Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Archive for March, 2012|Monthly archive page

REPORT:Going forth into the Wilderness – to occupy *UPDATED*

In A.Graham, Editorial on March 19, 2012 at 1:27 pm

The Wilderness Centre, up in the Forest near Plump Hill is known and loved by many folk in the Forest, and by the schools and other groups who have visited.

It has been administered, on behalf of the community by the Gloucestershire County Council – until the decision was taken to close it as part of the ongoing cuts.

But in January a group have occupied the centre, with the intention of running this community asset as it should be run. And Mark Hawthorn, leader of the County Council was not happy at this development..

According to a statement issued by those in occupation at the centre, the volunteers “have moved in to serve as caretakers and run it on a voluntary basis.

“We wish to work with the Friends of the Wilderness Centre and Gloucestershire councils to keep the centre open for the benefit of the local community and involve them in the process of deciding what the future of the centre should be.

“We believe there is an urgent need now more than ever to keep community hubs and educational spaces open so people can come together to learn skills and share ideas. These spaces empower and enable communities collectively to forge a truly sustainable economy and local resilience for for the times ahead.

“This closure is an especially big blow to local young people as it is depriving them of a means to learn about their ecological environment, learn skills to provide employment, and is taking away their heritage.

“We follow in the footsteps of the HOOF campaign whose efforts led to the protection of the forest for future generations. ”


The response from Councillor Mark Hawthorne was hostile. He declared that the centre’s occupants were trespassing. He threatened legal action to evict them – and complained of the cost to the County of enforcing such action and introducing security measures.

“…Council Tax payers will have to foot the bill for any additional security that is needed and for hefty legal costs if we have to go through the courts to get them to leave the site,” he said.

We have news for Mark Hawthorne. His Council are the custodians of a community asset which it is supposed to administer on behalf of the people of the Forest and others who may care to use it. By closing down the centre in the first place, the County Council are in abuse of their role as custodians.

If Hawthorne is concerned about the costs involved in taking action against those occupying the centre, the answer is simple. Don’t take action. Work with those at the centre, and let them know that the Council is on their side.

Or does he have other plans for this very special site?

Ironically, Hawthorne seems to be out of step with his party leader here. The occupation of the Wilderness Centre is surely in tune with Cameron’s espousal of the “big society” – or have we got it all wrong?

As we go to press, the situation at the centre remains fluid. The threat of eviction remains, whilst those occupying the centre press ahead with ideas to involve the community in the future of the Wilderness. This could be an opportunity – if it’s not strangled by the intransigence of the County Council.



The Wilderness Centre at Plump Hill near Mitcheldean is special. It’s special to our environment, and to the thousands who’ve visited it over the years and used its services.

Formerly the grounds of a country estate, the Wilderness was opened under the auspices of the Gloucestershire Youth Service back in 1969, to operate as a field studies centre. And for over forty years it was open to visiting school parties, community groups and exchange visits by those from abroad.

It was an ideal spot – and not just for the scenery alone! It includes woodland and meadow land and buildings for study and teaching. For those concerned with our environment, and the interaction of nature with our own footfall on the land we inhabit, it is indeed special.


The Gloucestershire County Council has been the custodian of this very important site. Maybe it’s been important to us – but to those in County Hall it has been merely a site, with no appreciation of its special significance.

In August last year, following the Council’s round of swingeing budget cuts which affected both the library service and county youth service in particular, the Wilderness Centre was closed down.

That, it seemed, was that. The County Council had achieved a fait accompli. But then, in January 2012, the Wilderness was once more in the news. A group calling themselves “Occupy the Wilderness” moved into the

The aim was to restore the Wilderness, through direct action, to its original purpose – that of providing a centre for the benefit of the community and those who appreciated our natural surroundings, and who could learn from them.


The response by Council chiefs was immediate. They declared that the action was “illegal”. Security guards were called in to patrol the perimeter, and Mark Hawthorne (leader of the County Council) bemoaned the “cost to Council Tax payers” of this security and of taking legal action.

On Monday, March 5th, those who had taken part in the occupation appeared in Gloucester County Court on charges of trespass. The hearing lasted two days, and the defendants were found guilty.

But the occupation has continued, and those occupying the Wilderness Centre have continued to try to put their ideals into action.


What the County Council initially wanted to do with the Wilderness is not known. But it has now agreed to talk to the “Friends of the Wilderness” about selling the site, who aim to restore it as a field study centre. But they have been set a target of raising one million pounds, to cover the purchase of the site from the County Council and the start-up costs to get the centre up and running again.


