Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Vince Cable calls for break up of online monopolies

Embed from Getty Images

The Liberal Democrat leader made an important speech last week:
Vince Cable has compared Google, Amazon and Facebook to the US oil monopolies that exploited their market power more than a century ago – and called for them to be broken up. 
In a speech in London, the Liberal Democrat leader said a series of recent scandals, including revelations about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, meant the “tech titans” had “progressed from heroes to villains very quickly”. 
“Just as Standard Oil once cornered 85% of the refined oil market, today Google drives 89% of internet searches, 95% of young adults on the internet use a Facebook product, Amazon accounts for 75% of ebook sales, while Google and Apple combined provide 99% of mobile operating systems,” he said.
Exactly right. In fact I think I tweeted something to the same effect last week before I read about Vince's speech.

Why have the online giants been allowed to get away with it for so long?

One reason was given by John Harris in an article published back in 2011:
The computer industry came of age in the 1990s, that giddy phase of American and European history when authoritarianism was assumed to be on the wane. 
In those days when the coming of the internet seemed of a piece with the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the end of Apartheid. It was a new, more liberal world and the new online entrepreneurs were a different, cuddlier breed from their meat world equivalents. Didn't they eat jelly beans and go snowboarding?

But as Harris went on to ask:
For sure, it's still nice to live in a liberal democracy, but given that the world has since moved in no end of sinister directions, isn't our unthinking embrace of the cloud (and just to recap: our medical records could soon be up there) an ill-advised throwback? 
And what of the long view: looking ahead 50 years, how certain are we that the surveillance state will not have extended its tentacles; that nasty, illiberal politics will not be all the rage; or that Google, Microsoft et al. will not have learned dangerous new tricks?
And even if liberalism is able to fight back, we now know that online entrepreneurs can be as rapacious as any other.

Hemel Hempstead Town 0 Harwich & Parkeston 0

The first football match I attended was an Athenian League clash between Hemel Hempstead Town and Harwich & Parkeston that my father took me to.

I remember that the game ended in a goalless draw, Hemel played in a green and white strip and it all took place at their Crabtree Lane ground,

Thanks to the wonders of The Results Web I can tell you that this match took place on Saturday 18 November 1967, so I was seven.

The Crabtree Lane ground was sold for housing in 1970, but you can see it in the video above, which was shot a in the 1961-2 season.

Monday, April 23, 2018

A Buddhist retreat in White Grit

I once discovered that there is an Orthodox monastery in the shadow of the Stiperstones. The other evening I arguably topped that by turning up a Buddhist retreat in White Grit.

It doesn't just have a strange name: White Grit is a strange settlement. Originally a lead-mining village, it now consists largely of modern bungalows that must have been put up long after the mine closed.

I was once bitten by a Jack Russell in White Grit. As the village is just over the Powys border, I complained about it to the then MP for Montgomeryshire, Lembit Opik, when I met him at the Liberal Democrat Conference.

His reply ("You're fucking mad, you are.") is not to be found in the ALDC guide to casework.

On a happier note, Ronnie Lane's farm is just up the road.

Leicester Conservatives fall out over promise of a tram system

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It's quite something to have a split over your local election manifesto when you have only one councillor, but Leicester's Conservatives have managed it.

Last week I blogged about their election promise of a tram system from the city that would reach as far as Market Harborough.

Today, reports the Leicester Mercury, the city's only Tory councillor, Ross Grant, poured cold water on the idea:
“Nobody mentioned it to me. I wasn’t consulted at all. 
“If somebody had, they would have been told that I have been consistently against having a tram system in Leicester. 
“It would be horrifically expensive. 
“There are far less expensive ways of trying to deal with traffic and pollution problems. 
“You could get an entire fleet of hydrogen-fuelled buses which would have the advantage of taking people to where they actually want to go rather than just along a rail route. 
“Within my ward I don’t see how you could run a tram track down Welford Road. 
“The disruption would be immense.
It would be great to see trams back in Leicester, but I suspect this is the last we shall hear of the idea from the Tories for a while.

If they want to revive it one day, they will need to produce detailed plans. All we had from them this time is the report of a conversation at a photo opportunity with Chris Grayling.

Six of the Best 785

The UK should not be a hostile environment, says Jonathan Fryer.

In 1968 the Conservatives won control of Sheffield and captured every council seat in Leicester. Lewis Baston looks at their local election landslide that year.

