David Cameron has lost his way and the Tories should split

I have read two good articles today on the problems facing David Cameron and the Conservatives.

Alex Massie writes about how David Cameron has lost his way:
What is David Cameron for? What kind of party, what kind of government, does he want to lead? If he knows, he’s done a grand job keeping his thoughts to himself. 
And yet there were once ideas. There was compassionate conservatism and the Big Society. There was the Global Race. Nor were these necessarily contradictory. A reformed, retooled, Britain is necessary to leave Britain better placed to thrive in the years ahead; that doesn’t mean rejecting social solidarity – social decency – at home. On the contrary, the two could be woven together. 
Events matter. Of course they do. But they need not – at least not necessarily – knock a government off-course. Cameron was elected as a new kind of Tory but, too often, has governed as just another Tory. He has counterfeited his own promise.
And Ian Birrell has a radical idea for curing the party's malaise:
The failure to learn the lessons of the past by banging on endlessly about benefits, Europe and immigration is astonishing. There needs to be more, not less, modernisation. Instead, the Tories focus fruitlessly on these fearful older voters largely lost to Ukip, an inevitably declining sector of the electorate, while reinforcing an image that drives away the younger, female and ethnic minority voters needed to survive and thrive as a political force. 
Ultimately, the question is not why are these MPs defecting, but why do politicians with such divergent views stick together? Perhaps politics is going through a process of disruption similar to that driven by technology in almost every other aspect of life. It does seem absurd to expect our tired model of binary party politics to endure in a time of transparency, with all that tedious tribalism and parroting of lines. 
In the short term, the Tories must decide either to offer an optimistic vision of the future or just pander to the pessimists in a probably doomed bid to win the election. 
Beyond that, it is hard not to wonder if these divisions need to be resolved with a cathartic full-blown split, as with Labour in the early 1980s – although this time it would be the militant tendency on the flank shearing off. As always in politics, there are egos and personal vanities in play. Yet what really binds the many decent and tolerant conservatives to those misanthropes filled with fear and rage against modernity?

Another clip from Brond has appeared on Youtube

A couple of days after I wrote my post on Brond, another clip from series appeared on Youtube. Not only that, it contains the dialogue about the Scottish soldier that I quoted.

There are also some photos of John Hannah in the drama to be found on a fan site.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The Well-Behaved Orphans' quiz


I have never been a great lover of school dinners – I date the beginning of my long career in public service to my time on the Escape Committee at prep school – so when I heard about Clegg’s new policy I was less than impressed. I am, however, at a loss to know how to intervene as the man simply won’t listen to me on the subject.

Still pondering, I take myself off to give the prizes at the annual Well-Behaved Orphans’ quiz. There are no shocks and the bookies’ favourite – a bright little nine-year-old – wins by several lengths and secures the traditional bag of toffees.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

Threads of Memory

Month 9 - Lancaster Star for Deborah Simmons Coates
Read how the Coates family and others resisted slavery laws
and find the pattern for this block here.
  I forgot to post month 8 - Jacksonville Star for Emily Owens
You can find the the pattern here.

NHS boob job mum Josie Cunningham doesn't give birth to Curtis Davis's baby

The Leicester Mercury wins Headline of the Day by a distance.

Four Members of International Computer Hacking Ring Indicted for Stealing Gaming Technology, Apache Helicopter Training Software

Four members of an international computer hacking ring have been charged with breaking into computer networks of prominent technology companies and the U.S. Army and stealing more than $100 million in intellectual property and other proprietary data.  Two of the charged members have already pleaded guilty.  The alleged cyber theft included software and data related to the Xbox One gaming console and Xbox Live online gaming system; popular games such as “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” and “Gears of War 3”;  and proprietary software used to train military helicopter pilots.
Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Charles M. Oberly III of the District of Delaware and Special Agent in Charge Stephen E. Vogt of the FBI’s Baltimore Field Office made the announcement.

“As the indictment charges, the members of this international hacking ring stole trade secret data used in high-tech American products, ranging from software that trains U.S. soldiers to fly Apache helicopters to Xbox games that entertain millions around the world,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell.  “The American economy is driven by innovation.  But American innovation is only valuable when it can be protected.  Today’s guilty pleas show that we will protect America’s intellectual property from hackers, whether they hack from here or from abroad.”

“Electronic breaking and entering of computer networks and the digital looting of identities and intellectual property have become much too common,” said U.S. Attorney Oberly.  “These are not harmless crimes, and those who commit them should not believe they are safely beyond our reach.”
Nathan Leroux, 20, of Bowie, Maryland; Sanadodeh Nesheiwat, 28, of Washington, New Jersey; David Pokora, 22, of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada; and Austin Alcala, 18, of McCordsville, Indiana, were charged in an 18-count superseding indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the District of Delaware on April 23, 2014, and unsealed earlier today.  The charges in the indictment include conspiracies to commit computer fraud, copyright infringement, wire fraud, mail fraud, identity theft and theft of trade secrets.  The defendants are also charged with individual counts of aggravated identity theft, unauthorized computer access, copyright infringement and wire fraud.

Today, Pokora and Nesheiwat pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit computer fraud and copyright infringement and are scheduled for sentencing on Jan. 13, 2015.  Pokora was arrested on March 28, 2014, while attempting to enter the United States at the Lewiston, New York, Port of Entry.  Pokora’s plea is believed to be the first conviction of a foreign-based individual for hacking into U.S. businesses to steal trade secret information.

