Monthly Archives: March 2013

A public service announcement!

lib_dem_logoWeek by week the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors rallies the (ever-more-despondent) yellow peril with rousing news of by-election … err … successes.

Curiously not this week.

There may be reasons:

1. Harwich West Ward of Tendring District Council

This what the ALDC reckoned in advance:

We have a good chance of winning this seat. We are fighting this election and we will have many leaflets to go out.  We shall be canvassing and phone canvassing.  If you can help in the by election, then this will be great.  There are four candidates, Lib Dem, Conservative, Labour and Community Reps standing.  This is a two member ward on the edge of Harwich, easy access to the A120 and A12, 25 minutes from Colchester.

And this is what came out:

Labour: 282 (elected)
Tory: 220
Community Representatives Party: 163
LibDem: 143.

2.  Evelyn Ward, Lewisham London Borough Council

Labour: 978 (elected)
Lewisham People before Profit: 404
LibDem: 131
Tory: 119
UKIP: 119

3. Parson Drove and Wisbech St Mary. Fenland District Council

Tory: 384 (elected)
LibDem: 240
UKIP: 214
English Democrats: 33

OK, OK … trivial stuff

Undoubtedly so in this world of woe.

And yet, in the shrubberies, something rustles.

The party positions in London deserve some real attention. Last week Labour stuffed everyone in sight with two run-away canters in two Islington wards. In one, St George’s Labour was up 38½%, LibDems down 28%, Tories scraping the barrel, down 6% to a risible 3.7%. Similarly, in Junction ward Labour was up 21½%, LibDems down 25%, where the previous councillor was a lapsed LibDem, — with a fair showing from a Green candidate second placed on 17½%. What makes Islington all the more intriguing is that LibDems controlled the council until 2006 _ and were the largest party until the latest Borough-wide election. LibDems now have just a dozen seats to Labour’s three dozen.

The gilt is definitely off, and the guilt all over the gingerbread. Even the troops are restless: witness Stephen Tall’s J’accuse on LibDemVoice:

Nick Clegg’s illiberal hat-trick: now immigration joins ‘secret courts’ and media regulation on the pyre

Not without reason, across the Borough boundary from Islington, Labour in Hornsey are taking seriously the all-woman shortlist for what looks increasingly like the next MP for the constituency. And Mrs Featherstone is equally frisky — the output of the ever-busy LibDem press-mill continues apace.


Filed under Elections, Lib Dems, London, Lynne Featherstone

I shall say this only once …

So listen very carefully.

Between 1920 and 1970 there was the Immigration Branch of the Home Office.

Between 1970 and 2007 it became the United Kingdom Immigration Service.

In 2007 it became the Border and Immigration Agency.

On All Fool’s Day, 2008, the Border and Immigration Agency was put into a shotgun three-way with UKVisas (which operated courtesy of the Foreign Office) and the Detection function of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. This rag-bag became the UK Border Agency, in a pale imitation of the US Border Patrol — the main difference being that the USBP is the largest sworn, armed agency in the United States, while UKBA delegated enforcement to Capita at a cost of £30 million. And Crapita enforced by text messages.

LavoisierOn 26th March 2013 the Home Secretary announced the UKBA would be divided into two sections: one to deal with visas (UKVisas reborn) and the other to enforce immigration laws.

Or as Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier had it:

Dans la nature rien ne se crée, rien ne se perd, tout change.

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Filed under Britain, History, nationalism, Tories.

Forelock-tugging time?

How does this sound for a realistic policy on home rentals? —

In addition to restoring security of tenure to every decontrolled house, we are appointing rent officers and rent assessment committees for fixing fair rents. The new Act also gives basic protection to almost everyone in his home, including the lodger and the worker in his tied cottage. Today it is a crime not merely to evict without a court order but to harass or to persecute anyone in order to force him out or force his rent up.

It’s from the 1966 Labour Manifesto. The preamble to that seems almost more pertinent in the present context:

The 1957 Tory Rent Act inflicted injury on hundreds of thousands of families by decontrolling their homes in a period of intense housing shortage. Labour was pledged to annul this social crime.

Back to the future

Malcolm reflects on that, if only because his entry into leftist politics was at a time (the end of the 1950s) and a place (Norfolk) when tied cottages — particularly for farm workers — was a very live issue.

In case anyone missed it, it’s about to come back again. Hidden behind Caroline Spelman killing off the Agricultural Wages Board is her other announcement: the Agricultural Dwellings Housing advisory committee would also be dissolved. All of which might, being generous, make sense if the workers on the land had the clout to negotiate a proper wages-and-conditions agreement. But, of course, it will always be cheaper for the agribusinesses to import cheap immigrant labourers and house them in caravans and Portacabins. With, if not the complicity, at least the active encouragement of the supermarket chains.

Only a cynic (perish the thought) would draw a direct line between a “free market” in former tied cottages, a chronic shortage of affordable housing, Iain Duncan Smith’s “welfare reforms” and ‘Gids’ Osborne’s budget, promising second homes on the back of government loans.

