Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Archive for September, 2012|Monthly archive page

100 issues of the Dean’s fourth emergency service: SOCIALISM

In C.Spiby on September 7, 2012 at 1:15 pm

It would be impossible to sum one hundred issues of our Clarion into a single, short article. The best I can offer the ‘only Socialist Paper in the Dean’ in such little space is the merest flavour of its varied and inspiring content, in hope that you, dear reader support it for a hundred more. In issue #24 Bob Seabrook wrote to us saying that the Clarion was a ‘breath of fresh air’. It is only our readers, supporters and contributors that will ensure our paper remains fresh, relevant, informative and as inspiring as it was back over a decade ago to Bob and his wife, stalwarts of the Bromley pensioners’ movement.

For his part, Jack Jones was ‘delighted’ with his copy of issue #1 stating that it was ‘the clear call of Labour in these difficult times and recalls past struggles’. Perhaps not as clear as we’d like 100 issues later, but the call remains the same. That voice, however, was never that of an elite bunch of hacks in the back office but always that of our readers and contributors. Indeed, that very same issue went on to challenge readers to ‘define’ socialism. The argument would run through all 100 issues in one way or another like a deep, proud red blood pumping through the veins of all those in need of an antidote to the rightward shift of Labour. But The Clarion was also a safe place to land for all those left politically bereft.

It may have been borne of this wayward wandering of the then pre-governmental New Labour, but The Clarion was spurred into physical manifestation by the march of trade unionists having been expelled from GCHQ in Cheltenham. That year, 1996, the number swelled to 6,000.

Since then, there have been many constants in the Clarion, most of the important ones survive: Dinosaur, reviews, guest features and our Editorial Comment but also endorsement or articles of peers like Tony Benn, CND’s Kate Hudson, Kim Howells, Barbara Castle, Baroness Royall, or Ken Coates. Perhaps more poignant, though, are those that contributed but who are no longer with us. The likes of Bill Punt or Ralph Anstis will always be part of the Clarion. Yet even greater are the number of silent readers, occasional contributors, friends and supporters who have passed on. Our thoughts go out to them and their families, as do our thanks.

But there are also the memories and words of local voices remembering. This is where Ralph excelled, but there were others too: Tania Rose talking of her father, Morgan Phillips Price MP for the Dean from 1935 until 1959; David Preece’s fascinating range of interviews with our senior voices of the Forest; Stafford Cottman who fought in Spain during the civil war at only 17, the cycling Turner’s and many, many more.

The Clarion is living political history both nationally and locally. You can read it in its letters and articles from the likes of regulars John Wilmot, Ruth Richardson, Alan Mowatt, Claude Mickleson, or Glynn Ford (our former MEP) again to name but a few repeat offenders. Then there’s the reports from Tolpuddle; the local and national elections (including the election of Labour in 1997 and Diana Organ in the Dean); the disruptive treks around Britain’s atomic weapon factory in Aldermaston or individual reports from the Stop the War marches; both times they tried to sell-off our forests; the Make Poverty History march in Edinburgh; a series on 100 years of Labour; the innumerable times they tried to destroy our NHS; a visit to Auschwitz and, of course the victory for trade union rights at GCHQ.

My personal favourite? That would be Bill Punt’s piece on terrorism and Palestine in issue #46. In eight short paragraphs you get all that is wrong about the conflict between Israel and Palestine and, more widely, answers the question of its title: ‘What makes a terrorist?’.

By way of spot-check, that same issue feature articles on GM, the health service, regeneration in the Forest, the expulsion of George Galloway from Labour, a report of a Forest community voices project, a poem by Ron Todd, our editorial comment (also on GM but alongside that a piece on the nature of work in modern times), plus a review of Mark Curtis’ book ‘Web of Deceit’. Such is the variety of the Clarion, as I am sure you’re aware.

Nonetheless, The Clarion has never been afraid to let readers make up their own minds. Our letters section is normally where the real debate happens, not the articles. Now we have our website (www.theclarion.org.uk) and a Facebook page, but back in issue 21, for example, we gave the centre pages to readers’ varying views of the NATO bombing of the Balkans that would see the death of Yugoslavia.

