31 December 2013

Review of the year 2013

It's the last day of the year, so it's time to look back on the events that have caught the attention of this blog over the past 12 months.  So here's the Living on Words third annual review:

In January Michael Gove visited a local Girls' Schools and talked about boys toilets

In February, this blog spent some time reporting on the presidential elections in Kenya, but also managed to highlight a great footballing coincidence.

March saw the 50th anniversary of the Beeching Report as well as the introduction of secret courts - in the face of a campaign by Lib Dem activists.

In April Margaret Thatcher died and Tom Lehrer didn't.

May saw another local election disaster for the Lib Dems, but also a major split in the ranks of Brighton Greens.

In June I criticised the campaign being run by the Better Together campaign against Scottish independence.

July saw the death of one of Britain's finest footballers - Lawrie Reilly.

In August some interesting European stats appeared to show a connection between unemployment rates and pay rises - with the UK trading off lower unemployment for lower pay.

In September Labour peer George Foulkes wanted a public subsidy for bankrupt Hearts FC.

October saw the death of Lou Reed and the castration of a dog by Zac Goldsmith's mum.

The tendency of Liberal Democrats to reach for nanny was once again revealed in November.

And finally in December the 'most middle class petition ever' was submitted to the Kingston Guardian on the subject of Christmas trees in Surbiton.

Happy new year!

Has Zac Goldsmith left the Conservatives?

If so it might explain his open letter that he kindly dropped through my door yesterday that calls on the Lib Dems to stop a third runway at Heathrow.

In it Goldsmith calls on the Lib Dems to 'apply maximum pressure on your own local MPs and Ministers to kill of the threat of Heathrow expansion..."

Now given the Conservatives have more than five times the number of MPs of the Lib Dems, have the majority of Cabinet Ministers, including the Chancellor, Transport Secretary, Local Government and Planning Minister, as well as the Mayor of London and are responsible for the Heathrow review it seems a bizarre (if not desperate) call.

He clearly now has so little influence in Conservative party that he is forced to seek allies elsewhere. But if so what is the point in him carrying on as their standard bearer?

28 December 2013

Friday favourite 133

Had an interesting work trip to Leicester earlier in the week, and was rather disappointed not to bump in to the estimable Lord Bonkers.  But anyway its really just an excuse to feature Leicester's finest, Kasabian...

20 December 2013

19 December 2013

Bumper by election nights 19

Last week saw the Lib Dem vote collapse by 35%  in the one ward they were defending and failing to stand in the other three constests.

In the last council by-elections of the year there are nine contests today.  Labour defend two rock solid seats in Bolton and Torfaen, the Tories defend six and there is an Independent vacancy in the Black Isle Ward of Highland Council.

Once again UKIP are standing more candidates than the Lib Dems - eight to seven, but both beat Labour who are only standing in six contests. 

Wards to watch are in West Sussex (Haywards Heath East) where UKIP will be looking to win the division where they were they were less than 150 behind the Tories in the county elections and the Lib Dems came fourth in a seat they were defending.  UKIP may also have hopes in the linked Mid Sussex district vacancy but which is a good deal safer for the blues.

And in another County/District double vacancy the Scotter/Scotter Rural in West Lindsay/Lincolnshire UKIP will again be looking to build on good county results, but may be hampered by recent splits in their group,

There are also three by-elections early in the new year - a rare Tuesday by-election on 7th January in the former Lib Dem seat of Swinton South in Salford where the party is not standing but a former Lib Dem councillor is now standing for the Greens.

And two days later there are two contests - in the split Con/Lab ward of Haverhill East where Labour should pick up the Tory vacancy and in a safe Tory seat in Tonbridge and Malling where the Lib Dems are failing to contest.


14 December 2013

Historic whale jawbone to be removed from Edinburgh park

The Jawbone arch on Edinburgh's Meadows is being removed having been found to be structurally unsound.  It is being removed by the council to be dried out and apparently restored - but no timescale has been made available according to this STV report.

Given the council's record of delivering projects on time (the trams are years late) it is no wonder an appeal has been set up for its restoration.

12 December 2013

By-election night 18

Last week saw a Lib Dem near miss in the wonderfully named Splott Ward in Cardiff, where Labour held on by 100 and also comfortably saw off Plaid in Riverside.

In the other city contests Labour held on comfortably in Glasgow, Liverpool and Manchester with the Lib Dems polling 148 votes in total, but the party did have the - ahem - satisfaction of seeing its vote double in the Glasgow Shettleston contest to 1.4%.

Outside of the cities all the seats changed hands with the Independents gaining from the Tories in Chelmsford, the Tories gaining from Labour in Nuneaton and Bedworth and Labour gaining from the Residents' Association in Dartford.  The Lib Dems didn't stand in the latter two contests and polled just 24 votes in Chelmsford.

This week there are four by-elections with just a single Lib Dem candidate defending a vacancy in split Lib Dem/Tory Iver Village and Richings Park ward in South Buckinghamshire.  The Tories are unopposed in Hambledon and defend in Hornby Castle, Richmondshire.  Labour are defending their Bedworth West stronghold in Warwickshire. UKIP once again stand more candidates than the Lib Dems (and Labour) with a candidate in all the opposed contests.

9 December 2013

Pat Nevin's Scotland cap

At the weekend took number two son on a trip round Stamford Bridge and stumbled across one of Pat Nevin's 28 Scotland caps in the Chelsea museum.

Nevin is one of the most interesting and articulate characters off the football field as well as having been one of the finest wingers on it.  Oh and he supports Hibs...

5 December 2013

By-election night 17

An extremely poor set of by-election results for the Lib Dems last week, with the party being significantly outpolled by UKIP everywhere it stood with the exception of Lambeth's Vassal ward.  There the party managed second place - but faced a massive 16.5% swing to Labour - enough to lose it every seat on the council next May.

Eight by-elections this week and for the first time in a few weeks we're back to UKIP standing in more contests than the Lib Dems.  UKIP have a full slate - two more than the Lib Dems - which is all the more impressive given five of the eight contests are in Cardiff, Glasgow, Liverpool and Manchester.

And it's the two constests in Cardiff that are likely to be of the most interest - with Labour defending a seat in Riverside where Plaid previously held the seats and another in Splott which was untill 2011 a split Lib Dem/Labour ward and Labour are now defending a majority of less than 400.

