Ross’s Gull - eventually

Ross’s Gull – eventually

The cafe at Ferry Bridge, on the causeway which joins Weymouth and Portland, is not to be missed.

Any time were in the area we will likely end up there at some point. Traditional breakfast to set us for a day’s birding. Afternoon tea to cheer us up after a disappointing day’s birding. A good range of food, and wildlife shop, window seats for non-stop birding. What’s not to like?

So when we saw that the Ross’s Gull (Rhodostethia rosea) – our reason for being in Weymouth rather than Southampton – had not been seen for the last couple of hours, we decided to go straight for a Sunday morning breakfast. Always popular, the cafe was three-quarters full, but we got a window seat next to some fellow birders who were just finishing off their refuelling stop. Unusually, the table service was a bit slower than normal so we hadn’t ordered when the next message came through – the gull was back at Radipole Reserve.

We ignored the slightly smug grin of those who had already eaten, and left without breakfast. Radipole is only 10 minutes away. Eight minutes later the next message tells us the gull has flown south out toward the bay. Back where we’ve just come from.

Experienced hands that we are, we decide there’s more chance of the Ross’s Gull making its way to another regular site at Lodmoor just a few minutes away, and we can at least have a pork-pie and bar of chocolate from the goodie-bag in the back of the car. We head to Lodmoor. No one else thinks this is the place to be looking. And what’s worse, there is no goodie-bag in the boot. Still on the kitchen table apparently. Still we have a mooch round Lodmoor, and then decide we really do need food.

Back to Radipole. Lots of birders. No bird.

But we did spy a cafe a few minutes walk away opposite the station, and we discover that this is another little gem. So at least we’ve added to our food stops, if not our bird list. Anyhow, back to Radipole. Still lots of birders and no bird. We can either wait in the hope the Ross’s Gull puts in an appearance. Or we can take a bit of a stroll and see what else the reserve has to offer.

Last time we were here it was full of dog-walkers and child-buggy pushers. Now the cold weather and the threat of rain keeps the paths free for a quiet stroll. And was it worth it? Oh yes. Three Water Rails (Rallus aquaticus) right out in the open. Not a sight you often see. I gave half a thought to nipping back to the where the gull wasn’t to encourage the other birders to get their legs moving and see some Rails. But they would be hard to drag away from their main target so we left them to it.

As the rain started to come down, and the parking ticket ran out we decided to cal it quits and head for home. And then the next message slides in. Fortuneswell, right of the yellow buoy, in Chesil Cove, tho distant.


And we’re off. We get to the site. We find the guy who called it in. He points out the yellow buoy – just visible in the mist through our scopes – we start looking  for any gulls let alone the tiny bird we’re after and then ‘ping’. Next message. It’s back at Lodmoor.

It would appear our new found friend had misidentified the bird at the Chesil Cove. Shit happens. We all head back to Lodmoor. And now we are armed with the information from our misinformer about where the bird normally likes to roost.

Fortunately when we get to Lodmoor someone who has just seen the bird tells us where we should actually be looking and off we trot. And finally, after several hours of missed breakfast, missed birds, found breakfast, and found birds, there it is. The first Ross’s Gull we’ve seen in the UK and a splendid view it was too, although a little too far for any decent photographs.

And then, just moments later, it was gone. All the birds launched off the mud and barrelled upwards as a peregrine swooped low over the scrape.

Straight talking? Honestly? That's politics.

Straight talking? Honestly? That’s politics.

When Chair of the NEC Andy Kerr (union puppet rather than puppet master) rose to shout at Labour’s National Policy Forum that they had no right to elect a new Chair of the NPF at their meeting in Leeds it was another shameful act in the lengthening list of abuse of power by those who now wield it.

This should have been a simple thing to resolve. The National Policy Forum had a vacancy for Chair since Ann Cryer had announced her intention to stand down. The NPF Officers had agreed the timetable for the election which was due to take place today, Saturday.