More than any other topic though, we analyse the nature, success and failures of socialism – but always in our shared goal of helping one another achieve it. The road may differ, but the destination remains the same. That place is best described by our ‘aims and objectives’ which adorn the back page of every issue. These first appeared in issue 4 and probably remain our Editor-in-Chief’s, Alistair Graham’s, greatest moment in and for The Clarion.

We have seen Labour come and go locally and nationally; but we remain united, through co-operative initiatives like The Clarion, in our shared belief of a better world for all. It might take another 100 issues – but we’ll be here, knocking down the right, trying to unite the left and keeping it on track when it strays.

Support us. Support 21st century democratic socialism, peace and social justice.

CARL SPIBY
Clarion Editorial Committee Member

REVIEW:”Why it’s kicking off everywhere: the new global revolutions”

In A.Graham, Reviews on September 7, 2012 at 1:01 pm

by Paul Mason (published by Verso, 2012, price £12.99).
Review by AG.

Paul Mason is the economics editor for the BBC current affairs programme, Newsnight. Having such a high position at the Beeb, you might expect him to produce something, shall we say, a bit more “establishment” in tone?

But what he does give us is a work that’s informative, enlightening and sympathetic – but very disparate. When you feel that you’ve grasped the connecting thread, he veers off along another track, and the readers’ perception is forced to shift.

In the opening chapter we’re in a Coptic Christian slum community in Cairo. The mainstay of support for those who live there is recycling rubbish The garbage is collected, sorted, and sold on. Thus the community made a precarious living – until Mubarak took this this living away from them.

Those from communities like this were in the forefront of the rising tide of protest that became the Egyptian Spring.

Mason moves on to the student protests in London, and the politicising effect it had on young people. And from there he takes us on to Athens, in the summer of 2011, with street protest and anger at its height.

DIFFERENT INTERESTS:

He sees three elements at play in much of the political unrest – the plight of the urban poor, organised labour (ie, the trade union movement) and “graduates with no future” – in other words, those who have gone through university, amassing debts in the process, and now face a bleak prospect of unemployment. Sometimes these three elements come together, but at other times they have their own separate agendas.

As for the trade union movement, once the mainstay of political protest, he sees this as a declining force, thanks to finance capitalism’s demand for unskilled labour plus the long-term impact of anti-union legislation. The TUC demonstration on the streets of London was indeed impressive, but the movement was unable to sustain the momentum. Meanwhile it was the “guerilla” activities of anarchist groups and the “Occupy” movement that gained the headlines.

The “new protesters” are not rooted in history, as is the organised labour movement. But they’re well-versed in modern technology. Mobile phones, i-phones, “twitter” and You Tube are their new weapons. It’s no wonder that governments throughout the world are now trying to control and suppress these means of instant communication!

STEINBECK RE-VISITED:

There are some chapters that are quite moving. Mason sets out to retrace the journey taken by the Joad family in Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, at a time when thousands fled the drought-stricken state of Oklahoma to seek a new life in California, back in the 1930s. Circumstances have, of course, changed – but once again depression hangs over the USA, and the mid-western states are once again suffering the impact of drought.

It’s a grim picture, of seedy motels, lack of work or hope – and an internment camp for Mexican immigrants in New Mexico – all against a backdrop of bible belt Christianity, with radio and TV “shock jocks” spreading the poisonous message of the right-wing “Tea Party” movement.

One question worth posing is why do certain decades become marked by a surge of protest and revolt? The last major wave was in the 1960s-early 1970s, the time of anti-Vietnam war protest, students occupying their universities and heady ideas discussed. One might wonder what happened to that ‘sixties generation (some of course ended up in the “New Labour” government), but for Mason the nearest parallel to the contemporary wave of revolt was back in 1848.

The social change that was taking place then, with the rise of industrial capitalism, was accompanied by new technology that allowed for the rapid spread of ideas and social forces. Then it was the railways, and improvements in printing technology. And an uneasy alliance of workers, students and the middle classes came together to pursue their revolutionary ideals.

The alliance didn’t last, and revolutionary gains were soon lost. But out of it all the ideas of modern Socialism were born, and the new world created was very different from the old.