It's a sense of deja vu for voters in Manchester's Ancoats and Clayton ward who are returning to the polls just a few weeks after the previous by-election .  The question for the Lib Dems will be can they improve on seventh place and 44 votes in this month's ten way contest?

For the Tories, they face a tricky defence in the marginal South Woodham, Elmwood and Woodvile ward where their majority is just 94 over the local independents.  The by-election was caused by the disqualification of their sitting councillor which is likely to make the defence even trickier.

4 December 2013

Margot Leadbitter is alive and well...

...and still living in Surbiton. And the irony is she's now called Goode!

Most 'middle class' petition ever.

With thanks to the Kingston Guardian.

2 December 2013

Remembering Paul McConville

Paul McConville died unexpectedly last week aged just 47.  His is not a name that I imagine many liberals will have heard of (and as I have never met him I don't even know what his politics were).  He was a prolific Scottish blogger, but didn't often write about politics.  His main passion was football in general and Albion Rovers in particular.

But McConville's blog was arguably the most influential Scottish blog of the last few years.  He used his legal training to dissect much of the spin and wishful thinking surrounding the collapse and eventual liquidation of Glasgow Rangers.  He was one of less than a handful of people - all bloggers - who ignored the spin emanating from Ibrox and the corridors of the SFA HQ and told the truth about Rangers theft of tens of millions of public money through non-payment of tax.  He was miles ahead of the mainstream media in explaining the financial shenanigans and exposing the shady characters who were running the football club.

He did this while so called experienced sports journalists were enjoying their 'succulent lamb' on Rangers expense accounts and regurgitating the lies if not their actual free lunch. And he was called a 'bampot' for his trouble.

With Scottish journalism so compromised by this affair - and seemingly not learning any lessons with almost entirely unquestioning reporting of the not too dissimilar Hearts collapse - Paul McConville will be very sorely missed. 

28 November 2013

By election night 16

Last week saw two extremes of Lib Dem performance - a great win against Labour in Golcar in Kirklees and an abject defeat to the Tories in Comberton South Cambridgeshire.

This week there are six contests - three Labour vacancies, two Tory and one SNP - in John Thurso's Caithness and Sutherland constituency.  Needless to say it's the only contest in which the Lib Dems aren't standing. 

The interesting contests are in Lambeth's Vassell ward which in 2010 was a tight Lib Dem/Labour contest where both parties won seats in a split ward.  I can't see it being that close this time.  The other interesting battle is in Wakefield's Horbury and South Ossett ward where a marginal Tory/Labour ward has recently been won by increasing margins by the reds.  Labour should hold, but the size of their majority may be indicative of whether the Tories are making progress in the northern English towns.

25 November 2013

Kingston's Welsh Hall succumbs to developers

Kingston's Welsh Hall a Victorian 'tin chapel' in the heart of North Kingston is no more.  The building had various uses over the years including serving as my local polling station, but has now been demolished and replaced with housing. 

There had been a campaign to keep it as a community facility and the Kingston Welsh Hall Society was formed to try to take it on. But the society failed and was dissolved in May 2012.

Top picture by Jim Linwood

22 November 2013

Friday favourite 131

In the unlikely event that my reader doesn't know it but today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F Kennedy.  So here's how David Frost, Millicent Martin and TW3 did it at the time:

21 November 2013

By election night 15

Last week's four by-elections proved pretty dismal for the party - with it polling just 191 votes and 16% in Winton East ward in Bournemouth - a ward the party used to hold.  In the other three contest the party polled 88 votes - in total - with shares ranging from 1.2% to 2.6%.  Labour had a good night gaining both of the Cumbria contests.

This week there are five contests with two Lib Dem seats up for grabs one of which - Eastfield ward in Scarborough - the party is guaranteed to lose after the withdrawal for personal reasons of its candidate.  The other Lib Dem seat is Comberton in South Cambridegshire where the threat may come from UKIP rather than the traditional Tory opponents.

The most interesting battle is in Kirklees's Golcar ward where Labour have leapt from third place in 2007 to first in 2011 and 2012 and are defending the vacancy.  Their majority is less than 150 over the Lib Dems - who still have a councillor in the ward - so the result ought to give some indication of whether the worst is over for the Lib Dems in northern cities.

Now Welsh Lib Dems jump on illiberal ban bandwagon

Lib Dem Voice today publishes an article by Roger Williams MP backing a ban on smoking in cars where children are present.

This proposal is about as well thought out as that of Lib Dem MSP Jim Muir of whose bill I wrote back in April:
On first glance it may seem an attractive extension of tough anti-smoking laws to further dissuade the recalcitrant minority of smokers to give up and to protect children from second hand smoke.  Until you think about it that is.

There are a number of fundamental problems with this bizarre idea - notwithstanding its fundamental illiberalism and unacceptable increase in state intrusion into the private realm.  Firstly it is basically unenforcable - as anyone who has observed drivers chatting or texting on their mobile phones with impunity can testify. 

Secondly - even if it was enforceable (and it will be interesting to hear the police's view of the proposal) - it is aimed at the wrong target.
It was a wrong headed idea earlier this year and nothing has conviced me since that this is still not the case.

16 November 2013

David Laws at Kingston Lib Dem AGM

David Laws was the keynote speaker at Kingston Borough Lib Dems annual meeting on Friday and although warmly received I felt his speech and Q&A was somewhat off key.

David Laws is a gut liberal, with a commitment to promoting opportunity for those at the bottom of the heap and he is an articulate advocate for a number of policy positions - such as the pupil premium - designed to do that.

But that to me is also his main flaw - he is too much of a policy wonk.  He argued for the Lib Dem manifesto in 2015 to be consistent with policy achievements in government and that new measures proposed should be achievable as part of any new coalition agreement. 

The problem with this position is that it is essentially a policy insider's one - it excludes campaigns to corral public opinion behind a certain proposition or to win hearts and minds on an issue. 

The risk for the Lib Dems in providing an essentially timid manifesto that is acceptable to the political establishment and bureaucracy is that it leaves the large numbers of voters disillusioned in the political system to the mercy of UKIP and other parties advocating more radical constitutional settlements.

