My history of British Manufacturing

My history of British Manufacturing
My history of British Manufacturing

Friday 22 December 2017

Blue Passports - has it come to that?

An old friend, who has lived in Australia for many years, posted a passionate piece about taking back control, about not allowing ourselves to be ruled by unelected men in Brussels. This friend is probably one of the brightest people I know. He read History at Cambridge and can talk knowledgeably about anything.

What he doesn't know is that we have changed.

When I was a little boy growing up in the shadow of the war with my former soldier father, I made my own blue passport. I copied meticulously the words of Her Britannic Majesty.

Now, many years later in the small provincial city where I live, my fellow countrymen and women are from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, but also Spain, France, Germany, Latvia, Poland. My friend who only visits occasionally wouldn't know that. He couldn't; it is ordinary life. I admit not for everyone, but I do believe for many and how much more so in larger cosmopolitan cities.

To want your blue passport back is like wanting empire back, wanting black and white television, wanting failing sports teams. They have all gone.

What we now have is something so much better, enriched by different cultures.

I am now first and foremost a European. I will always proudly be both British and English. None are mutually exclusive.

I don't want to go back.

I still have my old blue passport. It is in my drawer with my toy soldiers and the school reports my mum kept, and that is where it should remain.

Wednesday 20 December 2017

It began with Iron and Steel

I had never realise why the EU began with The Iron and Steel Community.

I should have done. I've been writing about it for four years now, with War on Wheels on WW2 and Ordnance on Equipping the Army for the Great War. Iron, Steel and Coal are the sinews of war. By putting the industries of the former waring nations together, the risk of war was massively reduced. So too the capacity for building a lasting and prosperous peace.

I am indebted to Bill Hayes on Facebook for drawing my attention to a short video, by historian David Reynolds, that explains it all.

My researches took me to the mid nineteenth century when Britain, France and Germany had each developed massive arms industries which only grew more powerful through the demands made on them by two World Wars.

It also reminded me of a piece I wrote eighteen months ago and which I had forgotten had been published in the Lincolnshire Echo.

May our leaders watch and learn.
Devastation in France - 1918

Saturday 16 December 2017

Guardian - thank you

The Guardian has done a remarkable job this year in two particular ways. It has kept the plight of refugees in view and it has not faltered on its opposition to Brexit.

Alongside this editor in chief, Katherine Viner, wrote a thought provoking essay on what journalism is in the digital era. In this she made no attempt to paper over those places where we might think the Guardian slipped up or indeed worse. It showed the Guardian warts and all but with e true vision that can sustain this nation.

Refugees are I am sure a pain not least to the Greeks on the Island of Lesvos or to the French in Calais and Paris. Pain they may be, but human they are also. I remain ashamed that it took a spell working with them on Lesvos for me to realise that there but for the grace of God, or chance, go all of us. They are each our brother and sister. They may seem unimportant in the blaring sound of Trump, the lunacy of Brexit or indeed our own daily cares. The Guardian stands up and reminds us that they are there and matter.

It was the writer of the new testament letter to James who reminded, presumably James, that faith without works is nothing. We could paraphrase and say words without works.

Today, as I write, Guardian journalists are waiting to take calls and donations for the Christmas Appeal which is for those without homes and those who had fled their homes.

Thank you.

Sunday 26 November 2017


Apparently it IS our problem: our productivity is stagnant. The amount 'produced' by each worker is not growing and so there isn't the money to pay people more.

Hold on. As Ian Jack says in today's Guardian, only 10% of our economy is in manufacturing where workers produce things; the remainder is all about services, people doing things for other people.

I can understand productivity in manufacturing, where the use of machines can enable a worker to produce more. The Guardian Magazine article on robots helped me to understand the application of productivity to distribution centres.

Where I struggle is how productivity relates to the rest of the economy i.e. most of it. Let's take some examples.

Ian Jack talks of Baristas. Does increasing productivity mean that a machine will serve me my coffee?

There is much talk of the care sector. Are we to be looked after by machines, rather than people? The same might be said at the other end of life; are children in nurseries to be minded by machines? Of course not. Indeed if we are to improve the quality of care, we should have more rather than fewer carers.

The creative industries are said to be economically important. As a writer of non-fiction, I can vouch for productivity improved by using Google for research and my lap top for writing. But what of those whose work is what it is, because it is made by hand: Maggie's hand blown glass. What of musicians, what of actors and other who delight audiences? What of writers?

We can all see productivity savings in retail with DIY checkouts. As the Guardian leader says, one fifth of Amazon's employees are robots. I guess larger rubbish and recycling bins are examples of productivity.

