought to mind an entry in Brian Eno’s diary for 1995 (published as A year with swollen appendices) –

“30 December

Freezing cold.

Emma Nicholson goes Lib-Dem.  It’s amazing how rarely this happens.  Why aren’t politicians constantly changing allegiances?” 

And this, in its turn, reminded me of a programme I recall seeing on the TV (and I can’t, for the life of me, remember the name of it) a while back which consisted of a debate between two speakers,where the audience had the choice of standing  on circles on the floor labelled Yes, No or Don’t Know.  Each speaker would make a brief speech in support of their proposition and the audience would then rush from Yes to No to Don’t Know, depending on how convinced they had felt by the points the speaker had made. 

I feel that, in the interests of breaking down the tired old two-party system of adversarial politics, this could be extended to the House of Commons.  At the end of each speech Members would rush from the Government to the Opposition benches, or vice-versa.  At the end of the debate the vote would be passed, or not, according to the number of members sitting on the Government benches.

I can see that this might mean that some of the more elderly and immobile Members might appear to be rather fixed in their views, but I do think that  it might make the House a little more visually appealing, if nothing else, and I intend to forward my idea to the relevant authorities forthwith. 

Sally Bercow : My Booze Hell!

A curious article  in this evening’s Standard, concerning the wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow.  The full piece is here – but the headline is “Sally Bercow: ‘Two bottles a day, one-night stands, my life was out of control'”.   This apparently merits an appearance on the front page and a two page interview, in spite of the fact that, as the interviewer admits in the first sentence –

“Sally Bercow is a household name whom no one knows much about …”

The revelations seem to consist of  the fact that, as a younger woman, working in advertising, she used to drink “wine at lunchtime” and sometimes “a bottle in the evening”.  Pressed by the interviewer she admits (or claims) that this might sometimes have been two bottles.  This apparently led to her sometimes having “one-night stands” and falling asleep on the Tube, so that she woke up in Epping.  I’m sure we’ve all been there (falling asleep on the Tube, I mean, rather than Epping – though the Forest is rather lovely if you catch it at the right time of year).  So what is the point of these revelations?

She says herself that –

“”I want to run for Parliament as a Labour candidate so this has all got to come out and I’d rather tell it myself.”

I really don’t see why any of it (such as it is) has to come out, and, even if it did, I can’t imagine that many- if any – of the electorate would (if you’ll pardon the language) give two fucks one way or the other.  So my initial feeling is that this is an interesting example of a politician (or would-be politician) using the common-or-garden celebrity’s trick of the addiction-related confessional interview as a means of boosting her profile (my booze hell!)

The one who really comes out of this badly, I feel is John Bercow.   Mrs. B. says of him –

” They stayed friends, even in her wild years. “He’d have a single pint and I’d guzzle wine but he was so fixated on politics, I don’t think he noticed.””

Drinking to excess is one thing, but becoming addicted to politics at such an early age is a far more worrying sign.  No doubt many of us had a normal student experience with politics.  We may, for instance, have found ourselves at a party – slightly tipsy – and been tempted to enter into an argument about withdrawal from the European Economic Union.  We may have been approached by a dubious-looking character in a sidestreet wanting to ask us about our voting intentions and we may have given way to the temptation to engage them in conversation.  There is no shame attached to any of this, but to carry this fixation on well into later life – as Bercow has apparently done – is, in my view, to invite serious questions about his character.

A study in contrasts

Yours truly, Angry Mob – or Mr. Pooter joins the commentariat (reprinted)

This week’s hot topic in the quality prints and elsewhere seems to have been mobs – hashmobs, flashmobs, hatemobs, lynch mobs.  You can take your pick of the articles, though Dominic Sandbrook, writing in the New Statesman, offered a historical perspective –  Mob rule.

I threw in my two pennorth last week – Gately, Moir & Fry. (I see this morning that Mr. Fry is at least considering cutting down on the Twittering, by the way – Fry to nix Twitter? – because of all the “unkindness and aggression”. Wouldn’t  blame him one bit).

I thought it might be worth reprinting my own first hand account of how one innocent citizen found himself caught up in a virtual lynch mob.  This was one of the first things I wrote on this blog (back in mid-May) and I doubt whether anyone read it at all, so I trust I’m not boring my loyal readership, if any.

I learnt my lesson, incidentally, and have never been near Comment is Free again.



In which I make some amusing remarks and find myself caught up in a lynch mob

Curious experience a couple of nights ago.  Tiring slightly of my  backwater I decide to venture out into the mainstream (or trickle or torrent, whatever the technical term is) of the blogosphere.  I decide to give the world the benefit of my views on a couple of subjects via the medium of one of the better known blogs.

