Monday, October 24, 2016

Disused railway stations in the Scottish Borders

The reopened Waverley Route currently ends at Tweedbank, just north of Melrose. I am not sure how further restoration would be reconciled with the town's bypass.

Six of the Best 636

"The gargantuan task undertaken by all involved would, as we know now, have an outcome which seems completely deserved, and is now being rightly celebrated." Katharine Pindar reports on the Liberal Democrat campaign in Witney.

James Bloodworth asks why so many Westerners, from right and left, love Vladimir Putin: "Whether they like it or not, those who choose to appear on RT are acting as useful idiots for a revanchist imperial power that shows little interest in the causes conventional 'progressives' profess to care about."

Carolyne Willow argues that councils mustn't be excused from their legal duties to vulnerable children and care leavers.

Janet Harris looks at the dilemmas encountered by the media in commemorating disasters such as Aberfan.

"What if, in the mad dash two decades ago to repurpose and extend editorial content onto the Web, editors and publishers made a colossal business blunder that wasted hundreds of millions of dollars?" asks Jack Shafer.

The curse of Winnie-the-Pooh did for both A.A. Milne and Christopher Robin, says Lucinda Smyth.

Julian Knight makes the case for staying in the European Union

I have been learning more about Julian Knight, the Tory MP who blocked me for retweeting him.

As that tweet showed, he is not one to go to for betting tips. If he tells you to back Rutland Lad in the 2.30, then pile in on its rival.

But he does speak sense on Europe.

Here he is writing for the Solihull Observer in February:
After my discussions with local employers, and having weighed the arguments carefully, I have decided to vote to Remain in the EU. 
The UK is doing very well: we’re creating a record number of jobs, and have one of the strongest economies in Europe. I have written often and proudly of our community’s exceptional employment record. 
But as the Chancellor has warned, the recovery remains fragile. The fall in the value of the pound after Boris Johnson called for Brexit highlights the disruption we risk if we leave the EU. I think that’s too high a price to pay. 
As our own Jaguar Land Rover warned: "The current uncertainty around EU membership leads to uncertainty for our customers, suppliers and may impact long-term investment plans." 
And Paul Kehoe, CEO Birmingham Airport, told me: "Birmingham Airport benefits from access to the European Market, and the air travel and cargo that this generates. The UK’s position within a reformed Europe is something I believe is of benefit to the Midland’s Engine and to the wider UK economy." 
I’m also conscious of Solihull’s character as an exporting town, with strong trade and business links all over the world but especially in the EU. I can't champion a course which might put local jobs at risk, or stymie the outside investment which could produce the jobs of tomorrow and start the next chapter of the Solihull success story.
I wonder if he will have the courage to refuse to champion that course now?

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Jonathan Meades on Marmite

Talking of brewers, read how Jonathan Meades' uncle trashed Burton-on-Trent.

The trial of Gordon Anglesea

On Friday a jury unanimously found the retired police superintendent guilty of four counts of indecent assault against two boys in the 1980s.

In 1994 he won libel settlements against the Observer, Private Eye and HTV Wales after they publicised similar claims against him.

The Welsh investigative site Rebecca has a full account of this year's trial:
The six-week trial was a raw, bad-tempered affair. 
The jury were unhappy because they were in court for less than a third of the time. 
Barristers for the prosecution and defence sniped at one another throughout. 
At one point the judge warned the trial was in danger of becoming a "pantomime". 
What follows is a long, detailed account of one of the most important court cases in recent Welsh criminal history. 
It is unsparing and some readers may find it harrowing …

Tom Jones: Green, Green Grass of Home

In his 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded, Jon Savage writes:
It was the silence and dark tones that reinforced the horror of the news report, as both the BBC and ITV gave Aberfan blanket coverage. By the early afternoon, viewers nationwide were seeing the black tide, the faces contorted by grief and pain, the crowds of rescuers, the small bodies being carried out under blankets. 
The rolling reports would continue over the next few days: as Tony Austin later wrote, "Aberfan showed that TV observation of grief is acceptable to the vast majority, even if it opened eyes to scenes that they would not wish to see."
He goes on to say that the pall cast by Aberfan had an effect on Britain's pop culture beyond the two large charity concerts that were held in South Wales in December.

