Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Archive for December, 2012|Monthly archive page

LEFT INSIDE: Representation & legitimacy

In C.Spiby on December 18, 2012 at 2:06 pm

In theory the opportunity of some elections should have given us the chance to see how One Nation Labour is fairing. But it hasn’t quite turned out that way.

For starters, turnout in all elections was very low, although the Bristol Mayoral election manage to nearly double the national average in turnout for the race for elected Police Commissioners.

In Bristol Labour drew 29% of the vote, strongly defeating the Tories at 9% and the Lib Dems at 7%. Fellow travellers standing as anti-cuts (1.5%), Green (5.9%) and Respect candidates (1.7%) failed to make a real mark on familiar themes to readers of The Clarion and, in the end, an independent, George Ferguson became Mayor.

Our 29% and second-placing is encouraging, though not entirely reflective of what might happen in a national election. So while we should welcome these figures, we ought not read too much into them. The Corby by-election, however, went better, but a bloody nose for the Tories in a by-election is also not entirely a ringing endorsement of Labour nationally, even if we won there.

What’s more of a concern was the failure of mainstream political parties to make headway in both these elections and get people engaged and to the polls. I think it shows that all parties are struggling to legitimise their claims to truly representing people’s concerns.

In Labour we in particular need to turn this around as our perceived legitimacy is encumbered by that already tired narrative of the right and the media at all levels: that a vote for this Labour is a vote for the same New Labour of Blair and Brown. Clearly people don’t want New Labour 2.0. And thus these polls could suggest that Miliband’s breed of Labour is not distancing itself enough.

The current breed is now ‘One Nation Labour’. I think the jury is still out on whether that view of Britain is palatable, let alone engaging. Only the people will decide. But it is early days; it arrive at conference and we have still yet to form our programme and manifesto.

Then again, when Ed wrote to us saying that…

‘Middle England is turning away from David Cameron and the Conservatives. If they want to learn the lessons of these elections they should listen to the young people who say they want hope for the future. They should listen to those people who are saying “why are you raising my taxes and cutting my services when you’re cutting taxes for millionaires?”’

I am encouraged. But I still don’t see this message getting through to the mainstream media let alone ordinary people. So, it is up to us to help build a strong alternative to this Government’s socially destructive programme, and in doing so change that narrative to build our legitimacy as the people’s representative. Predominantly and precisely because Labour people are those people.

On a local level, I am also encouraged that the Constituency Labour Party, as communicated through the Executive Committee is hungry for local engagement and a surge in numbers. It has taken on my suggestion of a buddy system to help get new members involved in Party life and more importantly to ensure they feel listened to and are able to play a part in policy-making and activism. I was impressed with the enthusiasm for member involvement at all levels. Graham Morgan was also pushing hard for more all-member meetings to increase turnout, our profile and policies, and opening them up more to the public. The next one of these is on the touchy but ever current subject of Europe and is on 25th January 2013 at 7pm, venue tba (check our Facebook page for details nearer the time).

And on a final, personal note: the weird opposition to wind turbines in both Saint Briavels (now generating carbon-free natural power) and a proposed one in the Aylburton area. My take is that those opposing the turbines were oddly silent when it came to questioning Horizon’s plans for a new nuclear plant at the Oldbury site: directly opposite these areas and MUCH bigger in scale.

The Horizon public drop-in consultation was deserted when I went to the one they hosted in Woolaston, and had been all day – and I arrived at the end. Don’t these people remember the leukaemia scares of the 80’s in this very area?

Horizon have since sold that contract to the Japanese company Hitachi even though I understand that the Japanese government has decided to go nuclear-free following the tragic events at Fukushima. Seems what’s good for Japanese commerce is good enough for British locals to live with. And serve them right: they’re too busy fighting renewables. What IS going on? I am dumbfounded by this logic. Answers on a postcard…

If you’re against new nuclear at Oldbury, visit the STAND (Severnside Together Against Nuclear Development) who can now be found on Facebook.



OBITUARY: Prof. Ray Billington (un-edited edition)

In C.Spiby, Obiturary on December 18, 2012 at 1:58 pm

I am sure many readers of The Clarion have committed political heresy at one time or another, but we’ve never had an official heretic in our Obituary column before.

Locally Ray Billington was, to many, the philosophy Professor, former Labour Party candidate and heretic minister who brought rational inquiry to the Wye Valley with his Tintern Philosophy Circle, which continues to meet each 3rd Tuesday in the month at the Rose & Crown pub in Tintern.

Ray became a Methodist minister in 1952. Between ’58 and ’61 he was Chaplain to the SAS, based in Hereford. In 1970 he stood as a prospective Parliamentary Labour Party Candidate.

Then, in 1971, he wrote ‘The Christian Outsider’. This included his belief that a personal God does not exist, and he was thus tried by the Methodist Conference and consequently defrocked.

Ray became head of philosophy at the University of the West of England in the same year and held that post until 1995. During this time he wrote many books, including a standard text book on the topic of ethics and moral philosophy ‘Living Philosophy: an introduction to Moral Thought’ (1988).

