Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Archive for June, 2010|Monthly archive page

POST-ELECTION EDITORIAL COMMITTEE COMMENT

In Editorial on June 24, 2010 at 3:56 pm

The Election: did we really vote for what we got?

Drama, suspense, and a twist at the end. The election had everything that even the most hardened political pundit could wish for. The only trouble for the media commentators was that there were so many changes in the plot line along the way that they kept tripping up as they tried to keep up with events. It was even more convoluted than a Forest of Dean road map.

Before the election campaign even started, Cameron was confident of sweeping all before him. Brown’s government seemed to be totally discredited, and, hey, the Tories had gained the backing of Murdoch and his media empire. What could go wrong? The Labour vote would surely disintegrate. And as for the Liberal Democrats, they posed no problem.

Then came those party leaders’ debates on television, and suddenly Nick Clegg’s star seemed to take off like a rocket on bonfire night. Indeed, some opinion polls were breathlessly suggesting that he could beat Labour into third place. Of course, when it came to the crunch, Labour’s vote held up surprisingly well in its heartland constituencies (though, sadly, not in our neck of the woods). The Liberal Democrats’ total tally of seats actually declined – and Cameron failed to get his overall majority. Ironically, the ball was now in Clegg’s court. It was up to him to decide who would form the next Government.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

Like all good cliff hangers, we were kept waiting whilst negotiations went on behind closed doors – and we all know the outcome. In retrospect, Clegg had already muffed his chances to do a deal with Labour. Whatever spin one puts on it, we now have a Tory Government by default – with a smattering of Lib Dems as junior partners. And we must all face up to the consequences.

The election in itself failed to re-draw the political map, but its aftermath has serious implications for both the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties. With the resignation of Gordon Brown, Labour now has to decide who will be its new leader – and in which direction it will be led.

As for the Liberal Democrats, have they now backed themselves into a corner? Only time will tell, but as we see it Clegg and his fellow Lib Dems in government will have to give public support to decisions made by a Tory-dominated Cabinet even if some of these stick in their throats. Already the axe is poised on public spending – and all that the Liberal Democrats have gained is a few seats in government – and the promise of a referendum on voting reform!

It is unlikely that this will go down well with the more progressive elements within the Liberal Democrat Party – or many of those who voted for them. In the Forest of Dean, for example, the Lib Dems increased their vote – but how many of those who backed them this time round will repeat the exercise next time?

Much, of course, depends on how long this present Government hangs on to power – and how much influence the Tory right wing has on its policies.  As for the Labour Party, it now has to decide which direction to take in opposition. First, it must elect a new leader. The pack of cards is already being shuffled as candidates for the post throw their hats into the ring. Party members and supporters will know the result in September.

As we see it, however, the “New Labour” experiment has run its course – and not before time. The attempt to impose a finance-based economy, where the demands of the City were always put first, has now run into the buffers. The Labour Party and its leadership must surely re-examine its role and throw overboard much of the excess baggage it’s collected since 1997.

Already, David Miliband (one of the first to declare his interest) has declared that there is no going back to “New Labour”. Instead, he says, he’s interested in “Next Labour”. But does that merely mean a bit of re-branding, maybe a re-paint job and a few cosmetic changes – or a real change of direction?

Labour urgently needs to re-connect with its roots. It can no longer afford to take its supporters for granted. And this means, amongst other things, an overhaul of party structure.

Under Blair, party democracy was undermined, and the membership was regarded as necessary but all too often as a tiresome inconvenience. Thousands, of course, responded by resigning or lapsing their membership.

One example of the changes that need to be made is that to Labour’s annual conference. Once it was an exercise in party democracy – often lively, occasionally acrimonious, but an occasion for delegates to debate real issues that they felt strongly about. Then during the Blair years it was transformed into a showcase for the “achievements” of the party leadership (all for the benefit of the media), in which healthy debate was stifled.

A return to healthy party democracy is surely a prerequisite to any other changes that the leadership may have in store.

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Gloucestershire CC: “Law will be rough and ready”

In C.Spiby on June 24, 2010 at 3:51 pm

I spent a day last week trawling through the County Archives for research into a project I’m slowly working on called ‘Man Made Sun’. In it I look into why, in the 1980’s, Gloucestershire was the top-ranking rural county likely to be targeted by nuclear weapons in a Soviet attack. I qualify that observation in the parent work, but for now I wanted to share with you some of the terrible and terribly banal plans our County Council had in line for us during any such attack.

Aside from unearthing the 1984 War Book (that’s the Local Authority plan for dealing with a nuclear attack), which in itself is an eerie experience – handling two folders used by staff to cope with the detailed bureaucracy of Armageddon – I found what I presume is the Chief Executive’s response to the Grass Seeds exercise conducted in 1966 (with the response dating from around the start of the following year). While that original Civil Defence document details a predicted nuclear attack on Britain and its impact on our County – horrific enough both in detail and bewilderingly naïve optimism – it is the council response to the problems uncovered by that exercise which makes for the most chilling reading.

Bearing in mind the context being discussed is the post-nuclear attack stage and breaking the law could mean searching for loved ones after curfew, trying to get home or get  away through a restricted road, searching for food or demanding medical or food assistance – here I quote verbatim.

LAW & ORDER
…it will be essential to have Army and Police patrols…it will be essential to have a curfew in operation and one of the Assistant Town Clerks would be appointed personally responsible for reading the Riot Act…this officer would also take prosecutions for offences in the local Magistrates’ Court, which it is imagined would be boosted by the addition of legally qualified members to the Bench and with much wider powers. Justice would be very rough and ready.

The use of the Prison (Gloucester) would be impracticable and involve the use of scarce manpower for supervision and what is wanted is a barbed wire compound into which offenders will be placed. This could be by the side of the river, which would provide sanitation. The Police and Army guarding the compound would have to be armed. There would be no time or manpower available to look after the prisoners who would be left to fight it out between themselves in the compound…

It will be necessary to take drastic action and after curfew, presumably, the Army will be shooting on sight. One would expect the Information Officer to try and boost morale and one could consider putting up notices warning the public of what will happen if they do commit offences, although this tactically might be a bad move.

Of course, none of this is anything new to anyone who’s watched either ‘The War Game’ or ‘Threads’, but to see these things written down in local government documents for our own county is quite literally an astounding reminder of the fragility of life under the Bomb.

Modern Times- the Dinosaur column

In Dinosaur on June 24, 2010 at 3:45 pm


So… who’s for a hung Parliament?

It was an odd old election, wasn’t it? Nationally, many of our politicians must have felt they were stuck on a roller coaster. At the start of the campaign Cameron must have felt that the poisoned chalice (not to mention the keys to Number Ten) was well within his grasp. Then along came Clegg, threatening to break the mould of British politics. It never happened, of course. Finally came the count which resulted in no clear majority for anyone. And unless any readers have been hibernating, we all know what happened next.

During the campaign, the Tory press had warned us against voting for a “hung Parliament”. Instead, they declared, we should all vote for that nice Mr. Cameron. who would roll up his shirt sleeves and get things done. But when it came to the crunch, not enough voters fancied Cameron to give him the clear mandate he really really wanted.

I have news for the Daily Mail, the Sun, and the rest of the ratpack. People didn’t vote for a “hung Parliament”. It wasn’t on the ballot paper. Instead they voted for the party or candidate they preferred – and in most cases, that wasn’t the Tories, even though that’s what we got..

But sadly here in Gloucestershire enough of them did vote Conservative to cause us to lose both Stroud and Gloucester. I was particularly sorry to see the defeat of David Drew in Stroud. He had been a good MP, to the left of the party leadership and a friend of the Clarion. But with a wafer thin majority, he was a victim of the national swing.

It was also a disappointing result for Labour in the Forest. . Bruce Hogan, too, was caught in the national trend and saw his vote decline. But here’s to the next time, eh?

For me, after a hard night watching the results roll in, my one real moment of happiness was the election of Caroline Lucas for the Green Party in Brighton Pavilion. This might not break any moulds, but let’s hope it marks a breakthrough.

Relations in Canada?

Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats and now part of Cameron’s Tory-Lib cabinet, has a distant relative in Canadian politics, it seems. The Toronto-based Globe and Mail has been looking at his family tree, and has discovered that he is a cousin of Michael Ignatieff – the leader of the Canadian Liberal Party.

