I was at Madison Square Gardens when Edward Kennedy delivered his great concession speech at the 1980 Democratic Convention. It was a moment of great theatre which I will always remember - culminating in that great phrase "The dream will never die". His actual campaign for the democratic nomination against a wounded and struggling Jimmy Carter had been rather lacklustre. So the speech conceding defeat was in retrospect almost a catharsis, an outpouring of relief that he no longer had to carry that terrible burden of expectation.
I was there on a bit of a "boondoggle" - attending the conventions as member of a delegation of Europeans representing all the major parties in all the major countries of our continent. I had just been selected as the Liberal candidate for St Albans in my first time round, and the scale and chaos and spectacle and lavishness of an American presidential convention was a truly one-off experience. Other memories - a speech by "Governor Moonbeam" Jerry Brown of California - best remembered for sleeping on a mattress (occasionally with rock star Linda Ronstadt) in the Governor's Mansion now occupied by Arnold Schwarzenegger. And Jimmy Carter in his laboured acceptance speech referring to that year's death of "Hubert Horatio Hornblower" when he meant to say Hubert Horatio Humphrey - a classic case of a deeply stressed politician mis-speaking, as Gordon Brown did in Normandy this year when he accidentally referred to "Obama Beach" rather than Omaha Beach. For all the Kennedy flaws and exaggerations of their talent (except perhaps for Bobby), there was an extraordinary magic that touched people and uplifted them. We need a bit of that in Britain!
We were slightly worried that the Thursday before Bank Holiday would not be the ideal time to attract a crowd to a political meeting. We should not have been concerned. Three hundred people packed into the Marlborough Road Methodist Church to hear Nick take questions from all comers. He uses no intermediary to pick the questioners. My role was simply to introduce the meeting and then close it, and in the interim try to look graceful.
Not for nothing is August called the silly season. But events in the St Albans Conservative Association have been nothing less than astonishing. Mrs Main has fought off her fellow Conservatives for now, but at the cost of losing her constituency chairman and with the Deputy Chairman reported as “considering his position”. And we are still waiting to hear the results of the inquiry by the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner into her expense claims. There is much much more to come out about the expenses story. And then there is the influence of Anne Main’s Beaconsfield Conservative Association and its apparent pecuniary influence on the St Albans party. One local Conservative was reported as saying she feels St Albans is being treated like in a “Rotten Borough” – an interesting choice of words. And all the time St Albans continues to be confronted by major issues:-
• Fighting off the proposed freight terminal
• Challenging the Labour Government’s plans arbitrarily to extend Hemel Hempstead and Hatfield into our Green Belt
• Forcing the county council to address its lamentable failure to provide enough school places in central St Albans
• Ensuring we have local health services which deliver proper and immediate care where it is needed
• Stopping First Capital Connect from unfairly exploiting its monopoly over London commuter rail services How can Mrs Main and the Conservatives stand up for and be trusted by local people on these crucial matters when they are more intent on lobbing mortar bombs at one another?.
It may be their private grief, but there are damaging public repercussions on us all.
Cadgwith on the Lizard peninsula is a sublimely beautiful place. The weather has been mostly kind and we have managed to swim most days - the water is colder than Normandy/Brittany where we went last week for my niece's birthday but much warmer than the north of Scotland where we normally jump in and jump out again. And sitting on a beach after a swim is perfect for tackling the next slab of Henry James's Portrait of a Lady which I rather ambitiously brought as holiday reading. I also think that the standard of food in Cornish establishments now easily matches that of France - and the beer is much better.
But there is no mobile signal here at all and to access the internet requires the good offices of a neighbour down the lane where I am quickly typing this. As a result I have felt pleasantly dissociated from all the current Conservative shenanigans in St Albans over Anne Main's future apart from brief mentions in newspaper articles. Perhaps all politicians should cut themselves off from electronic media from time to time. No kneejerk comments to be repented at leisure.
Those were the letters sent to St Albans District Council in connection with Helioslough's second application to build the freight terminal. Tonight's meeting of the St Albans Planning Referrals Committee duly threw the application out No real surprise there. The big new news is the opposition of the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) to the proposal. They have produced a devastating analysis to show how it is virtually impossible to combine the increased demand for passenger train slots following the completion of the Thameslink 2000 upgrade and the paths required for slow moving extra long freight trains entering and exiting the proposed freight terminal.
It makes it almost impossible to see how Helioslough could achieve their claimed 50:50 modal split between rail and road. It really is nothing more than a glorified road terminal with some sidings attached. The council made the right decision tonight. The whole thing will go to appeal with yet more expense on lawyers and experts. At the end I hope we will have put a stake through the heart of this wretched proposal.
The annual St Albans LibDem constituency barbecue took place today - the same day as people across the land were organising their own Big Lunches. Ours wasn't a street party. But 70 of us gathered in the garden of the LibDem headquarters in Hatfield Road to enjoy some brilliant food and just about dodge the showers.
The food was brilliant and some deft manoeuvrings in marquee and gazebos kept us dry. Older Albanians will remember when the back lawn of the City Liberal Club in Hatfield Road was a very fine bowling green. LibDems have always believed in fairness - so it seems very proper that we have our very own level playing field. Sadly the Liberal Club has gone, victim of cross channel booze cruises. But its successor, Kashu Restaurant, does a mean barbecue which is why everyone in the picture looks pretty cheerful in spite of the gloomy weather.
We have always had a rope swing in our garden. Our children's friends love it. Unfortunately squirrels also seem to have a taste for manila hemp and so every so often they bite through the rope where it is tied round the branch and it all comes down in a heap - fortunately without serious injury so far. I am prompted to record this, having just learned the origin of the phrase "Money for old rope". It comes from the use of old ships rigging being used to make paper.
I don't always quote Conservative philosophers in my speeches. But I did quote Edmund Burke in my speech at the demonstration against the Helioslough freight terminal application organised by STRiFE outside the Alban Arena on Saturday.
All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. There must have been a couple of hundred people there specifically for the rally - and then all the passers-by who were shopping at the French market. I was pleased to be on the same platform as Roma Mills and Anne Main because there is nothing party political about this battle. We sink or swim together. In summary I said (as I have said previously) that this proposal has perfectly horrible implications for Park Street and the villages but it is also a knife in the underbelly of St Albans. In short I spoke about all the issues highlighted in my earlier blog on my formal letter of objection to the scheme. Now we have the hard work of mounting the technical arguments. I hope to see lots of people at the St Albans District Council Planning Referrals Committee on Monday evening!
LibDem Treasury spokesman dropped by the University of Hertfordshire at the end of last week and gave a master class in political economy.
I have been meaning to post this photograph for some time. It was taken in Driftwood Way in Chiswell Green. The gentleman behind the hands was a member of the Three Valleys Water leak detection team - and he was using divining rods to do his business.
I was absolutely fascinated and made him repeat the process over and over again, just to observe how he walked along and the rods then suddenly moved in his hands as though of their own volition, always over the same bit of roadway. My architect wife says water divining is not uncommon in the construction business to find springs as well as leaks but I had never seen it done before. Anything that saves unnecessarily digging up the roads seems OK to me. And there is something pleasingly old-fashioned about the whole idea. There must be a political metaphor there somewhere but I will leave it at that.