The latest development in the Wilderness saga has been an intervention by a group of academics, who have put their names to a letter given front page coverage in the Review on March 14th. To quote the Review, those who signed up to the letter “slammed Gloucestershire County Council’s closure of the Wilderness Centre outdoor learning centre…”

The letter pointed out that it was twenty years ago this year that the Rio Earth Summit took place, calling for us “to think global, act local” to sustain our environment.

The signatories to the letter asked the question, “Does an environmental/outdoor education centre have a role to play…?” Their answer was “We think so. And we write to you from different parts of the world to express our concern and opposition to the decision to close down and sell the Wilderness Centre at Mitcheldean.”

Judging by his response, Councillor Mark Hawthorne simply doesn’t get it. But we do. And the fight to save the Wilderness continues.


READERS’ COMMENTS: Did we go wrong? The campaign to keep Gloucestershire’s NHS public

In C.Spiby, Editorial, Readers on March 19, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Carl Spiby’s article (Clarion number 96) is very disappointing, considering that the campaign to halt the wholesale transfer of 3,000 staff out of the NHS into a private company (Gloucestershire Care Services) is ongoing.

It is doubly disappointing because Carl is supposed to be a member of of the Forest of Dean Against the Cuts group who have spearheaded this campaign. It’s a bit like having the postmortem conducted by a member of the family before the patient is dead.

Carl starts by saying that the campaign has failed and that we must learn where we went wrong. Well, considering the small number of active members of this group, I consider that we have achieved a lot in such a small amount of time, and it would be more productive to eliminate the negative and accentuate the positives.

(Is this a feature of the Hard Left – always looking on the dark side of life?)

Such campaigns as this need to have modest objectives in order to maintain the sanity of the protagonists. Did Carl really expect that presenting a petition to Harper and arguing with him at the time would persuade him to abandon the Health & Social care Bill and instruct the PCT to abandon plans to transfer all NHS community services to a private company? This is what the petition asked.

This suggests to me a scale of naivety which is hard to comprehend.

The petition was very successful in directly informing well over 2,000 people in the Forest of the details of what was being proposed. And therefpre it was a vital part of raising awareness which is the first objective of any such campaign.

As for Carl’s silly conclusion that we were late in starting the campaign, we were campaigning long before he came along. And, really, it’s the outcome that matters.

It is quite conceivable that we could succeed in the legal challenge that the PCT acted illegally in handing over a £100 million contract without following the proper procedures. And then we can truly rejoice, rather than arguing how we could have had a better campaign.

PETE STANWAY (member of the Forest of Dean Against the Cuts, but written in a personal capacity).


(author of said article responds to PS’s letter)…

Pete Stanway’s response is to my article is unfortunate, but welcome. I will not, however, rise to the points which are personally-directed – ill-founded as they are – I suspect they are of no interest to readers of The Clarion. But in the interests of accuracy on some important details, I feel, I will exercise my right to reply.

First though, may I repeat that the SOSAgain campaign is indeed creditable and that I sought to include many of its gains in my article. Also I never stated the FoD Against the Cuts had folded or implied anything like that about the SOSAgain campaign either.

But when Pete says he prefers not to consider the reality of the situation and instead “eliminate the negative”, I would counter that it is not for us to pick and choose the terms of the debate.

Pete will recall that the root of the article’s argument lay with a question asked by a member of the public at our own public meeting. In that question was all the worry and desperation of why hadn’t something been done before? And that is what I sought to answer.

The reality is that it was under New Labour’s 2008 document ‘NHS Next Stage Review: Our vision for primary and community care’ (published by the Department of Health), PCT’s were given the prod – not as Government policy – but as ‘guidance’ expected to be taken, that the decision on how to deliver local health services should be made locally by PCT’s (the responsible statutory authority, as overseen by the Strategic Health Authority).

Wrapped up in the follow-on document – the 2009 Department of Health ‘Transforming Community Services: Enabling new patterns of provision’ – which is still under Labour’s tenure in government you will notice – is the next death-knell, pushing the ‘guidance’ now as ‘best practice’ with the split between service provider and commissioner of services now seemingly a given among policy-makers as the means to build local health services for the future. Our campaign should have been in full swing come 2008; by 2009 it still could have pushed the PCT in a different direction.

Indeed, even GCS’s own Business Plan (of 2011) admits that staff were ‘unanimously against’ the changes, but by this point the guidance had been endorsed by the PCT and had become local policy consistent with the national operating framework which had been in place from 2008 onward.

Cited in the same plan is the revealing wisdom that successive guidance reinforced these issues: ‘The Department of Health’s Transforming Community Services programme…did not change them. The County Council’s Cabinet and the Trust’s Board endorsed the plan for integration in July 2010.’