Paul Saffer knows what the Queen should do: "Monarchists make much of HM’s sense of duty. Well, what greater service to her nation could she perform than to lay out for its future historians, and her humble subjects generally, her uniquely privileged testimony on the events and personalities of her reign?"

"In the fall of 2016, Harvey Weinstein set out to suppress allegations that he had sexually harassed or assaulted numerous women. He began to hire private security agencies to collect information on the women and the journalists trying to expose the allegations." Ronan Farrow tells an extraordinary story.

Adam Scovell goes in search of the locations used in Ken Loach's film Kes.

"In total, Bentley made 367 appearances for Chelsea and scored 150 goals. He won 12 England caps and became the first Chelsea player to feature at a World Cup, representing England in 1950." Chelsea FC remembers Roy Bentley.

Write a guest post for Liberal England

I welcome guest posts on Liberal England.

As you can see from this list of the 10 most recent ones, I am happy to consider a wide range of subjects.

If you would like to write a guest post yourself, please send me an email so we can discuss your idea.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

J.W. Logan and the East Langton ladies cricket team

© Leicestershire Police

A wonderful photograph of an Edwardian country-house cricket team. Better still, the players are all women.

Even better than that, the only man in the photograph is this blog's hero J.W. Logan, who was Liberal MP for Harborough between 1891 and 1904 and again between 1910 and 1916.

You can see another photograph of him on his Wikipedia entry, where happily he is now called Paddy Logan. It has clearly been edited by someone who reads this blog.

I am sure Mr Logan's suffragette daughters will be among the players and it will have been taken at the East Langton ground he had laid out..

This photograph was tweeted earlier this year by The Police Gazette, which is devoted to the history of policing in Leicestershire.

The account owner tells me it was printed in Tally Ho,  a magazine for police officers in Leicestershire, in the 1960s.

Thunderclap Newman: Something In the Air

Working in a press office, you have to keep abreast of the news. So we were talking about the man who was hospitalised with thunderclap headaches after eating the world's hottest chilli.

Which naturally put me in mind of this record.

Wikipedia explains:
Thunderclap Newman was a British rock band that Pete Townshend of the Who and Kit Lambert formed in 1969 in a bid to showcase the talents of John "Speedy" Keen, Jimmy McCulloch, and Andy "Thunderclap" Newman.
Townshend played bass on Something in the Air, though he was not there to mime on this television appearance.

Jimmy McCulloch was only 15 or 16 when this record was made. He died young, but you can see him playing some years later on one of my favourite music videos: Roger Daltrey's version of Say It Ain't So Joe.

Thunderclap Newman himself was the group's pianist. Which means that this is another of those bands - Brinsley Schwarz, the J. Geils Band and arguably Manfred Mann and the Spencer Davis Group too - that are named after a member who is not the most prominent.

Something in the Air still appears regularly on film and television soundtracks when the makers want to summon up the spirit of late Sixties radicalism.

You can see why.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

A Tynemouth gull

Taken in 2012.

Now read about The burial of Alexander Rollo at Tynemouth Priory.

Six of the Best 784

"I’ve spent much of the past several years reporting on political psychology, asking the country’s foremost experts on human behaviour some variation of, 'What the hell is going on in the United States?'" Now Brian Resnick shares the fruits of his research.

Lions led by pro Mini Golfers? Otto English discovers what Ukip's gay donkey rape man is doing now. In Lewisham.

Nicholas Whyte finds David Goodhart's The Road to Somewhere an annoying book.

"Like many men his age, Dad was raised by a mother who did everything for him, and then he was passed to a wife who seamlessly took over. The result was that Dad never learned how to fend for himself." Stuart Heritage on our changing conception of masculinity.

A London Inheritance takes us to the University of London Senate's House - an impressive building that could have been even more so.

Steven Spielberg has been retelling the story of Peter Pan from the start of his career, says John Dilillo. He argues that Catch Me If You Can is a better and more faithful adaptation than Hook.

Saving the curlew in Shropshire

Today is the first ever World Curlew Day, so it's a good one to write about the Curlew Country project in Shropshire and Powys.
The project works thanks to its close collaboration with farmers and land managers who describe the first evocative bubbling of returning curlew to be a herald of spring.  Farmers describe memories of hay meadows from which "curlew and peewits rose in clouds". 
The Curlew Country project has been trying to establish why these long lived birds (they can exceptionally live for 20 or 30 years) are now failing to breed successfully on the farmland habitat they nest in outside moorland and upland areas.  A  Nest Monitoring Project in the local study area has deployed cameras, used thermal data loggers and close observation techniques. 
During the years 2015 and 2016 no chicks were successfully reared from the nests monitored.  Based on our findings we are now acting fast to intervene to try and save the population of about 40 breeding pairs within the local trial area, and gaining valuable information to help other similar curlew projects.
The call of the curlew is immensely atmospheric and reminds me of walking in the Stiperstones in May. I knew I was getting high up when I began to hear it. The curlew is an estuary bird, but it haunts upland moors too.

