July 26, 2014
by Paul

Even at 85 years old, you’re not too old to start a blog

On Radio Two’s Sounds of the Sixties this morning, Brian Matthew referred excitedly to “my new blog”. I think this is it.

I believe that David Jacobs was, for many years, the doyen of Radio Two. Now that he has sadly passed on to Studio Heaven, I suspect that title has passed to Brian Matthew (with perhaps Desmond Carrington as deputy doyen away there in an undisclosed location in Perthshire). Or is it Terry Wogan?

Anyway, there’s hope for us oldies and for blogging if Mr Matthew can enthuse about his “new blog”.

Sounds of the Sixties just gets better and better. No, I really mean that. He played a great track today called “Home of the brave” by Jody Miller. It is below from YouTube. The lyrics could be applied to many bloggers growing up, I feel.

A side note. When driving, I occasionally amuse myself by repeating the words of the presenters of Today and PM in the voice of Sir Alec Guinness. Or at least at attempt at his voice. Fans of old B&W films and Star Wars may understand. I notice that my Sir Alec Guinness voice occasionally degenerates into a bad impersonation of Desmond Carrington. By this process I have discovered that the nature of Desmond Carrington’s voice is very similar to that of Sir Alec Guinness. Not a lot of people know that. In fact, I am probably the only person, of the 107 billion people who have ever lived on earth, who has had that thought running through their head. Unless you know differently?

July 24, 2014
by Paul

Ed Davey: Non-nuclear energy approach is “negligent” and “risky”

Ed Davey - photo by Paul WalterOn Monday, I summarised the appearances of Ed Davey at last weekend’s Social Liberal Forum conference in London. Here, I outline some of the views expressed and initiatives described by Ed on the day, including during a bloggers’ interview:

Using less energy

Fuel poverty is a serious issue. Energy inefficient building stock is a key cause.

The Green deal, Ed said, had not originally gone as well as it had been hoped. In Phase 1, there were just 250,000 assessments. Phase 2 is going better, and is on track to improve two million homes. Continue Reading →

July 22, 2014
by Paul

Our Climate Change bulldog. #slfconf

Ed Davey Social Liberal Forum conference Jul 19 2014 Photo by Paul Walter
WARNING: Contains strong hagiographic content, which some readers may find disturbing.

On Saturday, while much of the country was enjoying the sunshine, I spent two hours studying and listening to The Right Honourable Edward Davey MP FRSA.

In the wonderful surroundings of the new headquarters of Amnesty International, Ed addressed the Social Liberal Forum conference on “Energy and climate change – the balance between state and market”. He was then interviewed by four bloggers: Jonathan Calder, Matthew Hulbert, Caron Lindsay and myself.

My feelings during all this were similar to when Steve Webb addressed a local party supper club. I was thinking “Hey, this guy is doing fantastic, long-term stuff. Why the heck haven’t I heard about it before?”.

Ed has the features of a bulldog – a big barrel chest, a thick-set neck and determined, prominent jawline. He certainly has the determination of a bull terrier, shown in the way he pursues his objectives. There, the canine similarities end. Ed has a brilliant mind, and dazzles with a stunning recall of impressive facts, figures and arguments. In the interview, he turned a positively cherubic countenance to his questioners as he listened intently to the questions. I can imagine him going down well with civil servants in his department. He’s an extremely skilful Secretary of State.

Overall, Ed gave an exceptionally compelling narrative on the remarkable job being done by the government to fight climate change. I know this article could be accused of sounding like “Pravda” (and by all means balance it by reading Quentin Letts’ ludicrous piece on him), but I was genuinely very impressed by Ed and the work he is doing at the Department of Energy and Climate Change. However, as usual, I am a sucker for punishment, so I look forward to your comments.

Here is a couple of the key points which came up during the talk and interview, and then a load more will follow in a “part two” article later (which will include Ed’s thoughts on the thorny topic of nuclear power):

Investment in carbon reduction

Ed has written about this here and was brandishing the government’s Energy Investment Report.

The key line which stood out, for me, is that the Department of Energy and Climate Change is putting in more investment than the rest of the government put together. There has been a trebling of renewables powering the electricity grid.

The balance between state and market

The key point Ed made was that there is a need for a finely balanced approach. The binary, one/zero, black/white debate between government intervention and total non-intervention is pointless. There are three main areas, and each demands markedly different approaches: 1) Decarbonisation 2) Energy security and 3) Energy prices. The questions we should be asking are: Which type of intervention is suitable in each situation? Where and when? Is fostering competition the right approach? Or creating new markets? Or actual regulation, for example: emissions performance standards for coal power stations?

The bottom line, Ed said, is that the government must intervene to achieve our energy and climate goals.