Meanwhile staff themselves outlined their opposition to a social enterprise, (in a letter to the NHSG PCT  Board of 14th October 2010) with ‘the preferred option of remaining within the NHS and therefore are proposing a vertical integration with 2gether NHS Foundation Trust.’ The fact that this avenue has failed to materialise as a creditable alternative suggests that the PCT’s decision to adopt New Labour’s guidance is irreversible.

A legal challenge which can prove that THAT avenue was not fully explored could be fruitful but on what basis it might be made, I do not know. Certainly the current case presented by our friends in Stroud cannot insist 2gether submit a tender. Besides, it also assumes that 2gether NHS Foundation Trust themselves wish to opt to take-over these services, which I am not entirely sure – as a separate body already  – they will be able to do, especially since their focus is in mental health provision. So that avenue remains suspiciously quiet, and I certainly haven’t see any literature or letters from my fellow campaigners (and do not remember supporting that avenue at any of the meetings I attended) to support that action.

It is exactly these changes, however, which are being replicated and worsened by the Tories in their dreadful NHS reform bill.

Meanwhile we distracting ourselves with the semantics of a local issue when the decision to push the service provider/commissioning split was made by a previous government some four years prior is – in my mind – fighting the wrong battle.

The national issue is still in the debate stage (in the House of Lords). As I see it we are given a second-chance to oppose the changes, and this time bodies like the BMA and RCN are definitely on board. So, let’s learn from the mistakes of the local campaign and focus now on saving the NHS for us all.

While I support debate in The Clarion on this issue, I’d rather readers wrote against the national NHS reform bill to the Lords and their MP. See the 48degrees for tips for starters. I hope on that alone Pete and I might be of one mind.


The Stroud Against the Cuts case settled with Gloucestershire NHS PCT out-of-court. Advertising for ‘Expressions of Interest’ were immediately posted by the PCT but the Forest and Stroud groups remain committed to keeping local NHS services public.

DOUBLE-TAKE: Survivors (double take pt.2)

In A.Graham, Reviews on March 19, 2012 at 1:09 pm

Facing the fears of humanity: SURVIVORS reviewed by ALISTAIR GRAHAM

Unlike Carl, I’ve long been a fan of science fiction – though, like others of my ilk, I’ve often thought that, as a genre, it’s a misnomer. Perhaps “speculative fiction” might be a more accurate name?

For a start “science fiction” as a brand name is too sprawling, and often it’s difficult to find any connecting threads that bind the whole concept together. The kind of works that Carl cites could possibly be described as “what if” fiction, examining possibilities in an often scary and definitely uncertain world.

In Survivors the devastating plague that sweeps across the world seems to have some mysterious eastern, possibly Chinese, source. But be that as it may, as law and order and any vestiges of government break down, the problems of personal survival are soon very real for the few thousand people who are left alive. Notions of re-building some semblance of society only emerge slowly out of this chaos.

Gradually the scattered remnants of humanity come together in groups and react to the global catastrophe in different ways. Early scavenging bands are short lived – to be replaced by those who seek survival through self sufficient communal groups – or, more menacing, paramilitary bodies who see the need for discipline, order, and the enforcement of their own notion of a future society.

Is this the way it would be, with the complete breakdown of central government and a much reduced, fragmented population? As a hypothesis I find it credible – and I know which alternative I would seek out.

It’s all told through human stories involving a central core of characters seeking to set up a communal base where they can survive and grow. It’s a shifting, precarious, two steps forward, one step back sort of progress. The problems of starting from scratch are explored, along with the pressures of maintaining group solidarity amongst the surviving flotsam and jetsam of humanity. The question of “leadership” is explored. One character remarks “there will always be leaders and those who are led” (really? why?), even it seems when it comes to collective decision making. In one episode, two rival claimants, Greg and Charles face up to each other like rutting stags, to see who will be the Alpha Male in their re-established community.

But it’s Jimmy Garland, adventurer and one-time Lord of the Manor, who is the archetypal Alpha Male. He carries on a one-man guerilla war against a paramilitary outfit that’s taken over his family estate, until he emerges triumphant to carry on his feudal role, before carrying off Abby Grant on a mission to find her son at the end of Series One.

Garland is an anachronism, a character out of a John Buchan novel. But other leadership roles are solidly middle class, whilst working class types are either subordinate, buffoons or just comic. Which is a pity, as it grates somewhat on what otherwise is a thought-provoking, absorbing idea.

