Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

CLARION REVIEW: HAROLD WILSON – Labour’s face of the ‘seventies.

In John Wilmot, Reviews on January 23, 2018 at 5:43 pm

wilsonbook“Harold Wilson” by Ben Pimlott, and published by Harper Collins – a review by John Wilmot for The Clarion.

Most of us (over a certain age of course) remember Harold Wilson. As Prime Minister, he helped to usher in a period of great change – before it was halted in its tracks by the arrival on the scene of Margaret Thatcher, of course.

This book by Ben Pimlott (a former warden of Goldsmiths College, London, and professor at Birkbeck College) is described as a “scholarly work”.  Which means in effect that it emerges as long and over- detailed. He spends one lengthy chapter on Wilson’s childhood, growing up near Huddersfield – and then carries on from there for over 700 pages.  But for those with staying power it’s well worth persisting.

A BRIEF OVERVIEW:

But, to put it into perspective, perhaps a brief overview of Wilson’s political career may be useful. He had studied at Oxford (first taking Modern History before transferring to Philosophy, Politics and Economics) and emerged with a first class honours degree.

He went on to enter Parliament in the 1945 General Election – a Labour landslide. He must have caught the eye of the new Prime Minister, Clement Atlee, as he was made President of the Board of Trade at the age of only 31 – to become the youngest member of the cabinet in the 20th Century.

Atlee’s pioneering government came and went, and Wilson finally rose to become leader of the Labour Party (following the death of Hugh Gaitskell) and from there went on to be Prime Minister on four separate occasions before bowing out of politics.

“MODERNISATION”:

His focus was on “modernisation”, coining the term, “the white heat of technological revolution”. He also did much to liberalise the law (still stuck largely in a pre-war mould) on censorship, divorce, abortion and homosexuality. He also legislated on discrimination against women and ethnic minorities – though it could be argued these days with less success. And he also created the Open University.

Other more controversial aspects of his Government(s) included the Vietnam War, in which Wilson attempted to walk a difficult tightrope. He did his best to maintain good relations with the USA whilst at the same time keeping Britain out of the conflict. He succeeded, but that did not prevent those of us who went on the march in protest against the war from chanting, “Where has Harold Wilson gone? Crawling to the Pentagon!”

STERLING CRISIS:

Another blip in Wilson’s premiership was the so-called “sterling crisis”, when an over-heated economy forced him to de-value the pound in November 1967. He also started Britain’s withdrawal from “east of Suez”, confirming the end of our role as an imperial power. He also applied to join the EEC (the European Economic Council – the predecessor to the EU), but Britain’s application on that occasion was unsuccessful.

In 1970, Wilson lost to Edward Heath, but made a return to power as head of a minority government in 1974. He managed to gain a slim majority (of 3) in the same year – which in a later election rose to 83.

What followed were the final years of Wilson’s premiership. In March 1976, at the age of just 60, he abruptly resigned to be succeeded by James Callaghan.

LAST YEARS:

So why did Wilson resign so suddenly?  According to Ben Pimlott, by 1974 he was ageing rapidly. “He no longer had the same energy… he took less exercise, drank more brandy, spoke at greater length… he looked older than his years.”

There seemed to be good reason to retire at sixty. Indeed, wrote Pimlott, his plan had been to retire at 56, four years earlier.  But it seemed the desire to beat Edward Heath in one last election made him postpone the decision.

Mary (his wife) it seemed was an important influence. “She wanted her husband out of politics. But it was Heath’s victory that stalled that. Wilson decided to put off his decision by a few years.

They talked it over during one of their holidays on the Scilly isles, and agreed on four more years.  Wilson was successful in beating Heath at the ensuing election, before handing the reins over to James Callaghan.

JOHN WILMOT.

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Profile: THE MAN WHO TRIED TO TURN THE TIDE: Ian Smith

In A.Graham on January 23, 2018 at 5:35 pm

There’s been much publicity given by the media to Mugabe’s attempts to cling to power in Zimbabwe as he became increasingly isolated.

But there’s been hardly any coverage given to the man who preceded him – Ian Smith.  Smith was the last white Prime Minister of what was then called Rhodesia. It was a self-governing colony in which the black majority had no say in the government of their own country.

Ian Smith was a second generation Rhodesian settler, one of the white minority who ruled the country (they numbered no more than 120,000 at their peak). Smith became Prime Minister in 1960, and was to occupy that post (increasingly precariously) until 1979).

FIGHTER PILOT:

Before taking up politics, Smith had had an interesting role in the Second World War. He volunteered for the RAF, and became a fighter pilot in a Spitfire squadron. After being shot down over Corsica he fought alongside Italian partisans behind German lines.