The party needs to start appealing to these voters - many of whom backed the party in 2010.  If it fails to do so crawling out of the 9-11% box the party is currently polling in becomes more and more difficult and the rise of UKIP will become inexorable.

Friday favourite 130

Just finished watching BBC's 4 documentary about the 50th anniversary of the Beatle's Please, Please Me album - which featured various artists mainly making a hash of covering the songs.  So here's the original with John Lennon being cheeky to the Queen Mother at the Royal Variety Performance in 1963.

14 November 2013

By-election night 14

The most interesting thing about last week's ten by-elections would have been that all ten incumbent parties held on, if it wasn't for the dismal performance of the Lib Dems.

The party managed to increase its vote marginally in Crook ward in Durham and significantly in Bosworth ward, Harborough, but made no progress Tupley, Herefordshire where the It's our County increased their majority in the former Lib Dem division.  But outside of these contest the Lib Dem score was derisory - 18, 70, 78, 56 and 53 (a range of 1.6%-3.7%) showing how weak the party is becoming outside of a limited number of target seats.  And these contests included wards in Surrey, Oxfordshire and Harrow.

This week sees four contests: a split Lab/Ind ward in Allerdale, a split Lab/Tory ward in Stoke on Trent a safe independent division in Cumbria and a reasonably marginal Tory/Labour ward in Bournemouth that was comfortably Lib Dem until 2007.  It will be interesting to see whether the party can make any progress in any of these contests.  At least it is standing in all of them.

Railway station/hospital mix up of the day...

...goes to today's Edinburgh Evening News who write:

"The Haymarket redevelopment is vital to enable the station to handle increasing numbers of patients."

Edit 16/11 - the News has taken down the original article, deleting the readers comments and replacing it with the following.

10 November 2013

Scotland's lost airport

This blog doesn't normally travel west of the Hartlhill service station, but I stumbled across this story the other day.

Renfrew Airport was the first municipally owned airport in Scotland, with the first flights taking place as early as 1912. It was the base for the world's first air ambulance service and served as a second world war fighter base.  At one point it was the third busiest airport in the UK.

It had a Le Corbusier inspired terminal designed by Scots architect Sir William Hardie Kininmonth.

And was the arrival point for one Cassius Clay.


It closed in 1966 when Glasgow's Abbotsinch airport was opened and in 1978 the stunning terminal building was demolished ultimately to make way for a Tesco supermarket.

The full story can be found here

8 November 2013

Friday favourite 129

With reports that Saudi Arabia have procured Pakistani nuclear weaponry, nuclear proliferation is back on the agenda.  So here's Tom Lehrer - whose first album is 60 years old this year and is still going strong at 85 - with 'Who's next?'.

How to save the NHS maternity service £180 million...

A quick search of the BBC website reveals that the cost of paying out compensation where maternity cases go wrong is £300 million a year.

This is considerably less than the insurance premium of £482 million last year

You would have thought NHS managers might have worked out the obvious solution...

7 November 2013

By-election night 13

The Lib Dems had a decent result in last week's only by-election with the party leaping from fourth to second in Newport's Pillgwenlly ward.

But this week the party is facing a much bigger challenge with another bumper crop of ten by-elections.  Seven of the ten are in the north and midlands which might explain why there are no Lib Dem defences among them.  In a continuation of a very positive recent trend the Lib Dems are again standing more candidates than UKIP with eight candidates to the kipper's seven.

The interesting contests this week should be in the London Borough of Harrow where Labour are defending a vacancy in the Harrow on the Hill ward where representation is shared with the Conservatives and recent splits in the Labour group have led to a Conservative being elected council leader at an extraordinary council meeting in September

In Herefordshire's Tupsley division the Lib Dems will be keen to make progress in a previously solid Lib Dem ward, but where the party fell to third with the intervention of the bizarrely named 'It's our county (Herefordshire)' party - as if locals might confuse it for a different county. 

The other interesting contest is in Crook, County Durham - a split Labour/Independent ward where a Labour councillor died and six candidates including two independents (but no UKIP) are competing for the vacancy.

2 November 2013

Friday favourite 128

With an extremely tenuous link to today's departure of yet another Hibs manager - the good natured and honourable Pat Fenlon - here are probably the most famous Hibee musicians - Craig and Charlie Reid with their debut performace on the Tube with a tongue tied Paula Yates fluffing her pronunciation ...

31 October 2013

CSI pumpkin?

Seen in a north Kingston street earlier this evening...

By election night 12

Last week's byelections were pretty predictable - with Labour picking up, as expected, Shepshed West in Charnwood from the Tories and holding their other wards. 

The Lib Dems held their Norfolk seat with a swing from UKIP and improved their position - but only back to 2010 levels - in Waterlooville in Hampshire.  But they failed to make any inroads in Bovey Ward in Teignbridge (a target seat) where the Tories gained a 6% swing in their favour.  The weakness of the party in large parts of the country was exposed by derisory votes in Loughborough (=26) where the party finished behind some BNP splinter faction, Wigan (=19 and seventh place) and coming behind the Greens in the Wirral and West Sussex.

This week there is a single contest (in the loosest sense of the word) in the Pillgwenlly ward in Newport , South Wales, where Labour should have no problems holding their seat.

30 October 2013

In praise of police commissioners

Durham's Labour Police and Crime Commissioner, Ron Hogg, has called for a rethink on drug policy, calling for Danish style shooting galleries where intravenous drug users can access clean needles and medical advice while feeding there habit.  The Beeb's report claims 'Results published in the Lancet showed that prescribing pharmaceutical heroin in this way can reduce the use of street drugs and associated levels of crime.'

Meanwhile, the previous week Christopher Salmon, Dyfed/Powys's commissioner attacked the culture of the police that saw them trying to frame former Tory Chief Whip, Andrew Mitchell.  In an attack reported by the Daily Mail he said: ‘The culture around police forces is too closed, too defensive, too politicised and, in some cases, feral.'

This sort of debate on drugs policy and call to account for overblown and unaccountable elements of the constabulary was almost entirely missing from the debate on crime and policing (or was easily dismissed by the vested interests at the Home Office and their media friends) before the election of police commissioners.