As the story progresses, our gallant band move out from their west country haven, heading north and meeting further challenges on the way (which allows us to experience other communities with varieties of problems and responses). Finally, Greg goes walkabout, leaving Jenny more or less in the lurch.

I found the conclusion not too satisfactory. It was almost as if the decision was made to wrap the whole story-line up as quickly as possible, and bring the series to an end. There is a long drawn out “search for Greg”, before our protagonists finally reach a hydro-electric plant in the highlands of Scotland, manage to restore power through the national grid – and thus usher in a new dawn for humanity.

“Simples” – as they say these days. But with so much left unanswered!


Survivors intro

DOUBLE-TAKE: Survivors (double take pt.1)

In C.Spiby, Reviews on March 5, 2012 at 1:23 pm

I am not a fan of sci-fi: never have been and probably never will be. Or so I thought.

Like every other boy of the 1970’s I loved love ‘Star Wars’ but it wasn’t until the early 80’s with the BBC’s adaptation of ‘The Day of theTriffids’, and then ‘Threads’ did a certain breed sci-fi come to affect my whole outlook on life. Frankly, at the time I thought we were doomed. Borne of these are the beginnings of a political awakening that took another decade to bear fruit.

Both were imaginings of terrible fictions. ‘Threads’ seemed all too real and hypothesized nuclear Armageddon, whereas the BBC’s updating of the John Wyndham’s novel presented a different side to social destruction –giant, man-killing plant aliens. The genre was known as post-apocalyptic, and is an awkward addendum to sci-fi genre. They were fictions based on supposedly scientific possibilities. Indeed, ‘Threads’ was the first mass understanding of the nuclear winter hypothesis which was a debate still raging at the time – making even surviving a nuclear holocaust so terrible as to warrant questioning the point of living.

But I was slightly too young to remember the silent killer at work in the BBC’s 1970’s post-apocalyptic series ‘Survivors’.

This time it was an invisible means of destruction: disease. Watching the 70’s series on DVD today, I can see now that had I been just a bit older when it aired, it would have marked me as indelibly as ‘Threads’ would later in the 80’s.

Written by TV sci-fi supremo Terry Nation (who also gave us Blake’s 7 and many a Dr. Who storyline) it supposes the very real threat of a deadly epidemic and the social decay and terrible anarchy that arises out of the entire destruction of the state. These are topics I have written about before in The Clarion with my review of ‘The Death of Grass’ (by John Christopher) and to a degree in my explorations of modern utopian writing (all share communes and different social codes among their defining features). Nation, however, was at pains to distance his new series from his sci-fi work stating that “Survivors has its roots in the future, as it were, but it’s not science-fiction. It’s not going into the realms of the impossible; it’s skating very close to the possible,” which I guess is why the series still holds my interest, despite Nation’s other portfolio.

Indeed, the Radio Times write-up for ‘Survivors’ (it was shown on BBC1 over 3 series from 1975) cites a line from the show which sums up perfectly its preoccupation: “Incredible, isn’t it? We are of the generation that landed a man on the moon and the best we can do is talk of making tools from stone.

‘Survivors’ is at its best when it questions our assumptions about how stable our society really is. How civil we might truly be under great duress, and what happens when we peel away the froth of our consumerist lives? It pokes around in moral dilemmas not usually broadcast in BBC dramas at 8pm on a Wednesday night. Today or in the 70’s.

Jenny, Abby & Greg (L to R). The face Jenny is pulling is because they’ve just found the body of a man hanged for looting a supermarket.

Lucy Fleming is the likeable constant, but where as heroine ofseries one (Carolyn Seymour as Abby Grant) is admirably driven she remains fairly impenetrable and one dimensional. What is to be commended, particularly for the age – as this still happens too infrequently today – is that the producers accepted a female as the lead character in what was on the face of it an adventure series. Granted, ‘Charlie’s Angels’ was also around at the same time, but they were impeccably hair-sprayed icons drawn by men of what women heroes ought to be like (and with a male for their boss, no less). Even ‘Wonderwoman’ was busty and pouted silky lip-gloss. By contrast Abby Grant crops her hair as she sets out on the road into a post-apocalyptic British countryside, her dead husband sprayed across the lounge sofa.

The camera follows Abby in what could easily have turned outto be classic Twilight Zone territory (“Oh God, please don’t let me be the only one.”) only to reveal to the audience the parallel story of Jenny Richards (Fleming) and then separately again the incredibly annoying Jackanory-esque tramp-comes-good storyline of Tom Price (played in a ridiculously Dickensian turn by Talfryn Thomas). But once modern viewers adjust their grins at the tragic fashion and 70’s BBC acting, the strength of the stories and other characters comes to the fore.