July 19, 2014
by Paul

The sun shone today. An obvious day to be shut away listening about policy #slfconf

slfconfI had a great day at my first Social Liberal Forum conference today.

On my way, I was drenched by torrential rain in Queens road, Newbury, and then coming back I was rained on in the same road. In between that, it was dry and sunny. It was the sort of day that takes some thought as to what to wear and carry on a journey, and no amount of planning prepares for all eventualities.

The conference was in London EC2 at the Amnesty International HQ. This is a most impressive building which made a superb conference venue.

It was great to see many old friends and enjoy a positive Smörgåsbord of policy discussion and an impressive list of guest speakers.

July 19, 2014
by Paul

I back Jack

imageI am backing Linda Jack for Liberal Democrat party President. I have known Linda for years, mainly through the Liberal Democrat blogosphere.

Linda has an exceptionally conscience-based sense of Liberalism. She has a wealth of experience working for the disadvantaged, of campaigning and of work in employment and the armed forces. From this, she articulates a passionate and fearless set of liberal views.

After the jiggery-pokery of coalition, we need Linda as President to reset our political compass on a true Liberal Democrat course.

July 15, 2014
by Paul

Apparently I have an unusually large file size

“Best method for audio library HDD migration = rsync” #OSX #opinions / SML.20130130.IP3Apologies for a slight temporary glitchette on this site earlier this evening. Fortunately, as usual, GoDaddy, this time through their man Pete, were able to sort out the problem promptly, with great skill, politeness and humour. Our Pete showed me how to do a bit of a self-help relief jobbie on my “overhead table” file in future, to prevent the problem recurring.

Apparently, with over 6,300 posts on here since May 2006, I have a file size which is well above average for a WordPress self-hosted user. (And bear in mind that GoDaddy are BIG. They manage over 55 million domain names). In other words, although our Pete didn’t put it this way, I am verbose.

Well, at least I have lived up to my blog title in both the ways it was intended. My burblings here are not only (hopefully, mostly) Liberal in the political sense, they are also liberal in the volumetric sense.

Photo by See-ming Lee

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July 15, 2014
by Paul

Gove’s follies

Michael Gove at Policy Exchange delivering his keynote speech 'The Importance of Teaching'I’m feeling quite delighted tonight for my brother and other teachers, following the news that Michael Gove has been humiliatingly demoted. He won’t even be a full voting member of cabinet any more, just an attendee on the sidelines. And he takes a £36,000 pay cut. So his pay cut is half as much again (+) as the national average wage!

His public fight with Mrs May and the trouble-making of his ex-aide Mr Cummings must have been the final nails in his coffin.

Paradoxically, given the ire Michael Gove has provoked, I hear from a friend, who has worked with him, that he is apparently the nicest, most politest man you could possibly meet.

Photo by Policy Exchange

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July 15, 2014
by Paul
1 Comment

PM sacks David Laws by tweet, then covers his tracks

As part of his reshuffle tweetage, at 13:24 today, David Cameron tweeted as follows:

One slight snag. At that stage David Laws was Schools Minister. He’s a Liberal Democrat and David Cameron would have to get Nick Clegg to move Laws, unless Cameron wanted two schools ministers.

At 16:41 the Government’s website was updated with all the reshuffle appointments, with the exception of the Minister of State for Schools which was still listed as David Laws, rather than Nick Gibb who Cameron appointed to that position via Tweet at 13:24:


Note also that there is no Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Education and Childcare, a position vacated by Liz Truss who moved to be Secretary of State for the Environment etc.

Then the plot thickens.

By 5pm, the Prime Ministerial Twitter account, with Number Ten no doubt realizing that “too many twits might make a twat”, was changed (and not even PMs can modify tweets. You have to delete the original and then tweet again), so that the original tweet from 13:24 about Nick Gibb’s appointment as Minister for Schools was deleted and replaced by a later tweet simply saying that Nick Gibb “is returning to Government as Minister of State @educationgovuk”. You can see it below. There was nothing about the position of Schools Minister in it. This was combined with other tweets announcing the appointment to the PuS Education role and one about Nic Boles being split between DfE and one other department.


Finally, by 17:37 the government website had been further updated to include Nick Gibb as a Minister of State in the Department for Education. See below. However, unlike the other ministers listed on the website, there is no note of what areas he is responsible for. No doubt they will work that out in the morning. It’s been a long day. Trebles and a crack of Gove’s whip all round!

July 15, 2014
by Paul

Let there be bells, fireworks and dancing in the streets!

Downtown Grand RapidsLet there be national rejoicing! Gove has gone from our schools! No more of him messing around with the curriculum! No more ludicrously dogmatic favouritism towards free schools! No more trying to take the exam system back to the sixties!