Now there is an influential cadre of local people - with a democratic mandate - who are able to move on the debate from the old, sterile race to be seen to be the toughest on crime - regardless of its effectiveness.  That's a good thing which I hope will lead to more of them questioning how we are currently policed and for the Lib Dems to actually take these elections seriously because - like elected Mayors - they are almost certainly here to stay.

27 October 2013

Lou Reed - a life on the wild side

I didn't get round to doing a Friday favourite this week, but with the sad news of the death of Lou Reed today, here he is with a live version of the seminal 'Walk on the wild side'.

24 October 2013

By election night 11

Last week not only saw the Lib Dems standing in more contests than UKIP, the party won its difficult contest against Labour in Luton and gained a second seat from the Tories in Dalston ward Carlisle.

This week there's another bumper crop of ten by-elections.  The Lib Dems are contesting nine of them (again one more than UKIP) including an interesting defence at North Walsham East where UKIP have been on the rise - coming second earlier this year.  The Dunfermline South contest will no doubt be overshadowed by the result in by Scottish parliamentary by-election - but it is a ward where the party has a councillor and topped the poll in 2007.  The local result may be a better indicator of whether the party is recovering north of the border than the constituency result which will be dominated by the SNP and Labour big guns.

The Lib Dems will also have hopes of a gain in Bovey ward in Teignbridge where a Tory councillor resigned in a ward they have won previously.

Labour will look to pick up Shepsted West in Charnwood where they were just 26 behind the Conservatives in 2011 and will expect to weigh their vote in South Lanarkshire, Wigan and the Wirral.

Lib Dem Voice, Florence Nightingale and the ludicrous national curriculum

Lib Dem Voice has published an article praising Simon Hughes for lobbying to keep Florence Nightingale on the National Curriculum.

Now Florence Nightingale is no doubt worthy of study - anyone who invented the pie chart can't be that bad after all - but I fail to see anything other than a ludicrous level of bureaucratic micro management in this case.

No wonder government costs so much when you have teams of civil servants coming up with changes (on the whim of a minister), others consulting on them and others deciding to not to do anything.  It would be far more efficient to abolish the curriculum and the ministry for which it is such a successful make work scheme.

As Liberator magazine's Simon Titley eloquently says in the comments, "I am disappointed that neither Vlad the Impaler nor Harry Worth are included in the national curriculum, but I trust the judgement of history teachers on such matters."

19 October 2013

Friday favourite 127

Still haven't worked how to get the video off my phone from Monday's Wilko Johnson gig, but fortunately with YouTube I don't have to...

18 October 2013

UK income falls more fairly than France

Hamish McRae wrote an interesting article on income inequality and  the recession in Monday's Evening Standard quoting a report from researchers at UBS.  In it they stated that the loss of personal income due to the recession in the UK has affected all income groups pretty evenly - which contrasts with most of mainland Europe and the US where the fall in income for the richest 10% has been much less than for the poorest.

I've finally tracked down the report on the web here and I've reproduced the table that compares income falls over the last five years by decile:

Those progressive paragons of France and Scandanavia - who the left are telling us to be more like - saw the poorest 10% lose far more than the richest.  In France the poor's income dropped nearly 10% whereas the richest dropped by less than 5%.  In Finland the richest 10% actually saw incomes rise over the last five year.  In contrast in the UK, the poorest decile's income fell by about 7% over the last five years - slightly less than the richest 10%.

One can't help wondering that the UK would look much more like the US and most of Europe if the Tories (or even New Labour) were governing on their own. 

17 October 2013

By-election night 10

Not a lot of interest from last week's results - particularly as the Lib Dems only stood in three of the eight contests - with all the elections being held by the incumbents.  The Lib Dems did poorly polling just 44 votes in Manchester and falling back slightly in Tweedale West in Michael Moore's constituency.  The remaining contest saw the Lib Dems actually increase their first preference share in Govan Glasgow to 1.5%, where the most interesting electoral stat of the night were the 23 transfers the 'No to the bedroom tax candidate' received from the eliminated Tory!

This week's six contests see for the first time in months the Lib Dems fielding more candidates than UKIP (5:4) and a tricky defence for the party in Luton's split Barnfield Ward which in 2011 elected one Labour and one Lib Dem in a previously safe Lib Dem ward (with Labour third).  The other interseting contest is in Carlisle's Dalston ward where the Conservatives are defending a vacancy in a ward with one Lib Dem councillor who has been unable to transfer his clear personal vote to fellow lib Dem candidates when he doesn't stand. 

15 October 2013

Wilko Johnson in Camden

Just returned from Wilko Johnson's farewell tour gig at Koko in Camden.  He played for more than an hour and half, ably supported by former Blockhead bassist Norman Watt-Roy and drummer Dylan Howe.  And a still angry Ruts provided the main warm up.

I have some video which if I can work how to download it I will share...

11 October 2013

Friday favourite 126

Saturday night family TV, Ted Rogers, Dusty Bin, impossible clues, the Police, Gloria Gaynor, Every Breath You Take... shurley shome mishtake?

No - but the most bizarre cover version ever:

10 October 2013

By-election night 9

Last week provided that rare thing in current local by-elections - a good night for the Lib Dems with the party winning two out of the four contests.  Labour rather surprisingly picked up an independent seat in East Lindsey, with the Tories easily holding off a Green challenge in St Edmundsbury.

This week's eight contests highlight the weakness of the Lib Dems in much of the country with the party only standing three candidates and failing to find a candidate in Salford'sWeaste and Seedley ward - a ward the party held all three seats until 2010 (although it polled just 58 votes in a by-election earlier this year).  In next door Manchester an old mate John Bridges is flying the Lib Dem flag in a ward where the party used to be solidly second, but its vote has collapsed since coalition - coming in fourth behind even the Tories last year.

But perhaps the most interesting contest is in Glasgow Govan.  Not only is it a super tight SNP/Labour marginal a grand total of 14 candidates (including Scottish Lib Dem blogger and drug policy reformer, Ewan Hoyle) are standing.

7 October 2013

So farewell Michael Moore...

The replacement of Michael Moore as Scottish Secretary with Alasdair Carmichael is being promoted by the party as a toughening of the party's stance against Alex Salmond.

If this is indeed the case then it is a mistake.  Taking a tougher line against the most popular politician north of the border is self defeating and futile.  As I have written previously, Moore's and the party's constitutional conservatism on independence has marginalised the party in Scotland and given it nothing distinctive to say on the major issue in Scottish politics.