Again, quoting the Guardian leader, millions of clerical jobs are now done by machines. This image from the Army Centre for Mechanisation at Chilwell in WW2, says a lot.

I would like to understand just what better productivity produces. Is it good for the many young people who now deliver parcels for their living? Another Guardian article by Sam Knight, on the billions of sandwiches we eat, highlighted the need for robot sandwich makers when we leave the EU since, apparently, the native British worker doesn't want to.

To my mind the question is bigger, and is much more about 'what is work on a post industrial society' and the related question of how the national cake should be shared out. Robert Peston touches on this and much more in his new book, WTF The question of a universal income needs to be explored. We are heading for a society of a mix of a small amount of high paid highly skilled work and low paid work that can't be done by robots.

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Refugee crisis - what crisis?

Perhaps there has always been a refugee crisis somewhere in the world; somewhere so bad that made people like you and me flee for our lives?

We see it with Burma, in the Yemen, but also in Europe. Not that that makes it any worse or indeed better. It is part of the natural order of civilisation; the more powerful oppress the less powerful, so much so sometimes that they have no choice but to up sticks and leave home behind.

They leave Syria and Afghanistan for the Greek Island of Lesvos even when they know both the danger of getting there in the first place and the hell that awaits. Some thought they were lucky to be able to move on to continental Europe until they arrived in Calais. It is simply no good politicians saying that better conditions would only encourage more to come. As if people would actually decide to stay in a war zone? Men, women and child will always flee for their lives if they have too. Civilised nations must always be prepared to offer safety.

The news today out of Lesvos is so horrific. It is of the camp where Maggie and I worked nearly two years ago now. We thought it was bad then; it was nothing in comparison to now. it just gets worse and worse.

Civilised and wealthy nations simply have to man up to stop this inhuman treatment; it could after all so easily be any one of us next time.

We must never allow our leaders to forget. The new film Human Flow should help.

Big Give Christmas Challenge

What does Lincoln Drill Hall mean to you?

A place for fabulous Panto?

A place for comedy or great music?

A place for provoking theatre?

The place where children and young people gain confidence through performance?

The place where people with disabilities can come and have fun?

A place when we can meet and belong?

Or, perhaps, its history?

That it was given to the city, for the use of the Lincolnshire volunteers, by the great Lincoln engineer Joseph Ruston who insisted that there should be a kitchen there to provide soup for the poor of the city?

The venue for the massively popular dances in the forties and fifties?

The place where the Rolling Stones performed before their first Top of the Pops?

You can make a big difference to help it continue to be there for the city.

The Lincoln Arts Trust has been entrusted with the running and care of Lincoln Drill Hall. This Christmas we are delighted to have been chosen as part of The Big Give Christmas Challenge (

Earlier in the year, I and a number of businesses and other key supporters pledged a total of £3,750 to the campaign.  In order to unlock our pledges, the Trust needs to raise the same amount again in a one-week challenge that runs from Midday on the 28th November to Midday on the 5 December 2017.  Each pound donated in that week will unlock a pound of pledges and we are determined to raise the full £3,7500 to give us a fundraising total of £7,500.

And it doesn’t stop there.  Thanks to a generous Arts Council England scheme called Catalyst Evolve we will then be able to take that £7,500 and double it again, meaning a total fundraising income of £15,000.  In reality each pound is worth £4 to us and every penny will be invested in ensuring that we have a huge impact upon young people across the city, giving them chances to take part in the arts.  People like Scarlett who joined our youth theatre and, by the time she went to University, had programmed events on our main stage and served as a trustee:

‘Thank you so much for being such a huge part of my life and helping to make me who I am today.  From a Fishtank (youth theatre) member to a trustee, this building has helped me grow in ways I cannot even express.’

I urge you to join our campaign and to consider donating £10. This will turn into £40 and have a massive benefit for the charity as we aim to continue changing lives, changing place and changing perceptions.

Saturday 11 November 2017

Awake remembrance of these valiant dead

Awake remembrance of these valiant dead, and with your puissant arm renew their feats.

2015 marks the anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt and the time I played a very young looking Bishop of Ely in Shakespeare’s Henry V. This line from the first Act has stayed with me over the last fifty years but its resonance has changed. The valiant dead we honour today and indeed sang about in our hymns. This time of year when we remember All Saints and, in All Souls, those whom we love but see no longer, we do awake the remembrance. These days though we have many reminders as in my childhood when wounded servicemen were quite common sights; so too in the 21st century with casualties from Afganistan and Iraq. What has changed is the imperative to renew their feats.