Now it is under threat in Shropshire, and there is a worrying precedent. The quotation above mentions peewits, which are better known as lapwings.

When the children in Malcolm Saville's Mystery at Witchend (published in 1943) set up the Lone Pine Club, they found it natural to adopt the call of the peewit as their secret sign.

But Robert Smart, who knew Saville and published walking books about the Shropshire hills, once told me that it was years since he had seen the bird on the Long Mynd.

Friday, April 20, 2018

"Fab: The first ice lolly for girls"

In this early spell of summer weather it is natural that my thoughts turn to ice lollies.

I have been thinking in particular of the Fab lolly, which had a relaunch last year to mark its 50th anniversary.

What is really scary is that I remember when Fab was new.

I was also sure that I remembered that when it first appeared in the 1960s it was marketed as an ice lolly for girls.

In fact I was certain I remembered that because, as a small boy in those days, you were desperate to try one but daren't be seen eating it.

Thanks to a couple of people who sent me the advertisements below via Twitter - @AndrewSNicoll and @DavidBertram1, follow them at once - and a bit of googling that turned up the television commercial above, I now know I was right.

It is easy  to forget how much children used to segregate themselves by sex. I enjoyed the 2003 film Wondrous Oblivion, which was set in the 1950s, but it got this badly wrong.

It's central incident saw a white schoolboy failing to invite a Black girl to his birthday party, which was interpreted as a slight based on race. But in the 1950s a young boy would not have invited a girl to a party to save his life and a girl would not have expected to be invited.

We are more enlightened now. Still, Lady Penelope was an excellent role model for girls.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Church Langton in an interregnum

St Peter’s, Church Langton, has problems. It has no parish priest – it’s “in an interregnum” a notice in the church charmingly puts it – though regular services continue.

And it has been hit by the widespread lead thefts from church roofs in the region. When I went inside there was a bundles up carpet that had obviously fallen victim to a leak.

Intriguingly, the notice about raising money for repairs also mentions “an exciting project that explores the rich heritage of St Peter’s”.

Outside, I made my regular pilgrimage to the Logan family graves and also visited Colonel Hignett at the other end of the churchyard:
Then there was Colonel Hignett, the Tory who had bought Logan’s estate on his death in 1922* and was, incredibly, still active locally when I became a councillor in the 1980s. I came across him several times and he had an unnerving habit of starting telephone calls with “Now, look here....” Fortunately, this was generally followed with “...if I can be any help, you let me know.” 
When the church roof at Church Langton needed repairing and the estimate from the builders proved too high (“They could put that where the monkey put the nuts.”) he organised the locals to do the job themselves and was filmed by local television as he directed operations up on the roof at the age of 90.
The other evening I was talking about Colonel Hignett to a taxi driver who had worked for him as a builder. Hignett had been David Niven’s commanding office during the second world war, and the driver has asked his opinion of him. Let’s just say it was a very low opinion – Niven enjoyed killing more than a regular officer like the Colonel found seemly.

Church Langton still has a primary school and its pub, the Langton Arms, has just reopened. It is now very much geared to the food trade – I was told they were fully booked for lunch – and the bar staff were rushed off their feet with orders for the restaurant, which meant it wasn’t a great place for a drink. There were sandwiches on the menu, but maybe you have to book those in advance too?

I shall try my luck there on a weekday, but for now I shall show the pub in gentle disuse.

* I now suspect there was at least one owner of East Langton Grange between J.W. Logan MP and Colonel Hignett.

In Our Time on Middlemarch

There was a cracking In Our Time on George Eliot's Middlemarch this morning. (An edited version will be broadcast this evening at 9.30, but I would listen to it via the BBC website.)

I read Middlemarch before starting my Masters in Victorian Studies out of duty, but thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

When the BBC adaptation (filmed in Stamford) was screened in 1994 I had great kudos at work because I knew how things would turn out.

I was interested to hear this morning that many of Eliot's contemporary readers, like my colleagues in 1994, hoped and expected that Dorothea would marry Lydgate.