Mason suggests that today new technology is equally important in spreading ideas and action – but now it’s the mobile phone or “social networking” via twitter, etc., erc., is being used by today’s revolutionaries. And engines such as You Tube have been able to spread images of action across the world far more quickly and effectively than the conventional media is capable of doing.

The last chapter looks at the shanty towns created by the slum dwellers in the Philippines. Even here, he suggests, new forces are at work and fresh social models are emerging.

Two final points, however. Mason does imply that old patterns of protest, based on a set structure and traditional patterns of pursuing goals, are now being superseded by something far more fluid and perhaps immediate. Maybe so – up to a point – but in terms of laying down a solid base for change it makes today’s protesters appear very ephemeral.

Those rooted in the history of protest and the ongoing struggle for a better world perhaps still need their heroes – the examples from history that can still keep us rooted in the reality of the struggle. Mason quotes the case of Joe Hill, an organiser for the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) who was executed by firing squad in the state of Utah in 1916. He doesn’t however quote the song that was written after his death. I can’t remember all the words, but it went something like this:

“I dreamt I saw Joe Hill last night,

Alive as you or me,

Says I but Joe you’re ten years dead –

“I never died” says he.

“The copper bosses killed you Joe, they shot you Joe,” says I,

“Takes more than guns to kill a man,” says Joe, “I didn’t die”

.”… from Santiago up to Maine,

In every mine or mill,

where working men defend their rights

It’s there you’ll find Joe Hill…

It’s there you’ll find Joe Hill.”

This book remains an important contribution to the debate on where we go from here. It should be read widely. Get hold of it if you can – read, and inwardly digest!

AG

IS THIS “AGE OF AUSTERITY” DRAGGING US BACK TO THE 1970s … OR EVEN THE 1930s?

In A.Graham on September 7, 2012 at 12:43 pm

A Clarion discussion article.

On July 9th Panorama on BBC1 broadcast a special report entitled ‘Britain on the Brink: Back to the 1970s?’ It looked at how a combination of economic depression plus the onslaught of Thatcherism brought a widening gap between the haves and have-nots in Britain – coupled with growing unrest and protest. Are we repeating the same pattern today?

There were similarities. Soaring house prices, leaving thousands without adequate homes, growing unemployment – and the emergence of the culture of unbridled greed in the City (and the coining of a new word – “Yuppie”). And there was growing conflict – the miners’ strike, the TUC “march for jobs”, and the anti-poll tax riots to mention a few examples.

QUALIFICATIONS:

But some qualifications need to be made. First, Thatcher didn’t gain power until the end of the 1970s – though she had already embraced the free market theories of Monetarism, which led inevitably to the wholesale de-industrialisation of Britain, the loss of millions of jobs, the break-up of communities and the creation of industrial wastelands. But most of the damage actually took place in the 1980s.

The ‘eighties were indeed the grimmest decade, when the “loadsa money” phenomenon was flaunted in front of those struggling to make ends meet, and the very notion of community – let alone solidarity – was thrown contemptuously out of the window. There can be very few who lived through those years who can feel any sense of nostalgia for them.

Those with a sense of history could also look back to the 1930s, when the Wall Street Crash of 1929 sent shock waves throughout the world. The slump was to last throughout the 1930s until it ended with the outbreak of war in 1939.

DECADE OF HUNGER:

Back then a coalition of Tories and Liberals tried to tackle the depression, introducing a programme of “austerity” that only aggravated the plight of those thrown out of work – and made the possibility of gaining employment even more remote. Traditional industries, mainly based in the north, or in South Wales, were the hardest hit. Coal, steel and shipbuilding were particular targets for those who proposed “consolidation” as a solution. Those who’d lost their jobs went on “hunger marches”.

When Palmers’ shipyards in Jarrow, up in the north east, were closed down as part of this process of “consolidation” it had a devastating impact on the whole town. In 1936, those thrown out of work marched to London – but they received no consideration let alone help from those in power.

Capitalism was in crisis – a crisis brought about by the greed of a system that had spiralled out of control. And those who paid the price were the victims. Sounds familiar?

TODAY:

It was greed, too, and financial policies adopted since the days of Thatcher that brought about the financial crisis of 2008. Again, it was the collapse of financial institutions in the USA that triggered off the crash that hit the markets and led us all into recession.