Their family tree goes back to Czarist Russia, where a joint grandfather several generations removed was a Minister in the government. But he fell out of favour, the country had a revolution, and the family left its ancestral home to settle elsewhere.

The name Michael Ignatieff may ring a bell or two to some folk in this country. He spent some years in the UK and wrote a weekly column for the Observer newspaper, as well as having his own arts programme on BBC TV. But since returning to his native Canada, he hasn’t been doing so well. The Liberal Party that he leads is currently trailing badly in the opinion polls – and there’s no likelihood of a coalition with the Tories over there!

The spirit of Warren James

June 6 is Warren James’ Day – the day when his spirit of resistance will be remembered up at Hopewell Colliery.

On the day I’ll also be remembering an old friend, Roger Benham, who lived in Yorkley with his wife Gill. Back in 1996, when the rights of Forest folk were last under threat, Roger suggested to me that we should evoke the memory of Warren James in our opposition to the proposed carve-up of the Forest. “Perhaps an advert in his name, in the local papers,” he said.

It was only a casual suggestion, and as it happened, no advert appeared, but thanks to the spirit and determination of local folk, the sell-off of the Forest was abandoned. And Roger was there, on the mass rally at New Fancy and also the demonstration mounted by freeminers and their supporters up at Cannop. I’m sure that the spirit of Warren James was there, too.

Sadly, Roger is no longer with us, but I’m sure many local folk must still remember him with affection. I know that I do.

PROTEST AND DISSENT IN THE DEAN

In A.Graham on June 24, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Much of the history of the Forest of Dean has been that of protest and dissent. Of course our neck of the woods is not alone in this, but the abundance of coal, iron and timber in the Forest made it a focus for the struggle between those who wanted to own and exploit its natural resources, and those who were dispossessed in the process.

Iron had been mined in the Dean as far back as Roman times, and its timber was used to make charcoal for the furnaces or to build ships. Later its coal was mined – first by the freeminers and then increasingly by the big mining companies who were out to capitalize on the rich seams below the Forest. And as the Forest was felled and its timber depleted, those who wanted to profit from these resources sought to enclose large sweeps of the woodland.

A clear conflict of interest that culminated in the action taken by Warren James and the freeminers of the Dean in 1831. But even earlier there had been bitter opposition to enclosures, not only in the Forest, but throughout rural England.

The 1600s were typified by unrest, including of course the bitter Civil War. But even before the struggle between Parliament and the King erupted, there had been unrest in various parts of the south west and the midlands, including the Forest of Dean. This included the “Western Rising” of 1626 to 1632. It was a series of massive anti-enclosure riots that swept parts of Wiltshire, and the Forest of Dean. They were provoked by poverty, lack of food, and the loss of common rights. The enclosure of the forests threatened those who had relied on access for raw material and pasturage.

In order to raise money, King Charles 1 had granted leases to those eager to exploit the Forest – despite strong objections from the Foresters themselves! It all came to a head when Sir John Winter basically bought the Forest and set about enclosing large areas and felling the trees, in order to pay for his investment. By the time he had finished, the forest was in such a poor state that one contemporary report referred to it as “the late Forest of Dean”.

The enclosure of common land in the English countryside took place over a couple of centuries. It had started in late Tudor times as rich landowners seized land that ordinary commoners believed was theirs, for common use. There was sporadic unrest and revolt by those who believed that traditional rights were being taken away. During the 17th and 18th centuries a series of local Acts of Parliament gave this seizure of common land a gloss of legality. Those common rights that were swept away included the right to allow sheep, cattle and geese to graze or pigs to forage. By the end of the 20th Century this process was largely completed in most areas of our green and pleasant land – leaving only a few common pastures and village greens.

Except, of course, in the Forest of Dean, where local “sheep badgers” are still with us and freeminers (in diminishing numbers) guard their ancient rights. The Forest was, perhaps, exceptional. It was traditionally crown land, and the rights of freeminers were documented, rather than being based on tradition and custom. But this did not prevent repeated incursions into the rights of those who lived and worked in the Dean. The plunder of the forest’s timber reserves by those who had been appointed to safeguard these resources meant that the woodland needed periodic replenishment. Vast areas of land were enclosed, to be replanted – which naturally led to conflict, particularly with the local freeminers. After all, they weren’t the ones responsible for the wholesale rape of the Forest!

As for the enclosures in general, they transformed the English countryside. Many landowners became very rich, whilst others were robbed of centuries’ old rights. The enclosures also saw the notion of private ownership emerge as the model of ownership, as opposed to the collective rights of previous generations of country dwellers.

“AN ACT OF THEFT”:

In a discussion programme led by Melvyn Bragg on Radio 4, broadcast in 2008, the enclosures were described as “an act of theft”. Ownership of land was the key to power and authority, and it’s not surprising that most JPs (who sat in judgement in local courts) were landowners. At the same time, commoners were often regarded as inherently subversive. Any rights they thought they had were discarded.

Those historians who justify the enclosures argue that they were necessary for progress – to make farming, for example, more efficient and to allow the introduction of new farming techniques and technologies, to feed a growing population. It allowed the growth of roads, connecting communities, and later the railways.

That’s as maybe. But very few in the rural population were able to benefit from these “improvements”. Thousands were dispossessed, and driven from the land altogether. They were the ones who became the new generation of urban poor, living in squalor in our industrial towns and cities.

In reality it was a case of the few gaining wealth by grabbing land from the many. Incidentally, the last episode in this sordid story was the “Highland Clearances” in Scotland, which continued with ruthless determination until the late 19th Century.

CAPITALISM IN THE FRAME

In R.Richardson on June 24, 2010 at 3:39 pm

“Capitalism: A love story”: A film by Michael Moore, reviewed by RUTH RICHARDSON.

Many Clarion readers will be familiar with the films of Michael Moore. We reviewed his “Sicko”, an expose of the US health care system, some time ago.

Michael Moore’s latest target is broader. His film, “Capitalism: A love story” , shown last month on Channel 4, exposes the injustice, the hypocrisy and the greed at the heart of American society.

The “golden years” of American capitalism after the Second World War are briefly outlined. It was in the Reagan years that the socio-economic gap really widened, with unfettered free enterprise holding sway. Unions were weakened as corporations gained more political power. Moore quotes a recent Citigroup memo that declares with approval that the US is a “plutonomy” , a society where economic growth is powered by and largely consumed by the wealthy few. Moore interviews columnist Stephen Moore, who believes that “capitalism is a lot more important than democracy.”

QUESTIONS:
Moore explores the role of the US Treasury during the time leading up to the housing bubble which, when it burst, devastated the lives of many ordinary citizens. He interviews Elizabeth Warner, head of the US Congressional Oversight Committee which should have kept a check on excesses. He asks her, “Where is the 700 billion dollar bailout money which Congress gave to the big banks and Wall Street investment companies? After a dramatic pause, she replies, “I don’t know”.

On Wall Street Moore tries to uncover the truth behind dubious practices in the derivatives market and credit default swaps. His conclusion is that the complex system and terminology are there just to confuse, and that Wall Street is just an “insane casino”.

THOSE WHO SUFFER:
There are some truly moving moments featuring ordinary folk who have suffered, some of the footage being taken from the families’ own home videos. Another reflective moment is a conversation he has with his father in which they share memories about the car industry that once supported his home town of Flint, Michigan.

The film is fairly bleak, but not totally so. Moore includes some positive portrayals, such as a county sheriff who put out a moratorium on home evictions. Moore expresses the hope that Barack Obama’s regime might be a turning point in a society where the top one per cent of the population controls more financial wealth than the bottom 95 per cent combined.

Our reaction to Michael Moore’s film may well be to hold up our hands in horror. But we would do well to remember that many of the practices that he outlined are mirrored in our own society.

RUTH RICHARDSON
“Capitalism: A love story”” is now available on DVD.

double take: THAT FEELING OF BELONGING

In A.Graham, B. Graham, Reviews on June 24, 2010 at 3:36 pm

In our occasional series of “double reviews”, the Clarion presents two viewpoints on “The Progressive Patriot – a search for belonging”, by Billy Bragg , published in 2007.

WHAT MAKES A “PATRIOT”?

The starting point for Billy Bragg’s book is May 2006, when the BNP won 12 seats on the Barking & Dagenham Council. Barking was Billy’s home town, and the experience of white racists flaunting their “patriotism” in the community where he was born and raised caused him to pause and take stock of his own sense of identity.