Something seems to have changed, whether in me or more widely. The bellicose reaction of George W Bush to the twin towers is replaced by the way the west now looks on as Syria destroys herself.
A question that perhaps I never expected to ask is whether we can be sufficiently valiant to say no to renewing their deeds. This is not that we don’t honour; it is that we do. It is about politicians being brave enough to say to the electorate, force will not work; our sons and daughters will lose their lives along with the sons and daughters of those whom we oppose, and nothing will change. This is not something that would command universal support and equally it is not the focus of what we are doing today. I am simply reminded by the death of Senator George McGovern who stood against Nixon over the Vietnam war. He came to politics from a distinguished service career and he said after losing the election that if his standing had brought peace one day closer it would have been worth it.

The reading we heard from St Mark’s gospel is about Jesus calling his first disciples. These men followed quite oblivious to their destination, their route or the hazards they may encounter en route. Those whom we honour today may have found themselves in not dissimilar situations. I remember my Uncle, who with my father fought in the first world war, telling me of the jubilation in the streets following the declaration of war. He then fell quiet.

The same is shown in a film I have watched more than almost any, Richard Attenborough’s a Bridge too Far. This is a crazy thing to do; it is an horrific film, showing as it does in graphic detail the consequences of an overly ambitious decision by a great war leader, Field Marshall Montgomery. There is one sequence in the film that always sticks in my mind. Somewhere in then free France, a hall is filled with British army officers chattering nervously; there is an overwhelming air of expectation. We see why as General Sir Brian Horrocks enters; a huge round of applause and this lauded general takes the stage to his obvious delight. He tells his assembled officers what lies in store. It is an ambitious plan. He tells them, it not the easiest party we have been too, but I wouldn’t miss it for the world. He goes on with a joked allusion to Henry V at Agincourt. It is perhaps quintessential fiction, but may well be based on truth. The inspiring speech, necessarily skirting round the fears of what the reality might be and we know he has fears since only a little later he discloses them; you didn’t actually believe all that rubbish?

It is inappropriate to draw on the hype of war movies when we are here to remember those who sacrificed actual lives in two world wars and later conflicts, inappropriate but perhaps revealing.
Our reading was from the very start of St Marks gospel, the shortest of the four accounts of Jesus’ life and one where no word is wasted. Jesus made no great speeches to encourage Simon and Andrew, James and John to follow him, simply the request. So why did they? Was he charismatic as, by all accounts, Horrocks was? Was it just an attractive young man with fresh exciting ideas that made sound men leave all to follow him? They had no idea of what was to come.

I am reminded of another film, that of Churchill in the year preceding the second world war, the Gathering Storm. Churchill is talking about the young civil servant who at great personal risk fed him the secret information that enabled him to bring parliament to appreciate the danger that was mounting in Nazi Germany. He said of the young man and of bravery, ‘it is one thing to undertake a dangerous task blind to its dangers, it is true bravery where fully aware of the dangers that the task is undertaken.

This brings us to the essence of remembrance. Who could have watched the Paralympics without a sense of awe at how these people had overcome the difficulties they live with. It all started with those young men at Stoke Mandeville inspired to take up the life that had so nearly forfeited. They, I believe, may have done what they did in the full knowledge of what lay in store. True bravery for which we give thanks.

This all begs a massive question: if they knew so too did their leaders: Churchill, Bush and Blair. Sometimes it feels with this latter group, the politicians, that they don’t truly think through the consequences of their demands. The demand is massive; can the end possibly justify it? It is the oldest question in the world, but perhaps one that is now at last being asked. We sit in agony as we see Syria destroying herself. We should send the troops in, is the kneejerk reaction that cost so many lives in Iraq and Afganistaan. Perhaps the world is learning however painful it may be.
That though is not our focus today. We remember, we give thanks too for those many, I fear probably like me, who were not so obviously brave, but rather were scared and died in fear. For them too we give thanks, but also for those caught up in the cross fire, the innocent victim, as if any victim was ever anything else. Those whose young lives were stolen from them. All these we honour and give thanks.

But what of Jesus and his call? Do we take a reality check and ignore it? Or for the sake of those whom we remember, respond to it in the faith that by doing so we make the world more like the heaven for which we pray.      

Monday 30 October 2017

Calais Children

The film Calais Children - a case to answer is a terrible indictment. I would like to say on the British government and that would be entirely true, most particularly the Home Office from top to bottom.

However, and there always is an however. We allow the problem of refugees to disappear from view. It is both too big and too small. Too small because we are talking about a few thousand children who are entitled to come to the UK. Too big because it is difficult to imagine how mass migrations of people seeking a better life either could be stopped or argued against.

