Friday, 20 November 2015

The new Labour recruits are so hostile to Free Trade that surley they should join the antis in the referendum

The Atkinson Southport
Last night we stood in silence to remember those who had died in Paris and in memory of two former Councillors David Pearson and Charlie Hopkins at the full Council meeting.

For a long time now the majority group have been unusually silent at such meeting when it comes to proposing motions but the restraint has clearly now been lifted and we had a glimpse of what the new Labour intake think.  Firstly they think Tories and anyone who works with them are beyond the pale and secondly they believe that it the Labour Party can do no wrong. A simple motion proposed by Lib Dems at a previous meeting was re presented with any hint of criticism of Labour purged and a litany of everyone else's evil doing added. So far just what you would expect from Bootle Labour.

The really interesting debate was on TTIP. I listened with an uneasy feeling that I had been transported back forty years to the time of EU referendum. We had a full blown attack on the principle of Free Trade. The arguments offered were the same as those deployed by Benn, Corbyn et al. at that time. They so hate our economic system that they can see no good in it. Every rumour, every half truth is believed. It does strike me that if they are so hostile to the principle of Free Trade the only logical position they can take is to join the anti side in the upcoming referendum.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Tallis, Moore, Sprackland, National Poerty Day Spem in Alium

The Birkdale blog has written about Jean Sprackland before, this week she turns up on the radio in Essential Classics which is entirely appropriate as it is National Poetry Day.  You can hear her on iplayer and there will be a podcast later on if you come upon this after the full broadcast ceases to be available.

One of the pieces of music she chose was Spem in Alium  from Thomas Tallis -arguably the greatest English composer. In the broadcast she recalls hearing this 40 part motet at the Tate in Liverpool where and there was an art installation based on the piece by Janet Cardiff

The only time I have heard a live performance of the motet was in Liverpool Cathedral where the eight choir were arranged around the foot of the tower. It is undoubtedly a masterpiece even if it was written in response to an outburst of hurt national pride. The Italian composer Alessandro Striggio (c. 1536/1537 – February 29, 1592) wrote a 40 part motet Ecce beatam lucem for 40 independent voices. This was performed to great acclaim in London and the cry went up-is there not an English composer who can achieve such wonders. Tallis obliged. In Southport I notice that next Sunday at Holy Trinity there is a service dedicated to the piece.

It is not a surprise that there has always been an inwarding looking section of English opinion. Thankfully the open, outward looking majority in Britain always asserts itself. During national poetry day I heard read one of the best ever declaration of that more generous, liberal approach in a speech from a Shakespeare play, The Book of Sir Thomas Moore,  that I have never seen or heard performed.

Grant them removed, and grant that this your noise
Hath chid down all the majesty of England;
Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,
Plodding to the ports and coasts for transportation,
And that you sit as kings in your desires
,Authority quite silent by your brawl,
And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;
What had you got? I’ll tell you: you had taught
How insolence and strong hand should prevail,
How order should be quelled; and by this pattern
Not one of you should live an aged man,
For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another….Say now the king
Should so much come too short of your great trespass
As but to banish you, whether would you go?
What country, by the nature of your error,
Should give you harbour? go you to France or Flanders,
To any German province, to Spain or Portugal,
Nay, any where that not adheres to England,
Why, you must needs be strangers: would you be pleased
To find a nation of such barbarous temper,
That, breaking out in hideous violence,
Would not afford you an abode on earth,
Whet their detested knives against your throats,
Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God
Owed not nor made not you, nor that the claimants
Were not all appropriate to your comforts,
But chartered unto them, what would you think
To be thus used? this is the strangers case;
And this your mountainish inhumanity. 


Here is Sir Ian McKellen performing the speech after first putting the piece in to context.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

A wet day in Northampton

Travelling up from London I got 'detrained' at Northampton due to a shortage of crew. It was the day that Northants were playing Australia but due to the downpour the game was off for the day.