According to the superseding indictment and other court records, from January 2011 to March 2014, the four men and others located in the United States and abroad allegedly hacked into the computer networks of Microsoft Corporation, Epic Games Inc., Valve Corporation, Zombie Studios and the U.S. Army.  The defendants and others allegedly obtained access to the victims’ computer networks through methods including SQL injection and the use of stolen usernames and passwords of company employees and their software development partners.  Once inside the victims’ computer networks, the conspirators accessed and stole unreleased software, software source code, trade secrets, copyrighted and pre-release works and other confidential and proprietary information.  Members of the conspiracy also allegedly stole financial and other sensitive information relating to the companies – but not their customers – and certain employees of such companies.

Specifically, the data cyber-theft allegedly included source code, technical specifications and related information for Microsoft’s then-unreleased Xbox One gaming console; intellectual property and proprietary data related to Xbox Live, Microsoft’s online multi-player gaming and media-delivery system; Apache helicopter simulator software developed by Zombie Studios for the U.S. Army; a pre-release version of Epic’s video game, “Gears of War 3;” and a pre-release version of Activision’s video game, “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.”  The defendants also allegedly conspired to use, share and sell the stolen information.

The value of the intellectual property and other data that the defendants stole, as well as the costs associated with the victims’ responses to the conduct, is estimated to range between $100 million and $200 million.  To date, the United States has seized over $620,000 in cash and other proceeds related to the charged conduct.

In addition to those charged in the United States, an Australian citizen has been charged under Australian law for his alleged role in the conspiracy.

An indictment is merely an allegation, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

This case is being investigated by the FBI, with assistance from the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Investigations and Customs and Border Patrol, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.  The investigation also has been coordinated with the Western Australia Police and the Peel Regional Police of Ontario, Canada.
The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney James Silver of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward J. McAndrew of the District of Delaware.  

Toxic blue-green algae advisory in effect for Clear Lake

This advisory has been lifted as of 12/09/2014

Swimmers, pet owners, and anglers are advised to avoid contact with Clear Lake due to a toxic blue-green algae bloom. If fishing, the safest practice is catch and release.

A water sample taken from Clear Lake on September 19, 2014 found the algae toxin Microcystin at 10.4 micrograms per liter of water, which is above the state standard of 6 micrograms per liter for recreational water use. Microcystin can cause liver poisoning in people and animals. Symptoms can take hours or days to appear. Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting in humans and death in animals. 

While not all algae blooms are toxic, some algae can produce toxins that can harm the nervous system, the liver, the skin, and the stomach and intestines. 

Experts from the county’s Environmental Health Division recommend a few simple tips to help prevent illness from algae: 

  • Avoid swimming, wading, wind surfing and water-skiing in waters where algae blooms are present. 
  • Don’t drink untreated surface water.
  • Keep pets and livestock out of waters with algae blooms.
  • When fishing, catch-and-release is the safest practice. If you do eat your catch, clean any fish you catch thoroughly if you see algae blooms. Before eating, remove the internal organs, which may contain harmful algae toxins.
  • Avoid areas of scum when boating and clean your boat thoroughly.

For more information about toxic algae blooms and other water quality information, visit the Thurston County Environmental Health web page, Swimming in Thurston County.

Donal "I Pulled It Out My Arse" MacIntyre

Another one from the hack with no shame. What chance justice for Madeleine McCann, with fellows like this around?

Not a new article from the scurrilous MacIntyre, but having found the thing after it being lost to me, I wanted to preserve it for posterity.

And another reason, it allows me to reiterate, in the form of this old graphic, my feelings regarding theTop-secret US spy satellites story, that is mentioned therein.

Childless couple in link to Maddie mystery
10th July 2013
By Donal MacIntyre

POLICE are investigating a childless couple who they suspect could have abducted missing Madeleine McCann.

The pair, who had told friends they would kidnap a child after becoming frustrated with adoption red tape, are among the list of 38 new suspects drawn up by British cops.

A review by London’s Metropolitan police led them to the couple and detectives are now investigating the theory that they smuggled the missing toddler out of Portugal aboard a boat.

The man had inherited a large amount of money around the time Maddie disappeared on May 3, 2007, from her family’s holiday apartment in Praia da Luz, and it’s believed he could have used the money to set up a new life.

And it’s the childless couple theory that is fuelling the last remaining hope that Maddie could still be alive.

This week cops said there is still no proof she is dead.

Other theories centered around paedophile gangs and lone sex offenders, but the investigation is now focusing on one individual who, having struggled with adoption procedures in Portugal, threatened to kidnap a child.

The individual is believed to have told friends that he was so frustrated with adoption procedures in a number of countries that “he would take his own child” if necessary.

The Metropolitan Police have been aware of this line of inquiry for the past two years, but it’s only since British PM David Cameron ordered a fresh review that they had the resources to follow it up independently of the Portuguese authorities.

Sources close to the new investigation have told the Sunday World that they believe Madeleine was stalked and targeted for abduction in the days before she disappeared.

The English suspect, who has never been interviewed by UK or Portuguese Police officers, is understood to have been driving a four-wheel drive car at the time of the kidnapping.

The theory suggests that the planned abduction of Maddie involved at least two people and it is claimed that the suspect used a newly-purchased yacht, which was moored about an hour away from Praia da Luz, to leave the country.

Scotland Yard officers involved in the new probe also believe that it is likely the suspect had somehow accessed a key to apartment 5A, where the McCanns stayed with their three children.