In many ways the book is a rambling, semi-autobiographical account of his life as he peruses the influences that helped to shape him. He opens with a history of Barking and the growth of this Essex riverside community from pre-Roman times, quoting the words of Kipling: “And Norsemen and Negro and Gaul and Greek drank with the Britons in Barking Creek”.

It was of course industry as well as shipping that shaped latter-day Barking. The industry is now largely gone, and even the once mighty Ford works in neighbouring Dagenham are now a mere shadow of what they once were. It’s this loss of identity with work and neighbourhood that helped to provoke the rise of the BNP in the area.

FAMILY TIES:
Billy Bragg’s affinity with his birthplace is reinforced by his sense of family history. Generations of Braggs lived and worked there. These early influences were overlaid in his teenage years by the pop culture and music of the 1970s which he embraced with enthusiasm, starting with the chart success of Bridge over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkel. Many of his early ’70s musical influences seemed to stem from American artists who had “drunk deeply from the well of English tradition”. Interspersed with his account of his musical genesis is an examination of how British history was taught in schools through the works of Macauley and Trevelyan, praising the triumph of the established order in building the mighty British Empire. This view, he says, was finally challenged with the publication of E.P. Thompson’s “The Making of the English Working Class” in 1963; which “gave voice to those who had been considered the losers – Luddites, Chartists, Radicals.” I’d go back a bit further. This perspective was also the basis of a film produced by the Co-op in the mid-1940s, “The Song of the People”, starring the late Bill Owen.

MUSIC – AND MEMORIES:
Billy Bragg returns to the part played by music as we faced the growth of organised racism with the rise of the National Front and the BNP, including the birth of “Rock Against Racism” as a response. He flirted with punk rock (a fad which I fear left me cold – but then I’d been part of the earlier skiffle generation), before helping to found the “Red Wedge” collective of musicians in 1987.

He returns to what he calls “the Old Country” – those influences and memories from the old days passed on by parents to their children that become a patina of second-hand nostalgia. In Billy Bragg’s case it was the Second World War with tales of the Blitz, followed by the discovery of the wartime documentary films of Humphrey Jennings. At the same time as Jennings was filming, the Beveridge Report had become an unlikely best seller. Its proposals were to become the foundation stone of what became known as our “welfare state”.

Out of this multi-focussed account, Billy Bragg has produced a work, much of which I can identify with – and indeed learn from. There are, of course, different points of reference. My own roots were somewhat different, and my political influences belong to an earlier generation – that of the Cold War years of the 1950s and the rise of the nuclear disarmament movement. My sense of “patriotism”, or identity, is probably more diffuse than that of Billy.

ALISTAIR GRAHAM

* * * * * * * *

SEPARATING MYTH FROM REALITY

Despite his Internationalist principles, Billy Bragg has always cut a distinctly English figure. He’s made a point of singing in his own broad regional accent, refusing to take on the transatlantic vocal style of most pop and rock, or to adopt any of its habitual Americanisms. His songs have always been about England, from our politics and social history (“Between the Wars”, “Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards”) to rites of passage rooted in time and place (“The Milkman of Human Kindness”, “St. Swithin’s Day”, “From a Vauxhall Velox”). Not forgetting, of course, his first semi-hit, “A New England”, and his 2002 album, England, Half English. All of which makes Bragg seemingly well-equipped to reflect on notions of patriotism and national identity, and how they can mean different things to different people.

Very much a patriot in his own way, and one with a very strong sense of history and how it shapes communities and nations, Bragg nevertheless demonstrates that the golden-age myth of some bucolic, vanished England – as represented by the writings of the ludicrously reactionary Peter Hitchins – is just that, a misty and insubstantial myth, woven seductively together from a welter of disparate and unreliable sources. His own patriotism is far less sentimental, recognising that tradition is in the eye of the beholder, and that history and national character aren’t static things but are constantly evolving and moving forward.

CLEAR-EYED:
Bragg is similarly clear-eyed and even-handed in dealing with his own mythology. The irreverence, energy and iconoclasm of punk changed his life, and he sees it as being in a long English tradition of radical grass roots uprisings. But he also admits that even from the start it contained disturbing elements of nihilistic violence and Nazi chic. The battle for punk’s heart between the National Front and Rock Against Racism – backed by the Socialist Workers’ Party – is engagingly described and forms the backdrop to Bragg’s own political awakening.

In the end, Billy decides that punk bands like The Clash ultimately failed because they never fully engaged with politics, leading him to throw his weight behind “Red Wedge” and the Labour movement from the late eighties onwards. Arguably this was to the detriment of his own career, as he was unfairly pigeon-holed as a one-dimensional political singer-songwriter, when among other things he’s also written some of the finest love songs of the past thirty years (I suggest “The Saturday Boy” and “Levi Stubbs’ Tears” for starters).

Bragg ends by calling for a national debate on what it is to be British (despite the emphasis being on “Englishness” rather than “Britishness” throughout most of the book), and for a national declaration of rights applicable to everyone, regardless of class or country of origin.

Bragg’s final notion of “establishing space rather than race as our foundation” and of Britishness being simply “the sum of everything that is in Britain today” are consistent with the book’s overall achievement of rendering complex , contradictory ideas in clear, commonsense terms. Bragg may place himself in the tradition of radical dissent, but he remains nevertheless a quietly reassuring figure. To quote his best known song, he doesn’t want to change the world; he’s just looking for a New England. This is as good a guide as any.

BEN GRAHAM

NUCLEAR REACTORS: Do You Want More?

In Chris Gifford on June 18, 2010 at 3:46 pm

This article is about getting up to date with the government’s proposals and trying to make sense of the processes used by government in deciding policy.

In 2002 the Government published an Energy Review. In over 200 pages of detail it discussed options for future supplies of energy. It was written by the Performance and Innovation Unit of the Cabinet Office and it has since become clear that the Department of Trade and Industry, although involved, was not the principal author.

On the generation of electricity in nuclear power station the review said that concern about radioactive waste and “low probability but high consequence hazards” may limit or preclude its use. It added that nuclear power seemed likely to remain more expensive than fossil fuelled generation and that nowhere in the world was there new build in a liberalised electricity market. Thus two of the objections of those opposed to nuclear power were conceded. It was not safe and it was not economic. Similarly the report mentioned the vulnerability to terrorism, the long lead times in planning and building new stations, the extent of public opposition and the need to gain public acceptance for any new development. It concluded that the option of new investment in nuclear power should be kept open, especially if safer and low cost designs were developed, but there would have to be widespread public acceptance.

A major stakeholder and public consultation was launched in May 2002. It was the largest ever on energy policy. There followed a white paper which concluded that diversity of supply was the best protection against sudden price increases, terrorism and other threats to reliability of supply.

On renewable energy the review had concluded that “the UK resource is, in principle, more than sufficient to meet the UK’s energy needs” and that “the UK’s wind and marine resources are the best in Europe”. Both publications were strongly focussed on the need to mitigate climate change. The review had already stated that while achieving a 60% cut in CO2 emissions would be challenging it could be done while still achieving economic growth of 2.25% per year.

It did not make sense that global warming and security of supply should be cited as the reasons for another energy review in 2005. But that is what happened and the prime minister who had written the preface to the first review and endorsed the detailed conclusions on those matters declared that the building of new nuclear power stations should be “facilitated” by ‘fast track’ planning inquiries and ‘pre-licensing’ of new reactor designs. Another public consultation followed.

This writer responded to these events with some dismay and the writing of a paper with the title Nuclear Reactors: do we need more?. The paper was published by the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation in the Socialist Renewal series and a review and an abstract appeared in the Spokesman journal.

It examined the historic claims that nuclear power was peaceful and safe and asked ‘Is the risk from terrorism too awful to be acknowledged?’. It described the failure to comply with a European directive on the provision of information to the public on possible emergencies, examined the lack of data on costs, discussed the known costs but lack of solutions on nuclear waste management and listed the, so far, neglected sources of safe, sustainable renewable energy.