And I was pleased to hear that I am not alone in finding Ladislaw an unconvincing character.

There was always something unreal about him to me, though this impression may owe something to the fact that he came into the novel as I was reading at twilight beside the Wye in Hay.

Leicester Tories promise a tram to Market Harborough

Forget Daventry Conservatives and their canal. Leicester Tories are promising a tram to Market Harborough.

The Leicester Mercury quotes their chairman Jack Hickey:
“I discussed our ambitious plan with Transport Secretary Chris Grayling in Parliament recently, and he was enthusiastic about the benefits of light rail in Leicester and keen to listen to the business case for the project.”
Mind you, Mr Grayling doesn't look very enthusiastic in the accompanying photograph.

And you can understand it. Hickey was the man who complained that activists coming to Leicester West to campaign for his Labour opponent in last year's general election were trying to "skew the vote".

I would love to see trams return to Leicester just as I would love to see the Grand Union reach Daventry. But there would be many problems with the idea, even if the city could raise the capital to build a system.

Nottingham's trams - "I’m furious Nottingham has a tram and we do not" says Hickey - have been reported as losing almost £1m a week.

This at a time when the county Conservatives tell us they cannot afford a modest town bus service in Market Harborough.

Then there are the practicalities.

As the city's Labour mayor told the Mercury:
"We have done studies before and all parties have agreed the geography of the city – which is very different to Nottingham’s, is not suitable for a tram. 
"Weaving them out in and out of the city would be very, very difficult."
Still, full marks to the Tories for coming up with a startling idea to get some headlines.

They have to do that when, like the Liberal Democrats, they have only one councillor in Leicester.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

At last an anthem for Brexit

We have been told. When Brexit goes horribly wrong it will be the fault of us Remainers for not getting behind the project.

"Every time a child says, 'I don't believe in fairies,' there is a fairy somewhere that falls down dead," as Peter Pan put it.

What we need is a song we can all sing to show our for support Brexit. And I have found it.

My God, have I found it.

I know England Swings from a sweet version by Roger Miller, but this is, er, different. You wonder if the Bonzos were familiar with Patty Duke's oeuvre when they came up with Cool Britannia.

She, incidentally, won an Oscar for her portrayal of Helen Keller in 1962 and is the mother of the well-known hobbit Sean Astin.

Later. I have just shown the video to Lord Bonkers. He remarked: "Guardsmen and male dancers? It reminds me of St James's after dark."

New canal becomes an election issue in Daventry

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For the first time in a couple of centuries, the building of a canal is a major election issue.

The Conservative-run Daventry District Council has come up with the madcap but magnificent idea of building a two-mile arm to link the town with the Grand Union.

According to a report in the Daventry Express:
The Labour Party will oppose any further expenditure on the proposal for a canal arm and will demand that more is done to make Daventry into an attractive market town again. 
It will press for better leisure facilities and entertainments for people of all ages, believing that "more shops are likely to be attracted to Daventry by a vibrant town centre rather than by a stagnant canal", as well as demand progress on a new cinema for the town.
"A stagnant canal" is silly and mean-spirited. Has Daventry Labour not seen any of the excellent urban canal regeneration projects around the country?

The Lib Dems say the canal project needs to have a robust business plan to justify it and it should not be at a cost to Daventry District taxpayers.
which sounds more sensible but probably means in practice that they don't support the new canal either.


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The two bridges over the Nene at Irthlingborough in 1946

You may remember that I was taken with the two bridges over the Nene at Irthlingborough last summer.

The Britain From Above site (which allows bloggers to use its images for free) has a nice shot of both bridges taken in 1946.

In the foreground you can see the medieval bridge and further back the impressive concrete viaduct that had opened 10 years before.

The tannery which stands beside them has long vanished.

Lord Bonkers: "Not a well-behaved Orban"

I was having dinner with Lord Bonkers last night.

"This Viktor Orban fellow seems a bad egg," he remarked.

I agreed, offering a catalogue of the Hungarian prime minister's crimes.

Lord Bonkers thought for a moment. "Not a well-behaved Orban then?" he offered.

Whereupon he shook with laughter, slapped his thigh and exclaimed "Oh my! Oh my!" for what seemed an age.

I have to say I didn't find it that funny.

Why it matters that millennials won't handle raw meat

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Yesterday's story about millennials being too squeamish to touch raw meat gave plenty of opportunity to laugh at the folly of the young. These days that's one of my chief occupations.

But there is more to it than that.