I hope Carmichael uses the opportunity before him to take a more nuanced stance on independence - perhaps working with the Scottish government to define more clearly how the relationships with a post independence Scotland might work - rather than parroting the simple scaremongering of the Labour dominated 'Better Together' campaign. 

Scotland deserves a grown up debate on the real pros and cons of independence, not more sloganeering and name calling.

4 October 2013

Friday favourite 125

BBC4 is showing documentaries about Elton John this evening - so I was rather pleased to find this collaboration by Reg and Marshall on the outer reaches of YouTube...

3 October 2013

By-election night 8

After last week's ten by-elections there are just four this week.  And two are Lib Dem defences - in Aylesbury Vale and Taunton Deane.  The Oakfield ward in Aylesbury is a marginal Lib Dem/Tory contest but in an area UKIP outpolled all comers in May's county elections. And the Taunton Halcon ward is traditionally safe for the Lib Dems, but with UKIP coming up on the rails in second last May. 

Once again UKIP are standing in every ward - along with Labour and the Tories - with the Lib Dems in three out of four.

UKIP should pick up the independent vacancy in East Lindsey like they did in a similar vacancy a few weeks ago and it will be interesting to see what progress the second placed Greens make in the Abbeygate ward of St Edmundsbury.

Last week UKIP once again significantly outpolled the Lib Dems scoring somewhere between 15 and 30% almost everywhere.  The one exception was in Mole Valley where they were restricted to 13% in a winning Lib Dem campaign that increased the party's majority over the Tories.

More evidence of UKIP's appeal to lost Lib Dem voters came in the contests in Sevenoaks where UKIP won a seat the Lib Dems used to hold before their previous sitting councillor switched to independent.  And in Coleford in the Forest of Dean UKIP polled 29% - almost exactly matching the 25% the Lib Dems polled four years previously.

2 October 2013

Soldiers sing sectarian songs at Ibrox

The police are somewhat belatedly investigating an incident on Saturday where members of the armed forces joined in with fans of the Rangers in singing sectarian songs before their routine victory over Stenhousemuir.  The troops were there to celebrate armed forces day pre-match.

Singing sectarian songs as this YouTube video shows is an offence under the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 - an act inspired by the late Donald Gorrie who championed anti-sectarianism as a Lib Dem MSP.

Fans of the Rangers (and their predecessor club Rangers) have sung these songs with impunity for years - the question is now will the authorities take any action now the reputation of the armed forces is on the line?

1 October 2013

Former Kingston council leader pleads guilty to child porn charges

At Southwark Crown Court today, Derek Osbourne - former Lib Dem leader of Kingston Council - pleaded guilty to 17 charges of making and possessing indecent images of children.  He had in total more than 5,000 images - some involving children as young as three.

The Surrey Comet reports that he faces up to five years in jail.

30 September 2013

George Osborne joins the ranks of Keynsians

George Osborne's speech at the Tory conference today has been widely reported as a call for continued austerity.

But what struck was the key passage - his call for the public finances to be in the black when the economy was strong as insurance against a rainy day.

Isn't that what Keynes argued - run a budget surplus in the good times and a deficit in the bad to even out demand?

28 September 2013

Friday favourite 124

It's the end of the festival season, so here's one of the highlights from this summer.  It's Deacon Blue at T in the Park:

27 September 2013

Labour peer attacks Labour council for saving money

In a bizarre twist in the saga of Hearts bankruptcy, Labour peer, George Foulkes, has criticised Edinburgh Council for selling former school buildings which Hearts had been using part of as a car park. The site had been costing the council £80,000 a year to maintain and Hearts paid a nominal sum for its use on matchdays.

Foulkes told the Edinburgh Evening News "It really is very strange the council should take this attitude. Fans will be disappointed and annoyed" and called on the council to "bend over backwards"to help the club - presumably by continuing to subsidise the club, not selling off redundant property and making service cuts elsewhere.

Foulkes however is no stranger to extravagent spending - in 2008 he claimed £45,000 parliamentary expenses for a flat he inherited and a whopping £54,000 expenses from the House of Lords in a single year.  Known to like a refreshment, Foulkes was convicted of being drunk and disorderly in 1993 after a scotch whisky reception in the Commons.  After he knocked over a pensioner (who happened to be then Lib Dem MP, David Rendel's mum) he was apprehended by a passing rozzer to whom Foulkes took violent exception.

Just for the record - and in case Foulkes has forgotten - Hearts owe the City of Edinburgh Council more than £93,000 in unpaid rates and charges (presumably including unpaid rent for the car park) and the government, in the form of HMRC, more than £1.8 million in unpaid tax. 

26 September 2013

By election night 7

Lib Dem Voice had a partial round up of last week's results - which saw the Lib Dems losing both seats they were defending - Labour picking up Oxford North and the Tories in Woking.  But in a not unsurprising result the Tories lost to UKIP in Canterbury in a ward they were just 83 in front the last time it was fought in May.

This evening Vote UK reports another bumper crop of ten by-elections.  There's a distinctly southern bias to the contests with eight out of the ten in the south and south west of England and just two in the north - in Blackpool and Barnsley.  But Labour are defending five, with the Tories four and the Lib Dems just one - in the delighfully named Mickelham, Westhumble and Pixham ward of Mole Valley dictrict in Surrey.

Once again UKIP are standing more candidates than the Lib Dems (10:7).  Labour are also standing in seven and the Tories once again field a full slate.

There are three wards of interest for Lib Dems including the previously mentioned Mole Valley contest which the Lib Dems gained marginally from the Tories in 2011.  The Crockenhill and Well Hill ward in Sevenoaks was solidly Lib Dem until 2011, when they failed to stand and an Independent picked it up unopposed until Labour won it in a by election last March  where again the Lib Dems didn't field a candidate.  With the party finally standing again - it will be interesting to see what sort of vote it can recover.

The blue remembered hills of the Forest of Dean provide two contests - a very safe Tory seat in Redmarley and a more interesting contest in Coleford East caused by the death of a Labour councillor.   The ward has traditionally swung between the reds and the blues until 2009 when in a by-election an independent won it in a tight four way contest where the Lib Dems came second.  In 2011 Labour narrowly won two seats, with an independent taking the third from the Tories.  The Lib Dems improved their vote, but came in last.  UKIP did well in the Forest in the county elections earlier this year and with an independent forming the fifth runner 30% ought to be enough to win.