My favourite, for example is that of super-bitch Anne Tranter and Vic who she leaves for dead in a quarry once she realises he cannot supply her with riches now that he’s tragically crippled by an accident. Then there’s the poetic child-killer in series two and capital punishment episode in series one, both of which feel like Amnesty International had a hand in the writing.

Of course, one of the recurring themes is the nature of community and the role of leadership, be it within our ragtag group or across the other surviving communities and bandits the characters stumble across. Alongside this is the pressure that “Our civilisation had the technology to land a man on the moon, but as individuals we don’t even have the skill to makean iron spearhead”. The realisation that scavenging will only last so long comes to the fore and without a sign of a state forming any time soon, there’sa quick return to self-sufficient agriculture, with all its pitfalls and trials. This is not ‘The Good Life’.

Upon completing production of the pilot episode, contracts were drawn up in January 1974 and the show commissioned around the theme: ‘Bubonic plagues sweeps the world, killing all but a handful of people who escape to the country with absolutely nothing and who start civilisation again from scratch.’ But the response to Nation’s series was mixed.

The Times was expecting classic sci-fi in the Dr. Who mould from Nation and was therefore rightly disappointed. The Guardian for its part was just underwhelmed (‘a perfectly passable pastime’). The Daily Mail, however,got it on the nail when it compared its greatest strength to HG Wells’ War ofthe Worlds in which ‘extraordinary events are set in actual, small-scale landscapes’ – which is why the work reminded me of ‘The Death of Grass’ (and toa degree, John Wyndham’s ‘The Midwich Cuckoos’) – all of which seem set in a comfy version of the British countryside which we’ve come to love through thelikes of Betjemen, the Hovis ad or ‘All Creatures Great and Small’. And that is why so much of it is so simple yet effective.

Some of this is owed to the ‘feel’ of the work. While the opening title theme is infectious (ahem) and the titles sequence explains all we need to know about the origin and spread of the disease, it is interesting to note that it wasn’t a clever directorial instruction to omit incidental music, but a BBC strike, which lead to a very tight production schedule and hence no budget or time for music. This probably inadvertently adds much to the silence of dead Britain. It obviously works, because there’s still no incidental music by the end of the final third series.

It is also with some interest then that I discovered that much of the farm the group settles in during series two is not far from Monmouth. In fact, there’s quite a local link. Series one saw shoots in Evesham, the Pitville Circus in Cheltenham, various locations around Ross-on-Wye, Llanarth Court in Monmouth but was mostly shot in Herefordshire’s Hampton Court. By series two Callow Hill Farm near Monmouth came the setting for the fixed commune.

Alan W. Turner’s biography of Nation lays the departure of the shows’ creator to a split with co-writer Jack Ronder. The two had differences over the series’ direction and once Nation had also fallen out with the producer, Nation withdrew from his own project altogether. Besides, by this point Brian Clemens, who Nation had worked with on shows like ‘The Avengers’, filed court proceedings stipulating ‘Survivors’ was his idea in the first place’. The project seemed diseased on every level.

Somehow it survived. A second series was commissioned and Nation penned a novelisation of his version of the story – now a collectors’ item. For TV, Series two (1976) sees the departure of Abby Grant and a change of setting and I think it is all the better for it. It does suffer from the problem in TV series where one remarkable thing has to happen after another for fear of losing audience interest (but that could also be said of ‘The Archers’, albeit on a slightly smaller scale and perhaps less deadly). This sadly misses the point, of course, that ordinary post-apocalyptic life had itself WAS extraordinary to us viewers watching from the lap of technological luxury and leisure.

Series three took the show to its conclusion (1977). It still had the essence of what Turner commented was Nation’s premise, a “western, the struggle against nature and the attempt to establish a morality in a lawless land.” But now it was more about adventure than character and smaller domestic struggles. Eventually, the search for engineer Greg Preston becomes more than annoying and dampens the effect of the ‘Survivors’ as a whole.

Of course ‘Survivors’ received the inevitable modern BBC remake. And like many updates it revels in sensation, where remarkable things have to be so exciting and bombastic as to be inane. Zombie-apocalypse movies and video games are now ten a penny and with them, the danger of something as benign as a disease just doesn’t cut it anymore.

In many ways, however, the real world is more frightening. Remember BSE, driving past foot-and-mouths bonfires, bird-flu? And the impending influenza epidemic we’re due?

Yes, ‘Survivors’ is old-fashioned. But it is a unique piece of British TV history, trapped in time in this vast DVD box set.