The new review – launched in 2011 amid frustration with the bungling of the original investigation, which saw the McCanns wrongly identified as suspects in their daughter’s disappearance – has discovered 195 new leads and 38 persons of interest, including known sex offenders who were in the country at the time.

The Scotland Yard team of up to 37 detectives have re-interviewed the McCanns and their friends who holidayed together and who were eating at the tapas bar in the resort when Maddie went missing. None of them are among the list of 38 individuals police confirmed.

Police also reviewed over 30,000 documents from the Portuguese authorities and material gained from the private investigators hired by the McCanns over the last six years.

The Metropolitan Police team has declared that the “new witnesses and new evidence” points to a likelihood that Maddie is alive and is being held captive in a similar vein to the spate of recovered childhood kidnap victims that have been discovered in Austria and in the US.

The McCanns and the Met officers have taken hope from these horrific cases and point most recently to the case of Cleveland monster Ariel Castro (52), who kept three young girls captive for a decade until cries for help from one of his victims, Amanda Berry, revealed their existence to the world.

Operation Grange’s Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood, who is leading the new inquiry, says: “The review has given us new thinking, new theories, new evidence and new witnesses.”

The force is understood to have reviewed material from top-secret US spy satellites, which were recording material near the resort where Madeleine McCann disappeared five years ago.

The spy cameras, which can detect the number plate of a car from five miles up, had been denied to the Portuguese authorities, but details of it have been confidentially released to the UK review team to help them with the latest enquiry.

The satellite information – which will be used to help identify cars around the Mark Warner complex – was used to check out a red car which was spotted by witnesses on the night and has now been used to review movement related to the 4x4 vehicle.

Clarence Mitchell, the former BBC reporter and spokesperson for parents Kate and Gerry McCann said: “It was a big step forward in establishing what happened and, hopefully, in bringing to justice whoever is responsible for Madeleine’s abduction.” Sunday World

The Marksman: A BBC drama from 1987

The other day I blogged about the Channel 4 drama Brond from 1987. Since then, I have not only had a tweet from John Hannah, I have swapped tweets with the person who played the boy on the bridge in its extraordinary opening:

But there is another television drama I remember from that year that is even more obscure. Some sources even maintain it was never shown, but I know they are wrong because I watched it.

The Marksman was due to be shown in August 1987, but suddenly became controversial because of the Hungerford massacre. Here is Robin Corbett, Labour MP for Birmingham Erdington, speaking in the Commons in December of that year:
I suspect that the House will want to take this matter more seriously than does the hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale). Does the Minister agree that it would be quite proper to request the BBC to change its decision to start showing the three-part series "The Marksman", which was withdrawn immediately after the violence at Hungerford? The pain and distress that would be caused by that film, which I understand concerns a character who goes round blowing people apart in order to get what he considers to be vengeance, would hit immediately those families in Hungerford and elsewhere who have been involved in shooting incidents.
But the BBC did show The Marksman, though it seems to have been re-edited in the light of events in Hungerford. It remained, however, a gory drama in which a hitman revenged the killing of his young son.

The cast list is impressive: David Threlfall, Richard Griffiths, James Ellis, Leslie Ash, Craig Charles. And the theme music was by Richard Thompson, aided by some poetry written and performed by Charles.

Yet today there is not a clip from The Marksman to be found on Youtube and nor will you find any of Richard Thompson's music there.

What I recall most of all is the performance of Michael Angelis, a stalwart of BBC dramas in those days.

He played a club owner who, after auditioning a new comic, would put an arm around his shoulders and say: "It's not enough to be Irish [or Jewish or whatever]: you've got to be funny." Then he would slip a banknote into the comic's top pocket and say: "But don't ever change."

I think his fondness for that last phrase did for him when he used it in what was meant to be an anonymous phone call.

I don't suppose The Marksman will ever be seen again, but I still use the "It's not enough to be..." line today when I see some new comedians on television.

Pakistani Man Indicted for Selling 'StealthGenie' Spyware App

A Pakistani man has been indicted in the Eastern District of Virginia for allegedly conspiring to advertise and sell StealthGenie, a spyware application (app) that could monitor calls, texts, videos and other communications on mobile phones without detection.  This marks the first-ever criminal case concerning the advertisement and sale of a mobile device spyware app. 

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente of the Eastern District of Virginia and Assistant Director in Charge Andrew McCabe of the FBI’s Washington Field Office made the announcement.

“Selling spyware is not just reprehensible, it’s a crime,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell.  “Apps like StealthGenie are expressly designed for use by stalkers and domestic abusers who want to know every detail of a victim’s personal life – all without the victim’s knowledge.  The Criminal Division is committed to cracking down on those who seek to profit from technology designed and used to commit brazen invasions of individual privacy.”

“StealthGenie has little use beyond invading a victim’s privacy” said U.S. Attorney Boente.  “Advertising and selling spyware technology is a criminal offense, and such conduct will be aggressively pursued by this office and our law enforcement partners.”   

“This application allegedly equips potential stalkers and criminals with a means to invade an individual’s confidential communications,” said FBI Assistant Director in Charge McCabe.  “They do this not by breaking into their homes or offices, but by physically installing spyware on unwitting victim’s phones and illegally tracking an individual’s every move.  As technology continues to evolve, the FBI will investigate and bring to justice those who use illegal means to monitor and track individuals without their knowledge.”