I asked around about the where abouts of the statue of the town's Radical MP Charles Bradlaugh. I was mostly met with blank looks and offered to the directions to the pub named after him

Finally, at the tourist information office-and after some research, I was directed to a small traffic island close to the cricket ground where the yellow statue stands.

Bradlaugh's battles rumbled on through Gladstone's second government and apart from boots and shoes he remains the most remarkable thing about Northampton. There is a portrait of him in the town museum

Saturday, 8 August 2015

The Allotment and stress reduction

 The bright morning sun woke me unreasonably early this morning, so rather than lie-in complaining about the pain in my shoulder I decided to pay an early visit to the allotment.

Nobody else was about when I arrived but during the next couple of hours -before most people's breakfast- two more plot holders cycled by.

Having lifted the potatoes already ( salad variety Nicola and a poor crop of Shetland Black) the second two beds are empty except for some leeks that the sharp eyed observers will have noted. The front bed with the fine meshed insect barrier around it contains a fine crop of carrots and parsnips. The great danger to carrots comes from the carrot fly. It is not a very athletic bug and cannot get more than 18 inches off the ground-hence the open top barrier arrangement. Mind you it is reputed to have a magnificent sense of smell and will home in on a carrot patch from great distance.

The first bed with the blue hoops which supporting netting is strawberries -variety Maris de Bois. They have been excellent this year and really do live up to their billing.

The next bed -again with blue hoops is for winter brassicas-cabbage (Durham early) kale, cauliflowers and sprouting broccoli. Beyond that the onions and garlic have been lifted. On the right hand side are the runner beans and borlotti beans  followed by a gooseberry bush and then dwarf purple beans . And beyond that are my three Ben Sarek Blackcurrant buses. Alongside them are the pumpkins-Crown Prince(the best culinary squash/pumpkin) and Sumo. Mollie and I won first prize in the Ainsdale Show with s Sumo pumpkin one year. At the back are the Raspberry canes Joan J and at the very front right is my red currant bush bought from Wilkos in an end of season sale-the variety is unknown.

It is amazing how a couple of hours on the plot can revive my spirits and take my mind of the pain in my shoulder-mind you I have no doubt that my aches and pains will return to trouble my sleep tonight

Friday, 24 July 2015

Birkdale cat poisoner at large

I returned home to be told by my student daughter that i must not put the cat out because cats in Birkdale are being poisoned. It turns out she is right. The Visiter has the full story
A worrying number of incidents have taken place in an area of Birkdale

510 Shares Share Tweet +1 LinkedIn Felix, 17, was found covered in a mystery liquid and said to be acting 'like he was on drugs' Southport pet owners have been warned to keep an eye on their cats after reports of 'intentional poisonings and cat abductions'.

Joanna Worsley, of Jaspers Alley Cats shelter said: "There have been a shocking number of incidents in a small area of Birkdale."

Owner Jacqui Elizabeth says her two cats were fed salmon doused in weed killer a few weeks ago. She said: "I'd just gone to bed and I heard one of my cats making a strange noise.

"I rushed outside and there was a man at the end of the drive, but he fled as soon as he saw me. My daughter chased after him but he got away.

"There were chunks of salmon on the floor and my cat, Georgie, had eaten some. The other cat, Felix, was covered in some kind of liquid and was acting like he was drunk or on drugs

Thursday, 9 July 2015

distributism and related issues

Commenting on the budget last night Jonathan Calder wrote: Tax credits are a way of subsiding bad employers from the public purse and are a move towards the intermeshing of the power of the state and the power of capital that Belloc warned about in The Servile State.