Let there be unalloyed joy! In future he will whip Tory MPs and appear on TV to turn people off voting Tory in their millions!

Photo by Kirsten

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July 12, 2014
by Paul

Please be careful about where you put down items in the supermarket

You know the situation. You’re in the supermarket. You pick up something you’re after. Say, some Innocent smooth orange juice at £3.25, and then you wonder on.

Then, you chance upon the special offer display at the end of an aisle. There, you see Copella orange juice and apple juice on special offer at £1.50. You pick one up. And then you want to get rid of the Innocent Smooth Orange Juice. But you can’t be arsed to walk all the way back to the original shelf from which you took it. So you simply place it down with the Copella juices.

No problem.

For you.

But spare a thought for the poor unsuspecting numpty (me) who comes by the special offer display just after you.

The ticket at the front of the display says “Special offer – £1.50″. Great, I think. Innocent Smooth Orange Juice for only £1.50. I’ll have some of that.

So I bought it.

Then I got home and looked at the receipt. Oh, they’ve charged me £3.25 instead of £1.50. So I then trek all the way back to the shop, emboldened by my nearest and dearest. I’m ready to challenge the Customer Service desk person. But then I look at the shelf and realise what happened.

Ho hum.

I intend to fully enjoy that Innocent Smooth Orange Juice. As you can see from the photo above, I have already greedily necked a healthy swig or twain from it. It goes down beautifully on a hot day such, as today has been!

And my trip back to the shop wasn’t wasted. My nearest and dearest got me to get some Taco bits. The tacoes were (eventually) delicious!

July 6, 2014
by Paul

The finances behind successful songs

Gold records on the wall.The Richest Songs in the World is an excellent programme from BBC4, available on iPlayer. Introduced by the excellent Stuart Maconie, it a must-see for anyone vaguely interested in music.

As well as explaining the finances of songs, the show reveals the, at times, surprising top ten richest songs in pop music and their fascinating stories.

I didn’t know that “Yesterday” started life as “Scrambled Eggs” and is thought to have played a part in the eventual break-up of the Beatles, because it was the only song Paul McCartney wrote on his own, although it was credited, as per normal, to Lennon McCartney.

I was most enchanted by the story of “Stand by me”. It has earnt $28 million. $14 million of that has gone to the publishers. And, if I have done my maths right, $7 million went to Leiber and Stoller, two of the writers, and $7 million went to Ben E King, the main writer. Not bad for one song, eh?

Ben E King, bless him, has ploughed some of his earnings from the song into the Stand by me Foundation to help educate underprivileged children.

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July 3, 2014
by Paul

The Daily Mirror has its excitement. The truth is probably not that alarming.

imageMy favourite book is A Handful of Dust. My political views are somewhat antipathetic to those of the author, Evelyn Waugh. But I love the dark comedy of the book and its wonderful setting: The gothic pile and its owner Tony Last living in aristocratic splendour with the world at his feet. Except it all falls apart and he ends up endlessly reading aloud Dickens to a tribe in the darkest Amazon.

In a similar way to my being on the opposite end of the political spectrum to Waugh, I am in extreme antithesis to my MP, Richard Benyon. He’s keen on the Royals, tradition and hunting. I am not. I think there are two subjects on which I have found myself in agreement with Richard in twenty years of bumping into him: Zimbabwe and river management.

For some reason, Richard Benyon has always made me think of Tony Last, from A Handful of Dust. However, I think the similarity is simply that they both live in huge Gothic piles. (The Benyon pile, Englefield House, is pictured above). I don’t expect my MP’s life to unravel and end hosting infinite Amazonian Little Dorrit literary soirées.

This week, the Daily Mirror has run a story about an East end London housing estate managed by the Benyon Estate. It was raised at Prime Minister’s Questions. Newbury Today has a balancing article.

Only time will reveal to us mortals what the truth of the matter is. What I do know is that there is plenty on which to disagree with Richard Benyon politically. He is rather unimaginative in much of his political thinking. And that is choosing my words with kindness.

But I doubt there is much of public interest to be found by rummaging around in his family’s interests. Yes, some of their farming and forestry methods may raise eyebrows. But I suspect their treatment of tenants is reasonable. Richard Benyon’s father, Sir William Benyon, now recently deceased, was a good man. A good sort. I suspect his family carry out reasonably benign estate management practices based on his good example. The Benyon Estate proper, based in De Beauvoir Town, appears to be an enlightened example of sound and caring estate management. The family’s Englefield Charitable Trust gives very generously to a charity with which I am involved, which actively helps genuinely very needy people, week in, week out.