According to allegations in the indictment, Hammad Akbar, 31, of Lahore, Pakistan, is the chief executive officer of InvoCode Pvt Ltd, the company that advertises and sells StealthGenie online.  Akbar and his co-conspirators allegedly created the spyware, which could intercept communications to and from mobile phones, including Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android, and Blackberry Limited’s Blackberry.  StealthGenie was undetectable by most users and was advertised as being untraceable.
Akbar was charged in the indictment with conspiracy, sale of a surreptitious interception device, advertisement of a known interception device and advertising a device as a surreptitious interception device.  He was arrested in Los Angeles on Sept. 27, 2014, and is expected to appear before a magistrate judge in the Central District of California later today.

StealthGenie was hosted at a data center in Ashburn, Virginia.  On Sept. 26, 2014, a federal judge in the Eastern District of Virginia issued a temporary restraining order authorizing the FBI to temporarily disable the website hosting StealthGenie.

The indictment alleges that StealthGenie’s capabilities included the following: it recorded all incoming/outgoing voice calls; it intercepted calls on the phone to be monitored while they take place; it allowed the purchaser to call the phone and activate it at any time to monitor all surrounding conversations within a 15-foot radius; and it allowed the purchaser to monitor the user’s incoming and outgoing e-mail messages and SMS messages, incoming voicemail messages, address book, calendar, photographs, and videos.  All of these functions were enabled without the knowledge of the user of the phone.

Akbar and his co-conspirators allegedly programmed StealthGenie to synchronize communications intercepted by the app with the customer’s account so that the customer could review intercepted communications almost immediately from any computer with access to the Internet.  To install the app, a purchaser needed to obtain physical control over the phone to be monitored for only a few minutes.  The purchaser could then review communications intercepted from the monitored phone without ever again having physical control over the phone.  Akbar and others alleged designed SteathGenie to be undetectable to users of the phone.

According to allegations in the indictment, the business plan for the development, sale and advertisement of StealthGenie stated that the target population for the marketing of the app was “[s]pousal cheat: Husband/Wife of (sic) boyfriend/girlfriend suspecting their other half of cheating or any other suspicious behaviour or if they just want to monitor them.”  Language and testimonials on the StealthGenie website focused significantly on potential purchasers who did not have any ownership interest in the mobile phone to be monitored, including those suspecting a spouse or romantic partner of infidelity.  The indictment alleges that Akbar and his co-conspirators fabricated the testimonials.   

An indictment is merely an allegation, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

This case is being investigated by the FBI’s Washington Field Office, and prosecuted by Trial Attorneys William A. Hall Jr. and Peter V. Roman of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay V. Prabhu of the Eastern District of Virginia.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Chevening Oil PLC


The tang of autumn is in the air and the leaves (or so my private polling informs me) are turning. It is time to think of winter and how I shall heat the Hall. At one time I would simply have ordered so many sacks of nutty slack from my own mines in the North of Rutland, but Ed Davey gave me a disapproving look last time I mentioned them.

So I have decided to use oil instead. I had assumed that, when I asked for quotes that from my own rigs on Rutland Water would come in as the cheapest, but it turned out that a fellow from down Kent way put in the juiciest tender. I phoned the manager of Chevening Oil to give him the good news and have a chat, but he was distinctly cagey about where he sourced the stuff. Still, I placed an order that will fill the tanks here in my cellars.

Afterwards, I wrote a note of advice to Clegg about the importance of keeping warm in winter. I could not help noticing last year that he had a distinctly blue tinge to his face and a permanent drip at the end of his nose.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

Six of the Best 466

Stephen Tall looks at Lord Ashcroft's poll of Lib Dem/Tory marginals on Liberal Democrat Voice.

"I suspect ... this is the symptom of an underlying disease - that the media exists entirely within a Westminster bubble. Mr Collins thinks the deficit is a "real" problem not because there's empirical or theoretical evidence that it is, but simply because the groupthink of Very Serious People says so." Stumbling and Mumbling introduces us to the useful concept of 'bubblethink'.

Europe's domination of the Ryder Cup means the event is losing popularity in America, explains Art Spander for Bleacher Report.

Internet Curtains visits the north Nottingham suburbs of Bulwell, Highbury Vale and Basford.

"These North Country witches have no need for fancy, expensive props and familiars, instead relying on their ‘Woolworth’s broomstick and a tabby cat’." The Downstairs Lounge celebrates the genius of Jake Thackray.

A Guiding Life attended the recent revival of Arts Fresco here in Market Harborough.

Space, the final frontier: RAF Alconbury hosts video conference with NASA astronaut

by Staff Sgt. Jarad A. Denton
501st Combat Support Wing Public Affairs

9/23/2014 - RAF ALCONBURY, United Kingdom -- From education and training to future missions to Mars and even possible contact with extraterrestrials, students from the elementary, middle and high schools at RAF Alconbury, United Kingdom, asked questions and chatted with a NASA astronaut during a virtual conference, Sept. 23.

U.S. Air Force Col. Michael Hopkins joined up with students, parents and teachers for an in-depth look at what life in space is really like, as well as what it takes to be an astronaut.

"It's really a pleasure to talk with you all today," Hopkins said via webcam from Johnson Space Center, Houston. "There are just so many great stories about spaceflight. I'm honored I get to share some with you."

During the conference, Hopkins shared unique insights and experiences from his time on board the International Space Station.

"Space is an amazing environment," he said. "It makes the impossible, possible."