However, NEC Officers were gathered to an unscheduled meeting two hours before the vote was due to take place and the vote was stopped on the spurious reason that seven days notice of the ballot was required. This is an entirely made up version of the rules. Having spent some considerable time in the High Court defending Labour’s rule book against all comers, I have a reasonably clear idea how to interpret the written word of Labour’s sometimes impenetrable  and arcane rules (my offer to re-write in plain English remains on the table). Seven days notice of this election has never been required, and was not required today (although four days notice was given of this emergency item of business).

The NEC Officers’ reasoning was that “the Representatives [attending the NPF] are entitled to receive copies of relevant documents at least seven days before the Forum takes place.” However, there is nothing in the rules of the NPF which requires that a casual vacancy must be advertised seven days in advance of the meeting. Nor do any of the general rules or procedure of the Labour Party require that seven days notice is given to fill such a vacancy.

The election could and should have taken place today. Late registrations were allowed to ensure the highest possible attendance, and members of the NPF tell me it was indeed one of the highest turnouts in recent times. Candidates were in the field, the election was scheduled and sufficient notice had been given. But there was a major problem – Ann Black was likely to win. And Momentum and the Leader’s Office couldn’t allow that to happen. So it was stopped. In a traditionally robust way.

Despite the obvious desire of the majority of those in attendance to hold the election as advertised, the NPF and its officers were bullied out of it. No election was held. Not because the rules were broken. Or because the procedures hadn’t been correctly followed. But because the faction in charge of the Labour Party was probably going to lose.

I have no problem with Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum running the Labour Party. They won the votes to give them the right so to do. But when they start making up the rules to allow them to keep control, serious questions need to be asked.

And just as worrying is that a source at the behind-closed-doors event in Leeds told the Press Association: “This morning symbolised the old-school male union bullying that is determined to keep Jeremy Corbyn’s people in control no matter how bad it looks to the outside world.”

Labour MP Luciana Berger said she was “ashamed” to witness the “disgraceful treatment” of acting NPF chairwoman Katrina Murray at the event.

If Corbyn wants to hold to his slogan of ‘straight talking, honest politics’ then he needs to do some straight talking to some of his own team. Otherwise his quest for Number 10 will be derailed by internal factionalism. If not of his own making, of his own consent.


A Sure Thing. Maybe.

The path of any relationship is full of uncertainties. And Heisenberg at the Wyndham’s Theatre demonstrated that in full. Starring Anne-Marie Duff and Kenneth Cranham, Heisenberg is a romance which may or may not have had one or more sub-plots. One of which may or may not have been true. And given the American lead character, there may or may not have been some moral tale to tell.

Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle was referenced several times just to make sure you got the point. Or the wave. If the Principle is unfamiliar- look it up. This is science, do your own research.

Oh, OK then. I’ll do it for you. In simple terms it’s the discovery in the 1920’s that it is not possible to measure with precision simultaneously both the position and the momentum of quantum object. I’m fairly certain about that.

The romance between Alex, the level-headed 75-year-old, and Georgie, a 42-year-old woman who admits most of what she says may be untrue, is developed by a series of apparently random events, starting with a chance meeting, performed on a stage which itself is unstable. The simple but beautifully lit black and white set expands and contracts – a railway platform, a shop, a bedroom, a river bank – but (more Schrodinger-like than Heisenberg) it doesn’t resolve until it is observed.

With the plot we never see enough to resolve whether this is a true love story or a fraud. But it has a charm (see what I did there) and stylish wit throughout. Cranham gives Alex the patient wisdom and self-sacrifice often attributed to those who grew up in London’s wartime. With Duffy’s Georgie you are never sure who she really is – lover, mother, fraudster. At times hysterical, thoughtful, passionate, caring, uncaring.

As with any play about relationships, you need to buy in to the characters, in to the conceit of the play. I did. But I can’t say for certain if you will.


Not in accord with the rules

In 1995 the Labour Party changed its rules to end the direct sponsorship of a Member of Parliament by a trade union in the wake of the financial scandals surrounding the Conservative Party and the work of the Nolan Committee on Standards in Public Life.