Duncan Smith, lest we forget, is possessed of a a £2m+ Tudor home (with ample spare bedrooms, five acres of gardens and a swimming pool), by courtesy of a very wealthy wife, heiress to the Cottesloe millions and 1,300 acres of Buckinghamshire.

It goes with the squirarchical mind-set

In the next few days anyone in social housing with that mythical (but Big Brother designated) “spare bedroom” faces a cut of 14% in benefits. Oh, no! It’s not a tax! Anymore than cutting the 50% tax rate for multi-million earners (those deserving bankers and plutocrats) is a benefit!

Let’s take Mr and Mrs Whatsit, who have lived in social housing for thirty-odd years, since they married. There they raised two strapping sons, who have done well, moved out, and left that “spare room”. As a result Mr and Mrs Whatsit, both heading towards retirement, but young enough not to come under Iain Duncan Smith’s oh-so-generous OAP waiver, are faced with a major cut in their income, or the unlikely prospect of finding smaller accommodation — there are 180,000 families in the Whatsits’ position, but just 70,000 one-bedroom flats available.

Now, here’s the suggestion: why was there not an incentive — rather than a fine — to persuade the Whatsits to move? Especially since we now know that Osborne has squoodles of money available for second homes:

The Budget included a £3.5bn Help to Buy programme under which the Government will provide up to 20 per cent of a deposit and the buyer only 5 per cent for a new-build home. The Government made clear that could not be used to buy a second home but failed to do the same for a separate scheme to underwrite £130bn of mortgage lending for any property.

But, then, when did a functioning Tory prefer to persuade rather than to coerce?

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Filed under Conservative family values, Daily Telegraph, George Osborne, Guardian, House-prices, Independent, Norfolk, Tories.

The rites of man, with Thomas Paine

Before Malcolm finishes with Kent (see the two previous posts) he would take a Sandwich.

To be absolutely correct, it was a chilli con carne and a couple of pints of Doom Bar (the Abbot had run out as Malcolm arrived). And it was at the Crispin: an excellent joint, even on a chilly (no pun intended) day.

The town

Sandwich is where the Kentish Stour reaches the sea. Well, it did once upon a time, when this one one of the Cinque Ports — now there’s a couple of miles of marshes before the sea proper. It is, though, one of those places where the yachties sport their plastic navies.

Something that wikipedia seems not to know

Sandwich somehow ended up with three parish churches: St Clement’s, St Mary’s and St Peter’s. By 1948 this was an unaffordable excess, so the three parishes were amalgamated, and — in due course — two of the churches went out of regular use. The one that interests Malcolm here is St Peter’s.

When the plague hit Sandwich in the Elizabethan period, St Peter’s was designated as the strangers’ church. The “strangers” were Dutch Huguenots, and that they were segregated suggests that English xenophobia was then as now. Anyway, that explains (allegedly) the odd Lowlands cap atop the tower (which fell down in 1661, taking with it the original south aisle — and leaving the eccentric plan we have today).

paineWhat wikipedia fails to note is that St Peter’s was where, on 27 September 1759, the corset-maker Tom Paine married Mary Lambert. Paine’s corset-shop went bust the following year, and the Paines moved to Margate, where Mary promptly took sick and died. Paine forwent his corset-manufacturing and adopted the line-of-business of Mary’s family — collecting taxes and excise. That was, at first, a more successful venture: he ended up as exciseman in Lewes, in Sussex; and became the equivalent of a shop-steward for his fellow excisemen, writing pamphlets in their interest. A further business failure, a failed second marriage, and Paine was off to America and fame.

St Peter’s has a nice graphic of the history of the church, and includes the marriage (as right).

A family history

In the nave (that’s the southern of the two remaining colonnades) we find the organ — apparently St Peter’s was very forward in gutting such an appliance of science. Close by is one of those delightful memorial tablets which tells quite a tale. The text reads:

In a VAULT on the outside of this Wall are deposited the
remains of KATHERINE HARVEY, youngest Daughter
who on the eve of her intended Marriage was suddenly
attacked with the alarming symptoms of a rapid decline
which closed her prospects of earthly felicity, separated
her from all family and endearing connexions and
terminated her existence in this World by removing
her to a better on the 28th day of May, 1807, aged 23 years.

Likewise were removed into the same Vault the remains
of ANN ISABELLA the wife of Lieut Col: HARVEY
and Daughter of WILLIAM PINDER Esq of the Island of
Barbadoes, who also died of a decline on the 4th day of Feb
1807, in the 28th Year of her age, leaving issue one son.

Let the young and the cheerful learn from hence,
that sublunary happiness is vain and uncertain,
And that only beyond the Grave true toys are to be found.

ALSO to the Memory of the above Willm. Maundy Harvey Esq.
Lieut. Colonel of the 79th Regiment of Foot, Colonel in the
British Army, Brigadier General in the Portuguese Service
and a Knight Commander of the Portuguese Order of the
Tower and Sword. He died at Sea on his passage home from
Lisbon on the 10th of June, 1813, aged 38 years, and was
buried in the Atlantic Ocean in Lat 45.37, Long 9.42.