The response of the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate to the government’s proposals was reassuring. The Health and Safety Executive endorsed the concerns of the Nuclear Safety Directorate by publishing a 150 page expert report with the title The Health and Safety Risks and Regulatory Strategy Related to Energy Developments which emphasised the importance of the licensing process to control risk by the design of license conditions after detailed appraisal of a reactor design and the builder’s safety case. The HSE made no concessions to the prime minister’s proposals. It explained that if the (13) vacancies for government inspectors were filled quickly the study of a designer’s safety case and proposed reactor for a specific location would take several years (as it always had) depending on the quality of the application. If more than one new design had to be appraised concurrently it would take longer. The publication reported on earlier experience of ‘prelicensing’ and mentioned the Commission’s finding in a 1994 review that the regulatory systems were “comprehensive, internationally recognised, vindicated by public inquiries, and that there was no reason to change them in any fundamental way to deal with changes to the nuclear industry or new construction.”

It is difficult to imagine a more severe reprimand of a lay prime minister’s interference in a process vital to public safety. Public concern about the government’s methods was not alleviated by the HSE response. Greenpeace, with the support of other organisations such as the Welsh Anti-nuclear Alliance (WANA) and the Nuclear Free Local Authorities, applied to the High Court for judicial review of the way in which the government had consulted the public while giving every indication of having already decided the matter.

Mr Justice Sullivan in the High Court on 15 February 2007 ruled that the government’s second consultation on energy policy was “seriously flawed” and thus “illegal”. There had been no consultation at all, he said, because the government had provided information “wholly insufficient for the public to make an intelligent response.” In fact the government had also blacked out the economic data in papers obtained by the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

The government is obliged to start again. This time it has published two white papers one, Planning for a Sustainable Future, dealing with planning procedures and the other, The Energy White Paper is linked with a consultative document on nuclear power. The documents, like the process criticised in judicial review, show the government’s commitment to nuclear power, this time described as a ‘preliminary view’. The energy white paper is 343 pages long and is characterised by enhanced optimism and a lack of vital facts. I have tried hard to find, for example, data on the present and historic costs of generating electricity by nuclear power but I found none. Instead there are unattributed forecasts of future costs only one of which favours nuclear power – that which assumes high gas prices and generous carbon credits. There is frankness combined with optimism in the discussion of the dangers of nuclear power, as in

“Not all costs are considered. The analysis does not attempt to monetise all costs and benefits. Specifically, a monetary value associated with potential accidents is not estimated. Evidence suggests that the likelihood of such accidents is negligible, particularly in the UK context.”

The justification for the above is found in a footnote which reads

1 The literature suggests a range for the probability of major accidents (core meltdown plus containment failure) from 2×10-6 in France, to 4×10-9 in the UK. The associated expected cost is estimated to be of the order £0.03 / MWh to £0.30 / MWh depending on assumptions about discount rates and the value of life; using the figure at the top end of this range would not change the results of the cost benefit analysis. Introducing risk aversion, the results of the cost benefit analysis in the central case (defined in Section 3 below) would be robust for a risk aversion factor of 20 at the highest estimated value for the expected accident cost. For a summary of the relevant literature, see “Externalities of Energy (ExternE), Methodology 2005 Update”, European Commission.

One in four billion reactors years! The debate on whether or not our nuclear reactors are capable of nuclear explosion is not yet settled. In evidence put to our last public inquiry (Hinkley Point ‘C’) an estimate of one loss of containment in one million years was treated with caution by our inspectorate and modified to 1 in 100 000 by the then director general of the Health and Safety Executive in consideration of the acknowledged lack of data on human error. On waste management the consultative document is no better, eg

We have technical solutions for waste disposal that scientific consensus and experience from abroad suggest could accommodate all types of waste from existing and new power stations.

Note that ‘disposal’ has replaced mention of a ‘repository’ and that the findings of CoRWM, the committee on radioactive waste management, have been improved to turn a topic requiring further research and a suitable site into a solution and that new waste, which CoRWM expressly excluded from its considerations, is now lumped in. If we have a solution one has to ask why we have not made use of it in the 30 years since the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution recommended that there should be no more nuclear power stations until a solution was found for the management of nuclear waste.

The local nuclear power station at Oldbury is not producing electricity because a fire affecting electrical equipment on 30 May 2007 caused reactor 2 to be shut down. Repair work and a report by investigators will have to be completed before the reactor can be started again. A report by BBC News 24 to the effect that the power station is unlikely to produce electricity again is disputed, but not vigorously, by British Nuclear Group who run this ageing Magnox station.

The condition of the Oldbury graphite cores and losses of initial integrity featured in an internal report revealed by the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. The report shows that reactor 2 is not considered safe enough to operate until its planned closure date of December 2008 and that the permission to restart after its recent two years closure for safety work was conditional on a new safety case being acceptable in November this year. It is reassuring that the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate are making such conditional approvals. Similar considerations will apply to reactor 1 where a safety case for a restart is already with the inspectorate. Pressure on the inspectorate is envisaged given that the company desperately needs the income from electricity sales almost as desperately as the Prime Minister wishes us to believe that all is well. He has asserted that reactor safety can now be assumed and thus that events such as fuel fires, burst cladding and structural collapse of a reactor core leading to a total loss of control are impossible.

On Planning for a Sustainable Future, on the proposed Infrastructure Planning Commission and on local planning inquiries being required to exclude matters of national policy from their considerations a letter to The Guardian on 23 May summed up the argument very well.

If the government builds a nuclear power station on the site of London’s derelict Battersea power station then the rest of the country will know that these stations are completely safe. The new streamlined planning system should take care of any local opposition.

If you are satisfied that spending billions more on nuclear power will not impede and distract from the investment that we need to make in several forms of renewable energy, particularly tidal energy; if you are sure that the industry has nothing whatever to do with the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and if you know why every young person in Britain has plutonium in his teeth and you do not care you may want to respond to the consultation with your approval for a new nuclear future.

Christopher Gifford

11 June 2007

NUCLEAR REACTORS: DO YOU WANT MORE?

This article is about getting up to date with the government’s proposals and trying to make sense of the processes used by government in deciding policy.

In 2002 the Government published an Energy Review. In over 200 pages of detail it discussed options for future supplies of energy. It was written by the Performance and Innovation Unit of the Cabinet Office and it has since become clear that the Department of Trade and Industry, although involved, was not the principal author.

On the generation of electricity in nuclear power station the review said that concern about radioactive waste and “low probability but high consequence hazards” may limit or preclude its use. It added that nuclear power seemed likely to remain more expensive than fossil fuelled generation and that nowhere in the world was there new build in a liberalised electricity market. Thus two of the objections of those opposed to nuclear power were conceded. It was not safe and it was not economic. Similarly the report mentioned the vulnerability to terrorism, the long lead times in planning and building new stations, the extent of public opposition and the need to gain public acceptance for any new development. It concluded that the option of new investment in nuclear power should be kept open, especially if safer and low cost designs were developed, but there would have to be widespread public acceptance.

A major stakeholder and public consultation was launched in May 2002. It was the largest ever on energy policy. There followed a white paper which concluded that diversity of supply was the best protection against sudden price increases, terrorism and other threats to reliability of supply.

On renewable energy the review had concluded that “the UK resource is, in principle, more than sufficient to meet the UK’s energy needs” and that “the UK’s wind and marine resources are the best in Europe”. Both publications were strongly focussed on the need to mitigate climate change. The review had already stated that while achieving a 60% cut in CO2 emissions would be challenging it could be done while still achieving economic growth of 2.25% per year.

It did not make sense that global warming and security of supply should be cited as the reasons for another energy review in 2005. But that is what happened and the prime minister who had written the preface to the first review and endorsed the detailed conclusions on those matters declared that the building of new nuclear power stations should be “facilitated” by ‘fast track’ planning inquiries and ‘pre-licensing’ of new reactor designs. Another public consultation followed.

This writer responded to these events with some dismay and the writing of a paper with the title Nuclear Reactors: do we need more?. The paper was published by the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation in the Socialist Renewal series and a review and an abstract appeared in the Spokesman journal. The paper is available as an A5 booklet of 33pp with 61 source references price £2-00 from Spokesman Books telephone 0115 970 8318. It examined the historic claims that nuclear power was peaceful and safe and asked ‘Is the risk from terrorism too awful to be acknowledged?’. It described the failure to comply with a European directive on the provision of information to the public on possible emergencies, examined the lack of data on costs, discussed the known costs but lack of solutions on nuclear waste management and listed the, so far, neglected sources of safe, sustainable renewable energy.