Unions are able to direct financial support to individual constituency parties, but the perception (albeit wrong) of control of a single MP by a union paymaster was removed. The negotiations to effect this change were led not by the centre of the Party, but by John Prescott, the Party’s Deputy Leader, and Bill Morris General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union (now Unite the Union).

And since then there has been no doubt that Labour Party candidates are candidates of the Labour Party – or in 38 cases currently, of the Labour and Cooperative Party with which the Labour Party has a national agreement.
Until now.

But Momentum have now introduced an accord, a contract, which anyone who seeks the backing of Momentum must sign. Notwithstanding the Labour Party’s rules, the Labour Party’s selection procedures, the candidate contracts which the Labour Party itself has established, Momentum (in true Leninist democratic centralist style) has effectively said, that’s all very well, but we are the vanguard of this particular Corbynite revolution and you will dance to our tune above all else.

So why should anyone care about that? Surely if people don’t like the offer, they simply refuse to sign. If any other local organisation said, “support us or we won’t support you” they would be given very short shrift by any candidate. Well there are two obvious reasons from the point of view of the individuals being asked to sign. Firstly, sitting MPs remain fearful of deselection if they are in any way seen to be opposed to the Momentum ‘line’. And, secondly, the fact that Momentum continues to punch above its weight. The most obvious recent example was when they were able to instruct their supporters at Party conference to keep any meaningful debate about Brexit off the agenda despite the overwhelming pro-European make-up of the Party membership. These two reasons combine to make it easy to believe that even a popular local candidate could be overturned if the vanguard instructs that it shall be so.

But more importantly, it’s just wrong. The Labour Party is the custodian of its own rules, procedures and, thereby, candidates. No third party, whether or not it is largely made up of Labour Party members, can require a Labour Party candidate to toe their particular line, for the exclusive benefit of their aims and objectives. Of course, I’m sure Momentum will excuse the accord, the contract, by saying it is all parenthood and apple-pie. Who wouldn’t support it?

And that’s how it starts. The Russian Dolls of vanguards within vanguards seek to move the power away from the Labour Party to Momentum.
Is any of that the fault of Momentum? Or of Jon Lansman Director of MOMENTUM CAMPAIGN (SERVICES) LTD and sole director of JEREMY FOR LABOUR LIMITED. Momentum’s own statement says, “Momentum is the successor of the Jeremy Corbyn for Labour Leader campaign and is independent, and supportive of, the Labour Party and Labour leadership.” And yet this independent supporter of Labour now wants the final say on who shall or shall not be an approved candidate worthy of support.

Momentum clearly has considerable support inside and outside of the Labour Party. It trots out the straight talking honest politics mantra seemingly without any critique of what it actually says or does. And one can pretty much forgive that, given they have demonstrated it is possible to energise people, particularly young people, to take a view of the politics which affects their lives and the lives of millions across the country. But having woken them up to politics, the National Coordinating Committee of Momentum must now let them make up their own views.

The revolutionary vanguard must step back from dictating who may or may not be a Labour Party candidate. It’s not your job, it’s the Labour Party’s.

The Nolan Report
The Seven Principles of Public life
Selflessness – Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest.
Integrity – Holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.
Objectivity – Holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias.
Accountability – Holders of public office are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.
Openness – Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.
Honesty – Holders of public office should be truthful
Leadership – Holders of public office should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour. They should actively promote and robustly support the principles and be willing to challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.

Click here for redacted version of the Momentum accord to remove identifying names and dates.

One man's marshes

One man’s marshes

A brilliant history of the birds, birders and landscape which combine to tell this story of the marshes of Lymington and Keyhaven – seen through the eyes of one man, Ed Wiseman. A former warden of the marshes, Ed draws from his own experience and the notes and writings of others to produce a wonderful account, evocatively illustrated by local artists Dan and Rosemary Powell.


Currently available for pre-order for Xmas at, it will also be available on Amazon as soon as the books arrive with me from the printer.