The film focuses on the Dubs amendment which caused the British government to promise a place of safety to child refugees particularly those caught in the Calais Jungle.

The film tells the stories of individual children: how they are in near constant danger from adults, authorities and weather. It tells of the cynical approach adopted by Home Office officials and the Home Secretary's refusal to treat numbers as people.

This is the link to the film's website. Please take a look at this trailer

If you want to do something albeit small and you live in Lincoln, please contribute to the CompassionateLincoln collection for both refugees and those homeless closer to home.

Saturday 28 October 2017

Frequency 2017

I'll admit it; however hard I tried I couldn't 'get' Frequency. Until this year.

A couple of years ago, I was given Arduino by my children and made some circuits to see how analogue signals could be translated into digital. It kind of worked. Talking to friends around the city though, I still found myself agreeing that it was all flashing lights and sound.

Until this year; until I saw Daz Disley's Blooms and Bloom (at Lincoln University). He had produced images of space and time from flowers. He could have done it much like cartoons used to be made. Instead he harnessed the power of Boolean logic to translate one into the other.

It is all 01, 01.

Or rather it is capturing the world as we see it in a parallel binary world of millions of tiny spots. These spots, this data whether it be of image, sound or temperature, can then be worked at will.

For me this was shown in the Empire Soldiers virtual reality piece (at the Drill Hall) which took a story from the world and, with a combination of live and virtual performance, translated it into an immersive experience which communicated in a deeply effective way the story.

There is so much more. Log Book in the cathedral; Worldless in the Drill Hall cellar. Deep Data Prototype at Posterngate reminded me of Victorian scientific instruments many, possibly most, of which were beautiful in their own right. Science and Art meets.

What is most exciting is that they now have funding for the next two festivals and so can now plan to reach even further. The Festival has been recognised by no less than the New Scientist

You can visit this year's Festival website

Friday 6 October 2017

Who was this man, William Smith Williams, who discovered Charlotte Bronte

Charlotte Bronte described him as pale, mild, stooping man of about fifty.

We know, or can infer, that his schooling brought him into contact with boys, including Keats, who would go on to careers as significant thinkers and writers. We know that his social group included or was close to some of the most exciting thinking of his time: people such as Ruskin, Thackeray and Elizabeth Gaskell.

He grew up close to theatre land and both had a great love of theatre and a deep knowledge of it. He had a love of painting, Turner in particular; he wrote on the place of Art in Design. He worked for many years for a ground breaking Lithographer, Charles Hullmandel and he wrote on the techniques and impact of Lithography.

Yet, his emergence into the public view was from a position as a book keeper, and it would seem not a very good book keeper.

But who really was William Smith Williams?

The book I am researching sets out to trace whence he came and whither he went to paint a picture of this incredibly creative time in our history which included the groundbreaking shift in the English novel that was Jane Eyre.
WSW's tomb in Kensal Green Cemetery

Monday 2 October 2017

Lincoln Book Festival 2017 - a personal reflection

The Mona Lisa and the Pre-Raphaelites; Victorian Body Parts and The mysterious Mr Black and the Rooks; Powerful Queens and Medieval Saints; the Battle of Bosworth and the Tudor Myth; Historical Romance, the Fascinating story of The Huntingfield Paintress, and Gothic Revival at Scott's St Nicholas Newport. All this and the wonderful gothic flash fiction pieces and local history.

We have drunk deep and drunk very well.

High points? They all were.

If you click on the links you will be taken to some great pieces by Young Journalist, Ellen Lavelle.

Some 350 people wrote a gothic story in exactly 50 words; well most of them did. As I said, in some cases literacy was ahead of numeracy. The quality was high in each of the three classes: Primary, Secondary and Adult. As well as hearing the winners of our competition we heard wonderful pieces by the students of First Story. Well done to all concerned, not least the hard working English teachers and First Story's Writer in Residence, Kerry Drewery.

I move quickly to Dianne Setterfield

Dianne spoke very openly about her gothic novels and what gothic means to her. Two short quotes I will keep with me:

"Death is the counterpoint that enables us to take joy in life"

"I've got no time for Scooby Doo and the ghosts that turn out to be the janitor in disguise"

With Dianne, and Romance writers Janice Preston and Jenni Fletcher,  my understanding of gothic and romantic fiction and how they relate to each other has advanced leaps and bounds: subtle intermeshed depths.

“Romance would not be so enduringly popular if us writers failed to display the freedom and equality of women today”

I unashamedly relish David Starkey's irreverence, and how great to see teenage boys queueing to take a selfie with him. He dug back into medieval England to find the thin line of legitimacy for the tudor dynasty but then exploded it all as a carefully crafted myth.