However, Hopkins continued, while lifting heavy objects could be done with relative ease, simple tasks like shaving required much more concentration and precision. Students sat, transfixed, as Hopkins answered question after question for more than an hour.

"I thought it was really cool," said Robin Dudley, seventh grade student at Alconbury Middle School. "I've never gotten the chance to talk to an astronaut. I learned so much about what it was like to live in space and take care of yourself in zero gravity."

According to Hopkins, the feeling of absolute freedom while weightlessly suspended in orbit around Earth was an experience he will treasure for the rest of his life.

"The spacewalk was probably the highlight of my entire time up there," Hopkins said. "To see the Earth without any obstructions really takes your breath away."

Hopkins, who achieved international notoriety when he posted a "selfie" from space, also shared photos and videos with the students in an effort to educate and motivate them.

"These children now have an experience they will never forget," said Heather Dudley, 423rd Air Base Group school liaison officer and Robin's mother. "We want them to look at this event and come away feeling inspired."

Inspiration was also a major part of Hopkins' focus with the students. Through the video conference, he was able to balance the science of spaceflight with the awe of travel beyond Earth and his own personal passion for life as an astronaut.

"My goal is to continue doing this for as long as they will send me up into space," he said. "But, one day, I hope I am sitting in a retirement community listening to you tell stories about being an astronaut and exploring space. Who knows, maybe one of you will be the first person to set foot on Mars."

Introducing Clegg's children

According to Radical Bulletin in the new issue of Liberator (and I know of no more reliable source), the deputy prime minister's special advisers are known among disrespectful Liberal Democrat MPs as "Clegg's children".

Steam in the Lune Gorge

Some wonderful footage from the 1950s.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Danny Alexander in the gym


Whilst I attribute my rude health to my annual bathe in the spring that bursts from the hillside above the former headquarters of the Association of Liberal Councillors in Hebden Bridge, and admit that a certain cordial sold to me (at no small cost) by the Elves of Rockingham Forest has done no harm, I like to visit the Westminster gymnasium from time to time to keep in trim.

Who should I meet there this morning but our own Danny Alexander? He is not wearing glasses and his hair is now a rich chestnut. He nods to me whilst attempting to clean and jerk a particularly heavy set of barbells (not to be confused with the fish, which are, in my experience, far lighter). Fortunately I am able to steady the First Secretary to the Treasury before he does himself a serious mischief. I must admit he looks better for the face lift – or is it just the effect of vitamin pills?

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

Leicester Mercury column on devolution and local government

I forgot to check, but I was due to have this First Person column printed  in Friday's Leicester Mercury.

Bring back proper local government

Because the three party leaders panicked in the last week of the referendum and promised the Scottish parliament more powers, everyone is saying something must be done about England.
Some want only English MPs allowed to vote on laws that affect only England. Others want an English parliament. And some want regional government.

There is something to be said for all of these ideas, though English votes on English law would make little difference in practice. And, while I like the idea of an English parliament meeting in York or Manchester rather than Westminster, I doubt people would want to pay for a whole new level of government.

The same goes for regional assemblies, and they have another problem. If you want to start a pub argument, ask people where the boundaries of the East Midlands are and which city should be its capital and home to its regional assembly. (We both know the answer is not Nottingham, but you try convincing them of that.)

But the problem with the government of England goes deeper than any of these proposals allow. The real problem is the decline of local government that has been going on for decades.

The Labour government of 1945 is remembered for nationalising privately owned industries like coal, steel and the railways. But it also nationalised many services that had been run by local councils: water, gas, electricity and health.

In those days a city like Leicester also ran its own buses and trams. Now even schools have effectively been nationalised. Central government sets the curriculum and, if the secretary of state is Michael Gove, tries to tell pupils and teachers what to wear.

Meanwhile the government is so afraid of being blamed for council tax rises that it has made it next to impossible for councils to vary that much too.

What England needs is a reversal of this process. Responsibility must be returned from national government to local government. That way we should have more diversity and experiment, and elected representatives would be closer to the people they serve.

It would also lead to a revival of interest in local politics, because who ran your council would suddenly matter a lot more. It might also attract more impressive candidates to stand for the council, because those councils would wield real power.

One thing voters, politicians and the media would have to do is agree to give up complaining about a “postcode lottery”.

Different councils would have different spending priorities and come to different decisions. But that’s the real point about local government. It’s local.

Jonathan Calder blogs at Liberal England 

Little Letters - G

A few of you have asked for photos of the finished quilts
so you can see fabric layout. Here you go!
Bright with Solid Background
Neutral with Polka Dot Background

Cut the following for Little Letter G
from dark
A - 1-1/2" x 4-1/2" strips
B - one 1-1/2" x 3-1/2" strips
C - two 1-1/2" x 2-1/2" strip
from light
A - one 1-1/2" x 3-1/2" strip
B - two 1-1/2" squares
Piece Little Letter G using layout

Wreckless Eric: Whole Wide World

Thanks to Mark Reckless for reminding me of this single from 1977.

Wreckless Eric (real name Eric Goulden) was a stalwart of Stiff Records in those days. He later fell out with the company and moved to France and then the United States, where he still plays.

Man gets his arm stuck in Newport postbox

A clear winner of our Headline of the Day Award.

But which Newport is it?

Newport in Gwent? Newport, Isle of Wight?

No, it's Newport in Shropshire.