SOURCES: ‘Survivors’ the complete series on DVD; ‘The ManWho Invented the Daleks: the strange worlds of Terry Nation’ by A. W. Turner(Aurum Press, 2011);

So long, Bill: A tribute to Bill Punt

In A.Graham, Obiturary on March 5, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Clarion Editor-in-chief, Alistair Graham, leads the tribute to the socialist, trade unioninst, champion of the pensioners’ cause – and long time Clarion friend of the Clarion.

There must be many folk who missed Bill Punt when he left the Forest some six years at the age of 90. And many folk will have been sorry to hear of his death at the end of last year.

He made many friends – and some enemies, too, as he never suffered fools gladly (as the saying goes). But he was passionate in his beliefs, warm-hearted, and devoted to his family.

Bill was an active member of the TGWU, ever since his days as a tram driver on the streets of London just after the war. He served on the union committee at the New Cross tram depot and then went on to serve on the buses, until in 1961 he became a full-time trade union official at the Covent Garden fruit and vegetable market where he worked until retirement in the early 1980s.


Bill and his wife Lou chose to retire to the Forest, setting up home first in Aylburton and later in Lydney. One of his first moves was to set up a branch of the British Pensioners’ Trade Union Action Association (as it was then called) in the Lydney area – a non-party political organisation dedicated to campaigning for the rights of pensioners. It became a thorn in the side of Paul Marland, then the Forest’s Tory MP – particularly during the campaign against VAT on fuel payments.


Despite implacable opposition to the Blairite policies of the “New Labour” Government, Bill always refused to leave the Labour Party. He saw it as his party, hi-jacked by those who sought to distort or reverse its basic principles. It was this rebellious, stubborn streak which endeared him to some – whilst irritating others!

Bill worked tirelessly through the Labour Party for the election of Diana Organ, who finally beat Paul Marland to become MP for the Forest in 1997. Her election must have owed something to the work of Bill and his fellow pensioners.

Many will remember how he organised trips down to Tolpuddle, to the “Levellers’ Day” events in Burford, or to pensioners’ rallies in London – and how he mobilised us all. It was difficult to say no to Bill!


His disillusion with the Labour hierarchy began in 1997, with the “re-branding” of the Party, the dropping of “Clause 4” from the constitution, and the election of the Blair Government. He saw it as a betrayal of much of what he had he had fought for, for so many years. For Bill, the song “Things Will Only Get Better” was a mockery, and he became a bitter critic of the Government’s policies.

His views were expressed in a piece that he wrote for the Clarion in 2005, shortly before he left us:

“My party right or wrong? Castration of the trade unions? Who could ask for more!

“When will we return to the movement’s maxim, organise, educate and agitate, instead of acting merely as electioneering fodder and trailing behind the dictats of leadership like castrated poodles?”

Bill was a firm supporter of the Clarion and was a member of its editorial group from the very beginning, in 1996. His hard hitting articles and reports – often laced with his own brand of humour – became a familiar part of the paper. And he continued to contribute for some time after he moved to Kent.

He resigned as secretary of the Lydney pensioners’ group in 2001. His wife and loyal partner, Lou, died in the same year.

After living in the Forest for over twenty years, Bill had become part of its very fabric. But he had been born and bred in Bermondsey and as a youth worked in the local Cross & Blackwell factory, before being called up for service in the Army during the last war. Shortly after being sent to Africa, he was taken prisoner, and spent some years in prison camps before escaping during the chaos that followed the Allied advance after the D-Day landings.

He and a mate hid by day and travelled westward by night, avoiding any entanglement with the retreating Germans – until they discovered that for several days they had been escaping through British held territory. “It was then we thought it was time to give ourselves up,” said Bill.

Just one of the anecdotes of a full life that Bill liked to tell us!


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


We were also sorry to hear of the death of Alice Bates, a long-time subscriber to the Clarion, one-time editor of  the Pensioner magazine, and an active campaigner in the pensioners’ movement in Manchester.

As her daughter Sylvia wrote, “she was a positive and cheerful person to the end.”


In R.Richardson on March 5, 2012 at 1:09 pm

The Truth behind the headlines: 

RUTH RICHARDSON examines the rival claims on the impact of immigration on jobs,

On January 10, headlines in the “i” newspaper read “Immigration has no impact on employment”. The following day the Daily Express’s front page declared “Migrants do take British jobs.” Even allowing for the different political perspectives of the respective newspapers, this seems a contradiction too far.