There is new interest in the ideas promoted by Chesterton and Belloc in The Servile State that became known as Distibutism.  The list of Liberals who have been influenced by them includes Elliot Dodds  (and the Ownership for All movement) Jo Grimond who launched many of the ideas that fuelled the Liberal revival  in the collection of essays edited by George Watson entitled The Unservile State. Later E F Schumacher drew on his ideas in Small is Beautiful. David Boyle over on the Real Blog often champions distributism and most recently he made the case for a radical housing policy:

I've come to believe, as a modern Distributist, that the way forward has to be building new homes and then giving them away - on three important conditions:
  • They do not go back onto the open market and fuel house price inflation (ownership need not imply the right to sell).
  • They stay at the same nominal price they were originally sold for, ratcheting down the rest of the market, perhaps for a generation or so.
  • They are built in sufficient numbers to satisfy demand.
It is of course easy to poke fun at Chesterton. Robert Oakeshott - a collaborator with Jo Grimond in establishing what is today known as The Employee Ownership Association- in his book The Case for Workers' Co-ops (1978) wrote:

There are many reasons why the reformist suggestions put forward by Belloc and Chesterton under the name of distributism were largely ignored when first published and have since been almost forgotten. The Pre Raphaelite outer garments of peasant smocks, the idealized mediaeval impedimenta of maypole and village tavern with which their proposed reforms seemed inextricably tangled, can only have discouraged 'political economists' from taking them seriously.... 

Nevertheless their ideas and those of Catholic Social policy were very influential in the Liberal Party in the inter war years. Dodds, a Congregationalist lay preacher, read widely the works of continental thinkers such as Jacques Maritain. This school of thought was the motivation behind Father José María Arizmendiarrieta who established the Co-ops in Mondragon that so impressed Jo Grimond and Robert Oakeshott.

But back to the budget. In 1983 at a meeting of the Policy Committee chaired by Richard Wainwright a paper was tabled that was written by James Meade- this was in the day when we took advice from Nobel Prize winning economists rather than self interested City folk. If my memory serves we well it was about a New Keynesian Approach to Full Employment.. Amongst other things it advocated Profit sharing (much beloved of the then Liberal Party) and now regrettably out of fashion, and taxing inflation (equally beloved of John Pardoe). The main focus was how you maintained full employment and fix wages and how that interacted with social security. I cannot remember all the details but it did look at how you took account of folks who required higher incomes to live decently because of responsibilities like caring, child care etc, which brings us back to tax credits. The trouble is that I can't remember Meades conclusion save that it did include the state picking up some of the cost

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Death Duties, time to dust off a Liberal policy

Essentially abolish and start again with 'a rate graduated according to the size of the bequest and the existing wealth of the legatee, this would encourage the splitting up of large fortunes without state intervention.'

This policy grew out of the Liberal Party Report 'Ownership for All' chaired by Eliot Dodds published in 1938.

This policy was part of a wider approach which sought to radically redistribute wealth/ownership including taxation on land values, profit sharing, as well as graduated death duties levied depending on the wealth of the recipient not the giver. This is the alternative approach to equality not based on state doles

Monday, 29 June 2015

Influential divine (former LibDem PPC) takes a critical look at Farron

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Last week on Lib DemVoice I remarked that when great social reforms had been enacted liberals had the support of many Christians. I was thinking of Roy Jenkin's Homosexual Law reform,when Michael Ramsay was in the front line of supporters and David Steel's Abortion Act passed at a time when he was regularly introducing Songs of Praise. This was not just a phenomenon of the 1960's you could go back to Josephine Butler's work on the Contagious Diseases Act. My point was that such Christians who are today working to celebrate same sex marriages in churches and for women to play a full part in the church are a natural constituency for Lib Dems but we do not seem able to attract them in decent numbers .

Step forward the Provost of Glasgow Cathedral to shed some light on this matter- with thanks to Andrew Page for drawing my attention to his posting via twitter.

I have been mildly disconcerted by the debate that has arisen around Tim Farron's faith and how it impacts on his suitability to be Leader.  In particular I wonder what is the motivation of those who have focussed on this issue. In past generations Liberals have had no difficulty in reconciling Liberalism with faith. Mr Gladstone, T H Green and Zoroastrian Liberal MP Dadabhai Naroji (Finsbury Central 1892-95) all made a pretty good fist of it in their time. Equally those without faith like Bradlaugh and Mill found no difficulty.