To whet your appetite have a look at these sample pages. A mere £14.99 – how can you refuse?

Ed book master 13 nov 2017_Part3_Page_1

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A proper thorn in the side

Since the general election I have not had much time to get involved in wider politics or the Labour Party (I’m too busy being retired) but I thought I’d break radio silence for just a moment to say I’m delighted to see that Johanna Baxter is running again for election to the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Labour Party.

When I was writing reports for the NEC and its sub-committees you would get the usual unthinking support or unthinking criticism from one side or the other of the factional wings of the Party. But there a were a few people who would consistently give any report whether from Party Staff, or from the Leader, or from an external body a hard, properly critical review. Look at the public comments made by current and previous members of the NEC and it’s not too difficult to work out who is carrying out a real job and who is just carrying a slate.

Jo Baxter was a proper pain. Not only was she likely to have read every dot and coma of any report, but she would have done some of her own background research and was only too likely to come up with some ideas of her own. But whether she was coming up with new ideas, or tweaking the ideas of others, she always did it with the best interest of the Party and of the people we seek to represent at the forefront of the debate. Absolutely no-one could question her loyalty to the Party and to the various Leaders she has served as a member of the NEC over the years. As a former member of staff I was also always grateful to her (and to others on the NEC) who recognised the work of all the staff on behalf of the Party.

If you want someone on the NEC who is just going to toe one line or another then you might want to look elsewhere. But if you want someone who is going to speak up for ordinary members whilst being a loyal, but critical (in the best possible way) member of the NEC then Jo is definitely top of that particular tree.

As she says herself, “If you elect me you will have a representative who will be relentless in holding the Party to account to make sure we are ready for that election whenever it is called. You will have a representative who has a track record of working and campaigning with all sections of the membership, who has still visited more Constituency Labour Parties across the country to engage with members than any other volunteer and whose reputation as an NEC member was of hard work and fair judgement.”

That’s why I will be supporting Johanna Baxter. But you need to make your own mind up and you can read more at

No Need to Apologise

Stockard Channing (The West Wing, Grease and many, many more) hosts this family get together on her birthday in Alexi Kaye Campbell’s Apologia at the Trafalgar Studio. She, a succesful art historian and former radical student and 60s revolutionary, is the lightning conductor for her sons – and to a lesser extent, their girlfriends – who we discover are massively upset they are not mentioned in her recent memoirs. Even though this was an account of her working life rather than the personal. 

We glimpse a broken marriage, the young sons spirited away by a father who is never fully formed. But surely there must be more to it than that. 

To a certain extent it’s these gaps in the canvass that make it such a complete painting. Unlike many plays about family affairs where we care little about any of the characters (yes Hamlet, I mean you) here we want to know more. There seemed to be real emotion generated in the kitchen set. More than would be sparked by the surface plot lines. 

And I think that is what struck a cord with the audience. Everyone could recognise their own family gatherings where the tension is raised by the back-story which is known to the participants but not the observers. Here we had a chance to side with, to understand, to sympathise with all of the characters. Or none, as we pleased.

Channing played the fading radical – her picture of Marx relegated from pride of place to the downstairs loo – as a tough, feisty feminist still calling out her banker son for his lack of ethical trading. But she she also seemed to be going through the motions. For old time’s sake.

She was more than ably supported by the four other members of the cast (both sons played by Joseph Millson) and the sharp script was witty and poignant by turns. Desmond Barrit was magnificent as Hugh, the gay friend and confidant of the matriarch Kristin. The acerbic wit of the character and the comic timing of the player was certainly reminiscent of many a Falstaff. And, indeed, it would have only needed a couple more laugh out loud moments to turn this into a full blown comedy of manners. 

I was left with questions unanswered and instead of the usual shrug of the shoulders I was wanting to see the play again. Or at least to read the script, to see if I’d missed the answers elsewhere. 

There were a few empty seats for the performance I saw. If you get a chance, fill them up. You won’t be disappointed.