The Telegraph report says:
Ruth Mason of the National Farmers’ Union said it was “disconcerting that shoppers are so removed from their food” at a time when the meat and farming industry faces pressure from the increased number of consumers adopting vegetarian or vegan diets.
Well, we like children to be in touch with nature - to pick blackberries and get their knees muddy - but it may be that people are turning vegetarian because they are closely in touch with the farming industry and so aware of the cruelty producing meat can involve.

But the squeamish millennials are still eating meat. The danger is that they will favour meat that looks as little like a dead animal as possible. And the danger of that is that such meat is more likely to have been produced in a way that involves cruelty.

They should have seen Market Harborough in the 1970s when Hobbs the Butcher had pheasants and rabbits hanging outside his shop as every lorry en route from the West Midlands to Felixstowe growled past.

Monday, April 16, 2018

"You know when you've been tango'd": Ray Wilkins, Hugh Dennis and Gil Scott-Heron

Readers of a certain age will remember this television commercial for Tango, which featured the late, great Ray Wilkins.

What I didn't know that the other two voices in it belonged to Hugh Dennis and Gil Scott Heron (whose father played for Celtic).

The commercial was very popular, but there was a snag. In school playgrounds across the country children copied it, but they slapped one another on the ears not the cheeks.

I know someone who worked approving television commercials for the Independent Broadcasting Authority in those days. He said the medical evidence, emphasising the risk of perforated eardrums in children, gave them no alternative but to ban this one.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Logan Street, Market Harborough, from above in 1932

The "Britain From Above" archive is now FREE in high resolution and it is *incredible*. 96,000 photos of landscapes and buildings - many long-lost, from the air.
So Tim Dunn tweeted earlier this evening, and he is right.

Better still, the conditions of use allow you to post Britain From Above images on your blog if, like this one, it has no log-in restrictions or charges.

So here is a shot of the Logan Street area of Market Harborough (aka New Harborough or Monkey Town) in 1932.

Logan Street, named after this blog's hero J.W. Logan, is the long street running from the middle of the picture towards the top. The photograph was taken looking north.

Opposite the southern end of Logan Street, on the other side of the Coventry Road, is a long-vanished tennis court or bowling green.

You can also see the River Welland winding across the middle of picture and the Market Harborough to Rugby railway line (closed 1966) cuts off the bottom left-hand corner.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Well thought of in Golspie

Our week at Bonkers Hall draws to a close as the old boy proves that he still has his finger on the pulse when it comes to the Liberal Democrats (as far as we have one these days).


There are those (it is hard to credit) to whom not every Liberal Democrat MP is a household name, so let me give you a few notes upon the slightly less famous ones.

Wera Hobhouse is heir to the family fortune, which is founded on sales of her uncle L.T.’s Liberalism.

Christine Jardine I have found to be a fierce competitor. She once took over the captaincy of my XI when Mike Brearley was called away to conduct an urgent session of psychoanalysis, whereupon she packed the legside field and ordered our fastest bowler to let the batsmen have a barrage of snoot-high deliveries.

Jamie Stone is believed to be well thought of in Golspie.

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

Earlier this week

Six of the Best 783

"As I watched the 20-year celebrations of the Good Friday agreement play out, my frustration and anger began to boil over. 'Where the fuck is she?' I wanted to shout at the television and radio." Henrietta Norton says her stepmother Mo Mowlam has been written out of the history of the Northern Ireland peace process.

Christine Thuring explains the forces behind the Sheffield street tree massacre.

"An epistemic bubble is when you don’t hear people from the other side. An echo chamber is what happens when you don’t trust people from the other side." C. Thi Nguyen examines the effect of social media on our reasoning.

" [Angela] Thirkell’s hatred of what she saw as the socialist destruction of old England struck a deep chord, and during these years her 'Barsetshire' sequence of novels sold prodigiously." David Kynaston looks at the genteel backlash that followed Labour's 1945 victory.

Gyles Brandreth remembers his friend. Kenneth Williams, who died 30 years ago today.

"Across the whole of children’s literature, there are relatively few portrayals of a father-son relationship where the father isn’t either forbidding, or simply absent for good or ill." acidandamnesty reads of Roald Dahl's Danny, the Champion of the World.

Michael Nyman: Knowing the Ropes

Michael Nyman's music makes me happy.

This piece from the soundtrack of Peter Greenaway's strangely English film Drowning by Numbers is played by the Motion Trio of accordionists, the Michael Nyman Band and Nyman himself on piano.