While I am not saying “Move along now, nothing to see here”, I doubt that the truth of this story lives up to its rather sharply defined Daily Mirror billing. That said, it is rather fascinating reading about the activities involved in running the Benyon estate and its spin-off management activities. If you’re managing an estate, as in this Hoxton (New Era Estate) case mentioned by Daily Mirror, on behalf of an “American private equity firm“, with only a minority 10% interest yourself, it must put you in a rather invidious position. It is a very strange situation, but not unusual these days. Ho-hum.

Photo of Englefield House by Richard Croft via CCL

June 27, 2014
by Paul

Tuition fees are not the crime of century

GraduationMany years ago, before self-imploding, I studied Land Management at University. It was more like Beer Management as I drank several pints of weak ale a night, using my luxuriant 100% grant.

This week I found myself back at University. I was there as a parent learning about student finance. How times have changed. Now, of course, graduates have to cough up 9% of what they earn above £21,000 after university. (Maria Pretzler, mind you, has pointed out that the taxpayer will pay more under the new system than originally predicted).

It seems a fair and reasonable system to me. The Sutton Trust part-funded a recent report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies. There is nothing in that report to frighten the horses. It’s worth reading the details in full here, but one of the IFS’ s conclusions is:

Higher-earning graduates, meanwhile, pay back substantially more under the new system than under the old one, making the new system more progressive (on the basis of graduates’ lifetime earnings) than the old one.

The UCAS website states that there were 495,595 accepted University applicants under the new system in 2013, the highest figure in the years shown since 2008. There were 34,241 accepted applications in 2013 from the most disadvantaged areas (Polar 2 quintile 1), the highest figure for the years shown since 2007.

All of that makes it rather baffling that tuition fees are still venomously chanted as part of the indictment against Nick Clegg.

It suggests a rather blinkered approach, especially when you also consider that, in the same area of youth education/training, this government has created 1.8 million apprenticeships.

But all that gets swept aside in the headlong rush to beat up Nick Clegg.

He broke a promise but he did so because he had to compromise in a coalition government. He produced a reasonable alternative instead.

It is not the Crime of the Century which some make it out to be. If he had broken up the coalition because he’d signed a pledge about tuition fees, then it would have confirmed suspicions that the LibDems were not ready for government.

June 23, 2014
by Paul
1 Comment

Anti-Clegg move not picking up significant support

110416-A-FG822-136Tin hat and flak jacket donned…

Mark Pack has an excellent running record on his blog of the known party activities concerning the leadership.

Here is his summary as I write:

9 local parties have voted on a leadership contest: 6 against and 3 in favour a leadership contest

3 local parties have consulted members through meetings: 3 against a leadership contest

29 local party executives have discussed the party’s leadership and not gone ahead with a motion on having a leadership contest (i.e in effect against a leadership contest)

Full details are here.

I greatly respect those who have been arguing against Clegg.

But they’ve basically lost on this occasion. I think it is best that they follow the example of Martin Tod and focus on constructively moving forward rather than going around and around in circles making the same arguments again and again like a dog chasing its tail.

I’m still pinching myself at finding myself Cleggside on this one. I opposed him in the leadership contest, staged my own little protest against him two years ago, and I tend to be on the beard and sandals wing of the party.

But I was hugely impressed by Clegg clearly stating that we are the party of “In” Europe. He is an excellent Deputy Prime Minister. Instinctively I feel inclined to support him.

We can have the leadership discussion after May 2015. It’s going nowhere fast at the moment.

Millennium Dome, Elephant has put all this much better than I can here. In summary, MD,E says:

1. Clegg is a Liberal
2. He is saying Liberal things
3. He’s by far the best we have at communicating Liberal things
4. The Coalition’s policies look like they are just beginning to work
5. He does listen

And, by the way, nostalgia for Charles Kennedy’s leadership is excellent. But it is a rather rose-tinted view of things. Charles is an excellent man. But it would be rather indecorous to disinter the old arguments about him.

June 22, 2014
by Paul

Eight trees felled in Stroud Green, Newbury

imageA few weeks ago I noticed tree surgeons testing the trees on Stroud Green using advanced equipment.

This week certain of the trees have been felled. Above is my photo of one of the trees being carted off.

The rationale behind this operation is found in the minutes of Greenham Parish Council’s meeting on14th May:

During recent high winds a poplar tree fell across Racecourse Road. On inspection, the core of the tree was found to be rotten although there was no external sign of this. WBC has commissioned a survey of the rest of the trees which looks at their internal structure. Unfortunately 8 of the trees will have to come down as they are substantially decayed inside. The works will be carried out over the next few weeks and mature specimens used to infill the gaps.