Monday, 29 June 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Recording Britain in World War 2 now showing in Southport

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Sunset Monksdale Rd Allotments Valerie Pirlot


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

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

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

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

The pact that defeated the Tories

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

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

The Birkdale Nightingale

I noticed the other night that there were tweets from people out in the Birkdale Dunes keeping watch over the Natterjack toads and sand  lizards. It put me in mind of a posting on this blog from April 2008 from the award winning poetry book by Jean Sprackland.

On Spring nights you can hear them
two miles away, calling their mates
to the breeding place, a wet slack in the dunes.
Lovers hiding nearby are surprised
by desperate music. One man searched all night
for a crashed spaceship.

For amphibians, they are terrible swimmers:
where it's tricky to get ashore, they drown.
By day they sleep in crevices under the boardwalk,
run like lizards from cover to cover
without the sense to leap when a gull snaps.
Yes, he can make himself fearsome,
inflating his lungs to double his size.
But cars on the coast road are not deterred.

She will lay a necklace of pearls in the reeds.
Next morning, a dog will run into the water and scatter them.
Or she'll spawn in a footprint filled with salt rain
that will dry to a crust in two days.

Still, when he calls her and climbs her
they are well designed. The nuptial pads on his thighs
velcro him to her back. She steadies beneath him.

The puddle brims with moonlight.
Everything leads to this.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Welcome to blogging Dan Lewis and Norwood Lib Dems

I am delighted to report that my colleagues now have a blog. Congratulations to Dan Lewis. The blog is on my blog roll on the right of this posting  and can be found here. There is a very excellent posting looking at the successful referendum in Ireland on equal marriage.

351,300 members in England and Wales, now that is what I call a surge.......

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

From more that half a century ago comes news of membership surge. I know the world was different then. These were the days before lettraset  and spray glue, well before DTP and yes it was an age when all the political parties had much greater memberships. The factors which caused that surge can be analysed and adapted to meet today's world.

There was community campaigning but in addition there was an excitement over political ideas. Page 4 of this newsletter laid out the key Liberal messages.

How often do we bemoan the lack of clear political identity that our party has achieved. Back in the day when we truly had a mass, membership 351,300 in 1964, member knew what they stood for.

I think we can identify the author of this statement on a Southport Liberal Newsletter of April 1964 as Jack Coleman. Jack fought Southport in the General Elections of 1964 and 66. The emphasis on Industrial Partnership was typical of Liberals of the period. This was a much more radical policy that the 'lite' version preached occasionally today. It comprised of compelling by law companies to share their profits and give workers an equal say with shareholders. How far we have travelled that a Liberal Dem Business Secretary of State merely proposes giving shareholder all the decision making powers and just suggests the work force is consulted.

Do have a look at point 9. The internationalist case. It is not made just so businesses can be more successful. It asserts the desirability of breaking down barriers between nation and confronting what the then Party constitution called the 'warping influence of nationalism'

Charles Kennedy

We have forgotten since then how the ranks of the parliamentary Conservative party – though not all by any means – were cheerleaders for the war, and I can remember them standing in their seats baying, bragging and gesticulating at Kennedy as he walked in.