“The myth is there from the very beginning, they didn’t just win at Bosworth, they won the ideas”

Kirsty Stonell-Walker's stories of the Pre-Raphaelite women, set alongside Kathryn Hughes entertaining survey of Victorian body parts, helped me to see much more clearly a hugely creative time in our history.

Alison Weir and Sarah Gristwood , strong women talking of strong Queens has to be a winner with comments like:

"I'm an Elizabeth Girl all the way - Take your side, Mary or Bess!

"It could never be said that these queens were mere cyphers"

Janina Ramirez held her audience in the palm of her hand as she unpacked saints and sainthood. On my bookshelf are the six volumes of Butlers Lives of the Saints. Yet I walk the coast of Northumberland and Cornwall and feel beneath my feet the prints of saints who have gone long before. I now see that sainthood digs much deeper than two millennia; our saints go back to our very beginnings.

The penultimate event was a morning on Local history revealing yet again the riches of Lincolnshire.

Topping and tailing the festival week were Martin Kemp's fascinating insights into who the Mona Lisa actually was, and the Fascinating story of The Huntingfield Paintress by Pamela Holmes.

Gilbert Scott's St Nicholas Newport was the perfect place to finish with an afternoon on Gothic Revival.

Wednesday 27 September 2017

Patrick Bishop at Lincoln Drill Hall 3 October 2017

I am lucky enough to have been invited to introduce Patrick Bishop when he speaks at Lincoln Drill Hall on Tuesday 3 October.

I first read Patrick ten years ago when I was staying in Kent. I found Fighter Boys in my host's bookcase. I couldn't put it down. To make the experience complete, I could hear the scream of a Merlin engine as a Spitfire was put through it paces nearby.

Bomber Boys was next, some years later when I was researching MacRobert's Reply. It was chilling and I could begin to understand what Don Jeffs had gone through as the sole survivor of the crashed Stirling bomber that bore the name MacRobert's Reply.

When I heard about Air Force Blue and knew that it would be a must read. I can't wait to hear him speak. Click here to book.

This is what his publishers, Harper Collins, have to say

In a return to sweeping social history of wartime, Patrick Bishop – author of bestselling Fighter Boys and Bomber Boys – explores the lives and wartime experience of thousands of men and women who served in all units of the airforce. To mark the centenary of the RAF in 2018.

Air warfare was a terrible novelty of the modern age, requiring a new military outlook. From the beginning, the RAF’s identity set it apart from the traditional services. It was innovative, flexible and comparatively meritocratic, advancing the quasi-revolutionary idea that competence was more important than background.

The Air Force went into the war with inadequate machines, training and tactics, and the early phase was littered with setbacks and debacles. Then, in the summer of 1940, in full view of the population, Fighter Command won one of the decisive battles of the struggle. Thereafter the RAF was gilded with an aura of success that never tarnished, going on to make a vital contribution to Allied victory in all theatres.

Drawing from diaries, letters, memoirs, and interviews, Air Force Blue captures the nature of combat in the skies over the corrugated wastes of the Atlantic, the sands of the Western Desert and the jungles of Burma. It also brings to life the intensely lived dramas, romances, friendships and fun that were as important a part of the experience as the fighting.

Air Force Blue portrays the spirit of the RAF its heart and soul during its finest hours. It is essential reading for the millions in Britain and the Commonwealth whose loved ones served, and for anyone who wants to understand the Second World War.

Tuesday 19 September 2017

Lincoln Book Festival 2017 - the story

The Lincoln Book Festival emerged in the early summer from a long winter, paralleling the blossoming of soaring gothic architecture from the dark ages…possibly! It actually emerged from a period of hard work seeking out interesting books and more importantly interesting authors who enjoy talking about their work.

This year, the 800th anniversary of one of the pivotal battles in English history, demanded attention. Its date of 1217 would also have witnessed St Hugh’s gothic cathedral towering majestically over hundreds of small dark dwellings in the town. This contrast between light and dark begs a gothic theme.

For the battle, I spoke to David Starkey and he suggested a broader theme of battles and dynasties. The battle though speaks also of strong women and temped us toward a look at influential queens. The thirteenth century gothic of the cathedral invited a glimpse into the gothic revival architecture of the 19th century, Sir George Gilbert Scott and our own St Nicholas Newport. That gothic revival in turn beckoned us into 19th century and later ‘scary’ gothic literature. 19th century tempted us into the Pre-Raphaelites and painting back to the Mona Lisa.