The response by the present Tory-LibDem coalition is little different from that imposed in the hungry ‘thirties. “Austerity” once again is imposed, creating inevitable hardship and growing unemployment. And once again, it’s the victims of the bankers’ greed who have to pay the price.

Perhaps there is one difference here. Britain no longer has an industrial base as we had in the 1930s. Thatcher put paid to that.

IT’S THE POOR THAT GETS THE BLAME:

But patterns of growing inequality and suffering amongst the victims of the bankers’ greed have been clearly illustrated in the wealth that’s been made in the City, in contrast to the plight of too many families who are struggling to make ends meet. The exposure of growing numbers of children who have to go to school without a breakfast because parents find their shrinking budget won’t run to three meals a day. The plight of young people who are to lose their housing benefits, and may well end up homeless as a result (the response by the Government has been that they “can always live with their parents”). And the rundown in the public sector has meant the loss of vital services on which many people relied.

All these show parallels with the ‘thirties. But at least, back then, some more enlightened local authorities provided free school breakfasts for children whose parents couldn’t afford to feed them at home – something cash strapped councils today can no longer afford.

When New Labour came to power, we were promised “an end to “boom and slump”. But nothing was done to curb the greed that motivated finance capitalism. The Tories had already largely de-regulated the banking system, and the same pattern was to continue.

At the very least, the banking system should operate under strict regulation, to ensure that its pursuit of wealth at all costs is kept under control. The system we have at present is like unleashing a pack of rottweilers and letting them run amok.

Schools as cash cows?

In R.Richardson on September 7, 2012 at 12:35 pm

You must be joking – right?

WRONG!

RUTH RICHARDSON looks at the flood of private capital into our schools, as companies seek to make profit from the education of our children

In a previous Clarion we reported on those companies that are making big money out of providing services formerly in the public sector. An article in Tribune by Lisa Nandy (Labour MP for Wigan) prompted me to look more closely at the role of private companies in the sphere of education.

At present, “free schools” and academies are not-for-profit establishments. But Michael Gove, in evidence at the Leveson inquiry, gave a clear indication that this might well change, that we could “move to a position where free schools could make profits in a Tory second term”.

CREEPING PRIVATISATION:

Although private companies cannot yet run schools, they do play a large part in the education system. It is particularly in free schools and academies that they find their clients. I was staggered to find that 45 per cent of all secondary schools are, or are about to become, academies. And just this year the academy model has been opened up to primary schools.

The rationale behind the conversion of existing schools into academies was that standards would be improved with an injection of cash and the freedom to buy in expertise. A fair amount of autonomy would be allowed, and links with Local Education Authorities would be broken.

Private firms were quick to spot a money-making opportunity. Firms like MCA Cooper Associates who supply advice pre and post conversion to would-be academies. Or Vision2learn which can supply a range of IT courses at secondary level.

HOW “FREE” ARE FREE SCHOOLS?

Free schools, too, are a fruitful source of business. Originally free schools, legislation for which was passed only two years ago were intended (allegedly) to give like-minded parents the chance to establish a neighbourhood school independent of the LEA. The reality, however, is that such schools are often sponsored by religious groups and sometimes businesses which it is feared could compromise their integrity.

It’s worth visiting the website of Concentra which has lots of helpful advice for anyone wanting to set up a free school. Concentra will assist in putting together a bid, arranging a survey of suitable premises and drawing up business plans. Another company ready to give advice is GEMS (Global Education Management Systems). Its CEO says, “Running a school is quite complicated and can’t just be handed over to amateurs. We are exploring opportunities right now, supporting groups of parents.”

EVEN LEAs AFFECTED:

It’s not only in academies and free schools that private companies are involved. Up and down the country, firms claiming expertise in many varied fields are supplying educational services to LEAs and individual schools. Serco, for example, which runs the Docklands Light Railway and is reported to be a bidder to take over healthcare provision in Gloucestershire, provides services in Bradford and Walsall. The VT Group, a supplier of naval defences, make provision in Surrey and the London Borough of Waltham Forest.

In Sweden profit-making free schools have been in existence for twenty years. But although there appeared initially to be some short term gain in pupil achievement, this was not sustained in post-16 year-olds. There are a number of “for profit” companies running such schools in the USA, where they are known as charter schools. One such company, the Texan Can Group were rated academically unacceptable in nine out of its ten schools – yet its CEO still draws a salary of £236,000.

