Sunday, 27 September 2009

Herbert Wolfe - Liberal Campaigner

Yesterday's Northern Echo carries a review by Chris Lloyd of the newly published autobiography of Harold Evans, widely regarded as the greatest of all British newspaper editors. By co-incidence, I had been discussing this very book with Michael Meadowcroft, the former Liberal MP, at Bournemouth earlier in the week.

Harold Evans edited the Northern Echo for four years. Perhaps he is best known during this period for his campaign to gain a posthumous pardon for Timothy Evans, wrongly hanged for the murder of his infant daughter. The real murderer was John Christie of 10 Rillington Place, the name given to the famous feature film which re-enacted his murderous career.

It was Herbert Wolfe, a Darlington industrialist, who brought the case of Timothy Evans to the attention of Harold Evans.
The case played a prominent part in the successful campaign to abolish capital punishment in this country and retains an iconic place in our legal history.

What Chris fails to mention, perhaps because it is of no real relevance to the story, is that Herbert Wolfe, as well as being a prominent Darlington industrialist, was an active member of the Liberal Party in the town. Liberalism in Darlington has a rich history, including several prominent members of the Pease family, such as Henry Pease a former MP for the South Durham constituency. Herbert Wolfe is still remembered as part of that tradition by the more senior members of the local party.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Bournemouth recalled

My personal best bits from this year's Conference:

Nick Clegg showing passion and commitment being interviewed by the wonderful Shami Chakrabarti at the Liberty fringe;

Menzies Campbell, relaxed and affable in conversation at the Independent fringe, gleefully suggesting that those who plotted against him didn't get the new leader they wanted;

Tim Farron, not just for his two platform appearances, but also his training event on campaigning in a non-target seat;

Phil Willis, the Lib Dems' answer to Peter Kay, at the Northern and Yorkshire Regions' Reception;

The weather, taking the roof down and driving out to Chesil Beach to enjoy some of it.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Cycle To Work Scheme

One of the better initiatives from the Government has been their Cycle To Work Scheme, which I have just signed my company up to. Basically, through a combination of VAT, Tax and National Insurance savings, any employee of a company or organisation which takes part in this scheme can get around 40% off the cost of a new bike and accessories. How cool is that?

The employer buys the bike and deducts the cost from their employee's wages over the course of a year; it's a "salary sacrifice" scheme. At the end of that time the bike passes to the employee for a nominal charge.

My company has joined Cyclescheme, which is run on behalf of independent bike shops. Darlington Borough Council is also signed up, but sadly they joined Halfords' version of the scheme, so employees (and councillors!) have to buy their bike through that particular national chain.

So, if you want a new bike and are a PAYE employee, contact your employer and see if they're on the scheme. If not, pester them until they do sign up. It doesn't cost them a penny and they get a fitter, healthier workforce. And you get a nice new bike!

The Guardian has promoted the scheme recently.

Interested in reading more about cycling to work? Here's a link to a good blog. And here's a book you can read online.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

"Inspiring"? I don't think so.

While I was away at the Lib Dem Conference in Bournemouth, the new DCSF office building in Beaumont Street received planning permission. The DCSF says it is an "inspiring office". I really don't think so! From the artist's impression it looks like the worst example of a 1960s office block. In this respect it will sit nicely across the road from our town hall, reflecting the all the style and subtlety of that iconic building - none at all!

It looks like a rectangular box, with another rectangular box sticking out the front and little square boxes sticking out from the main facade. It's a huge disappointment.

I was a member of the Feethams Working Party, which worked on ideas for this part of town. More than once I said, as did others, that any offices built in this area should be on a human scale, and should incorporate all that is best in contemporary design. Sadly, this building meets neither of those criteria. It is large and ugly and adds nothing of style to the built environment.

Yes, it'll be good for the town centre to have nearly 500 staff working there and this area desperately needs redeveloping, but not with buildings like this.

Drive up to Newcastle and look at the wonderful modern architecture of the new Northumbria University buildings. Why can't our town have buildings like these?

The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment doesn't like the building. Even veteran Labour councillor David Lyonette says it's ugly and looks like a bunker. Just like our pedestrianised High Row, where all the style and individuality of the existing area was ripped out to be replaced with anonymous bland stonework, so here again the lack of vision of this Council is apparent. It should have sent this back to the DCSF with an instruction to come up with something that doesn't look like it's been made by a six year old out of Lego.