November 16, 2014
by Paul

I thought I would need a stout brown paper bag to watch the Sainsburys advert….and I was right

Oh puuuhlease! The trench warfare of the first world war was one of the most disgusting, heinous, awful situations humanity has ever inflicted on itself.

To depict this in a beautiful, crafted, sickly advert to make us spend more money at a supermarket is beneath contempt.

I will not be touching Sainsburys with a barge pole this Christmas. This advert is disgusting. It is completely out of context. The truce football happened in December 1914 just after the war started and before the real horrors started. Yes, it really happened. But Hitler was really nice to (non-Jewish) children. So why not show an advert showing Hitler being nice to children without mentioning the Holocaust? That’s how ridiculous and distasteful it is. The British Legion thing is not only a fig leaf, they are seeking to burnish their image by being involved with the British Legion while drawing people in to spend more money. The whole thing is utterly disgusting.

November 16, 2014
by Paul

Putin sends his warships to Australia’s Gold Coast

A bizarre story. To coincide with the G20 meeting in Australia, Putin sent three of his warships to hover in international waters nearby.

But what I found amusing is that Australia sent out three naval ships to meet the Russians. One of them, HMAS Paramatta (pictured above) contacted the biggest Russian cruiser, Varyag, to conduct a communications exercise, called a “COMMEX”, which involves testing mutual radio communications, signal flags and semaphore lights. This was apparently carried out in a friendly spirit. “The Russians have responded happily to the exercise,” a government source said.

It seems to be the international naval equivalent of saying “Hello, how are you?” or, sort of, dancing round the handbags.

Very amusing.

As a little bonus for all naval fans, here is an Australian TV report from onboard the HMAS Paramatta when it returned home to Sydney from service in the Middle East:

November 16, 2014
by Paul

In pictures: the 1964 general election

Following on from my previous post, here are some wonderful images from the 1964 General Election. Just scroll down to view them, then hover over each photo to see the caption.

November 14, 2014
by Paul
1 Comment

Stunning 1964 General Election programme on BBC Parliament

I didn’t think I’d ever say this, but I have had great fun this week watching the 1964 General Election results programmeon BBC Parliament.

It was a real nail-biter. In the end it came down to two seats, or a majority of four for Labour. In fact, just an hour into the programme, with only a few seats declared, a huge caption came right across the screen saying “LIKELY MAJ LAB 40″. Such a prediction was completely out of whack with the swings being announced at the time. But no comment was made and the programme sailed on. Weird. Random, indeed.

Richard Dimbleby, anchoring the whole show, came across as rather bumbling and pompous. At one point, David Butler and Ian Trethowen were most excited about a recount at Hornsey but Dimbleby told them (who he called “Mr Butler” and “Mr Trethowen”) to calm down and no mention was ever made again about of the recount at Hornsey as far as I heard.

The whole thing was hideously male-dominated. In the first two hours of the programme only one woman spoke and that was when an interviewer said: “And what about a lady verdict?”. But there were hordes of women running round in the background doing chores for the men!

There was loads of smoking – cigars for Tories and pipes for Labour men.

It was extraordinary to see so many men who were either big names at the time or went on to be big BBC names involved in the programme: Bob McKenzie, Robin Day, Raymond Baxter, Geoffrey Wheeler, Alan Whicker, Michael Barratt, Magnus Magnusson, John Tidmarsh, Kenneth Allsop.

One of the bizarre sights was seeing Peter Crampton (of whom I have memories from BBC Spotlight South-West) interviewing Mark Bonham-Carter hanging out of a window in Torrington. It was interesting that David Owen was the Labour candidate in that battle, which was won by the local Tory, Peter Mills.

Smethwick was an appalling result, caused by a disgracefully racist campaign by the Tory involved. The name “Smethwick” is, I think, still synonymous, for some people, with that campaign. Harold Wilson defied the result and appointed Patrick Gordon-Walker (the Labour man who was defeated by the Tory at Smethwick) as Foreign Secretary. However, Gordon-Walker then lost a by-election a few months later and stood down from office. He won another seat later and returned to government.

Jo Grimond appeared quite a lot on the programme from Liberal HQ. Interestingly, he mentioned that Liberal party policy at the time was to have AV in rural areas and PR in urban seats.

It was great to see Barbara Castle and various other Labour figures appearing. James Callaghan seemed so cheerful. Tony Benn was very Tony Benn. And George Brown! My goodness! Stand by your beds! Talk about an attack dog!

Sir Tufton Beamish won Lewes for the Tories. I hadn’t heard his name before, but he was obviously the inspiration for “Sir Tufton Bufton” in Private Eye.

I noticed that the cameras at the counts focused in on the ballot papers quite closely, and on the supervisors carrying round ballots etc, while the commentators discussed exactly what the bundles were and where they were going. I don’t think that would be allowed these days.