After the end of the war, he was de-mobbed and returned to Rhodesia, where he entered the colony’s political circle (restricted, of course, to the White population).  Here, he went on to become a Minister, and from there rose to be Prime Minister,

WINDS OF CHANGE:

But Rhodesia was facing the winds of change. “Colonisation” was going out of fashion, and Smith and his government came under increasing pressure to allow the black majority to vote in future elections.

Smith declared that there would be no black rule – ever – but he was becoming increasingly isolated in a changing world.  According to one joke that circulated at the time, white Rhodesia had become “a Surrey with the lunatic fringe on top” (you have to remember the song to appreciate the pun).

With a Labour government now in power, pressure was increasingly brought to bear on Smith to move towards black majority rule. In 1965, in response, Rhodesia declared UDI, declaring that the move was “striking a blow for the preservation of justice, civilisation and Christianity” (sic).

Of course this was unacceptable as far as Britain was concerned. But Harold Wilson, the PM, was reluctant to use force to impose a settlement.  Instead he imposed sanctions which he believed would be sufficient to reach a deal for the introduction of black rule.

Meanwhile, Rhodesia’s external support was eroding.. Portugal’s African colonies of Angola and Mozambique gained their independence, and the backing of South Africa (the last African bastion of white rule) was becoming less certain.

In Britain’s election of 1971, Labour lost and the Tories returned to power under Alec Douglas Home (remember him?) A deal was struck with Smith to legalise his declaration of independence, with an eventual (bur remote) movement towards black majority rule.

CIVIL WAR:

Such a formula was, of course, unworkable and Rhodesia descended into civil war. The tide was now turning against Smith and finally he was forced to hold talks.

Interestingly his first meeting with Mugabe was quite cordial. Smith declared that he was someone who “behaved like a balanced, civilised westerner”.  He was soon to revise his opinion!

Finally, however, Mugabe took over the reins of power. And Rhodesia was confined to the history books, becoming the independent country of  Zimbabwe – with Mugabe as its president.

As for Ian Smith, he left politics, to devote his time to his 5,000 acre farm – but he continued to denounce the Mugabe Government to an ever-decreasing audience.

He finally died in Capetown in 2007 – by that time an almost forgotten footnote in the history of Africa.

HEALTH WATCH: our Forest Hospitals – the controversy continues!

In R.Richardson on January 23, 2018 at 5:31 pm

Since the proposals for the shake-up in the Forest’s hospitals were first announced (see our last issue), things have moved on apace,

A glossy information pamphlet was produced and distributed – and an attempted “consultation” was made. Mobile outlets were set up in various locations in the Forest to answer questions and to provide soothing assurances.

So, what was in that information pamphlet, one that was clearly produced by a publicity company at some expense?  It’s full of pictures of the Dean, presumably to make us all feel good about the place we live in, plus text to try to persuade us that the loss of one of the two local hospitals will be good for us all.

“Health and Wellbeing for all”, it proclaims on the cover. It also assures us that our feedback is “greatly valued”.

It goes on to claim that “the two existing community hospitals are reaching the stage where it is becoming increasingly difficult to provide modern, efficient, effective, high-quality care.”

It goes on to tell us that it’s becoming more and more difficult for “healthcare professionals” to work across different sites (ie Lydney and the Dilke). And there are difficulties, it suggests, in “training and maintaining enough staff with the right skills.

It goes on to criticise the present hospital provision, and then tells us that “too many people from the Forest of Dean are having to travel outside the area for treatment…”

BENEFITS?

So what are the benefits? Well, according to the document, we’ll all benefit from a new community hospital facility “fit for modern healthcare”.

And so it goes on. There will be “significantly improved facilities, more consistent, reliable and sustainable community hospital services… and so it goes on.

GENERALISATIONS:

All these, of course are either platitudes or generalisations.  Apart from a promise of an endoscopy suite, there is not a single specific gain in service provision.

Indeed, opponents have made the point that there will be significantly fewer beds available to patients than there are now. Patients will still have to travel outside the area (to Gloucester or even further afield) for specialist care. And the Forest still won’t have many of the facilities that it wants (high on the list of demands by local people are maternity facilities).

OPPOSITION:

It’s no wonder that opposition to the plans has been growing. Whilst not everyone is happy with the status quo, few would welcome the alternative presented to us.  This amounts to a considerable cut in provision with no guarantee of better hospital service at the end of it.

A public meeting to oppose the plans, at Lydney Town Hall is being held on the 27th of November – as we go to press. It may well be a spring board for a more sustained campaign for our hospital services. Watch this space!

MORE MONEY FOR THE NHS?

One promise that emerged from the budget was a promise for an increase in funding for the National Health Service.  Indeed, it was even described as a “national treasure”!

Since the Tories came to power it’s been consistently under-funded – whilst vast sums of money have been siphoned off on privatisation schemes (resulting in waste of money that the NHS could ill afford). It has also been pointed out that the amount of money promised in the budget is nowhere near enough to meet its needs. It is at best a sop.