The response of the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate to the government’s proposals was reassuring. The Health and Safety Executive endorsed the concerns of the Nuclear Safety Directorate by publishing a 150 page expert report with the title The Health and Safety Risks and Regulatory Strategy Related to Energy Developments which emphasised the importance of the licensing process to control risk by the design of license conditions after detailed appraisal of a reactor design and the builder’s safety case. The HSE made no concessions to the prime minister’s proposals. It explained that if the (13) vacancies for government inspectors were filled quickly the study of a designer’s safety case and proposed reactor for a specific location would take several years (as it always had) depending on the quality of the application. If more than one new design had to be appraised concurrently it would take longer. The publication reported on earlier experience of ‘prelicensing’ and mentioned the Commission’s finding in a 1994 review that the regulatory systems were “comprehensive, internationally recognised, vindicated by public inquiries, and that there was no reason to change them in any fundamental way to deal with changes to the nuclear industry or new construction.”

It is difficult to imagine a more severe reprimand of a lay prime minister’s interference in a process vital to public safety. Public concern about the government’s methods was not alleviated by the HSE response. Greenpeace, with the support of other organisations such as the Welsh Anti-nuclear Alliance (WANA) and the Nuclear Free Local Authorities, applied to the High Court for judicial review of the way in which the government had consulted the public while giving every indication of having already decided the matter.

Mr Justice Sullivan in the High Court on 15 February 2007 ruled that the government’s second consultation on energy policy was “seriously flawed” and thus “illegal”. There had been no consultation at all, he said, because the government had provided information “wholly insufficient for the public to make an intelligent response.” In fact the government had also blacked out the economic data in papers obtained by the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

The government is obliged to start again. This time it has published two white papers one, Planning for a Sustainable Future, dealing with planning procedures and the other, The Energy White Paper is linked with a consultative document on nuclear power. The documents, like the process criticised in judicial review, show the government’s commitment to nuclear power, this time described as a ‘preliminary view’. The energy white paper is 343 pages long and is characterised by enhanced optimism and a lack of vital facts. I have tried hard to find, for example, data on the present and historic costs of generating electricity by nuclear power but I found none. Instead there are unattributed forecasts of future costs only one of which favours nuclear power – that which assumes high gas prices and generous carbon credits. There is frankness combined with optimism in the discussion of the dangers of nuclear power, as in

“Not all costs are considered. The analysis does not attempt to monetise all costs and benefits. Specifically, a monetary value associated with potential accidents is not estimated. Evidence suggests that the likelihood of such accidents is negligible, particularly in the UK context.”

The justification for the above is found in a footnote which reads

1 The literature suggests a range for the probability of major accidents (core meltdown plus containment failure) from 2×10-6 in France, to 4×10-9 in the UK. The associated expected cost is estimated to be of the order £0.03 / MWh to £0.30 / MWh depending on assumptions about discount rates and the value of life; using the figure at the top end of this range would not change the results of the cost benefit analysis. Introducing risk aversion, the results of the cost benefit analysis in the central case (defined in Section 3 below) would be robust for a risk aversion factor of 20 at the highest estimated value for the expected accident cost. For a summary of the relevant literature, see “Externalities of Energy (ExternE), Methodology 2005 Update”, European Commission.

One in four billion reactors years! The debate on whether or not our nuclear reactors are capable of nuclear explosion is not yet settled. In evidence put to our last public inquiry (Hinkley Point ‘C’) an estimate of one loss of containment in one million years was treated with caution by our inspectorate and modified to 1 in 100 000 by the then director general of the Health and Safety Executive in consideration of the acknowledged lack of data on human error. On waste management the consultative document is no better, eg

We have technical solutions for waste disposal that scientific consensus and experience from abroad suggest could accommodate all types of waste from existing and new power stations.

Note that ‘disposal’ has replaced mention of a ‘repository’ and that the findings of CoRWM, the committee on radioactive waste management, have been improved to turn a topic requiring further research and a suitable site into a solution and that new waste, which CoRWM expressly excluded from its considerations, is now lumped in. If we have a solution one has to ask why we have not made use of it in the 30 years since the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution recommended that there should be no more nuclear power stations until a solution was found for the management of nuclear waste.

The local nuclear power station at Oldbury is not producing electricity because a fire affecting electrical equipment on 30 May 2007 caused reactor 2 to be shut down. Repair work and a report by investigators will have to be completed before the reactor can be started again. A report by BBC News 24 to the effect that the power station is unlikely to produce electricity again is disputed, but not vigorously, by British Nuclear Group who run this ageing Magnox station.

The condition of the Oldbury graphite cores and losses of initial integrity featured in an internal report revealed by the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. The report shows that reactor 2 is not considered safe enough to operate until its planned closure date of December 2008 and that the permission to restart after its recent two years closure for safety work was conditional on a new safety case being acceptable in November this year. It is reassuring that the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate are making such conditional approvals. Similar considerations will apply to reactor 1 where a safety case for a restart is already with the inspectorate. Pressure on the inspectorate is envisaged given that the company desperately needs the income from electricity sales almost as desperately as the Prime Minister wishes us to believe that all is well. He has asserted that reactor safety can now be assumed and thus that events such as fuel fires, burst cladding and structural collapse of a reactor core leading to a total loss of control are impossible.

On Planning for a Sustainable Future, on the proposed Infrastructure Planning Commission and on local planning inquiries being required to exclude matters of national policy from their considerations a letter to The Guardian on 23 May summed up the argument very well.

If the government builds a nuclear power station on the site of London’s derelict Battersea power station then the rest of the country will know that these stations are completely safe. The new streamlined planning system should take care of any local opposition.

If you are satisfied that spending billions more on nuclear power will not impede and distract from the investment that we need to make in several forms of renewable energy, particularly tidal energy; if you are sure that the industry has nothing whatever to do with the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and if you know why every young person in Britain has plutonium in his teeth and you do not care you may want to respond to the consultation with your approval for a new nuclear future.

Christopher Gifford

NUCLEAR REACTORS: DO YOU WANT MORE?

This article is about getting up to date with the government’s proposals and trying to make sense of the processes used by government in deciding policy.

In 2002 the Government published an Energy Review. In over 200 pages of detail it discussed options for future supplies of energy. It was written by the Performance and Innovation Unit of the Cabinet Office and it has since become clear that the Department of Trade and Industry, although involved, was not the principal author.

On the generation of electricity in nuclear power station the review said that concern about radioactive waste and “low probability but high consequence hazards” may limit or preclude its use. It added that nuclear power seemed likely to remain more expensive than fossil fuelled generation and that nowhere in the world was there new build in a liberalised electricity market. Thus two of the objections of those opposed to nuclear power were conceded. It was not safe and it was not economic. Similarly the report mentioned the vulnerability to terrorism, the long lead times in planning and building new stations, the extent of public opposition and the need to gain public acceptance for any new development. It concluded that the option of new investment in nuclear power should be kept open, especially if safer and low cost designs were developed, but there would have to be widespread public acceptance.

A major stakeholder and public consultation was launched in May 2002. It was the largest ever on energy policy. There followed a white paper which concluded that diversity of supply was the best protection against sudden price increases, terrorism and other threats to reliability of supply.

On renewable energy the review had concluded that “the UK resource is, in principle, more than sufficient to meet the UK’s energy needs” and that “the UK’s wind and marine resources are the best in Europe”. Both publications were strongly focussed on the need to mitigate climate change. The review had already stated that while achieving a 60% cut in CO2 emissions would be challenging it could be done while still achieving economic growth of 2.25% per year.

It did not make sense that global warming and security of supply should be cited as the reasons for another energy review in 2005. But that is what happened and the prime minister who had written the preface to the first review and endorsed the detailed conclusions on those matters declared that the building of new nuclear power stations should be “facilitated” by ‘fast track’ planning inquiries and ‘pre-licensing’ of new reactor designs. Another public consultation followed.

This writer responded to these events with some dismay and the writing of a paper with the title Nuclear Reactors: do we need more?. The paper was published by the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation in the Socialist Renewal series and a review and an abstract appeared in the Spokesman journal. The paper is available as an A5 booklet of 33pp with 61 source references price £2-00 from Spokesman Books telephone 0115 970 8318. It examined the historic claims that nuclear power was peaceful and safe and asked ‘Is the risk from terrorism too awful to be acknowledged?’. It described the failure to comply with a European directive on the provision of information to the public on possible emergencies, examined the lack of data on costs, discussed the known costs but lack of solutions on nuclear waste management and listed the, so far, neglected sources of safe, sustainable renewable energy.