What confused the issue was that there have been two recent reports on immigration that appear to be in conflict on whether there is an association between inward migration and rising unemployment. The report by MAC (the Migration Advisory Committee) seems to suggest such an association. But to quote MAC’s chair, David Metcalf, “there is some displacement but it isn’t huge, and it doesn’t happen in buoyant economic times.” Moreover, evidence of competition for jobs is confined to the skilled sectors, which suggests that immigration is not a factor in the recent rise in youth unemployment.

The other report, by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) concludes that immigration has had little or no impact on employment.


So, why the difference? Mainly, says MRN (Migrant Rights Network), the two reports used different data sets. The MAC report used labour force survey material which extends across all eleven regions of the UK. The NIESR on the other hand used data from National Insurance number registrations, which provides more detailed material on people moving to the UK to work. This methodology enabled researchers to look in detail at smaller areas, giving their study more focus and accuracy.

The MAC report points out that there are many more aspects to immigration than the impact on the jobs market. In devising an immigration policy the Government needs to be clear on whose needs and interests are being prioritised. The well-being of the resident population in terms of public finances, housing and transport should be the focus, says MAC chair, David Metcalfe.


Both the MAC and the NIESR are respectable research bodies which seek to present their findings accurately and without bias. However, in searching the internet for background to this story, I came across the website of Migration Watch. Set up about ten years ago, this organisation sees itself as a watchdog to guard against the UK being “swamped by immigrants”. Visitors to the website are invited to sign an e-petition to keep the UK population below 70 million. I found particularly unpleasant a section called “reports” which contains short news stories concerning anything that shows an immigrant in a poor light. Daily Express readers will find all their prejudices confirmed here!

Immigration Minister, Damien Green, says “this Government is working to reduce net migration… controlled immigration can bring benefits to the UK, but uncontrolled immigration can put pressure on public services, on infrastructures and on community relations.”


Personally I find it sad that it is taken for granted that any immigration policy we devise should only be for the benefit of the UK. Surely as one of the richer countries in the world (even in these straitened times) we could see it as our duty as citizens of the world to welcome those who need a haven. Economic migrants are not evil. They simply want a better chance in life for their families. Don’t we all?

I found the stories behind the headlines of the Express and the “i”  quite complicated and the reports needed careful reading. But it was a salutory lesson in how facts can be plucked from their contexts to give credence to a pre-determined view.

MODERN TIMES: the Dinosaur Column

In Dinosaur on March 5, 2012 at 1:04 pm

A bad case of rhyming slang:

What is it about bankers? Why do they seem to have the arrogance to assume that they’re indispensable – and that this gives What is it about bankers? Why do they have the arrogance to assume that they’re indispensable – and that this gives them the right to siphon off as much of our money as they like?

Bankers have never been popular – particularly those of the “merchant” variety. It’s no wonder that in the world of rhyming slang, the word “banker” became synonymous with another word beginning with “w”.

Since the markets crashed some three years ago (thanks to the greed of the aforementioned bankers), it’s been a case of “here’s mud in your eye”. They managed to lose thousands and thousands of their customers’ money, they’ve been bailed out, humbled – and still they give themselves pay rises and award themselves massive bonuses. You’d think a certain humility would be in order, wouldn’t you? The odd hair shirt or two, or some ditch-water instead of bubbly?

One recent pay-out came from Goldman Sachs, the banking giant operating out of the City and from Wall Street. Despite a sharp fall in overall revenue and profits, it has managed to find £7.9 billion to share out amongst its top wheelers and dealers. The money is being paid out in pay and in bonuses. We’ve also had RBS and Lloyds going over the top with pay-outs from the money that we gave them to bail them out.

Whilst I think the whole notion of bonuses is suspect, I fondly imagined that it was tied in with performance. If you did well, you got a bit extra to encourage you to do even better. Now it seems that the fat cats think that it’s their due regardless of anything.

Goldman Sachs, incidentally, reported that its revenues had fallen by 26 per cent last year, and profits were down by 47 per cent. Whilst it appears there’s still plenty left in the kitty it hardly seems to me to be the time to be dishing out bonuses on a grand scale.

for the last time, say cheese

I must confess to a pang or two of regret when those household names that we all took for granted over the years give up the ghost. Once they were part of our everyday landscape – and that of our parents..

I felt the shock waves when Woolworths disappeared from our high streets. Now HMV (short for “His Master’s Voice”) have had  a temporary reprieve from imminent collapse. But a bigger shock for me was the news that Kodak (the US company that pioneered the roll film – and even developed the first digital camera, even if it was the size of a biscuit tin) had gone bankrupt.