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Filed under Britain, History, leisure travel, pubs

As night follows day

One thing was inevitable: Lynne Featherstone MP would be chirruping her approval of ‘Gids’ Osborne’s money-grubbing:

Great news – the amount you can earn before being taxed will rise to £9,440 this year. That’s £600 less tax to pay for working people, since the Liberal Democrats entered Government in 2010.

Nice of Ms Featherstone to gross up four years of tax to produce a nice number. Bet that took a load of expensive research.

But, not so!

There’s the extra VAT for a start. Since the Tory policy, pre-2010 Election, was definitively no increase in VAT, may we assume that the extra 2½% impost was a LibDem addition to ConDem domestic economics? In any case, we see Division 10 on Monday, 28 June 2010, and Ms Featherstone voting for the increase.

Shall we add in the other taxes — the kind of things Leona Helmsley reckoned were only for “the little people”?

May we start with energy tax?

Over three years, energy costs were up by nearly a quarter. A typical household bill of £1200 in 2011 will by now have devoured the entirety of that £600 tax relief. And, if it were a pensioner couple, half the winter bonus went too. Let’s not overlook that green energy tax, which is paying hundreds of millions to the wind-farmers, and 6% return on capital — half of the bunce straight out of the pockets of those working people close to Ms Featherstone’s heart.

Or what about transport tax?

In 2010 a single journey, zones 1-4, on the London Tube was £4. Today the cheapest fare, anywhere — even a single zone — is £4.50. The comparable zone 1-4 fare is £5.50. That’s an increase of 37½%!

Do we hear Ms Featherstone complain on our behalf?

“The spare room subsidy”

Then there’s the iniquitous Bedroom Tax — exactly the imposition on those lower-income working people for whom Ms Featherstone’s LibDem heart bleeds.

Even LibDem Voice (as recently as 19th March 2013) recognises it does not pass ‘the Fairer Society test’. Apart from the headline article, by John Coburn, we see on the comments some real Lib Dems in full agreement.We’d gladly hear Ms Featherstone contest Tony Greaves’s point:

The “bedroom tax” – what all the Housing Associations I know are calling it anyway – is a typical policy devised and imposed by people who would never live in social housing, who would not apply any such restrictions on themselves, who have little understanding of what it is like to live on a low income (that is to say be poor), and have little knowledge or understanding of how social housing actually works, or the circumstances in such local communities.

It is a thorough disgrace and just one of the whole series of government attacks on poor people and people who are not as fortunate as themselves and as their civil service advisers.

Did Ms Featherstone ever vote against this Bill? Oddly, whenever major small-l liberal issues make it to a Commons vote, Ms Featherstone appears invariably otherwise engaged. Hard work being bottom of the ministerial pecking order at the Department for International Development.

Reg Varney in a fright wig

A juicy morsel there, and about the most repeatable, from the Daily Mash, on Ms Featherstone’s previous gender-issue outing.

Let us celebrate that Ms Featherstone found the time and energy to put aside her other endeavours to demand — to demand! — that The Observer sack Julie Burchill. Since Ms Featherstone is pernickety about citing her ministerial commitments, lest she offend collective solidarity, this must fall under her DFID responsibilities, along with counting her air-miles. So, perhaps Ms Featherstone could contradict, with examples, Nick Cohen’s claim:

I have worked through the worst days of Bernard Ingham and Alastair Campbell’s manipulation of the media, but I have never before heard a minister in a democracy call for writers and editors to be fired for publishing an opinion, however offensive and controversial it may be. That the minister in question calls herself a “liberal” means that Featherstone is not just a menace but a hypocrite too.

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Filed under economy, Gender, George Osborne, London, Lynne Featherstone

Cock of the walk

No connection whatsoever with that previous post (except they originate in the same county).

Beware! Pavo cristatus ferox!

Here’s the all-purpose warning at Leeds Castle:



And here, unashamed, unabashed and cocky with it, is the potential perp:



And, let’s be fair, he has a fine walk to be cock of …


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Filed under Britain, leisure travel

Bragging or fagging?

It’s one of the many obscene puns that Bill Shakespeare … err … slipped in. It’s there at the end of Love’s Labours Lost:

Adriano de Armado: I do adore thy sweet grace’s slipper.
Boyet [Aside to Dumain]: Loves her by the foot, —
Dumain: He may not by the yard.

You don’t get it? Well, try the Wycliff Bible version of Genesis XVII.11:

 Ȝe shulen circumside the flehs of the ferthermore parti of ȝoure ȝeerde.

That  Ȝ is the letter ‘yogh’ (read the letter as a ‘jhuh’) and solved the problem implicit in the modern ‘y’ — either a consonant or a vowel, with two very different pronunciations.

If you’re still at a loss, the OED gives the eleventh meaning of “yard” as “the virile member”.

That’s the groundwork done.

So consider why Malcolm was amused by this one:


As seen in the Thomas Becket, 21 Best Lane, Canterbury.

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Filed under Literature, pubs, Quotations, Shakespeare