The response of the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate to the government’s proposals was reassuring. The Health and Safety Executive endorsed the concerns of the Nuclear Safety Directorate by publishing a 150 page expert report with the title The Health and Safety Risks and Regulatory Strategy Related to Energy Developments which emphasised the importance of the licensing process to control risk by the design of license conditions after detailed appraisal of a reactor design and the builder’s safety case. The HSE made no concessions to the prime minister’s proposals. It explained that if the (13) vacancies for government inspectors were filled quickly the study of a designer’s safety case and proposed reactor for a specific location would take several years (as it always had) depending on the quality of the application. If more than one new design had to be appraised concurrently it would take longer. The publication reported on earlier experience of ‘prelicensing’ and mentioned the Commission’s finding in a 1994 review that the regulatory systems were “comprehensive, internationally recognised, vindicated by public inquiries, and that there was no reason to change them in any fundamental way to deal with changes to the nuclear industry or new construction.”

It is difficult to imagine a more severe reprimand of a lay prime minister’s interference in a process vital to public safety. Public concern about the government’s methods was not alleviated by the HSE response. Greenpeace, with the support of other organisations such as the Welsh Anti-nuclear Alliance (WANA) and the Nuclear Free Local Authorities, applied to the High Court for judicial review of the way in which the government had consulted the public while giving every indication of having already decided the matter.

Mr Justice Sullivan in the High Court on 15 February 2007 ruled that the government’s second consultation on energy policy was “seriously flawed” and thus “illegal”. There had been no consultation at all, he said, because the government had provided information “wholly insufficient for the public to make an intelligent response.” In fact the government had also blacked out the economic data in papers obtained by the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

The government is obliged to start again. This time it has published two white papers one, Planning for a Sustainable Future, dealing with planning procedures and the other, The Energy White Paper is linked with a consultative document on nuclear power. The documents, like the process criticised in judicial review, show the government’s commitment to nuclear power, this time described as a ‘preliminary view’. The energy white paper is 343 pages long and is characterised by enhanced optimism and a lack of vital facts. I have tried hard to find, for example, data on the present and historic costs of generating electricity by nuclear power but I found none. Instead there are unattributed forecasts of future costs only one of which favours nuclear power – that which assumes high gas prices and generous carbon credits. There is frankness combined with optimism in the discussion of the dangers of nuclear power, as in

“Not all costs are considered. The analysis does not attempt to monetise all costs and benefits. Specifically, a monetary value associated with potential accidents is not estimated. Evidence suggests that the likelihood of such accidents is negligible, particularly in the UK context.”

The justification for the above is found in a footnote which reads

1 The literature suggests a range for the probability of major accidents (core meltdown plus containment failure) from 2×10-6 in France, to 4×10-9 in the UK. The associated expected cost is estimated to be of the order £0.03 / MWh to £0.30 / MWh depending on assumptions about discount rates and the value of life; using the figure at the top end of this range would not change the results of the cost benefit analysis. Introducing risk aversion, the results of the cost benefit analysis in the central case (defined in Section 3 below) would be robust for a risk aversion factor of 20 at the highest estimated value for the expected accident cost. For a summary of the relevant literature, see “Externalities of Energy (ExternE), Methodology 2005 Update”, European Commission.

One in four billion reactors years! The debate on whether or not our nuclear reactors are capable of nuclear explosion is not yet settled. In evidence put to our last public inquiry (Hinkley Point ‘C’) an estimate of one loss of containment in one million years was treated with caution by our inspectorate and modified to 1 in 100 000 by the then director general of the Health and Safety Executive in consideration of the acknowledged lack of data on human error. On waste management the consultative document is no better, eg

We have technical solutions for waste disposal that scientific consensus and experience from abroad suggest could accommodate all types of waste from existing and new power stations.

Note that ‘disposal’ has replaced mention of a ‘repository’ and that the findings of CoRWM, the committee on radioactive waste management, have been improved to turn a topic requiring further research and a suitable site into a solution and that new waste, which CoRWM expressly excluded from its considerations, is now lumped in. If we have a solution one has to ask why we have not made use of it in the 30 years since the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution recommended that there should be no more nuclear power stations until a solution was found for the management of nuclear waste.

The local nuclear power station at Oldbury is not producing electricity because a fire affecting electrical equipment on 30 May 2007 caused reactor 2 to be shut down. Repair work and a report by investigators will have to be completed before the reactor can be started again. A report by BBC News 24 to the effect that the power station is unlikely to produce electricity again is disputed, but not vigorously, by British Nuclear Group who run this ageing Magnox station.

The condition of the Oldbury graphite cores and losses of initial integrity featured in an internal report revealed by the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. The report shows that reactor 2 is not considered safe enough to operate until its planned closure date of December 2008 and that the permission to restart after its recent two years closure for safety work was conditional on a new safety case being acceptable in November this year. It is reassuring that the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate are making such conditional approvals. Similar considerations will apply to reactor 1 where a safety case for a restart is already with the inspectorate. Pressure on the inspectorate is envisaged given that the company desperately needs the income from electricity sales almost as desperately as the Prime Minister wishes us to believe that all is well. He has asserted that reactor safety can now be assumed and thus that events such as fuel fires, burst cladding and structural collapse of a reactor core leading to a total loss of control are impossible.

On Planning for a Sustainable Future, on the proposed Infrastructure Planning Commission and on local planning inquiries being required to exclude matters of national policy from their considerations a letter to The Guardian on 23 May summed up the argument very well.

If the government builds a nuclear power station on the site of London’s derelict Battersea power station then the rest of the country will know that these stations are completely safe. The new streamlined planning system should take care of any local opposition.

If you are satisfied that spending billions more on nuclear power will not impede and distract from the investment that we need to make in several forms of renewable energy, particularly tidal energy; if you are sure that the industry has nothing whatever to do with the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and if you know why every young person in Britain has plutonium in his teeth and you do not care you may want to respond to the consultation with your approval for a new nuclear future.

Christopher Gifford

11 June 2007

11 June 2007

GRACE TURNER: An appreciation by Joy Simpson

In Obiturary on June 18, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Joy Simpson pays tribute to her aunt, Grace Turner, who died in January aged 97.

We, the family, could not be sad for Grace when she died peacefully at home on January 9, at last released from the loneliness she had borne since her husband John died in October 2007. They had been such a close couple for over seventy years.

Grace was the youngest of six in the Brain family, and the only one not born in Lydney. My mother was the eldest, and Grace was 18 when she came to help her in the dairy at Ascot when I was born in 1929. In later years we almost seemed to be the same generation, and I stopped calling her “Aunty”.

POLITICALLY ACTIVE:

Throughout her life Grace was politically active on the left, including being involved in the “Cable Street Riots” against Oswald Mosley’s fascist blackshirts.

She met John Turner through the Clarion Cycling Club and they married in 1938. Their daughter Helen was born in 1939, just before the outbreak of the Second World War. In 1940, to escape the bombing in London, they came to stay with relatives in Lydney. Later they moved back to Sunbury on Thames where Roger was born in 1944.

They never owned a car, and continued to cycle everywhere, adding a carrier for the children, until Grace had a terrible accident when her cycle was hit by a car, breaking her arm, leg and collar bones. John was distraught and used to take Royal Jelly (from bees) into the hospital to help with the healing. After that he would only let her ride the tandem with him.

They travelled all over the country and abroad, particularly to Holland where they met lifelong friends Ans and Wietze Postma. They also went by minibus to Moscow, Eastern Germany, Czechoslovakia, and on the way back through Norway. Their activities also included taking part in CND and anti-war demonstrations.

Gerry was born in 1947, when I was 18. Whilst she was expecting, I used to cycle down to see if Grace had produced the baby yet!

A HEALTHY LIFE:

Their healthy life included Grace making her own bread until a few years ago. They were mostly vegetarian which, I think, influenced me in making that choice. They very seldom visited a doctor or took allopathic medicine, relying on her own remedies including garlic for minor ailments. She was devoted to her grandchildren and often went to see Gerry and Alice with their three when they were wardens at the Friends Meeting House at Hemel Hempstead.

In 1987, along with my mother, Grace and John, I moved to Lydney, in bungalows near to each other. We were able to support each other and take holidays in Wales. My mother, Lois, died aged 98 in 1997. It had been good for the sisters to be near again. She liked to see my family, too, when they came to the Forest to see me.