And the Storrington division of West Sussex could also provide an indication of the extent of public support or opposition to fracking with the intervention of a specifically anti-fracking Green (and former Lib Dem councillor) in a tightish Tory/UKIP contest.

25 September 2013

VAT cut day to support local pubs

Many local pubs today are reducing their prices by 7.5% to highlight just one of the unfair conditions they operate under compared to supermarkets.  They are calling for a reduced rate of VAT for the hospitality industry in order to help them comptete with the big supermarkets.  The BBC report has more.

It is clear many local pubs are operating under extremly unfavourable conditions - particularly those who are being forced to finance the over-leveraging by the big pubco's management.

I can't see the VAT cut getting Treasury support - even if their estimated cost of introducing the measure of £9bn is proved to be an exaggeration.

But if the day highlights the plight of many pubs and encourages the Business Minister Jo Swinson to move quickly to end many of the unfair pubco practices - it will have served its purpose.

21 September 2013

Friday favourite 123

Just finished watching a Channel 4 retrospective of the Tube - a programme that annoyed the establishment on Friday teatimes between 1982 and 1987.  So here by way of celebration are Killing Joke with Love Like Blood...

19 September 2013

Council by-election night 6

Four by-elections this evening according to Vote UK - with the Lib Dems standing in just two - a tricky defence in Oxford North where the party came third the last time the ward voted and in a Tory seat in Canterbury.  Labour, Tories and even the Greens are fighting all four and UKIP three.

In addition to the contest in Oxford, the Seasalter ward in Canterbury may prove of interest with UKIP just 83 behind in 2013.  Labour should hold comfortably in a six way battle in Dudley and the Tories in East Hampshire in a ward where the Lib Dems were once just 10 votes behind and are not even standing this time.

Clegg speech: more of the same please

I have finally caught up with Nick Clegg's speech having been in Birmingham for work yesterday.  And it is much better than previous ones as he sought to explain some of the process of government and the Lib Dems successes both behind the scenes and in public.  Most interestingly he tried to reestablish the party's 'outsider' credentials with a return to the 'red, blue' theme of the last general election - something I've been wanting to hear for a while.

But I do think Clegg has got it in for me personally with his policy announcements:

Improved leave for new parents - too late for me.
15 hours free nursery time - just after my youngest went into reception class
And now free school meals for all kids at infant schools - you guessed it in the year my youngest joins the jumiors!

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18 September 2013

By-election woe for Lib Dems on day of Clegg speech

The Lib Dems failed to hold their seat in Woking in the most emphatic way - coming fourth behind UKIP.

Vote UK reports the result as follows:

Con = 1,057
Lab = 833
UKIP = 255
Lib Dem = 252

Four more to follow on Thursday...

17 September 2013

Tuesday by-election night

A rare Tuesday by election takes place today says Vote UK.  It's a difficult defence for the Lib Dems in Woking following the disqualification of their councillor - they have a majority of just 16 over Labour, but the Tories hold the other two seats in the ward!

15 September 2013

Not news - Grayson completes his journey to Labour

In an entirely predictable development Lord Bonkers reports that former Lib Dem head of policy Richard Grayson has joined the Labour Party. 

So predictable that I wrote in February last year on the setting up of Grayson's self help group Liberal Left: "... its leading lights are seeking to work their passage into the Labour party - where their ridiculous and ill thought out views will no doubt be taken far more seriously than they are being taken in the Lib Dems."

14 September 2013

A visit to Coombe Conduit

The 500 year old Coombe Conduit is a hidden gem behind a non-descript wall opposite the popular Coombe Hill primary school in New Malden.

But for 350 years it gathered local spring water and piped it the three miles to nearby Hampton Court palace.  And today the water is still so pure it meets current EU drinking standards.

English Heritage has more.

13 September 2013

Friday favourite 122

The Beeb reports that the po-faced keepers of the Spartist flame at Edinburgh University have banned a song because it apparently violates their 'safe space policy' among others. 

So here is Robin Thicke with 'Blurred Lines' - just in case you are the one person in the world who hasn't yet been exposed to it:

12 September 2013

Council by-election night 5

Vote UK has a full round up of last week's elections and Lib Dem Voice reports more on the one bright spot of the evenings results - the Lib Dem gain in Wadebridge in Cornwall. 

The Lib Dems failed to gain Ely East with their vote falling nearly 9% since 2011 and otherwise came behind Labour and UKIP everywhere they stood - with the exception of Boston Fenside where they outpolled Labour 87 to 75 (UKIP gained the seat as expected).  In total 1,012 people voted Lib Dem in the six wards (out of ten) they stood in - fewer than half the number (2,129) who voted UKIP (who at least found candidates in all ten contests).  The party also gifted the Greens a win in Torridge by not defending their vacancy.  The Greens vote rose 25% - almost the exact share of the Lib Dems previously.

This week there's five contests - a county/district double vacancy in Hitchin, Herts, a unitary contest in Dunstable, Central Bedforshire and district contests in Wreake Villages, Charnwood, Leics and in Frithville in East Lindsey, Lincs.

Once again UKIP are standing more candidates (four) than the Lib Dems (three).  The Tories are standing everywhere with Labour not fielding a candidate in Frithville - which becomes a straight Tory/UKIP fight - which the kippers should pick up given the independent who resigned outpolled the Tory two-to-one the last time it was fought.

Labour should hold both the Hitchin seats caused by the death of their sitting councillor and will have hopes of picking up Dunstable from the Independent from third place (but only 200 behind).  Charnwood should be safe Tory.

7 September 2013

Friday favourite 121

BBC Radio 6 are apparently running a competition to find songs that mention Scottish football teams - so here's my contribution.  The Proclaimers 'Joyful Kilmarnock Blues' which gives you two for the price of one...

6 September 2013

Former Kingston Lib Dem leader charged with possessing 'thousands' of child porn images

The Surrey Comet reports former Lib Dem Leader of Kingston Council has been charged with possession of 'thousands' of images of child pornography - including 50 at the highest level 5 and more than 150 of bestiality.