Tyseley Motive Power Depot open day, September 1968

Crowds of spectators wandering around the depot, and not a high-visibility jacket in sight.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Abolishing the trolls on the Severn Bridge

What is that thump on the doormat? It is the conference issue of Liberator, complete with some fitting to Simon Titley.

Which means it is time to begin another week at Bonkers Hall.

You have been warned.


I am delighted to read that the Welsh Liberal Democrats are proposing to abolish the trolls on the Severn Bridge. For many years I have been urging just this move upon them, but without any joy. “The time is not right,” said Mike German. “There are other priorities,” said Kirsty Williams. “Wibble, wibble: are both those feet mine?” said Lembit Opik.

It is certainly good news for travellers to and from the Principality. For myself, whenever obliged to cross the Severn, I obtained three billy goats from Chepstow Goats (“No ifs, no butts, good service”) and was able to ward the trolls off; others, perhaps less well prepared, have had less happy experiences.

Incidentally, I was once unable to obtain any billy goats when returning from giving a speech in Ystradgynlais and decided to improvise by summoning Nanny. I don’t know what she did to the trolls, but she certainly terrified me.

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

Why few in the charitable sector are mourning the resignation of Brooks Newmark

A Guardian report from earlier this report explains:
David Cameron's new minister for civil society has been branded patronising and dismissive after he told charities to "stick to their knitting" and keep out of politics. 
Brooks Newmark, who was appointed in the summer reshuffle, made the comments amid worries among charities that the new Lobbying Act that will limit their ability to campaign on issues of the day. 
In his first major speech since he took on the role, Newmark used the opportunity to criticise charities who "stray" out of their remit of helping people. 
Asked about the ability of charities to campaign, he said: "We really want to try and keep charities and voluntary groups out of the realms of politics. Some 99.9% do exactly that. When they stray into the realm of politics that is not what they are about and that is not why people give them money." 
In comments first reported on Civil Society, he added: "The important thing charities should be doing is sticking to their knitting and doing the best they can to promote their agenda, which should be about helping others."

The difference between Brooks Newmark and Mark Reckless

Newmark was reckless: Reckless is a no mark.

Comedian Seann Walsh cancels gig after catching train to Hereford instead of Hertford

I have never heard of Mr Walsh - perhaps he is popular with the young people? - but he has helped the Mirror win our Headline of the Day Award.

Not only that: he has reminded me of the acquittal of Jeremy Thorpe at the Old Bailey.

The evidence in the case suggested that the supposed hitman, Andrew Newton, had looked for Norman Scott in Dunstable rather than Barnstaple.

And failed to find him.

Lord Bonkers on the Mitford sisters

Writing in 2009, the old brute said:
I seem to recall that one of them married Hitler; they were an absolute scream

All Saints, Margaret Street, London W1

This video from the Khan Academy introduces us to an extraordinary High Anglican church just off Oxford Street.

The Sporting Memories Network

I missed it at the time, but on 10 July this summer Tony Jameson-Allen from the Sporting Memories Network was the lunchtime guest on Test Match Special.

He spoke about the work of the organisation, which was established to promote and develop the use of sporting memories to improve the wellbeing of older people and to help tackle dementia, depression and social isolation.

I can't embed in, but you can listen to the interview here. Listen in particular for Bill's Story.

The other guest was the great South African allrounder Mike Procter, who spoke about the work of his own Mike Procter Foundation.

National Railway Museum stages controversial exhibition... on trainspotting

From York Mix:
“We’ve not tackled anything quite like this before,” is the first thing Amy Banks says when asked about the National Railway Museum’s brand new project. 
“It was quite a controversial subject that we realised we needed to talk about. We wanted to get across a sense of travel and adventure. That desire to record and document what’s happened”.
And what is the controversial subject the NRM is tackling? Trainspotting.

Time I think to reprint a column I once published in Clinical Psychology Forum as Professor Strange...


Trainspotting, autism and what it means to be normal

Saturday afternoon on Platform 1. Freight trains and passenger trains coming and going. My notebook filling with engine numbers. The packet of sandwiches that Mother made me. The summer sunshine burning my bare knees. An excited shout goes up. I rush to join the throng and taste again the oily tang of steam.

Yes, I enjoyed my visit to York last Saturday and may well go again this weekend. Yet when I look around me, I see that trainspotting is thoroughly out of fashion.

I do not refer to the adventures of Begbie, Spud and Sickboy: they are very much in fashion. Though, as I said in my review in Steam Railway Quarterly, anyone who watches the film of Mr Welsh’s book in the hope of gaining an insight into the operation of Gresley’s A4 Pacifics on the LNER is likely to be sadly disappointed.

Rather, I refer to the hobby which enthralled generations of schoolboys. It flourished in the decades after the Second World War as families became affluent enough to spare the cash for their children to explore the railway system.

That sort of trainspotting is more than out of fashion: it is rapidly being turned into a mental illness. The other day I was looking at a piece on the narrow gauge railways of North Wales written by Bill Bryson. He said: ‘I had recently read a newspaper article in which it was reported that a speaker at the British Psychological Society had described trainspotting as a form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome.’

It is just as well that he or she did not describe it in those terms in my hearing, but we have come far from the days when boys were expected to be interested in trains. I can recall, as a young practitioner, having families referred to me because the son did not want to be a train driver when he grew up. ‘We’re at our wits’ end, Doctor Strange,’ the tearful parents would say. ‘We have tried everything, but he’s just not interested in railways.’

