Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Cuts, protests – and riots: welcome to our world in 20ll

In Editorial on December 15, 2011 at 4:58 pm

The traditional end-of-year round-up from the Clarion Editorial committee

It’s been a rough ride for most of us over the past year. For some, of course it’s been rougher than others – and the Government’s claim that “we’re all in this together” has been exposed as a load of spin and nonsense. It certainly hasn’t included the bonus hungry executives in and around the City.

SAVING THE FOREST:

For those of us in the Dean, the year started with the campaign to stop the Forest being privatised. – and the first warnings that the NHS was under threat. In the fight to save the Forest, the campaign was spearheaded by HOOF (Hands Off Our Forest). Over 3,000 turned out for a rally on New Years’ Day at Speech House, despite appalling weather.

The HOOF campaign steadily gained momentum – until abruptly, on February 16th, the Government announced that it was withdrawing its plans. Instead, a panel was to be set up to consider the future of our woodlands. Campaigners celebrated victory – but HOOF warned that we weren’t out of the woods yet. The emasculation of the Forestry Commission and the piecemeal sale of our woodlands could still provide a threat to the forest as we know it.

FIGHTING THE CUTS:

On March 26th, coachloads of demonstrators headed up from the Dean and the Wye Valley to London, to join the TUC sponsored march against the cuts – and to present their alternative. It was the biggest demonstration seen in the capital since the march against the Iraq war in 2003. It was only natural that the public sector unions were in the vanguard of the protest. Their jobs and living standards were directly threatened by Government plans to decimate the public services.

CAMPAIGNING FOR THE NHS:

By the summer of 2011, we were facing the reality of the Government’s threat to the National Health Service Their destructive Health and Social Care Bill was a recipe for the privatisation and fragmentation of our NHS. The door would be opened to Private health care companies, “competition” encouraged – and the concept of collaboration or co-operation between the different providers of health services was left nowhere.

Doctors, nurses, and even the Liberal Democrats in conference voiced their opposition. And those who really cared about our system of health care were outraged. Meanwhile, whilst the Bill was still passing through Parliament, it became clear that changes were taking place in health service provision whether we liked it or not. Too late in the day to protest, it seemed, the public learned that health care throughout the county was being outsourced to a new social enterprise trust, Gloucestershire Care Services (GCS).  GCS was due to take over the running of health care services on October 1st – until a last minute legal challenge from campaigners in Stroud halted it in its tracks.

THE COLLAPSE OF THE MURDOCH EMPIRE:

Meanwhile, like a dam bursting, came the collapse of Murdoch’s media empire in the UK. A flood of allegations of telephone tapping and other dirty tricks reached right to the top of the organisation. Politicians who had long courted the Murdoch press now moved swiftly to distance themselves from it all. David Cameron suddenly decided that his carefully nurtured friendship with the Murdoch family was no longer sustainable.

One casualty was the venerable News of  the World. It was now labelled a “toxic brand”, and abruptly it was closed down.

TAKING TO THE STREETS:

At the beginning of August, rioting spread from the streets of Tottenham to other areas in London and elsewhere. The riots lasted five days, before they burned themselves out. During the troubles, buildings were set aflame and shops looted in an orgy of destruction not seen since the dark days of Thatcher. As one commentator remarked, “one thing you can say about the Tories – they do know how to provoke a riot.”

For the Government, the response was swift and punitive. Harsh penalties were dished out to those who’d been identified as taking part. Families of those who were involved were threatened with the loss of their benefits or even their homes. But nothing was done to try to look at the underlying causes of this outbreak of street violence – let alone do anything about them.

WHAT ABOUT THE ECONOMY?

By the end of summer it had become quite clear that the Government’s economic policies just weren’t working. Savage cuts, aggravated by problems within the Euro zone, had resulted in our economy flat lining. Unemployment was rising (particularly amongst young people) and any signs of economic growth had disappeared.

Within the Euro zone, attempts were being made to prevent collapsing economies such as those of Greece and Italy infecting other European countries. The governments of both Greece and Italy have been replaced by administrations headed by “technocrats” – in other words, non-elected leaders drawn from the world of banking. Democracy, it seems, is one of the first casualties of economic collapse.

As we enter the new year, the storm clouds continue to gather. There is no sign of any “economic recovery”. Unemployment is likely to keep on rising – whilst the Liberal Democrats seem intent on maintaining their support for a government that’s proving to be as right wing as those of Thatcher and Major.

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