Ted Dexter was the Conservative candidate in Cardiff South East (Defeated by Jim Callaghan). Yes, Ted Dexter the cricketer, who took time off from a test match to do it.

Peter Tapsell lost!

Bill Deedes was elected in Ashford. (Shurely shome mishtake?-Ed)

Jimmy Edwards, the comedian, stood for the Tories in London Paddington and lost.

A young John Juno, the sometime/long time Express editor appeared quite reasonable when interviewed. Anthony Howard was obviously a rising star as a commentator.

But the over-riding impression I had was of how lovely Harold Wilson was. As an example, you hear politicians perfunctionarily thanking the returning officer at counts. But Harold Wilson made a long and effusive speech singing the praises of the returning officer and his staff. It really was quite something.

November 9, 2014
by Paul
1 Comment

Remembrance Day and the importance of Federica Mogherini

imageWhat a crazy headline! – I hear my non-reader cry.

Bear with me.

The Remembrance service today at St Nicolas Church, Newbury was very moving and a great tribute to the fallen. Curate Rev John Aldis delivered an excellent sermon which included reference to Michael Williams in Henry V.

As John enumereated the millions killed in wars over the last two centuries, my thoughts wondered on to what we can do to stop the horrors of war.

One of the key crises which threatens world (in)stability at the moment is that in Ukraine.

One of the key ways we can influence that situation is through the EU. In this, the role of the EU’s High Representative is key. Catherine Ashton, who was in that role until last week, pulled off a remarkable coup by leading the deal with Iran. So one asks who in the new Commission could fill her shoes. Well, the new High Representative for EU, as of November 1st, is Federica Mogherini (Pictured above).

We can only hope and pray that Ms Mogherini does a good job in helping to resolve the Ukranian crisis. She has a lot of responsibility riding on her shoulders. Mikhail Gorbachev’s warning yesterday, that we could be on the brink of a new Cold War, are chillingly realistic.

Photo by European External Action Service – EEAS

November 6, 2014
by Paul

Dan Rogerson impresses in conversation with Judith Bunting at Elm Farm Organic Research Centre this evening

imageA bit of a Libby Demmy treat for me tonight. I went along to enjoy Dan Rogerson MP in conversation with Judith Bunting at Elm Farm Organic Research Centre, at Hamstead Marshall. This was open to “all comers” rather than just Lib Dems, and it was very good to see a very good crowd from across West Berkshire.

Dan is MP for my parents and three of my brothers and their families down in North Cornwall. About a year ago he visited my parents’ house in Widemouth Bay while doing residents’ surveys. They haven’t stopped talking about it since. I was very pleased to meet Dan at our Glasgow conference when he joined in the singing of “Trelawny” (the “Cornish National Anthem”) at the Glee.

But this was my first opportunity to hear Dan speak at length. I was very impressed indeed. He comes across as a humble, genuinely friendly and self-effacing fellow, but he is extremely intelligent and articulate, and very “on top of his” brief as a minister at DEFRA.

Judith started by interviewing Dan, mainly taxing him on the issue of the poor deal which rural areas get in the local government finance settlement.

Questions followed. There was none of the usual pause for hands to go up, as we launched straight into flooding in Compton and cracked sewers in the Lamborn Valley. We then covered rights of way and the operation of the water industry.

One very refreshing thing was to hear Dan, once he had temporarily taken off his minister’s hat and his Lib Dem MP’s hat, say unequivocally that we need to build more council houses. This received warm applause. The remark was in response to a question about how we retain families and local people within rural communities.

I should also say that it was a delight to see Elm Farm Organic Research Centre, which is a remarkable place. The hall we were in is a refurbished 1756 barn which has its own bat attic!

October 29, 2014
by Paul

Much ado about Botswana

The three chiefs and justice Gaberone by BoHeMIo
It’s been happening for many years. Decades. The Lib Dems, and the Liberal party before it, are part of Liberal International. Ideas and help are shared, by invitation, with fellow liberal parties around the world.

Recently some liberals went to help our sister party, BMD, in the Botswanan elections.

So far, so earnest.

Liberal Democrat Voice often carries articles about liberals helping overseas as part of Liberal International.

Normally such articles excite very little interest. Such an article appeared about Botswana and it all went smoothly.

…Until someone suggested (and I’m blithely paraphrasing so please do read the full enchilada here) that such help was a type of harking back to colonialism.

Oh dear. Liberal International is organised regionally and there is no template of policies pushed on other countries. All help given is strictly by invite, in this case by the Africa Liberal Network.

And then someone (not, I believe, a Lib Dem party member) threw in a bit of a hand grenade. A racist remark. This was made at 11pm and was taken down at 8am after a complaint. Please mark and inwardly digest that sentence. The racist remark was taken off the internet after only a handful of people had seen it overnight. The early hours of the morning are not exactly peak hours for people reading relatively old posts about Liberal International shenanighans.