But, why history?

When we revived the Lincoln Book Festival a few years ago, we debated long what its theme should be. We had to do little more than look out of the window of the room where we were meeting to see some of the city’s Roman remains. Over the road was the Gothic Cathedral and on through the Georgian Minster Yard was the Norman Castle.

Lincoln is a place where history seeps from every stone.

The city’s origins are owed to the Romans – whose ancient city can still be seen today – and ‘Lindum Colonia’ has played an influential role in English history ever since.

In 1215, an original of Magna Carta was brought to the city and today Lincoln Castle is the only place in the world where the great charter can be seen side-by-side with an original of the 1217 Charter of the Forest. This year with the added attraction of the Doomsday Book.

Thousands of years of history can still be seen in the fabric of the city, known as the ‘Birthplace of the Tank’ due to its engineering heritage from the early 20th century.

So, history chose itself. To be honest, so did gothic as this year’s theme.

Yet, for all our wonderful speakers, what I looked forward to most was reading the shortlisted pieces of our flash fiction competition. We invited people of all ages to write a piece of gothic fiction in just fifty words. At the first evening of the Festival we will hear the winners. I can’t wait.

Details of the Festival can be found on the website 
Tickets from Lincoln Drill Hall

The Lincoln Book Festival is in many ways remarkable. Some years ago it was in effect run by the local authority and was really quite big. Then its funding vanished and a dedicated group of people fought to keep it alive. Many are still trustees and without them it simply wouldn’t be here.

Festivals need money, as indeed do charitable arts venues like the Drill Hall 

In the early days of independence the Book Festival received vital support from the Lindum Group. Since then there have been a number of wonderful and loyal sponsors.

Monday 18 September 2017

Lincoln Drill Hall Autumn 2017

When I called into the Hall in August this was what I found
The space had been cleared for some much needed rewiring and updating of equipment and seating for which we had obtained grant funding. There is still work to be done, but we are seriously up and running.

Over the week ending 17 September we welcomed more than 2,000 people through our doors. The Gin Festival had been a sell out as had Russell Watson and we had great comedy with Phil Jupitus. The remainder of the autumn offers yet more great performance. There are full details on the website.

In the last week of September we are hosting two events of the Lincoln Book Festival: David Starkey on 27th and Alison Weir and Sarah Gristwood and Janina Ramirez on Friday 29th. All the Festival Events are on its website.

To complete the audience experience we now have wine list comprising a range of wines so that everyone should be able to find something to their taste. I have sampled them all, in the line of duty.

Saturday 24 June 2017

One year on and my heart is still broken

I shall never forget waking on 24 June 2016 to discover that the electorate had voted to leave the EU. It broke my heart.

For me, it was never about money; it was a matter of principle: we have avoided war by working together. I have spent many hours researching and writing about the two world wars and the thought that these would never be repeated mattered massively. The EU was the child of the peace process following the end of WW2. It was, it is something of immense value and the electorate voted to leave it.


So we could regain control? My argument always was that the EU is governed by a democratic process comprising a directly elected Parliament and a Council of Ministers from each member state. There is a civil service, the Commission, but it is answerable to the democratic bodies. The EU does those things that are better done together rather than 28 times over. It made, it makes sense. The EU together can tackle the major problems we face; countries can't do it alone.

I have friends who voted to leave. For them it was immigration. Interestingly it was immigration from middle eastern countries, which to my knowledge are not members of the EU.  They were angry; they wanted their country back. Voting to leave the EU will not make a bean of difference. If we do leave, they will be disappointed; actually they will be furious. They will be all the more furious when they can't get the NHS treatment they need because of a lack of skilled staff and when they see living standards fall.

The economic picture straight after Brexit looked OK. The Stock Market had risen, so all was well. Shh. The Stock Market rose because company profits earned in currencies other that sterling were suddenly worth 20% more, because the pound tumbled. Since then the negative impact of the fall in the pound has been felt with inflation caused by imported goods costing more.

This whole Brexit thing is a total nonsense.

How I wish we had an opposition brave enough to say this out loud!

Sunday 18 June 2017

The Blame Game

It seems that there is nothing for which Mrs May is not responsible. This is profoundly dangerous scape-goating and risks hiding the real issues.

Taking a very broad brush, the tragedy in Kensington, the Brexit vote and the state of the NHS all have in common the results of austerity. Buildings seem to have been maintained on the cheap and millions have seen their living standards eroded and it seems that there is simply not enough money to pay nurses properly or provide the health service we need. There has grown up in government a mind set that says all that matters is not spending money. It is a fear that if ministers do so they will be outed for sacrificing a sacred cow.