Put soberly and rationally (and I wasn’t perhaps entirely the first of those, at any rate) the point I was intending to make was that I was surpised that the revelations concerning MPs’ expenses had caused quite the furore they have as compared to all the other things that they have done collectively over the last thirty years or so, and how very likely it would always have seemed to me that they would get up to those kinds of tricks.

I first of all try the BBC news website where, as you might imagine, there was already a considerable body of comment on this subject.  I make my point (aware as I am doing so that I am wildly exaggerating my strength of feeling on this question) and post it.  I then realise that the post won’t be published for several hours, if at all, so decide to head off in the direction of the Guardian’s Comment is Free to try my luck there.       

There I see Alexander Chancellor’s article about Stephen Fry’s alleged comments on the matter on Newsnight (which I managed to miss, but it’s fair to say aren’t going down particularly well) so I decide to throw in my two penn’orth there.  Having got a taste for it now I look around for another blog to comment on and my eye falls on an article by Polly Toynbee “Brown must go now”, or something along those lines.  I find that this has attracted so much comment that it has been closed: I then spot another, newer comment by Toynbee saying that once Brown has gone, in line with her instructions, Alan Johnson must be appointed forthwith.  For some reason I find this quite enraging and post a derisive message, in which I say that in 35 years of reading the Guardian I have never managed to finish one of her articles.  This cannot possibly be true, although it is true I rarely even begin to read the ones she writes currently (the ones under the cartoon).  I then return to my comments re. Chancellor, Fry and the expenses and add an even more provocative comment saying that I think MPs should actually have their expenses increased.

I then go back and read the other comments on Toynbee’s article.  These make my jeering sound like a model of sweet reason.  She is getting the bird in no uncertain terms.  Collectively we make up a virtual lynch mob.  I then realise that this article is one that is due to be published in the next day’s paper, and that it has already managed to attract over a hundred hostile comments. 

Why is it, precisely, that we are all so angry?

  • Some are genuinely angry about the expenses scandal.
  • Some are genuinely angry about the way that Nu-Labour has traduced the better traditions of the Labour Party.
  • We are mostly frustrated that our various points of view have no effective representation in the mainstream of political life.
  • But also, I would guess, we are angry (if only subconsciously) that the much-vaunted democracy of the blogosphere does not mean that our views are given the same prominence as P. Toynbee.  If she says that Brown must go, or Johnson must come in then she expects to be taken notice of.  If we want to be taken notice of then it is a question of strength in numbers, swarming like angry bees.

Still, feel slightly (very slightly) regretful and atone by leaving a message of thanks to Frank Keating for a nice mini-memoir of Colin Milburn. 

Perhaps I’m better off in my backwater after all.

Let’s be superficial always, Darling, and pity the poor philosophers!*

Another quiz, I’m afraid.

Try to guess which politician, or, failing that, the politician from which party, answered thus to a question posed by a reader, apparently, in today’s Independent.

Q – Which [Conservative/Liberal/Socialist] philosophers do you most admire?

A. – I don’t have a favourite [C/L/S] philosopher as such and prefer to listen to a broad range of influences … So, for example, I am a fan of Malcolm Gladwell’s books (“The Tipping Point”, “Blink”), which tend to study human behaviour and have interesting things to say about what motivates us and how we make judgement calls.

This is, of course, Grant Shapps, Conservative Housing Spokesman – couldn’t be anyone else really, could it?  Or could it?

* From ‘Private Lives’ by Noel Coward.

Know thyself 2 – the Political Compass

Having established which sex I am,  let’s see whether the internet can help me work out where I stand politically.  The  Political Compass seems promising.  Old hands may think  this a bit old hat (old gloves?) , but ’tis new to me.

A few simple questions – Would you sell your Granny for sixpence?Do you keep Adolf Hitler’s birthday? and so on, and out come the results.

Here they are (fig. 1) (and – for comparison – some other well known personalities (fig. 2)).  I appear to be in the same quarter of the playing field as Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama (slightly to the left of the DL, in fact).

The interesting point here, I think, is that I’m reasonably sure that if one were to give a cross-section of the public the names of all those on the second chart and asked the sample to rank the well-known names in order of preference Mandela and the DL would come out 1 & 2, but all Western democracies seem to be governed by those in the top right hand corner.

Go figure … answers on a postcard etc.

fig 1.

I am here

I am here

 fig. 2