A couple of people had, by that time, replied to the remark with impassioned reasoning. Bearing that in mind, a proposal to reinstate the remark, with the replies and with a clear statement condemning the remark, was made and accepted by interested people in Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats.

So the remark was reinstated with replies and editorial condemnation.

Then someone who I greatly respect resigned from the party.

It’s all a bit bizarre. A bit like the annual Fuchsia show turning into World War Three.

I currently don’t know what to make of it all, but time, as usual, will put everything into perspective.

We must respect differing perspectives but, if appropriate, we must also challenge them without rancour or dismissiveness.

Photo of the Justice statue in Gaborone, Botswana by BoHemIo

October 27, 2014
by Paul

In praise of the Care Act 2014 and AgeUK

old care photo
I’m at that certain age. You spend your whole life not even thinking about pensions, or paying for Universities or nursing homes. And then you get to the age when you think about little else. I am there.

We’ve been through that very confusing shock when a 100% able-bodied and independent relative becomes, overnight, 100% dependent on care. Wading through the bewildering and worrying facts and figures about going into care homes, and facing the sudden possibility of needing Lasting Power of Attornies, a house clearance/sale and £1000 bills per week is utterly petrifying.

Thank God for AgeUK, who have been able to put our minds at rest and help us through the thicket of complexities. Their advisors know all the details and are marvellous at calming nervous minds.

In amongst all the complexities I discovered the Care Act 2014.

There is a strange rule (not universal) in politics. The stuff that really matters is hardly noticed and nobody thanks the politicians who do it. That is the fate of the Care Act 2014. At last, it introduces a cap at which the state takes over the payment of care. At last it will mean that children will not be faced with cashing all their parents’ assets to pay a seemingly endless bill for care. I suspect that most people that will benefit from this Act do not realise that it’s been passed at the moment. By the time they are affected by it, I suspect they will take it for granted. But it is an extraordinary act of parliament which will really improve lives (from April 2016).

October 20, 2014
by Paul

Sorry about Linda, but delighted to support @daisy4change

I am personally very sad that Linda Jack did not get the required number of nomination signatures in time to stand as President of the Liberal Democrats. Linda would have been a fantastic keeper of the Liberal Democrat flame.

I am now supporting Daisy Cooper to be party President. It is quite clear to me that she is the best candidate of the three nominees. She is the real “new broom” which we need. I am particularly impressed with her reflections on internal democracy for the party. But, most of all, she has the sort of young, dynamic personality which we need to lead the party forward.

October 17, 2014
by Paul

Location of Newbury Question Time and tragic accident which led to three of the panellists being late

Some people have searched for the location of Question Time in Newbury last night. It was at St Bartholomew’s school.

There was a tragic, fatal accident at the Ufton Nervet railway crossing last night. This delayed three of the Question Time guests (Sir Menzies Campbell, Jeremy Hunt and Angela Eagle) for more than an hour. One report said the delay was at least 103 minutes long. Passengers were eventually taken off the train at Newbury Racecourse station. There was a report that the three delayed panelists didn’t get to the set until 9.30pm, leaving it very tight to record an hour-long programme for broadcast at 10.45pm. The panel was completed by Isabel Oakeshott and Rev Giles Fraser.

October 15, 2014
by Paul

RIP Sheila Tracy, the first woman to read the news on BBC Radio Four

Listening to ickle Jamie Cullen on Radio Two last night, I was saddened to learn of the passing of Sheila Tracy, bless her.

Sheila Tracy was a large feature in my early years, as she introduced “Spotlight South West” and was a general announcer and newsreader on BBC South West from Cornwall. I think she was there at around the same time as Hugh Scully, Joe Pengelly and Sue Lawley, while Ken MacLeod, Angela Rippon, Stuart Hitchison, Del Cooper, Clive Gunnell et al were on the “other side” on Westward.

She was a very good broadcaster.

She went on to become a major jazz and big band music presenter on BBC Radio Two, which is why our Jamie was paying tribute to her.

Oh, and I should mention that Sheila Tracy was a Cornish maid from Mullion (shown in the photo above). She went to Truro Girls’School.

October 15, 2014
by Paul

Question Time from Newbury

Tomorrow night, Question Time will be coming from Newbury. Charlie Kennedy will be on the panel. So that should be excellent value.

I won’t be in the audience. But it wasn’t for the want of trying. I filled in their web site form. One question asked “Have you ever been on Question Time before?” By “on” I assumed they meant had I actually been on the telly – that is, asking a question on the show, on the actual gogglebox. Well, I haven’t. But I sat in the audience for the 2004 edition from the Newbury Corn Exchange.