I was able to reassure them, puffing on my pipe, that it was just a phase the lad was going through and that they should not worry too much – though some parents had found Strange’s Herbal Supplements™ wonderfully efficacious in similar cases.

Not that trainspotting was without controversy. Popular stations could be overrun with children in the holidays. Questions were asked in the House about problems at Tamworth, and when overzealous spotters were picked up wandering around locomotive depots, magistrates would call for the hobby to be banned.

Yet it is not the criminogenic properties of trainspotting that have led to its decline, nor has it been the result of advances in the understanding of autistic spectrum disorders. In part it is because we are all – children included – far too cool to be interested enough in anything to call it a hobby. And in part it is because there has been a change in our idea of what it means to be normal.

When I was young, to be normal was to be male, white and upper middle class and to wear a tweed jacket and smoke a pipe. I must say that always seemed perfectly reasonable to me, but as I was male, white and upper middle class, wore a tweed jacket and smoked a pipe, I suppose it would.

Today to be normal is to be female and quite often it is to be a mental health professional too. Just think of the articles which treat a willingness to take part in workshops as a sign of normality in psychiatric inpatients when this activity plays no part in the lives of 99 per cent of the population.

So ‘normality’ is a slippery concept, and what it means has changed markedly over the years. That is why I have never made any great efforts to appear normal myself.


That's quite enough from Professor Strange, but for more on trainspotting I recommend the book Platform Souls by Nicholas Whitaker. In a just world it would have done for the hobby what Fever Pitch did for football.

Breaking down obstacles to preparedness and becoming strong in the face of disasters

Today’s guest blog is by Weston Lee, a member of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Youth Preparedness Council, who works to educate youth in his community. A student at Weber High School in Pleasant View, Utah, Lee’s training includes CPR, first aid and student response. While getting students involved in emergency preparedness can be difficult, Weston says that working with “someone who is engaged, excited and, most of all, actually interested in what they do” can make a difference with youth.

What do cows produce during an earthquake? A milkshake! On a more serious note, what does being prepared produce during an emergency? President Barack Obama said that when our nation faces crisis, we will respond determined and resilient as a result of our preparedness.

The main idea for emergency preparedness is to get a kit, make a plan, be informed and get involved. Make sure you are ready in your family, business or work, school and community. Work with your community and learn about possible hazards or disasters that can happen in your area. Social media is a great way to keep up to date with news and information.

One of the things I like to address when teaching emergency preparedness are the barriers related to becoming prepared. Some obstacles are:
  • Lack of concern. Not believing that an event will happen here. Or that they will not worry about it unless it actually occurs.
  • Lack of thought on the subject.
  • Lack of knowledge or information, such as people saying, “I don’t know how to do this.”
  • Lack of resources, whether it is time or money related.
  • Avoidance. Avoiding the situation of preparedness for various reasons.
  • Or a feeling of fatalism, saying that whatever you do will not matter.
As you venture into becoming more emergency prepared, take time to set aside any barriers or obstacles you may have. In order for us to be determined and strong in the face of the disaster, we can become better prepared by making a kit, making a plan and being informed.

Be disaster aware and take action to prepare by taking part in America’s PrepareAthon during National Preparedness Month this September. Get your family and community involved by following weekly themes and using the preparedness resources.

There are resources available that teach about different hazards and disasters, and provide recommendations and resources on how to become more prepared before, during and after an emergency.

For a smooth start on becoming emergency prepared, visit the American Red Cross, Ready.gov, Get Ready and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention websites.

Sept. 30 is National PrepareAthon Day. Plan a preparedness activity and register your family, school or organization as a participant.

Help Advance Diabetes Research

A University of Virginia researcher named Hannah Menefee contacted me recently to ask for our help.  She and her colleagues are conducting a study on how people with type 2 diabetes use Facebook to manage their health, and how that technology can be leveraged to support effective health communication.

If you have type 2 diabetes, and you'd like to participate in the study, please join their Diabetes Management Study Facebook group.  There, you'll receive more information about the study, you'll receive a short survey, and you may be invited into one of the study phases.

Fussy Friday #39

Marcus Brothers - Judie Rothermel - Enduring Legacies
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Channel 4's Brond from 1987 - John Hannah and Stratford Johns

We are used to films and television programmes being available to watch pretty much whenever we want to view them. But I have strong memories of a series that was shown only once in 1987 and has never been issued on video or DVD.

Brond marked the first screen appearance of John Hannah as Robert and a late starring role for the mighty Stratford Johns.

I remember it most for its stunning opening, which Notes from New Sodom describes for us:
it opens with a young John Hannah ... as a young Glasgow Uni student who's out jogging. He stops to catch his breath on a bridge ... where a wee kid is leaning over, looking down into the river. 
As the Hannah character watches we see Stratford Johns (from classic British cop show, Z-Cars) walk down the road towards him and, in passing, with the utterly casual callousness of a one-handed shove, push the kid over the edge. And then wink at Hannah as he walks on.
It is that wink I remember most of all. In winking at Hannah he is also winking at the camera and us the viewers.

The plot was hard to follow and hard to recall after so many years - I must have watched it on a snowy portable someone lent me shortly after I bought my own house. But I recall that it involved Scottish and Irish terrorism and Stratford Johns as Brond was an intelligence boss or gang boss or quite possibly both.

The video above is the only extract from Brond I can find online (there is another television series from 1987 I shall blog about one day where nothing seems to remain).

But there are stills on a couple of unlikely websites. VHiStory goes through an old video tape - and shows Brond flipping the boy off the bridge - and IMCDB is interested in the cars used in the production.