Grace had a love of music and we joined the Dean Music Club and shared CDs. She and John were also interested in foreign films, which we enjoyed at the Studio Cinema in Coleford. Until her eyesight deteriorated Grace had been a great reader and we shared books and ideas.

Later, John would get “Talking Books” from the library, which they enjoyed together.

They had been a great team, not above complaining about each other but devoted nonetheless. When John died, Grace lost the will to live. Although she was loved and well cared for by her grand daughter, no-one could replace him.

So it’s the end of an era. Grace was the last of that generation in the family. Although I am the only Quaker in the family, it was her wish to have a Quaker funeral, as she had experienced it when my mother, her sister, died. It gave anyone who wished the opportunity to share their thoughts about her, and drew together family and many friends from many strands of her life.

JS

We, the family, could not be sad for Grace when she died peacefully at home on January 9, at last released from the loneliness she had borne since her husband John died in October 2007. They had been such a close couple for over seventy years.

Grace was the youngest of six in the Brain family, and the only one not born in Lydney. My mother was the eldest, and Grace was 18 when she came to help her in the dairy at Ascot when I was born in 1929. In later years we almost seemed to be the same generation, and I stopped calling her “Aunty”.

POLITICALLY ACTIVE:
Throughout her life Grace was politically active on the left, including being involved in the “Cable Street Riots” against Oswald Mosley’s fascist blackshirts.

She met John Turner through the Clarion Cycling Club and they married in 1938. Their daughter Helen was born in 1939, just before the outbreak of the Second World War. In 1940, to escape the bombing in London, they came to stay with relatives in Lydney. Later they moved back to Sunbury on Thames where Roger was born in 1944.

They never owned a car, and continued to cycle everywhere, adding a carrier for the children, until Grace had a terrible accident when her cycle was hit by a car, breaking her arm, leg and collar bones. John was distraught and used to take Royal Jelly (from bees) into the hospital to help with the healing. After that he would only let her ride the tandem with him.

They travelled all over the country and abroad, particularly to Holland where they met lifelong friends Ans and Wietze Postma. They also went by minibus to Moscow, Eastern Germany, Czechoslovakia, and on the way back through Norway. Their activities also included taking part in CND and anti-war demonstrations.

Gerry was born in 1947, when I was 18. Whilst she was expecting, I used to cycle down to see if Grace had produced the baby yet!

A HEALTHY LIFE:
Their healthy life included Grace making her own bread until a few years ago. They were mostly vegetarian which, I think, influenced me in making that choice. They very seldom visited a doctor or took allopathic medicine, relying on her own remedies including garlic for minor ailments. She was devoted to her grandchildren and often went to see Gerry and Alice with their three when they were wardens at the Friends Meeting House at Hemel Hempstead.

In 1987, along with my mother, Grace and John, I moved to Lydney, in bungalows near to each other. We were able to support each other and take holidays in Wales. My mother, Lois, died aged 98 in 1997. It had been good for the sisters to be near again. She liked to see my family, too, when they came to the Forest to see me.

Grace had a love of music and we joined the Dean Music Club and shared CDs. She and John were also interested in foreign films, which we enjoyed at the Studio Cinema in Coleford. Until her eyesight deteriorated Grace had been a great reader and we shared books and ideas.

Later, John would get “Talking Books” from the library, which they enjoyed together.

They had been a great team, not above complaining about each other but devoted nonetheless. When John died, Grace lost the will to live. Although she was loved and well cared for by her grand daughter, no-one could replace him.

So it’s the end of an era. Grace was the last of that generation in the family. Although I am the only Quaker in the family, it was her wish to have a Quaker funeral, as she had experienced it when my mother, her sister, died. It gave anyone who wished the opportunity to share their thoughts about her, and drew together family and many friends from many strands of her life.

DOUBLE TAKE: More than one Road #2

In A.Graham, Reviews on June 18, 2010 at 3:23 pm

I Believed: The Autobiography of a former British Communist

by Douglas Hyde (Heinemann, 1951)

REVIEW #2

DOUGLAS HYDE grew up in a Methodist family in Bristol. In 1928 he joined the Communist Party, and spent the next twenty years or so working his way up through the ranks until finally he made it to the upper echelons of the Party, becoming a speaker, organiser and joining the editorial staff of the Daily Worker.

His book, I Believed, recalling his life in the Communist Party, was published in 1951. It ran to two reprints within a couple of months. It was a time of political polarisation, with the McCarthyite “witch hunts” in the USA at their height. Over there, being a “Commie” or a “Red” was seen as being guilty of “UnAmerican activities”, and thousands suffered as a result. Some were gaoled, others were merely blacklisted.

Though there was no blatant witch hunting over here, some of the climate had rubbed off in Britain. Coincidentally, it was about this time that I was beginning to get involved in politics. I was a teenager, just embarking on a new life in London. I ended up in a bedsitter which I shared for a while with another young lad who was a member of the Young Communist League. He made sure that I read the Daily Worker, and would engage me in “political discussions”. I never did join the Communist Party – though I admit that I did waver. The nearest I came to it was when the Rosenbergs were executed in America. They were sent to the electric chair on a charge of revealing nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union. They had been arrested in the summer of 1950, and despite a world-wide campaign for clemency, they were finally executed in 1953. The morning after, the Daily Worker came out with a one-word headline using the largest typeface it had – “MURDER”. The case stirred me emotionally. I believed in their innocence then, and still do today.

But eventually I veered away from the Communist Party. I think two factors helped to clarify my thoughts. One was the Soviet repression of the uprising in Hungary in 1956, and the other was the emergence of the nuclear disarmament movement a couple of years later. I took a different route, becoming increasingly involved in the peace movement – although with a developing Socialist perspective. For the record, I went on to join the ILP, which had been the CP’s major rival for the left-wing conscience in the 1930s.

It was against this backgound that I first read I Believed. It did have an influence on me – though not in the way that was intended by the author or indeed the person who gave it to me. It must have been difficult for Hyde to deny totally twenty years of selfless activity for the cause. At that time I was more interested in reading his accounts of the workers’ struggle – the hunger marches, the anti-fascist campaigns and the Spanish civil war – than the anti-Communist message superimposed as the overall theme. And I was in no way attracted by the alternative that Hyde chose – a sort of mediaevalist catholicism, beloved by such writers as Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc at the time.

Now, with maturity, I can take a more detached view of it all. Hyde knew better than most that the Communist Party at the time did as it was told, according to the shifts in Soviet foreign policy. The “party line” could (and did) change according to the dictates of Moscow, whilst the Communist policy document, The British Road to Socialism, was about as British as was allowed by the Communist International (later re-branded as the “Cominform”).

But what of the Party membership, which was still quite considerable in those days? When Hyde left the Party, it still had two MPs (though both seats were lost in the 1950 election), scores of councillors, a trade union base, and as late as 1960 boasted of a membership of some 30,000. As for the Daily Worker, it was selling 100,000 a day – and could have sold far more except for the strict rationing on newsprint that existed just after the war. The CP was not without its influence. I got to know many Party members in West London, and it was difficult to view them as “tools of Moscow”. They were sincere and committed and really believed that the “people’s democracies” offered the way forward.

Hyde was, in effect, a “proto-defector”. He was able to write his book whilst starting a new life in which he rejected “atheistic Marxism”. After he left the Party and the Daily Worker he became a columnist for the Catholic Herald. Others, of course, were to leave the Communist Party in later years, though not all of them lost their commitment to Socialism. The Party survived – but a “New Left” was also born in the late 1950s and the 1960s.

ALISTAIR GRAHAM

DOUBLE TAKE: More than one Road #1

In C.Spiby, Reviews on June 18, 2010 at 1:59 pm

REVIEW #1

I Believed: The Autobiography of a former British Communist
by Douglas Hyde (Heinemann, 1951)

As a former British Communist myself, I greeted with interest the invitation to read and review a copy of Douglas Hyde’s reflection on his life in and out of the CPGB and its paper, the Daily Worker. The reading, for me, proved personally significant and incredibly arresting. At times I was incensed, at others engrossed.

Brought up in Bristol, Hyde found his way into organised politics via the International Class War Prisoners Aid while still living with his liberal parents, which he openly refers to as ‘petty-bourgeois’. But not before he considered a life of the cloth.