I cannot say that some Christian supporters of Tim have always dealt with the challenge at all well seeking to present themselves as a persecuted minority. I suspect they would be better served 'turning the other cheek' and considering the advice of Rowan Williams. At the other end of the spectrum politeness may stop people robustly analysing Tim's views on these issues.

In recent days a new voice has entered the debate and I thought it ought to be more widely heard as it addresses the central criticism that is be implied by Tim's distractors (although not often openly stated) as one elector put it: "Can you reassure us that if elected you will conduct yourself as a Liberal rather than according to a Christian agenda?”

 This new voice is Kelvin Holdsworth who fought Stirling as a Lib Dem at the 2005 election. His day job is as Provost of St Mary's Cathedral Glasgow. You may be surprised by his conclusions. I recognise that such religious reflections may be unfamiliar to some readers so I have transported him to the pulpit of St Asquith's in the hope that in such familiar setting readers may feel more comfortable and will not be distracted by the incense or the uncomfortable pews. I need to start, in the time honoured way, with a confession. I have not asked his lordships permission to occupy his church . I hope he will forgive me. Now pick up your cushion and your back rest and follow me to a pew under the north widow and let us consider these matters from a different perspective.

St Asquith's congregation quietly leave the church and head to the Parish Hall for morning coffee. They are deep in thought. The parish's Patron announced to them recently that there are going to be changes. It has all come about because of the departure of Rev Hughes, as his lordship confided to diary :
The Revd Hughes is not to be moved, and he tells me he has arranged for a locum vicar to take Divine Service and visit the sick whilst he is away. “He’s young and keen and believes every word of the Liberal Democrat manifesto is the literal truth.” I eye him levelly: “It’s not Farron, is it?”
Change as we know can be disconcerting and conditions have been laid down about the locum's behaviour. He is due to arrive on the 16th July and in the meantime they have a visiting preacher, no lesser personage than the Provost of St Mary's Cathedral Glasgow the Rt Rev Kelvin Holdsworth who has kindly shared his sermon online entitled Providence and Vocations for Liberals in Public Life.
The Right Reverend gentleman has struggled with the issues that now confront the young Mr Farron as he stood in a recent General Election the Liberal interest at Stirling. 
He comes to some interesting conclusions but before he mounts the pulpit steps the choir sing an anthem

The most difficult question that I had when I was a candidate came from a couple who were obviously thinking very deeply about how they would cast their vote. Their question was along these lines: “We are disposed to vote for a liberal candidate but we hesitate to vote for you because we know from your profession that you are a Christian. To be honest we are worried about the values that you hold and we presume that your values are not our values. We don’t think Christian values are particularly nice values. Can you reassure us that if elected you will conduct yourself as a Liberal rather than according to a Christian agenda?”
It was a great question and made me think a lot. I did engage with the couple and in the end they told me that they did indeed intend to vote for me.
I was lucky in being able to talk to them about the issues they were concerned about and put my own position over which in the end was not that different from their own. There was no alternative but to go through things issue by issue. As it happened, being able to talk at first hand about being a gay member of the clergy did give them some reassurance.
But the point is, they had come to the view that Christians have a considerably more unpleasant ethical position than decent people in society.
And I fear that this is increasingly the case and that most Christians neither believe that others hold this view nor care about it either. .......

The full posting is on Kelvin Holdsworth's blog and it is well worth  reading. I should say before you leave that I have (eventually) decided to vote for Tim Farron. It is a compromise but my perfect candidate is not on the ballot paper and in an imperfect world that is often the case.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Recording Britain in World War 2 now showing in Southport

Byron Dawson's watercolour of a Lancashire village
The chairs were being put out in readiness for a school visit when I went into Southport’s Atkinson Art Gallery. The new exhibition ‘Recording Britain’ was on loan from the V&A. This wartime project was designed to capture the landscape and architecture of Britain at a time when many feared it was about to be destroyed by war. There are watercolours and drawings of the smoking rooms of pubs, of churches and chapels as well as landscapes featuring disused Cornish Tin Mines, Welsh slate quarries and the like. Many of the pieces have a nostalgic air of ordered scenes that time rather than war have destroyed. The pub at Ashopton is now submerged below the reservoir that provide water to Sheffield but its bare, and by modern standards, austere rooms was typical of pub interior that was dying out about the time I started  visiting such places guided by the early CAMRA publications.