In England, Cognita, a company that runs the Southbank International School (an independent school) has been accused by parents of turning it into a “money-making machine”. Cognita, incidentally, is run by Chris Woodhead, former chief inspector of schools. Cognita says that it is working with parents on a number of free school projects.

THE PROFIT MOTIVE:

Lisa Nandy, in Tribune, voices what I’m sure most of us feel. Introducing a profit motive into the running of schools is wrong. She writes, “Where children’s interests and profit conflict it is inevitable that the primary responsiblity is to shareholders”.

And Shadow Education Secretary, Stephen Twigg, said recently that every penny available in education should go back into the school system. There is no room here for profiteering.

MODERN TIMES: The Dinosaur Column

In Dinosaur on September 7, 2012 at 12:32 pm

Feeling one’s age…

There’s nothing like celebrating a century to make one feel old. I’ve been putting this column together ever since the first issue of the Clarion emerged blinking into that Tory twilight, back in 1996. John Major was sort of hanging on to power; whilst Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson were busy redefining the Labour Party, to ensure that we’d never have cause to sing the “Red Flag” ever again. The new message was “Middle England, arise!” And a new dawn with New Labour was promised.

It seems a long time ago now, doesn’t it? For most of us here on the Clarion it’s been a case of maintaining the faith – whilst at the same time trying to keep our powder dry.

The issues we debated and the campaigns we’ve faced are dealt with elsewhere in this 100th issue. I’m sure that there will be plenty more Clarions to come – and unless I get too decrepit I’ll still be here to comment on them

Swamped in supermarkets:

Folk living in Lydney must feel that they’re soon about to be swamped in supermarkets. “Spoilt for choice” might be a phrase that springs to mind – except for the fact that the notion of choice in this case is all an illusion.

So far Lydney has three supermarkets, which one might think is quite enough for a town its size. We’ve got the Co-op (the oldest player in town), Harry Tuffins – and of course the dreaded Tesco. But now both Sainsbury’s and Asda are vying to build an out of town store.

Sainsbury’s have promised a new supermarket down below the Lydney bypass. Not only would they be willing to provide a spanking new store, but also build a new market square, with shops and that sort of thing alongside it. The mind boggles. If all the hype is to be believed, it would effectively pose as an alternative focal point for the town, when our existing shopping centre is already suffering from lean times.

Asda, on the other hand, are promising massive investment running into millions of quid, just to sweeten the pill. Though its pitch is much more modest, it may well be that only one of these bids would get the go-ahead. But even if just one of them was successful it would be a step too far.

As I’m sure I’ve said before, more supermarkets do not provide more choice. They simply give us more of the same. It’s the smaller shops that provide us with that choice, and always have done. And with the inexorable rise of the big retail chains, they have suffered.

Lydney no longer has a baker, or indeed a greengrocer. And even the farmers’ market has faded away. We still have a butcher in town, but when it comes to more specialist outlets, there’s been a long list of casualties over the past ten years. Let’s not deliberately make it worse!

Going places?

Remember Chris Woodhead? Anyone? Well, just to refresh your memory, he was the first head of the dreaded Ofsted, set up under a previous Tory regime to bully and coerce schools and teachers who were seen as failing to perform adequately. He went on to express his pithy views on such failings in the columns of the Daily Telegraph, if my memory serves me correctly.

Now it seems he’s “Sir” Chris Woodhead, and is chairman of the board at Cognita, one of the largest providers of independent schools in the UK, Spain and in South East Asia.

Not bad for someone who was once a humble geography teacher at Newent School in the Forest of Dean!

“Academy status” for Whitecroft?

I see that Whitecross School in Lydney is in danger of being the latest to have “academy status” foisted upon it.

Plans are to put it under the control of a body called “Prospect” – an outfit with an “unproven track record”, to quote. So far, it seems, they have one school under their charge Naturally, parents and other local folk aren’t very happy. They feel that they’ve been kept in the dark. But now a petition is doing the rounds which has so far attracted over 500 signatures.

At the very least protesters are asking for a degree of “transparency”. Better still, many would like the plans scrapped completely.