The holy path, however, was diverted by his doubts. His reading of The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man challenged his theological learning. His feelings that arose from the apparent abandonment of the WWI wounded or the poverty of Welsh miners just across the Severn drove him to anger. And it was society’s mute response to these issues which informed his growing sense of intolerance of the injustices of the world and the way it was ordered which finally pushed him toward socialism and inexorably away from the church.

Hyde writes in a straight-forward manner which is accessible if rather bland and, on occasion, dry. Nonetheless he comes across as a very diligent but not entirely exciting journalist. Somehow though, the bare facts and the passion still rise through this dry prose. And this story is all about passion of one sort of another. After all, what else drives a person into the Communist Party?

It is clear to me that the life quest of Douglas Hyde is all about belief systems. Indeed, you begin to get the impression that the man can see no difference between a belief in Marxism and a theological belief even though he himself fails to make this connection. Marx and Stalin are as good as Gods to him. Only this can explain why he moves from a theological future to a socialist one and then back again. His journey is a spiritual one. He’s a man in search of a home, a purpose and a soul. And this soul exists on a keen sense of social justice.

Taking us through the Spanish Civil War and into the Second World War, I Believed has many such tests of justice and parity not just for Hyde, but the Party and the paper he eventually writes for, let alone the West. It is steeped in events of the period and its authenticity is undoubted.

Later in the book Hyde describes Marxists as evil and represents Party members as one might today refer to the Moonies: a cultish, insular sect bending easily-influence minds. This too is in keeping with his almost religious understanding of atheistic socialism but it is not an all an aspect I recognise in the Party I joined in the mid 1990’s. In fact, he is out rightly ominous at some turns…

…even though we knew quite well what we would do with freedom of the Press and democracy when the revolution came.

Of course, today we should read I Believed as part of the cannon against Stalinism and not as an indictment of socialism or communism per se, which is what Hyde thought he was writing. He can be forgiven for thinking so too: when Hyde was writing Stalin’s reach was long in length and lasting, much to the disgrace of more progressive and humane communists such as the British Party.

It seems the lying had become pandemic among the Party hierarchy. For example, Hyde cites one again that following the lifting of the ban on the Daily Worker, and with a policy of strong Government support of the Red Army against the Nazis, the Government of the day actually paid for a lot of Daily Worker advertising space. So much so that the paper actually began to make money. A decision had to be made on whether the wind up the paper’s fighting fund which had previously pleaded poverty to its readers in hope of them delving into their often threadbare pockets. The outcome was to lie and continue with the pleading. This money paid for a new HQ and then surplus was passed directly to the Party. Arguing that this was all good for the cause just sickens me.

Of course, we only have Hyde’s side of the story here and it wasn’t long before those brief fortunes were once again reversed but the point remains. For my part, even when I belonged to the Party, I have never subscribed to the cause over the truth – does that make me a bad Marxist?

Also, when it is convenient for his argument against communism, Hyde tends to forget the intention of the socialist internationalism. And that is the desire to look beyond nationhood and into and for the brotherhood and sisterhood of our fellow working class the world over. In the early section of the book this is one of the attractions of communism but by the time we see Hyde’s dissatisfaction with the Party take hold, this internationalism is likened to being agents of the Soviet Union.

Russia has forty thousand such potential spies in Britain in the ranks of the Communist Party, and millions more throughout the world.

Which shows the later Hyde speaking, but this is followed, by a section looking back at Hyde the Communist…

At no point did the question of its being unpatriotic enter into our thoughts. We were, after all, agreed that a communist Britain would be a better Britain… The conventional attitude [among communists] to patriotism and love of country was easily dismissed with the question: ‘Whose country- theirs or ours?’

…To the seasoned Marxist the axiom that ‘the workers have no country’ is sufficiently well absorbed for such considerations not to enter into his conscious reasoning at all.

As an argument against communism, this to-ing (supporting internationalism) and fro-ing (accusations of acting as spies) weakens both sides of the debate without actually being balanced at all. This is a bit of an enigma, but I see the word ‘spies’ used in its negative connotation: a clandestine vanguard against Britain. In reality, communism might often have been secretive and subversive, some of which is in its nature in a capitalist society, but, as Hyde says, for whose Britain is this struggle for?

It appears to me that sometimes Hyde’s memoir sets out to be sensational in order to heighten the anti-Communist stance. If so this just adds to my case against his poor reasoning. Remember, I see Hyde as, essentially, a good Communist, and I can see why he left. Really, his reasoning should have left him to fight the socialist cause against the Stalinisation of the Party from within or elsewhere. To choose God instead seems, to me as a communist atheist, to be a weird solution. He even touches on this when he says…

For years I had dreamed of what we would do when we had set up our Worker’s State as the Russians had done. It would be different from their, no doubt, for our traditions and even temperament were different.

So this betrayal of Hyde’s own thinking is saddening. But I think we should blame Stalin, not Hyde himself – it is Stalin who sets Hyde back up the churchyard path. Let me give you another aspect of that sensationalism. Is it really true that all Communist Party of Britain members in the 30’s-50’s were sex-mad out-of-wedlock people lusting after constant free-for-all intercourse with scant regard for women’s rights inasmuch as an abortion was treated like a contraception? That is the sensational impression one gets from certain passages of the book, and I don’t buy it. Later he calls female Party members “so utterly unbedworthy”.

For sure, modern Communists need to be clear on the works of Engels and the family and where they stand on it today. After all, we do have another 100 years of human learning as well as social anthropology, sociology and psychology to take into account. Hyde’s book just puts these aspects too simply, sending a message that to be a communist is a bit like belonging to a religious cult in terms of relationships. Even though he is equally sure to point out that many took advantage of the sex but really lusted after a stable, almost Christian, family life. But why should we believe his opinion on that either?

This is, after all, the man who says…

It is difficult, I suppose, for anyone who has never been a Marxist, to understand how people who pursue immoral policies can in most cases nonetheless be likeable, intelligent and… well-intentioned…

…but this is Hyde, the Christian. The question arises as why is it valid to measure Marxists by Christian morality at all? Where I do agree with Hyde is in his more incisive analysis of the problems of communism, which is, in my view, entirely Marxist…

There is a great deal in communism which clashes with human nature.

The is a welcome point gladly accepted in John Foster’s 2006 publication for the Communist Party of Britain The Case for Communism. And communist shouldn’t shy away from such analyses.

It is sad to see that Hyde appears now to have been forgotten by the Party. Despite being News Editor at the Daily Worker and leading the British antifascist campaign for the paper at the time, his legacy does not warrant even a mention in the 2001 publication Is That Damned Paper Still Coming Out? (a celebration of ‘the very the best of the Daily Worker and Morning Star). This was when the Daily Worker was being read by an estimated half a million readers (counting the number of hands it was passing through from the original purchaser – 5 at the time).

For my part it was suggested that I leave the Party and while having done I have since felt somewhat rudderless. Unlike Hyde, I did not have an alternative faith to fall back on. The same pang which drives an intolerance of the manifold injustices of our time has not lessened. I still consider myself a communist.

This book reawakened some of that passion for the Party, although we can be sure that this was not Hyde’s intention. I respect his book and his opinion. Indeed, I believe it is time for his rehabilitation into the Party’s British history for I believe in an open communism. The same kind of openness, no less, which Marx, Engels and Lenin called for when they challenged communists to be the most robust critics of themselves. This is what progressive politics really meant. Hyde had inadvertently written a memoir which highlights this fact. Though he didn’t know it he did indeed get to the kernel of his misunderstanding of Marxism when he said…

I was a trained Marxist and so spoke and thought as a Marxist without any conscious act of will

That is not what I understand as Communism. Just as we could be a ‘community of nations’ with all our differences in culture and plurality of heritage, desires and makeup we could be individuals fighting for all. Not drones fighting for some over-centralised and paranoid Party hierarchy.

Today, the Communist Party of Britain believes the Labour Party and Labour Movement is best saved from within rather than building new divisive endeavours like ‘Respect’. Hyde’s book shows us how the same tactic should have been adopted by the CPGB for its own party under the shadow of Stalinist Russia which, just to be clear, was never a communist state. It was a dictatorship parading under communist slogans. Now we know that, communists need to move on and believe in ourselves and in the power of self-checking that proper Marxist self-criticism offers.

I look forward to your views on the matter in the letters and e-mails to The Clarion.

CS