We don’t have enough money.


The immediate reason was the need for government to pay out many millions to save the banks which were on the point of going bust in the financial crisis of 2008. Banks going bust mean countless millions losing savings. It mattered.

Having saved the banks, the Labour government set about trying to balance the books. Millions had been borrowed and, if only to pay the interest, millions had to be found. There is a choice: borrow more, raise taxes or reduce public expenditure. Borrowings already looked terrifying, raising taxes risked impeding enterprise, or upsetting core supporters, and so public expenditure was chosen. The Coalition and then the Tory government continued on the same path.

The result is the denuded public services we now face and ministers closing their ears and eyes to the evidence of experts on the safety of tower blocks, for example.

Who was to blame?

Blame must focus on the banking crisis. Unpicking the strands, we had a situation where financial institutions were struggling to keep the interest rates paid on people savings at the levels they had become used to. World interest rates were falling, largely as a result of monies flowing out from China. The backroom boys at the banks set to work to devise products that would offer high interest rates to the people and pension funds hungry for them, that is you and me. One way of doing this was to lend money at high interest rates to people probably unable to borrow otherwise – high risk lending. These loans were bundled together in such a complex way that, when they were offered as an investment, the inherent risk was hidden. These were the sub-prime mortgages. First in the USA and then at Northern Rock amongst others people began to see that ‘the emperor had no clothes’, that millions of pounds of investments were worthless. Banks had invested heavily in them and so they faced disaster. The government stepped in, borrowing massively to do so.

Who was to blame? Was it pensioners demanding high interest rates, pension schemes struggling to meet their obligations to retired workers, evil bankers who without question made a fortune in the process? A bit of each. What is certain is that it was not the NHS, it was not occupiers of high rise flats and it was not millions of people whose jobs had disappeared over the decades with technological advances and third world countries entering the market. It wasn’t the EU.

Governments, including the EU, should have applied tighter regulation and still must. De-regulation goes back to the time of Mrs Thatcher but it continued under governments of all colours since.

What do we do?

We can’t go on with austerity. We have to have and pay for proper public services as Polly Toynbee argues in her book, Dismembered. So we have no alternative than to raise taxes, from everyone not just the rich, but the rich should pay proportionately more. The LibDems were wrong suggesting a penny in the pound from everyone; but Labour were also wrong in saying the rich must pay. We are all in this together, but those best able should shoulder the greater part of the burden, not by threats but by seeing their role in a cohesive society.

Probably the major part of the deficit arising from bailing out the banks should be left and no attempt made to repay it. Adair Turner, in his book Between Debt and  the Devil, suggests this. Investment financed by new borrowing should now be made in infrastructure and in education and training to encourage enterprise which is the key to a strong economy.

We need to look very carefully at the wisdom of an economy based on individual borrowing to finance consumer spending.

We must remain in the EU for access to their markets, for the immigration we desperately need and to work with other countries to face the challenges together.

We have to accept that we have been living beyond our means and so can’t have new cars on finance every few years. We have to share out the national cake more evenly: another point that Turner makes. This will benefit the economy as a whole since the current polarisation of wealth means that millions lie unproductive in property.

It is not only Mrs May, but equally she is not the leader we need to get us out of this complex mess.

Tuesday 4 April 2017

Some more memories of Lincoln Drill Hall

Can anyone remember Len Marshall’s dance band playing at the Drill Hall?

In response to my last article, Ralph Williams told me that, as a small boy in WW2, he would sit on the stage and watch the couples navigate the crowded dance floor every Friday and Saturday night. Ralph’s grandparents were caretakers and lived in the house attached to the hall. His granddad would take great pride in keeping the dance floor shiny. His gran would serve refreshments to the thirsty dancers.

It wasn’t just Len’s band, or that of his wife, who took over the band when Len died; it was others: Ted Heath, Johnny Dankworth and Cleo Laine. Ralph spoke with special delighted of Ivy Benson’s All Girl Band, which he also managed to see later out in Egypt on his National Service.

New Year’s Eve was very special. Mrs Marshall would have dances going on not only in the Drill Hall but also in the Assembly Rooms and in a dance hall, now gone, opposite the Theatre Royal.

It wasn’t just dances. In the first floor room bordering Broadgate there was a private Men’s Club with bar and billiard table. At the other end, again upstairs, there was the Sergeant’s Mess Club also replete with billiard table.

On Boxing Day the shooting range to the right of the hall would be brought into use for a shooting competition and Ralph’s Dad, Arthur Williams who worked at Rustons in Boultham, would be a keen participant.

As musical tastes changed, so did the Drill Hall offering with the bands and performers such as Gene Vincent (with his famous hit “Be Bop A Lula”), Screaming Lord Sutch, Jess Conrad, Shane Fenton (later re-invented himself as Alvin Stardust), The Hollies and Ultravox.

There were local bands too, including the Sultans. The Hollies crossed the road after their Drill Hall gig to hear the Sultans in the old Ruston Club, aka Oddfellows Hall. Martin Phillips recalls that the Hollies complemented the Sultans on their version of Searching. Andy Blow told me another Sultans story: they were invited to support the Stones at the Drill Hall on NY Eve ’63 but felt they had to decline - they were already booked at Branston Village Hall! The Stones were a breaking band but it wasn’t yet apparent that they were going to be one of the biggest bands of all time.

In 2004 the Drill Hall re-opened with a broader remit. It was to be the performing arts venue for the city. This was not only a matter of hosting professional acts, but also being the space where local groups could perform.

There was comedy and in their early careers audiences enjoyed Lee Evans, John Bishop, Rob Brydon, Lee Mack, Jason Manford, Jack Dee, Sean Lock Sarah Millican and Stewart Lee. Still enjoyed are Marcus Brigstocke and Jeremy Hardy amongst others.

There were talks, in politics, Tony Benn and Shirley Williams but also Roy Hattersley, Michael Portillo and Ken Livingstone. Outside politics the hall has hosted Melvyn Bragg, Germaine Greer who is back this coming summer, Will Self, Gervase Phinn, Jenny Agutter and Chris Packham.

There has of course been more music. Not only did Johnny and Cleo play the Drill Hall, but their daughter Jacqui Dankworth has appeared in two Lincoln Jazz Five gigs there. Darius Brubeck, son of Dave, has been another famous jazz visitor as has Jamie Cullum of course. Georgie Fame, The Kyle Eastwood Band and Dennis Rollins.

In terms of Folk, Fairport Convention have been back each year and there have been visits from Martin and Eliza Carthy, Seth Lakeman, Bella Hardy, Lau, The Unthanks. Julie Felix was a visitor last year.

With rock and pop, audiences have enjoyed Steve Cropper, The Buzzcocks, Lloyd Cole, Midge Ure, Howard Jones and King King.

All this is before I even mention classical music, dance and theatre. Did you see Ockham’s Razor when they first came?

What are your memories of the Drill Hall?

This piece was published by The Lincolnshire Echo on 30 March 2016

Monday 3 April 2017

John the Troubador surely must take his place among Lincoln’s Literary Heroes.

Never heard of him!

Well, read on.

On 20 May 1217 a battle took place just outside Lincoln castle between two groups of English barons: one loyal to the boy king Henry III, and the other led by Louis, son of the French king, and supported by French troops. This battle must rank alongside the Armada and the Battle of Britain in its significance to this island.

Barely two years before, a similar group of barons had confronted Henry’s father, King John, at Runnymede and had persuaded him to add his seal to a list of their demands in the document we now know as Magna Carta. This document remained in force for just ten weeks when, in response to John’s pleading, the Pope annulled it. The battle lines were re-drawn with a group of barons seeking the support of the French with the objective of overthrowing John. Another group rallied round their king.

One of these was a septuagenarian, William Marshal, whom in his younger days had been a dashing, handsome young knight beloved by those fond of jousting. William stood by his king and crucially was by his bed when John died of eating an excess of peaches, or so the story goes. John entrusted the care of his young heir to William.

The rebel barons, under Louis, controlled London and the whole of the east of England, up to and including Lincoln, but crucially not Lincoln castle which was under siege and held by Nicola de la Hay, the widow of its previous castellan.

William and his troops controlled the west. In May 1217 reports reached William that the French troops had spilt into groups and so he grabbed the chance to take them on at Lincoln and so lift the siege of the castle. They camped at Torkesey and on the morning of 20 May marched into Lincoln. A fierce battle followed and the French and the rebel barons retreated down steep hill with the English in pursuit. The English were victorious and celebrated by plundering the city of Lincoln which they accused of being in league with the rebels.

How do we know all this?

John the Troubadour wrote it in an 19,214 line poetic celebration of William Marshal’s life. John had been commissioned by William’s son and he wrote it within ten years of the battle taking place using a good number of contemporary sources. The poem, originally in medieval French, has been translated into English by Stewart Gregory and David Couch and form the basis of Crouch’s William Marshal. 

Phil Hamlyn Williams  - chair of Lincoln Book Festival, indebted to David Starkey who is speaking at this year’s festival in September 2018