I remember clicking away with my old Kodak “Box Brownie” when I was just a young dinosaur, and waiting impatiently for the results to be developed and printed. in the local chemists All right, the snaps weren’t all that special, but in this case you have to blame the photographer. And many of them became treasured memories. But nowadays it seems as though fewer folk feel the need to treasure those “caught in time” moments. They’re more into instant gratification – a quick snap on the mobile phone to be shared briefly and then forgotten.

When I was young, though, the world of popular photography in the UK seemed to be shared between Kodak (who had the lion’s share) and Ilford. Ilford are still in business, but have retreated into a niche market selling black ‘n’ white film and accessories.

Meanwhile, the camera market went on to be dominated by the Japanese – and latterly by the Chinese. And now it seems the once mighty Kodak has sunk beneath the waves.

the rate for the job?

We’ve all seen the blurb when one of the big supermarket chains wants to set up shop somewhere There’s always the promise of more “choice” for the customer, and more jobs for the community.

Many of these jobs, though, are highly suspect. Often they’re part time – or imported from elsewhere. And now a report from the Fair Pay Network accuses the four largest supermarket chains of paying staff “poverty” wages whilst make huge profits.

The report says that hundreds of thousands of those working for Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons are not being paid a “living wage”. And the Network’s director, Mark Donne, says it couldn’t be acceptable that profits and executive pay were soaring whilst employees were sinking further into debt. Indeed, more than half of them say that they don’t earn enough to live on. That, it seems, is one cost of our cheap food.


Worried about Ed

In Editorial on March 5, 2012 at 12:59 pm

With public resistance to Tory policies mounting, where in the general scheme of things is the Labour Party leadership? Where is its vigour and determination to expose and campaign against the impact of the cuts? Where is the presentation of Labour’s alternative? Indeed, is there one to be presented?

For those who supported Ed Miliband for leadership of the Party, his record so far has been disappointing. It’s true that he’s had to establish his own sense of identity in the eyes of the public, as well as uniting a somewhat disparate shadow cabinet behind him. But so far his success has been somewhat underwhelming.

Labour has opposed the Government’s plans to dismantle the NHS (so far, sadly, without too much success. External campaigns and bodies like “38 Degrees” have made rather more impact). And after the election it spent some time engaging in a “listening exercise” orchestrated by Peter Hain and involving Party members and supporters. What happened to the results of this initiative, we don’t know. But is has shown little sign of re-galvanising the party – leaving opposition to the coalition Government’s policies to be spearheaded by campaigning pressure groups.

As for Ed Miliband, he has so far failed to establish a firm sense of direction for Labour, leaving an impression in the public mind of a floundering party. His declarations in January that cuts would have to continue under a Labour government only served to accentuate the negative, and cut the Party leadership adrift from those who might have rallied behind it. Indeed, he has now put himself at odds with Len McClusky of the Unite union, whilst other trade union leaders are hardly happy either. And he seems to have done little to even try to counter Tory lies that the cuts are “necessary” to get us out of the “mess” that the previous Labour administration got us into.

Of course there’s another way – one, indeed, that’s necessary if we’re to succeed in saving the economy. We have to invest in the public sector and build confidence and employment. At present all the signs are that Government  policies are leading us into a “double dip” recession, from which we’ll all suffer. Any talk of cuts by the Party’s leadership should be directed towards those who can afford them – including those bankers who were the ones who got us into this mess in the first place. And how about dispensing with that expensive folly, Trident renewal, whilst we’re about it? As folk used to say, it’s neither use nor ornament.

The Party leadership has also failed to recognise that many of the cuts are ideologically driven. They are not simply there to balance the books – they have been implemented deliberately to undermine the Welfare State (which past generations of Labour worked to build).

Quite rightly, Labour spokesmen continue to attack the Government’s record on rising unemployment and increased levels of poverty. But they seem to fail to make the connection between cause and effect. In other words, the implementation of the cuts is creating mass unemployment and driving many families in to poverty.


 Admittedly, Ed and his colleagues in the leadership of the Party are hampered by the baggage of past “New Labour” administrations. And there are still plenty of unrepentant Blairites in the Parliamentary Labour Party to act as brakes on any radical alternatives. There is a strand in the Party that seems to have forgotten is roots and in whose interests it was founded to serve. For them, the ghosts of Keir Hardy, George Lansbury, Attlee, Bevan – and even Harold Wilson – have been exorcised.

But, however we look at it, Ed Miliband gained the leadership because he was seen as a new broom, capable of sweeping away the trappings of the last decade or so. If this is the case it must involve, at the very least, a recognition of the importance of the public sector and the welfare state in our society – and continued support for the under-privileged in our society. All these are under attack by the present Government.