If found guilty at Southwark Crown Court later this month he is likely to face a custodial sentence of years rather than months.

5 September 2013

Council by-election night 4

A bumper crop of by-elections tonight with 10 contests from Carlisle to Cornwall.  And already the Lib Dems have lost a seat with their failure to defend a vacancy in the Torrington ward of Torridge.

The Lib Dems are standing in six contests - Boston Fenside; Carlisle Yewdale; Cornwall Wadebridge East - where the independent councillor resigned over remarks about 'putting down disabled children' and had a majority of just four over the Lib Dems in May; Daventry Ravensthorpe; East Cambridgeshire Ely East and Northamptonshire Middleton Cheney.

In contrast the Conservatives are standing in every contest as are UKIP and Labour in nine out of ten.

The seats to look out for from a Lib Dem perspective are the previously mentioned hyper marginal Wadebridge and the constest in Ely East where the Tories have a majority of 57 over the Lib Dems.

UKIP will be confident of picking up the former English Democrat seat in Boston where they did very well in the counties.  Labour should hold comfortably in Charnwood (where the Lib Dems are not standing) and in Carlisle.  The Tories should pick up the rest - apart from Torrington where two independents, UKIP and the Greens make up the field and an independent already holds one of the seats.

Danny Alexander in North Kingston

This morning, Chief Secretary, Danny Alexander visited North Kingston, with Parliamentary hopeful, Robin Meltzer, to talk to local businesses - including Pascalle of the Kings Road Cafe and Jacqueline Lott of the North Kingston Focus Team.  Robin has launched a campaign against the corporate tax avoidance that means firms like Starbucks pay a lower tax rate than local cafes.

1 September 2013

Davey meets local Lib Dems and talks Syria

A hastily arranged meeting this evening at a local church hall saw Kingston and Surbiton MP and Energy Secretary addressing local Lib Dem members about the Syrian crisis, the recent Commons vote and his and the government's position.

Although extremely well received - particularly for his openess to question and debate - my feeling was that the vast majority of those there remained unconvinced of the need for any military action.

30 August 2013

Friday favourite 120

Here's Bastille with Pompei at the British Museum earlier this year...

Byelection night 3 result

A routine hold for the Lib Dems in South Lakeland with a small swing to the Tories:

Lib Dem 431
Cons 248
Lab 29


29 August 2013

Council by-election night 3

There appears to be just a single principal authority by-election this evening. It's in the Windermere and Bowness North ward of South Lakeland District Council.  As the Lib Dems had almost two thirds of the vote last time and the ward is in the redoubt of Party President Tim Farron anything other than a comfortable Lib Dem win would be a shock.

A correction from last week.  I mistakenly thought that the Lib Dems fought both Scarborough wards, but they only fought Ramshill where their vote slumped to 56 - just 9.6%.

Former Kingston councillor Adrian McLeay had the best Lib Dem result of the night coming second in Doncaster with 261 votes and 12.1%.

In total 392 people voted for the party.

Clegg should listen to Alex Wilcock on Syria

Love and Liberty by Alex Wilcock sums up perfectly my view on the unfolding Syria crisis: 

"One of the few bits of moral high ground we still have that lets our supporters sleep at night (and still vote for us) is that unlike the Labour Party, at least we didn’t invade another country and soak ourselves in blood in defiance of international law."

You can read the full post here.


28 August 2013

Sheep sacrifice quote of the day

Commenting in advance of tonight's Champion's League match at Parkhead, Shakhter Karagandy's manager, Viktor Kumykov, suggested they may again sacrifice a sheep before kick off saying:

"As far as we know in Scotland the agriculture is very developed so it shouldn’t be an issue to find a sheep."

22 August 2013

Council by election night 2

According to the usually reliable Vote UK Forum there are four local council by-elections this evening - in Doncaster, Lincoln and Scarborough x2.  And for once the Lib Dems are standing in all four - an improvement on the last time the wards were fought, where the party failed to find a candidate in the safe Labour Doncaster ward of Askern Spa.

This time in Askern Spa the Lib Dem candidate is one-time youngest councillor in the UK, Adrian McLeay - a former Lib Dem councillor in New Malden's Burlington Ward which was a predecessor to the ill fated Beverley.

The other result to look out for is in Scarborough's Ramshill ward where the Lib Dems won one of the two seats in 2007.  Last time they were fifth - albeit only 90 behind the successful Tory.

16 August 2013

Friday favourite 119

In memory of Charlatans drummer Jon Brookes, who died earlier this week, here are the band with their biggest hit 'The only one I know' which wouldn't have been out of place on the Stone Roses first album.

Council by-election update

The results (courtesy of Vote UK Forum) from the two elections the Lib Dems fought last night and the 'good news' is that four and a half times as many people voted Lib Dem this week than last:

Cons 810
Lib Dem 751
Lab 86
Other 28

Cons 1,254
UKIP 615
Lab 470
Lib Dem 114
Eng Dem 72

15 August 2013

Council by-election night

Last week saw council by-elections in Merton, Redcar, Swindon and Waveney in Suffolk.  And the Lib Dems polled 196 votes - not in any one of the contest, but in all four put together.  Swindon saw the highest share of just 3%.

This week there are four more by-elections in Hartlepool, West Devon, Walsall and West Berkshire.  The Lib Dems are standing in just half - Walsall and West Berkshire.

The result from West Bershire will undoubtably be better than anything last week or the others this week - but it shows how weak the party's infrastructure is if it can only seriously fight one in eight by-elections - some of which are in seats the party used to have MPs in.

Hospital's Google Map - more support for David Boyle's 450 bus theory

The ever excellent David Boyle has recently been ruminating on the nature of public service and the general uselessness of particularly the Labour Party in overseeing their provision.

His '450 bus theory' - named after a friendly local bus service in the Cyrstal Palace area of south east London is about how human scale is missing from many public services leaving the users disempowered and at the mercy of bureaucratic indifference.

Well what to make of St George's Hospital in Tooting who have launched a version of Google Maps for their patients and visitors?  Sounds very sensible and helpful you might think in helping their patients to get to their appointments on time.  But the version of Google Maps is for the internal layout of the hospital which has grown so vast in recent years that patients are frequently getting lost inside the buildings rather than on their way.