Part of that effect, he argues, was this song:
Dominating everything that month ... was Tom Jones's "Green, Green Grass of Home", which went to #1 on 3 December and stayed there for the rest of the year. ... It was a country song ... with a death-haunted lyric that offered some surcease within a nation still coming to terms with the events of late October.
For, despite its American origins, it remains hard not the see the success of "Green, Green Grass of Home" as a response to Aberfan.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

In search of the Newhaven Marine ghost train

Vicki Pipe attempts to track down the 'Parliamentary train' that runs once a day (weekdays only) at 8.15pm from Newhaven Marine to Lewes. Except that Newhaven Marine station is closed, so you can't get on it.

We had a line like that in the East Midlands. The branch from Derby to Sinfin Central reopened in 1976 but had its passengers trains removed in 1993. Latterly there had been just one early-morning working each day.

After that, if you presented yourself at Derby station at the right ime and demanded to be taken to Sinfin North or Sinfin Central, you would be sent in a taxi.

This arrangement persisted until 1998, when the line was again formally closed to passengers.

The Witney campaign offers the Liberal Democrats a road out of the wilderness

It's not me saying that: it's Bagehot in The Economist.

You can add his name to the list of journalists saying encouraging things about the Liberal Democrats after our result in Witney.

Stephen Bush and Chris Deerin are already on it.

Bagehot writes
While the Lib Dems have been doing well in council by-elections in such places in recent months, this was the first parliamentary test. 
Their campaign focused heavily on Brexit. Residents were urged to reject Mrs May’s nativist overtures at her party’s conference and to send the government a message about the need to keep Britain in the single market and avoid a “hard” break with the European club. 
And while these messages did not propel Liz Leffman ... the local candidate, across the winning line yesterday, she obtained a larger-than-expected vote share (the Tories had warned it could reach 30%, which discounting the usual expectations management suggested they anticipated something nearer 20%) ...
So treat Witney as a proof-of-concept. A more starkly liberal personality, deftly conveyed through relevant issues and particularly the ongoing battles over Brexit, offers the Lib Dems a way—albeit a long and treacherous one—out of the political wilderness.
His piece commends the approach advocated by David Howarth and Mark Pack in their booklet The 20% Strategy: Building a core vote for the Liberal Democrats - that link will take you to this year's second edition.

I retweeted Julian Knight - you won't believe what happened next

Following the encouraging performance by and the Liberal Democrats in Witney, I had something at the back of my mind.

Hadn't some Tory MP or other said on Twitter that we would do well to hold our deposit?

A bit of searching and I was able to retweet the above - with the words "Look what I've found..." preceding it.

Guess what happened next?

I had not heard of Mr Knight before, but - despite his best efforts - I shall keep an eye on the member for Solihull in future.

Brexit could save the Lib Dems

Who says? Chris Deerin, that's who:
The Lib Dems, despite what many of us thought, are not necessarily done for. They have not kicked the bucket, run down the curtain or joined the bleedin’ choir invisible. And for this they have Cameron and his disastrous referendum to thank. 
Clegg and co may justifiably view Brexit as a calamity, but as the old political truism has it, every crisis contains an opportunity. And as Alex Salmond is fond of saying, you must play the ball as it lies.
Brexit also seems likely to serve as something of a ground zero. Such is its epochal import that much of what has gone before could be wiped away — clean slates and fresh starts and all that. 
The Lib Dems have long been dogged by their (entirely sensible) u-turn on tuition fees, but it surely now seems a bit pre-war to continue holding it against them. 
And where that spell in coalition government counted was judged harshly in the short–term, it may play to their advantage over a longer period. After all, they didn’t screw up in power. 
Quite the opposite: their ministers competently delivered a decent number of social-democratic policy wins, including taking the lowest earners out of income tax, ensuring extra money was spent on the most disadvantaged schoolchildren, and keeping the government focused on the environment. 
The idea that the party is unfit for office has been debunked.
If you are a Liberal Democrat wanting more encouragement, read Stephen Bush.

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?