The Smoke Room, Ashopton Inn, by Kenneth Rowntree (1915-97). Watercolour. Ashopton, Derbyshire, UK, 1940.


The idea for commissioning these works apparently came from Sir Kenneth Clark, who in later life was famous for his BBC series on Civilisation which even when it was first broadcast seemed backward looking and Eurocentric. In this collection it appears that he was not only trying to capture a Britain he feared might be destroyed but to rescue what he felt was a particularly British art form.  

The project came under the auspices of the same department as the War Artists and gave useful employment to some of the country’s finest artists including Paul Nash, John Piper and William Russell Flint. The Council does own works by many of these artists and I noticed their Paul Nash painting of the WW1 Ridge at Vimy was hung in a side room.

There was rooms for more additions like that, the John Piper from the permanent collection would not have been out of place or the very fine watercolours of the dunes and slacks where the natterjacks and the sand lizards noisily breed that are randomly displayed around the Town Hall in rooms the public never get to visit.


The Atkinson has only has a portion of the 1500 works that make up the collection and these do include some gems. The watercolour of the village of Downham near Clitheroe in Lancashire by Byron Dawson, an artist usually associated with the North East, is one.

Holy Trinity Church and the new Allotments, Clapham Common, London; Recording Britain (April 1940) Watercolour painting on paper Stanley Roy Badmin

I was surprised to find an absence of allotment gardens. In the WW2 gardens and public spaces were all given over to the Dig for Victory Campaign. It had a dramatic impact on the landscape. I checked out the full ‘Recording Britain’ catalogue on the V&A website and there is only one allotment picture in the whole 1500 collection and that isn’t part of The Atkinson Exhibition. There is an incidental kitchen garden in a drawing of a rural cottage on display at The Atkinson but if the Project was meant to record wartime Britain it seems a strange omission especially when they make such interesting subjects for artists.

Sunset Monksdale Rd Allotments Valerie Pirlot


A few weeks ago when I had a couple of hours to kill on south London I visited the Dulwich Galleries to see the much reviewed exhibition of works by Eric Rivilious.  I had spent part of the previous week at a funeral in the South Downs which features so much in his work. The vicar who took the funeral used one of the Rivolous drawings as an illustration for a sermon.

These unassuming pictures drawn with the skill of an accomplished draughtsman summon up a distant England but whereas Clarke seemed to be motivated by an inward looking vision of England that he feared was under threat Rivilious, for all his choice of quintessentilally English subjects, sees himself as part of a European tradition. I recalled that one of his drawings hung on a wall at Farnborough Rd School. The same print was on display at my school 50 years ago. It has certainly stood the test of time.

I remember those trains with their bench seats and the leather straps on the windows. The last time I recall travelling on one was in 1974- although BR had abolished 3rd Class by then. I can be precise about the date it was October 10th, General Election night. I was going from Leamington to London on the last train. I was a student in London but I had been helping back in Leamington during the election. I had arranged to meet up with some friends at the NLC to follow the results as they were declared. The train was delayed. All the station staff were waiting to go home. In the end one of them lit a fire for me in the Waiting Room and left me a bucket coal and they all went. In those days nobody objected if you stretched out on those bench seats and that’s what I did that night-there was a fierce heating system under them.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

The pact that defeated the Tories

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My last posting from the Southport Liberal Party newsletter of the 1960s made it to second place in LibDemVoice Golden Dozen of most read blog entries. This extract is by far the most interesting. Pacts in the north in the 1950's and 1960's were not unheard of-Arthur Holt in Bolton West and Donald Wade in Huddersfield West are the two best known. But there was another one in the north, in Southport and it was with Labour not the Tories. This developed into a strict pact which extended to helping in each others by elections. It is also interesting to note that the Labour PPC in this period was one John Prescot