Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

A Life

In R. Drury on April 30, 2010 at 2:22 pm
Local Councillor & former helmsman at FoD Radio, Roger Drury, considers the 2010 General Election through the lens of the political influences that shaped his life.

I remember going to a local school hall in London with my Dad. It was a packed hall in the early 1960’s – crowds, lots of voices and people taking part. It was an election meeting that had a tingle of excitement that I’d only otherwise experienced at a football match. I must have been about 10 or 11 at the time.

My Dad, now 96, was a committed but consenting Labour supporter in the days when it was passed like an inheritance from generation to generation. My mum never clearly stated her preference and I sometimes wondered if her aspirations might have led her to vote otherwise.

Was it really all so easy and predetermined? Now that same area is represented by Iain Duncan Smith and returns mainly Lib Dem and Tory councillors.

In London the GLC was the big change in politics, connecting to real life in 1970’s communities, culture and public transport.

I lived in Oxford for 15 years, where politics was active but too often the focus was on faraway campaigns, and when local issues were raised too often they did not register. But there were moments. I took part in a campaign to resist the closure of a state nursery; we worked with parents to occupy the building and kept it open, set up a silk screen workshop to design and produce posters, and ran a carnival to celebrate the action.

During the miner’s strike, Oxford was famously twinned with Maerdy, the only pit in South Wales where not a single miner broke the strike. The banners and support of many Oxford colleges and community groups were part of the procession that marched back to work in May 1985. The Labour Party, of course, kept its distance – but the universities voted down a proposal to give Madam Thatcher an honorary degree in the same year.

But May Day was the excuse to bring out the banners, march to the beat and bring people together. And that was what I found when I moved to the Forest of Dean in 1986 …May Day with guest speaker Eric Heffer at the recently condemned Coleford Community Centre. Even then, though, Labour councillors in office were gradually moving away from any influence from debate and towards self-importance.

I stood as a Labour candidate, things were so bad – a good friend Roger Cook actually got elected. He battled for a few years to be heard. The Party in Coleford gathered monthly, always outnumbered by the previous tenants of our meeting room, using Weight Watchers. We would exchange latest news, going through the motions, but not having a policy that might inform members how they should react to decision making when representing the Party.

At the last local elections I contacted all the parties and set up a live broadcast on Forest of Dean Radio, which in its short life covered live those elections when Diana Organ won, and when Mark Harper won, with link-ups from across the Forest from ordinary people. A team of volunteers broadcast from the count until three in the morning.

Forest of Dean Radio tried, but has not survived. It asked young people to lead with questions to MPs and candidates, asked those in bus queues and elderly people on their phones. It travelled to London on the ‘Save Our Services’ train and interviewed Mark Harper on the demonstration, live from opposite the Houses of Parliament. 5,000 people were at the Speech House rally for the same campaign, thousands march in Cheltenham on a County demonstration – on each occasion the views and voices of local people took the lead.

Now we have a General Election, steered by the money of those in power. Nothing new, but now they are so arrogant we know more about it. Murdoch’s Fox News controls radio and TV in the USA and apparently is the source of information for 50% of the population there. However, people didn’t listen and chose to elect Obama.

Have we a similar choice of light, hope and change…and why? In Kings Cross, London, citizen ethics have grown a truly local community that speaks, exchanges and documents the detail of life that goes on(largely ignored by mainstream media unless some scandal is involved). It’s about thinking small.

So maybe in this uniquely created place where we live, that has more dispersed and different aspects, we should meet to argue.

There will be an event on June 6th (at Hopewell Colliery, starting 11am) to commemorate the stand made by 2,000 foresters led by Warren James, a church-going local man, to oppose the Crown Commissioners who wanted to enclose the Forest with fences and deprive local people of land to cultivate and maintain livestock. There was no vote for working people then. The laws were completely in the hands of their ‘betters’.

The act of voting is now a right, but the passion to make a choice on something you can believe in still seems distant.

Make candidates work for their votes, set them tests. You still don’t have to vote for them, but you will have some control over what goes on and it might reveal a few truths…

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