I have some personal experience of St George's and it is an enormous, souless, impersonal and depressing place even if its staff are extremely expert in their medical specialisms.  And I wouldn't wish an illness sufficently serious for anyone to end up there because of this.

The current round of NHS service centralisations will lead to more St George's - as would Labour's idea of nationalising social care.  It's why we continue to pour billions into the NHS but never see the true value of this investment. 

David Boyle is right - smaller and more personal services are the way forward - but who in government (and especially the Lib Dems) is going to have the courage to take his argument forward? 

12 August 2013

Pay fall figures show Labour's economic stupidity

Labour have been bragging about how UK pay has fallen over recent years compared to our European neighbours.

But unsurprisingly they fail to make any reference to the numbers of people out of work all together.  But the following chart from Reuters might help them to understand the bigger picture.

Nearly all the major economies in Europe have higher unemployment than the UK and nearly all of them - despite recession have seen wages fall less than the UK (or even rise).  The exceptions are Germany (which hasn't been in recession and seen a very small rise in pay levels) and the Netherlands (which has seen pay fall by further than the UK, but has lower unemployment).

So even though most UK employees have seen their pay squeezed, they have generally kept their jobs.  But for Labour that isn't the right policy - they would rather another 750,000 workers sit on the dole so the UK could enjoy French levels of unemployment so that those still in work could enjoy an 0.7% pay rise.

And there's one other fact that Labour might not want to publicise from their own research - those people in the public sector enjoy substantially higher pay than those in the private sector and have seen their pay drop by half the rate of those in the private sector.  So it will be interesting to hear their justification for the substantially better terms, conditions and (particularly) pension rights public sector employees continue to enjoy, when the IFS say, "In 2009, the average public-sector worker earned about £16.60 per hour, which dropped to about £15.80 in 2011, while, hourly pay for private-sector workers in 2009 was just over £15.10 and dropped to about £13.60 in 2011."

2 August 2013

Friday favourite 118

Today saw the funeral of Lawrie Reilly - last of the 'Famous Five'.  Here's a tribute video put together by the Hibernian Historical Trust.

Waverley route reopening boosts property market

The Edinburgh Evening News reports a doubling of the number of new homes built along the soon to be reopened Waverley Line. 

This is a not unexpected consequence of the reopening - and one that I suspect may not have fully been costed in its cost benefit analysis - given we are still two years away from the first train service. If so it should make the economic case for more rail reopenings that bit more positive.

31 July 2013

Is this the most ludicrous regulation ever?

Early this year as part of its 'Red Tape Challenge' the government consulted on whether it should keep, amend or abolish the Code of Practice on Noise from Ice-Cream Van Chimes Etc. 1982 (And I am not joking).

The code restricts the volume, timing and length of operation of ice-cream van chimes and was introduced by that paragon of laisse faire - the Thatcher government. 

A grand total of 57 people and organisations responded - with just over a quarter coming from the noise abatement society and environmental health, who needless to say, were dead against repeal.

So it wasn't surprising the men from the ministry conclude:

"Some relaxation of the Code will give mobile vendors more flexibility when chiming to advertise their business - thereby satisfying one of the aims of the Red Tape Challenge – whilst still providing a framework for good practice and minimising the risk of disturbance."

One can only conclude by wondering whether there is any point to the 'Red Tape Challenge' if this is the nonsense they come out with?

And more importantly what would Eric Morecambe make of it?

26 July 2013

Friday favourite 117

Here's upcoming Edinburgh band The OK Social Club with Gezellig:

Tories win Beverley

The Beverley Ward by-election in New Malden has seen the first Tory gain from the Lib Dems in Kingston since the mid-1980s.

Con 1,033
Lib Dem 760
Lab 717
UKIP 223
Green 207

There are a number of reasons for the loss - not all of them obvious - which I may return to in due course.

25 July 2013

Beverley voters go to the polls

Today is polling day in Beverley Ward in New Malden to elect a replacement for Derek Osbourne, who quit after his arrest on child porn charges.

It's going to be a close run thing and an active Labour campaign with a well liked candidate combined with a lacklustre UKIP effort may bring bad news later today for local Lib Dems and MP, Energy Secretary, Ed Davey.

Labour have proved to be strong in the well heeled detached houses of Malden Hill where their candidate lives (and traditionally good for Lib Dems) as this photo shows:

But a big increase in the Labour vote with the Tories not being challenged by UKIP to the same extent is likely to hand the vacancy to the blues.  And that would mean these anti-Tory voters waking up - for the first time in 28 years - with a Tory councillor...

22 July 2013

Lawrie Reilly - last of the Famous Five

Lawrie Reilly the great Hibs forward of the 40s and 50s and last remaining member of the 'Famous Five' forward line that propelled Hibs to three titles in four years - has died at the grand age of 84.  In a weekend of departures - including that of Bert Trautman -  Reilly's contribution to Scottish and British football cannot be underestimated.  The stats speak for themselves:

Debut at 17, 18 hat-tricks, three league champion's medals, including back to back championsips in 1951 and 1952, 185 league goals and 22 goals for Scotland in just 38 appearances - a strike rate second only to Hughie Gallagher.  Oh and a part of the first British team to play in the European Cup in 1955.

Here he is interviewed last year about the exploits of the 'Five':


'Gie the ba' tae Reilly'

20 July 2013

So farewell Mel Smith...

With today's sad news of the death of Mel Smith at the age of just 60 British comedy has lost one of its finest talents.  Not the Nine O Clock News on which he made his name was a ground breaking sketch show that reintroduced an eager audience (including me) to satire and underpinned the British comedy revolution that was know as 'alternative comedy'.  Here is Smith on top form in a sketch that completely undermined the objections to the Monty Python masterpiece 'Life of Brian' - and probably did for what was left of Malcolm Muggeridge's credibility after the 'blasphemy' debate on BBC2's Friday Night, Saturday Morning.

19 July 2013

Friday favourite 116

With the bankrupty of Detroit - what used to be the fourth largest city in the USA - here's Martha Reeves and the Vandellas - one of the early Motown acts. Enjoy...

13 July 2013

Friday favourite 115

I'm not quite sure what Brian Redhead is doing in this clip.  But it adds a degree of randomness to one of the UK's finest punk bands: