Lib Dems: English Executive – 21st January 2017

A new year, a new committee and a new chair. However this first meeting of the English Lib Dem Executive will be a surprisingly short one. First, with many of the other party bodies having taken a rest over Christmas and the New Year, and even more so this year given the membership of most regional and federal committees having only just been elected, it’s been a fairly quiet time. Secondly though, and more significantly from an English Lib Dem point of view, this meeting of the English Executive  is being condensed in to the first half of the day so that the English Review Group, which is considering how the party should be structured in England, can meet in the afternoon. I explained the process of the English Review Group in my report on December’s English Council and so I won’t run through it again, but essentially this get together today will be a facilitated discussion that will come up with a set of options that will be put to the members for discussion over the coming months and which will then be turned in to some more concrete options in time for the next English Council in June. The membership of the English Review Group (of which I am one) is one person from each English region and amongst this membership are a range of opinions on how things are best structured in the future from complete abolition to a variation on the current structure. I don’t think there’s anyone however who believes things should remain exactly as they are. It should be an interesting discussion.

One decision that will also be made at this first meeting of the English Executive is the membership of the English party’s sub-committees and the election of some of its other officers. I will provide a full list of these in the comments below this post after the meeting. That will also allow me to post the names of the new regional chairs as a few of these have changed this year and I don’t know the names of them all yet and all regional chairs are ex officio members of the English Executive.

Here, however, are a few (perhaps a few too many) bullet points from the reports that have come to today’s English Executive meeting:

  • The party’s new Federal Board (which has replaced the Federal Executive) has had an away day to develop the party’s strategy. If you want to influence how the party is run over the next three years then there’s probably never been a better time to do it.
  • Tim Farron has stated an aim to have 100,000 party members (at the end of 2016 the membership in England was 70,579 – the highest for well over a decade following floods of new members after the General Election, EU Referendum and Trump’s election). Recruiting and retaining these members will need significant support from regional parties, especially in the less active local parties. The party’s recent success with digital communications in by-elections has shown how much more the party can do on this front in other levels of the party although direct human contact is still vital.
  • Compliance with election and political funding laws and with party membership rules is becoming increasingly complex and although many of the more difficult cases are handled at state level and by Federal party staff, regions are increasingly needed to give a lot of support to the process. The Electoral Commission fine was discussed in some detail by the Federal Board, although I’m not able to share any further details.
  • The party has appointed regional spokespeople on Brexit. Whilst the individuals appointed have been largely welcomed, there has been some unhappiness that the first most regional parties knew of it was when they were mentioned in an article on Lib Dem Voice. A personal aside from me – I remain convinced that most of the problems or upset in the party come from people simply not talking to each other about something.
  • The Federal Board has a number of vacancies to fill. More details here.
  • The budget for the party’s G8 scheme which helps give financial support for campaigning at a local level has been given a one-off increase this year given the scale of next year’s English county and Scottish and Welsh local elections. Most of the money is being targeted at gains. In recent years G8 has also helped subsidise the excellent (I can say that now without being biased) Kickstart training weekends organised by ALDC, and this year the September weekend will be moved to July to give people even more of a head start for their 2018 and 2019 elections.
  • The English Candidates’ Committee (ECC) would like regions to make available via regional newsletters etc. more information on the candidates process and how it will proceed once the current snap General Election candidates cease to be candidates in May. In particular there remains a need for more returning officers, assessors, facilitators and candidates themselves. Regions will also have a very busy 2017 considering areas such as the party’s diversity requirements and how this relates to specific seats, candidate compacts and boundary changes.
  • ECC is considering how decisions on a snap General Election are communicated in the future. This time around a decision to put in candidates was made at Federal level which then had to be implemented by the state and regional parties, but there was considerable upset in some areas on how this was done.
  • ECC is also grappling with the issue of how the party handles the seat where the Speaker is an MP as by convention this isn’t fought by the main parties (some people would like a rule that the party never stands in that seat, whereas others think it should be contested), how candidates get updated information on party policy and whether there should be a representative of party candidates who live abroad as others are co-ordinated either by their state or regional party which doesn’t apply to overseas members.
  • Federal Policy Committee (FPC) has adopted standing orders for the first time and will also now be doing a regular report back on its activities following each meeting.
  • FPC recently considered the proposals to have emerged from the party’s Nuclear Weapons Policy Working Group, and these will be going to Spring Conference. It is also creating a new group on Immigration and Identity. There will also be a motion going to conference on faith schools which it is felt to be a significant enough issue on its own to not be subsumed in to any policy papers on education in general.
  • There is a proposal to this meeting of the English Executive that there should be a newsletter to members in England to include regional reports, candidate news, a financial update and simple information from the party within England.

Finally, I try and write these posts in as comprehensive and timely a fashion as possible and update anything I’ve said in them or that emerged at the meeting via the comments section below. Sometimes however life gets in the way of this and even though these posts can at times feel far too lengthy I’m happy to give more detail where I know it if I’m contacted directly (there’s a contact form on this blog). Where I don’t know an answer then I can put party members in touch with someone who does. Don’t forget there’s also a section on the members’ section of the Liberal Democrat website that includes reports and notes from party meetings at Federal and English level.


English Lib Dem Executive Report – Sat 23rd Jan 2016

Here’s my very belated report on the last English Lib Dems’ Executive (ECE) meeting. After my previous post gaining praise from Mark Pack on his own website: “Anders Hanson is one of the stars of the English Party because he does report back publicly on key parts of what the English Party is doing. He’s not part of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ culture,” my forgetfulness in posting this doesn’t exactly help back up his assertion!

In the interests of balancing the need to keep members informed and in brevity, I’m going to do this as a series of (hopefully) short paragraphs on the key areas discussed rather than going through each agenda item in turn or repeating what appeared in my preview of the meeting. Since my last post a couple of people have got in touch with me asking for more information about certain points and I’m happy to give party members more information when I know the person asking is a party member.

A world outside London – there were two discussions on a similar topic both of them under the Chair’s report, which often becomes the repository for subjects that members of ECE want to get off their chest but don’t appear elsewhere on the agenda. The first was a discussion that we always have at least once a year and that was the location of ECE meetings. Although we always agree in principle that it’s healthier for the party to not always meet in London, we still end up nearly always meeting in London as it’s proved generally easier for more people to get to London than anywhere else and when meetings have been held elsewhere they have often had a lower attendance. There is also some impact on cost as there are usually better deals on train fares to/from London and using Lib Dem HQ doesn’t cost anything. Having said that increasingly a clash of meetings has led to ECE meetings being held in other London venues anyway, such as this one which was held at the City of Westminster Archives. It was agreed that we would look at non-London venues for later in the year to give people more time to plan but also in the short term to try and make sure people can always phone in (which some venues we’ve used don’t allow). The second discussion on outside London is the move of Lib Dem HQ. This was something on which I initially didn’t think I could write anything as whilst the possibility of a move was well known amongst party staff, contractual negotiations were still underway. However, the need to move is now in the public domain following a somewhat sensationalist post on Guido Fawkes website. The location of Lib Dem HQ is another discussion that comes up on a regular basis and as someone based in the North I have a lot of sympathy for the argument that it would be healthy for it to not be in London part of the ‘Westminster bubble’. What’s always persuaded me otherwise however is that given how few people are employed at Lib Dem HQ, the cost of splitting the HQ team and needing two bases (we’d always need some staff in London) and the upheaval for a number of not desperately well paid staff, it probably isn’t worth doing. It’s also worth noting that a number of ostensibly London based party staff actually spend most of the week working from home in another part of the country entirely and only travel to London when they need to. I expect this will continue to be debated within the party for years to come.

Post-General Election Review – this is due to be released shortly. There is some concern about how little of it is expected to be available to the wider party membership, especially as knowing more of the detail will be helpful for anyone who has some sort of leadership role within the party. I understand the sensitivities of it and certainly the release of Labour’s General Election review created some unhelpful headlines in the short term. But in the longer term I feel that the more informed discussion that can be had from seeing the full report (with a small amount of sensitive information appropriately redacted) will be better for the party in the future. We will see how much is finally released however as I think most people are working on hearsay rather than knowing exactly what will be decided.

Regional and Local Party rebates – one of the payments of the proportion of membership income that goes back to local and regional parties was missed at the end of last year. This happened for a number of reasons, but the biggest concern was that local and regional treasurers were not informed of it in advance to allow them to plan around it. Discussions are under way to see how this will be resolved.

Police & Crime Commissioner candidates – unlike four years ago many more areas want to stand candidates in the Police & Crime Commissioner elections, however this enthusiasm isn’t shared as widely amongst the people who are approved candidates. As a candidate must live within the PCC area, unlike in a General Election where someone can live anywhere in the country (which allows for any approved candidate to be parachuted in at the last minute), it makes the pool to choose from smaller. The regional candidates’ committees are working with each PCC area to help make sure they have a candidate in place. I think we have to accept that these posts are now here for good, or at least the foreseeable future, and so we should treat them more with the seriousness that we do with other elected posts. There is actually the potential to make use of them as a great way of pushing our liberal and I think unique attitude to policing and justice issues, and so should provide an interesting and different option for those who are interested in taking on a public elected role if they were promoted appropriately.

Parliamentary candidates – there was a big churn in approved parliamentary candidates in the last parliament, with many previous candidates dropping out and more new ones being approved than ever before.  What is reassuring is that the post-General Election candidates review shows that most of these are very keen to stand again in the future. The first seats will start their selection following this May’s elections, and those who want to get on with it should make their desire to do this clear to their regional candidates’ chair. Whilst I’ve always been keen on early selections, and it’s clear that the English Candidates’ Committee want to make this happen, it’s also been clear that many local parties and/or candidates don’t want to do that. You can push them in to it, but to be honest if they are pushing back then they probably don’t expect to win anyway.

Transparency – the paper on making ECE more transparent by including contact details for its members on the party website, dates and summary of agenda items to be sent to all English Council members and also posted on the party website and advance notice of potentially contentious items, was passed without need for a debate.

Diversity within Liberal Youth – there is a recognition that by improving the diversity of members and activists within Liberal Youth this will help improve the future diversity of the party’s candidates and party bodies as people progress in to other roles. Liberal Youth are currently looking at how they can do this effectively.

English Strategy Review – some smaller groups are going to be set up to look at what actions can be taken in the short term that fit with the priorities outlined in this paper that was agreed by last November’s English Council. Essentially, the more complicated and controversial areas that nearly led to it being referred back, (such as the possible outsourcing of membership work), will be put to one side for now, but those areas which were genuinely popular will be investigated further. There’s little more to report on this at present, but more should be known on this by the time of the next meeting.

Finally, Co-options – there were co-options to the two sub-committees of ECE – the Regional Parties’ Committee (RPC), that deals with legal compliance and disciplinary issues, and the English Finance & Administration Committee (EFAC), whose role is largely self-explanatory but also works closely with the membership department. The co-options to these committees are largely around adding to the committee what the party website describes as “experience or expertise relevant to the function of the RPC” and they must be members of English Council with the latter in particular massively restricting the options. This makes RPC quite large as a sub-committee but as it’s a committee of work rather than just attending meetings, it’s helpful having a larger pool of people who will take part. The additions to these committees have not exactly improved diversity or gender balance, indeed it’s made it worse, (which is particularly unfortunate given the attendance at this ECE was the first time in a while that was almost 50:50 on gender), but without other names to suggest and knowing that they were all on an individual basis good additions I didn’t object. The party  (and in this I include all of the party) is generally quite poor about advertising party committee vacancies and co-options with the result that it’s often the same faces who appear everywhere. I will attempt to rectify that for ECE posts in the future. Read further down for two current vacancies.

EFAC co-opted Su Thorpe and Peter Ellis, largely because of their respective experience as a party treasurer and scrutinising party finances. This makes the full membership: Paul Clark, Brian Orrell, Rachelle Shepherd-Dubey, Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Su Thorpe and Peter Ellis. It is chaired by the Treasurer David Hughes and Chair Steve Jarvis is an ex-officio member.

RPC co-opted Paul Clark, Ian Jones, Lucy Nethsingha, Mike Wheatley and Stuart Wheatcroft, largely because of their experience in dealing with difficult disciplinary cases over the last year and in the case of the latter will help reduce the average age of the committee substantially. This makes the full membership: Dawn Davidson, Tahir Maher, Geoff Payne, Paul Clark, Ian Jones, Lucy Nethsingha, Mike Wheatley, Stuart Wheatcroft and myself. It is chaired by the Vice-Chair Margaret Joachim and Chair Steve Jarvis is an ex-officio member.

There are two further posts that ECE now need to be filled:

A further member of the Regional Parties’ Committee. The RPC meets around six times a year, although it is always possible to phone in to these meetings rather than having to physically be there. The main body of work involves reading reports from people who have investigated complaints against party members and making decisions on complaints and how they should be handled in a methodical and dispassionate way. It is also occasionally needed for members of the committee to make a quick decision on whether to take a complaint forward for investigation or not and this is usually handled by email or by an extra short-notice phone meeting. To improve balance it would be helpful to find potential co-optees who are female and from the Western side of the country. For more details contact the Vice-Chair of the RPC.

A further member of the English Appeals Panel. This is the body where appeals against decisions made by party bodies within England are decided or where rulings are requested on interpreting parts of the constitution. Members are appointed for five year terms and they are expected to be people who don’t currently hold any office within the party or are a parliamentary candidate, but who have been active in the past and would like to continue to do something to help the party. HR or legal experience are often useful, and to improve diversity it would be helpful to find potential co-optees who are female. For more details contact the Chair of the English Party.

My 2015 in books

2015 was another year of avid reading for me. I was quite surprised when in 2014 I managed to read 79 books over the course 0f the year. In 2015 it was 97 books. Whilst I haven’t tried to reach a certain number, as I’d rather enjoy the books instead of trying to meet some sort of target, I did end up a little disappointed to just fall short of 100. The full list of what I read is here on my Goodreads site. But as with last year I’m going to pick out some that I particularly recommend or that I think were noteworthy.

Surprisingly, the book that came out top was Roman Krznaric’s How To Find Fulfilling Work. This is part of a series of books by The School of Life, a project started by Alain de Botton to help people improve their lives through culture and their emotional intelligence. It now runs courses, publishes books and has various other services from its base in Bloomsbury. It’s an organisation I’ve always thought sounded interesting and when I spotted a book by them that aims to help you work out what motivates you and how that translates to a job that you would find particularly fulfilling, I knew it was a must read. What this book did most of all for me was make me think. It made me think in a different way about what I’m most interested in and where in the longer term I want to be as it’s highly unlikely I’ll remain in my current job for the 30 years until I retire. It’s a short read but one that made me look at things in a different way, and also much to my surprise included someone as a case study who I once knew and who I hadn’t realised had gone off in a completely different direction from his old career.

Whilst my favourite book of the year is perhaps a surprising one, I have continued to read plenty of crime fiction – traditionally my preferred genre of book. But like in 2014 it’s becoming a lot less of a key part of my reading. My two favourite crime novels last year were both set in the same city – Venice – a city which I have continued to be fascinated by ever since I visited it nearly 15 years ago. It makes me wonder whether it’s the subject matter I find fascinating rather than the books themselves, but regardless of that The Anonymous Venetian by Donna Leon and Dead Lagoon by Michael Dibdin were both excellent. Donna Leon has rapidly become one of my favourite crime writers and as all her books are set in Venice she manages to depict many different sides of the city in each one. Her main character Commissario Brunetti is also an interesting and fully formed character in his own right rather than being just another dogged investigator. Michael Dibdin is someone who I haven’t read for a while as I was a little disappointed with his last book which felt too melodramatic, however in this one his lead character Aurelio Zen finds himself back in his home city (unlike Leon, Dibdin’s books are often set in different parts of Italy despite the origins of Zen) and is caught up in a complex web of relationships between the great and the good. Dibdin is back on form with this one. 2015 was also a year when I started to read a number of books on real crime, perhaps inspired by my time on jury service in February, of which two particularly stood out – Mr Briggs’ Hat by Kate Colquhoun about the first murder victim on a train back in 1864 and Blood on the Altar by Tobias Jones about two murders committed by the same man – one in southern Italy and the other in Bournemouth. I’ve also finally read my first Sherlock Holmes, thoroughly enjoyed JK Rowling’s first book written as Robert Galbraith (great characters about whom I’ll definitely read more) and uncovered Barbara Nadel’s interesting Hakim & Arnold series.

Last year another new departure for me was reading a number of different travel books. I’ve always been fascinated by geography, and in particular what makes different countries tick, but I’ve never read many non-fiction books about specific countries. In 2015 I managed to find out more about Pakistan, Angola, Nigeria, and Italy, as well as a book that explain travel writing in general and one that covered a number of different world cities. I also found myself reading more fiction set in different countries including Japan, Sweden, Norway, Italy, France, USA, Netherlands, Spain, Egypt, Finland and Nigeria (the latter being Americanah by the amazing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie). It’s all been pretty enlightening and showing you sides to countries you didn’t know. The two books I’ll particularly pick out though are Pakistan: A Hard Country by Anatol Lieven which is an amazing book, and quite a hefty tome, in which he uses his many years of experience as a journalist in the country to show you the contrasting and contradictory elements of Pakistan. It has made me see the country in a whole different way and helped me understand so much more about its place in the world. The other book was Looking for Transwonderland by Noo Saro-Wiwa, the daughter of murdered human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa who spent most of her life growing up in Britain, but who decides to go back and explore her home country of Nigeria and face what she finds hard about the place. Although very different in style to Lieven’s book, Saro-Wiwa once again shows how books (whether fiction or non-fiction) can give you such a broader understanding of the world than the one you usually get through the media.

I’ve read far fewer political books than I have in previous years. Perhaps the reality of the General Election put me off. But there are two books I will pick out. One is Conrad Russell’s An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Liberalism. This was a book I’d long wanted to get and I finally found it at a bargain price from one of the independent retailers that sell via Amazon. As the late Conrad Russell used to do in person, the book manages to sum up really well the key tenets of what being a liberal is about and manages to combine real life with academic rigour to explain the philosophy behind it. This was something that was a refreshing read for a Lib Dem such as me after such a traumatic year politically. The other book I read is one that I’d had mixed feelings about before I read it – Owen Jones’ The Establishment. I admit I’d been put off it because of Jones’ strident political opinions which I rarely agree with and I feared a lot of coalition government bashing. Yet I was also very keen to read it as I liked the premise of the book. The book was well researched and provided fascinating details about the lack of transparency and democracy involved in many of the institutions and companies that affect our lives so much. A very good book, but one that emphasised to me that whilst I share many of the concerns of socialists like Jones, I also disagree with the solutions that he wants to see (where are the books by liberals with the solutions to these same problems?).

One more book that I must particularly mention is Journey Through a Small Planet by Emanuel Litvinoff. I discovered this book entirely by chance when browsing the shelves of Waterstones in Greenwich the day after I’d been on the London Walk entitled The Old Jewish Quarter. This book describes the Jewish East End of Litvinoff’s youth and the people he encountered and the story of how his own parents left Russia and settled in Whitechapel. Where this book really excels is bringing to life the area at the time and the experiences the author had, to the point where you can see and smell vividly in your own mind what it must have been like. A fascinating book about a very distinctive culture that is both familiar yet also very alien.

As I always do on this blog, I have written far more than I’d intended and yet I’ve only covered a handful of the books I read last year. But finally I must give more words of praise for Sheffield’s Central Library. Although I’ve been a member of the city libraries from being a small child it’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve used them so extensively. The Central Library, being my nearest, has become like a second home and I’ve acquired far more variety in my reading habits as a result of just being able to take a punt on a book even if I’m not sure whether it’s my thing or not. I’ve discovered new writers and new types of books as a result. It’s largely due to the Central Library that I’ve ended up reading so many books this year as every time I return a book I always end up borrowing more, even though I know that at home I’ve got shelves full of books that I’ve yet to read.

Last year I finished off my review by saying that I wanted 2015 to be the year I finally started the book I want to write. Well it didn’t happen, but perhaps in 2016 it will as I’ve already signed up to a free online course from the Open University via the FutureLearn website on how to Start Writing Fiction and that begins later this month.

The tipping point

Yet again tipping in restaurants is in the news following criticism of various restaurants for either keeping the tips that customers leave or by keeping a share of them in administration charges before giving it to their staff.  But the idea that we should rely on tips at all either for staff to earn an adequate salary or for restaurants to make money seems crazy.

The thing is I can’t actually eat at a restaurant without the service. In fact, food without service is essentially called eating in (or a picnic).  The very reason you go to a restaurant is because they do all the work for you before serving you at your table. Obviously it’s also the case that most restaurants produce food to a standard that you can’t, but the point stands that the service is an intrinsic part of why you’re there.  So a restaurant needs to charge a price that covers the work they put in and the amount it costs to pay their staff a salary.

I don’t begrudge giving a tip in a restaurant if I feel I’ve had a particularly good experience.  It is after all essentially an ultra democratic form of bonus scheme.  But why I’m expected to put in a set amount of money (usually 10%) simply to ensure a decent wage or a company’s profit feels the wrong way round.  After all, how many of us actually withhold the 10% and if we do it may end up punishing the very person who wasn’t at fault (it could be the management, it could be the chef, there’s so many other people involved who might have made or ruined the experience).

In this discussion about service charges little has been said about how this is simply an archaic way of paying for things.  Service should surely always just be part of the cost, as we can’t do without it, and a company sets its prices and its salaries based on that.  Then anything extra we leave beyond that is a bonus for the person or persons who did a particularly good job and at whatever level we want to set ourselves.

Preview of English Lib Dem Executive – 13th Dec 2014

One commitment I made when I stood for election to the English Liberal Democrats Executive (ECE) was that I’d write on this blog about what was coming up at each meeting, and then do a post summarising what was discussed or decided after the event.  I was pleased to be elected back on to ECE for 2015 (I currently sit on it as Chair of Yorkshire and the Humber Lib Dems) and so here’s my first of these posts.  I warn people who have no interest in internal committees of political parties, especially those that deal with internal issues, that this will be very long and very dull and that is largely why I’ve inserted a ‘read more’ tag to the article!  I will endeavour to be much shorter in future, but as this is the first one I need to explain the background to more things.

This is the last meeting of ECE of 2014 and is taking place a few weeks later than usual to allow the newly elected regional chairs and directly-elected committee members to attend, along with the existing members from 2014.  If the meeting had taken place on the usual date the election results wouldn’t have been announced in time for that to be possible.  The benefit of this is to allow elections for those positions that are elected by the other members of the ECE to be held before the New Year and to take office alongside the new chair (Steve Jarvis) on 1st January.  The full set of positions to be elected are – treasurer, vice-chair, four members of the Finance and Administration Committee (EFAC), four members of the Regional Parties’ Committee (RPC), a rep to the International Relations Committee and the English Diversity Champion.


London Olympics 2012

How amazing was that?

I always thought it would go well (despite the cynicism) and I never thought we shouldn’t have bid for it (despite the expense).  But what I didn’t know was quite how amazing the London 2012 Olympics would be.

I have always been rubbish at sport and I don’t usually watch sport much on TV.  But I’ve been hooked.  I’ve watched so many sports that I would never watch and been spellbound.  As one radio presenter (I can’t remember who) said “I never thought I’d find watching a horse moving sideways to the tune of Land of Hope and Glory a good way to spend an evening.”  I’ve spent evenings watching water polo, archery, athletics, wrestling and rowing to name just a few.  When would I normally do that?  What I regret is not having seen any part of the Olympics in person, unless you include seeing them film the helicopter supposedly carrying James Bond and the Queen fly through Tower Bridge.

I think the thing that finally got everyone interested after the initial scepticism, despite it being seen as hugely London-centric, was the torch relay.  It just excited people as it brought the Olympics to every part of the country.  A beautiful torch.  Some amazing torch-bearers.  Covering all of the UK.  And I also think it was good to add in some famous local person too.

I loved the Opening Ceremony.  Yes there were parts that were a bit lefty in parts, but it was an absolutely amazing event that showcased our history and Britain today.  Britain is all of the things in that opening ceremony, despite what Aidan Burley and the Mail Online might say.  We’re a traditional and also modern country and that Opening Ceremony showed it.  It was the Britain that I love and why I think we’re a great country.  And I think Danny Boyle deserves huge praise for distilling what Britain is, when most of us sort of know it in our soul but perhaps can’t express it.  Anyone who wants to know what being British is about should just watch the Opening Ceremony (and the Closing Ceremony for that matter too).  Oh, and the Olympic cauldron was amazing and despite it not much was said about our country’s amazing designers (except for those in fashion).

I even found myself excited wondering where Sheffield’s golden postbox would be once Jessica Ennis won her Gold Medal.  Despite my initial reservations about the idea of them.  I was even more excited when I stumbled on it whilst it was being painted.  Yes, as a proud Sheffielder I am also chuffed that someone local won a gold medal (Jessica Ennis).  Someone local and from my school organised it (Sebastian Coe).  Some locals performed in the opening ceremony (Arctic Monkeys).

Everyday at work we wondered what our Gold medals were going to be that day and we realised that we had champions that we had never even heard of because there were so many of them.   A couple of us also were proud at how well Yorkshire did.  We told everyone when we had won something and it was considered fine not a distraction from work as this is a once in a lifetime event.

There’s plenty of events I can say I’ve enjoyed watching on TV, but there’s nothing that has ever been as good as these Olympics.  Britain at it’s best.  I’ve never been much of a nationalist and my nationality has just been a fact rather than something I feel fanatical about (although by being born in Sweden it makes it someway more complicated).  But I think these Olympics have made me use the word “proud” for the first time.  I’m proud we can put on an event this good.  I’m proud that we can be this successful in sport.  I’m proud that we show the world what an amazing country we are.  I’m proud that we’ve all got behind it.  I’m proud that I’m British.  I was even a little tearful when the flag was handed over to Brazil.

What a show.  What a spectacle.  What an achievement.  Let’s hope we keep up the positivity and use the pride in our nation for positive good.  Oh, and lets not forget we do still have the Paralympic Games coming up.

Sorry for all the hyperbole but I have genuinely loved all of this.

Photo credit: Shimelle (Opening Ceremony) and LondonAnnie (Mo Farah)

The Secret History of our Streets

One of the benefits of the Olympics has been a series of fascinating programmes about London.  One of the best has been the BBC2 series ‘The Secret History of our Streets‘ which has taken a road somewhere in London and shown how it has changed over the years.

The series takes as its start Charles Booth’s Poverty Maps showing the income and social status of roads in London, and then goes through the years showing how the roads have changed.  Some have stayed as working class areas, whereas moved either upmarket or downmarket.  It doesn’t matter whether you know the roads or not – so far only Caledonian Road has been familiar to me and even there it’s only the bottom end of it that I know – but it remains fascinating and you can probably build similar stories in cities across the country.  This isn’t just some dry social history, although personally I love social history, as it not only describes the history of the street but also talks to its residents current and past.  If you haven’t watched this series I really recommend that you do whilst it’s still available on iPlayer.

Whilst I’m recommending programmes, another great one has been ‘The Bridges that Built London‘ with Dan Cruickshank.  Dan Cruickshank has always been one of my favourite TV presenters as he makes history come to life in a way that I’ve always found fascinating.  I first discovered Dan Cruickshank when he was on the series ‘One Foot in the Past‘ back in the 1990s which I really miss and which has never really been replaced.  Since then he has been a constant feature on TV and I don’t think he has ever done a programme or series that hasn’t been worth watching.