Notes from New Sodom quotes some dialogue from the series that has a contemporary resonance:
BROND: You shouldn’t upset him like that. He’s a good man. 
ROBERT: A good soldier. He told me before. 
BROND: Oh yes. Kilts and trumpets at dawn. Loyal and brave. A Scottish Soldier. 
ROBERT: How can he be so stupid? Doesn’t he know how much you despise him? 
BROND: He has medals, did you know that? Soldiers get them. And he has some that are not given easily, or for nothing. He went to the wars and came home again. He’s a patriot. He’s been going to war a very long time. He’s the man who built the British Empire. 
ROBERT: What’s the British Empire to do with this? 
BROND: He’s fought against Napoleon, and in the Crimea. In the last war he fought in the desert. In 1916 he fought on the dry plains of the Somme and drowned in its mud when winter came. Kenya, Korea –- he’s been there. He’s still in Ireland. And only last week he came back from a little group of islands in the South Atlantic. And every time he came home, he found things were worse that when he’s gone away – but he had never learned to fight for himself.
What I remember above all about Brond is its atmosphere. And that had a lot to do with this extraordinary them music by Bill Nelson and Daryl Runswick.

Even later...
Later still. Another clip from Brond has appeared on Youtube.

And yet later. The whole of Brond is now on Youtube.

When did 'offence' become a trump card?

A protest campaign and blockade has forced the Brett Bailey’s Exhibit B at the Barbican.

Lord Bell was Hilary Mantel investigated by the police because she has published a short story about Margaret Thatcher.

It has not been a good week for supporters of free expression in the arts.

A protestor against Exhibit B is quoted by the BBC as saying:
"It's not educational, it actually causes huge offence."
Meanwhile, says the Guardian:
Tory MP Conor Burns told the Sunday Times that the story represented a grave offence to the victims of the IRA.
It seems the merest Tory backbencher has learnt what left-wing activists have long known: if you can claim 'offence' in modern Britain, that is a trump card.

How and when did that come about?

Nick Clegg's case for military action in Iraq

In his email to Liberal Democrat members - kindly reproduced by Lib Dem Voice - Nick Clegg gave three reasons why we should support renewed military action in Iraq:
  1. the threat from ISIL to Britain has already been made clear by the sickening sight of British hostages being executed on television;
  2. unlike the 2003 war in Iraq this intervention is legal – we are responding to a direct request for help from the legitimate Government of Iraq and Parliament will vote before any action is taken;
  3. we’re acting as part of a broad coalition of countries, including many Arab countries, to deal with a real and immediate threat.
Points 2 and 3, of course, will only reassure those who think the action is wise in the first place.

And point 1 does not convince me. ISIL is an appalling movement, but it surely poses more of a threat to the Kurds and the Yazidis than it does to Britain. And as far it does pose a threat to Britain - seizing hostages, fomenting terrorism here - it is not clear that bombing will reduce that threat.

I am not a pacifist and will support humanitarian military action if it is clear what the goal is. But is it clear in Iraq today? Are we looking to contain ISIL or destroy it? And is that latter idea any better than a fantasy?

More than that, I think that Western leaders have lacked a strategy in the Middle East. We are afraid of the rise of Islamism, yet we have swept away the dictators who acted as a bulwark against it - Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi and there were plenty who wanted to bomb Bashar Assad only last year.

At one time we were seeking a rapprochement with Gaddafi - one of the very first posts on this blog made fun of Tony Blair's meeting with him. But we seem to have concluded that both sides are pretty appalling and fought both in a piecemeal fashion.

And our leaders seem to lack historical perspective. Compare that with Paddy Ashdown, who recently wrote:
What is happening in the Middle East, like it or not, is the wholesale rewriting of the Sykes-Picot borders of 1916, in favour of an Arab world whose shapes will be arbitrated more by religious dividing lines than the old imperial conveniences of 100 years ago.
That is surely right. Have we really gone to war to defend those borders?

Still, have a look at the video of Nick Clegg and decide for yourself. His arguments there are more developed and more convincing than those in his email.

Chief constable was ordered not to investigate Greville Janner

A story partly behind The Times paywall this morning quoted Mick Creedon, chief constable of Derbyshire, as saying that, as a detective sergeant in 1989, he was ordered by his superiors not to investigate Greville Janner, then Labour MP for Leicester West.

The Needle has a little more of the report.

The date of 1989 may be significant. Frank Beck was not arrested until April 1990 and did not accuse Greville Janner in court until November 1991.

I should add that Mr Janner has always denied allegations of this sort when they are made against him.

Has the homophobic monk been to Lincoln?

We have previously blogged about sightings of a homophobic monk in Brighton, Cambridge and Market Harborough.

Now The Lincolnite reports:
Leaflets depicting homosexuality as “the Devil’s delusion” are sparking anger from Lincoln residents who received them in the post. 
Police are investigating reports, which suggest the Park Ward area of Lincoln has been targeted with the “offensive” flyers. 
The leaflets, which do not state the involvement of a particular church, states that: “All sexual activity outside of the matrimonial union of one man and one woman is sin, and therefore immoral.”
No mention of a monk, but the leaflet the website reproduces looks very like the ones he gives out.

Thanks to @blackwellharb on Twitter.

Later. Thanks to @Backwatersman for pointing me to this report in The Sentinel from Stoke-on-Trent. No mention of a monk's habit though.