I was phoned by someone from Front Row this morning, asking me for details with a view to being in the audience. But it turned out that “on Question Time” means “in the audience for Question Time”. So it appears that being in the audience for Question Time is a once-in-a-lifetime unique experience. It’s a bit like seeing a double rainbow or, as I did last week, having a fox sit tamely near you.

Oh well. Ho hum. I will just have to console myself with the fact that I saw Janet Street-Porter on Question Time when I saw it in Newbury. Now there’s a woman, the cut of whose jib I like. A very intelligent lady. But she was balanced on the panel by Julian Fellowes, who writes Downton Abbey. On the basis that I can’t find anything good to say about him (except that he was absolutely excellent as “Kilwillie” in “Monarch of the Glen”) I won’t saying anything about him at all.

Update 17th October: This edition of Question Time was staged at St Bartholomew’s school in Newbury. There was a tragic accident at the Ufton Nervet railway crossing last night. This delayed three of the Question Time guests (Sir Menzies Campbell, Jeremy Hunt and Angela Eagle) for more than an hour. One report said the delay was at least 103 minutes long. Passengers were eventually taken off the train at Newbury Racecourse station. There was a report that the three delayed panelists didn’t get to the set until 9.30pm, leaving very tight to record a programme for broadcast at 10.45pm. The panel was completed by Isabel Oakeshott and Rev Giles Fraser.

October 15, 2014
by Paul

Jeremy Browne to stand down. “Pointless Celebrities” are already on the line….

4683247908_64ebc5b752_Jeremy-BrowneI wish Jeremy Browne well as he prepares for the next phase in his life. As I have stated before, there is much I admire in his thinking. He has very strong liberal/Liberal roots. He certainly is an original thinker, and has been an excellent MP for Taunton Deane.

I don’t normally explain my attempted witticisms, but for the avoidance of doubt, there is no bitterness or sarcasm intended in the title to this post. It is simply a reference to the Times headline of 24th April 2014 which said: “Lib Dems ‘are pointless'”, which was based on their interview with Jeremy. It was said, rightly, that Jeremy Browne didn’t actually say the Lib Dems are pointless. This was paraphrasing by the Times headline writer. However, I really felt let down by the way Jeremy courted such headlines in the run-up to the May elections. I said the following at the time in response to Jeremy’s article on LibDemVoice:

I see from your biography that you studied politics at University. You were editor of your university’s newspaper and President of the Students’ Union. You worked for not one, but two public relations firms. You were Director of Press and Broadcasting for our party under not one, but two leaders. You have been an MP for nine years. You were a minister in two government departments over three years.

With all that experience of hardball politics, did you not have the remotest suspicion that by talking to The Times in the way that you did that they would convert your words into something like “Lib Dems are pointless”? Or were you taken totally by surprise by their treatment of your interview?

However, bygones are bygones. Jeremy has been a great member of our party for decades. I was very pleased to see him recently at our Glee, and I hope that he will continue to brighten up our party for many years to come.

October 12, 2014
by Paul

My question to Nick Clegg at the Glasgow conference

GLasgow clegg q&aOK. I’ll admit it. I try to do something at conference every year which I can then show to my friends on BBC Parliament. My octogenarian parents in Cornwall are usually tickled pink to see me, even if no one else is.

This year, I seized upon the opportunity of the Nick Clegg Q&A. I missed the deadline for the question submissions, but a couple of questions were being taken for each subject from the floor. So I just had to think of a question on the relevant topics. The first topic was energy/climate change and I had a question ready and put my hand up. But Nick didn’t look to my side of the hall.

Fortunately, the next topic was the press, a subject on which I have done a bit of homework. So this time I stood up and put my hand right up, so Nick spotted me and I asked my question:

I’m a total fan of the Leveson report. I’ve even read some of it. I applaud you for putting steel into the government’s determination to pass through the Royal Charter. But we are left with the situation where the press are forming their own body (outside of the Royal Charter). I think a couple of odd gazettes have signed up for the Royal Charter but it is unlikely that a press complaints body will be formed under it. So one has to ask the question: What the heck is the point of the Royal Charter? Is it a lame duck?

In his answer, Nick said, no, it isn’t a lame duck. He explained what Leveson proposed, calling it “small l liberal” and roundly rejecting claims that the proposals amount to state control of the press. At the end he said that “we should just let the Royal Charter run” and “allow the system of incentives to do their work”.

Actually, the process of asking the question and listening to the answer has caused a penny to drop in my mind, based on Nick’s thinking. Even if no one signs up for the Royal Charter system, it is still doing its job. That is because it is already, no doubt, causing editors to pause for thought before abusing their freedom. They know that if they do abuse their freedom and lose a subsequent court case, they will receive large damages because of not being in a body recognised by the Royal Charter.