His other works continued to look at faith, but without the supernatural elements while allowing room for some kind of spirituality. These works included ‘East of Existentialism’ (1990) and ‘Religion without God’ (2001). My memory suggests that he particularly made reference to Sartre and the Existentialists more than any other branch of philosophy but that does not necessarily mean he favoured them over say, the Logical Positivists, Plato or Bertrand Russell: his passion was rational thinking itself.

He was the exchange Professor of Philosophy at the University of California in 1984/5 and appeared on BBC radio and had written for numerous publications including such diverse sources as The Guardian (in the Face to Faith column) and the RHS journal ‘The Garden’.

Personally, I remember Ray for his anecdotes and jokes; his encyclopaedic knowledge of philosophers and their philosophies; and his passion. Often he would hit his fist into his hand to drive a point home, particularly when thinking of Thatcher, Bush and Blair and the war on Iraq. To me he seemed to occasionally allude to an anarchist bent politically but his life now was predominantly consumed with philosophy: teaching, reading, writing and, most importantly, sharing it.

He died at the end of September at 82 and is survived by his partner Hatti who used to chair those pub philosophy meetings, and of course the Tintern Philosophy Circle itself who continue to seek enlightenment, just as Ray would have wanted.

Ray Billington’s obituary in The Guardian.

CARL SPIBY (Tintern Philosophy Circle participant)

The fight to keep our health services within the NHS

In C. Mickleson on December 18, 2012 at 1:46 pm

CLAUDE MICKLESON looks at the campaign to keep health services in Gloucestershire within the NHS

Under the ConDem’s new Health legislation, the former NHS Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) are being split into separate bodies for commissioning and provisioning. Now healthcare trusts are busy doing just that – and in the process many parts of the Service have been farmed out to private companies, sometimes with unacceptable results poor service, fewer (and more poorly paid) nurses and staff, and many medical mistakes in the drive for enhanced profits. In most cases these medical errors have needed to be remedied in NHS hospitals.

Each act of privatisation weakens the NHS. It leads to fragmentation ensuring that the Health Service is less able to carry out the duties to the public that they are there to perform – which gives rise to dissatisfaction and ill-informed members of the public, not to mention speculators, claiming that privatisation of the Service might be a better option.


In Gloucestershire it looked as though we might be going down that road. The PCT had decided to transfer the provisioning wing – eight community hospitals – in the county, along with District Nurses, health visitors and ancillary services to a “Public Interest Company”. Although supposedly non-profit making, this body would no longer be an integral part of the Health Service, but a contractor to it, and undemocratically controlled. It could well have been the first step towards possible privatisation when their contract expired after three years.

Many members of the public who were extremely unhappy with the draconian cuts and curtailment of public services, had already formed into groups to fight back. It was decided by these groups that they should work together to resist the break-up of the NHS. One such group was able to put forward an elderly patient in order to challenge the Gloucestershire Primary Care Trust in the High Court, on the grounds that it had failed to consult the public. As usual, there was a time lapse before the case was heard, which prevented the PCT from taking further action. Eventually the case was heard, the barrister acting for the objectors put his case – and the PCT’s legal representatives felt unable to counter it, and offered to settle out of court.


The PCT then decided that its consultation process would consist of “pop-in” sessions throughout the county offering the public two options. In effect they were asked whether wanted a “stand alone trust” – still within the NHS – or to have services put out to tender where there were a number of large companies waiting in the wings, ready to hoover up the NHS funds. The decision to concentrate on pop-in sessions was made despite appeals for open public meetings to be held instead. The pop ins were poorly advertised, though leaflets were left at doctors’ surgeries, libraries, etc., and few of the public were aware that they were being held.

At the same time, anti-cuts’ campaigners visited most towns and various villages in the county explaining what the options on offer were, with petitions asking for signatures for option one.

Gathering signatures and explaining the background to a largely unaware public is a long and laborious job. It necessitated a few hours of hard work during each and every day. As much of the work had to be done during the day time, the task fell mainly to pensioners and those out of work. But at the end of it all the anti-cuts campaigners were able to present over 6,500 signatures to the PCT at its next board meeting.

There is no doubt that these, along with various other representations made to the board, had the desired effect. The PCT board voted for option one – to keep these services within the NHS.

Victory? Well, no, not quite. Just a hard fought battle in the war against cuts and the creeping privatisation of a service which has proved of inestimable value over the past 64 years and should be with us (admittedly needing some improvements) until at least… infinity.


So the fight goes on, to save the commissioning wing, which will be called the Clinical Commissioning Group, from going down the slippery slope into the vile hands of privatisation. The PCT has already set up a shadow board to co-ordinate all the 85 surgeries in the county, representing well over 300 doctors, into one single group. There are fears that the ever-present grabbing hand of the private healthcare companies is already at work picking off the few most vulnerable doctors to inject them with notions of vast wealth to be gained in working with the private sector, thereby fragmenting the NHS even further and leading to its eventual failure.

It is known that there are a large number of doctors who are loyal to the NHS, and we intend to show them that we care, and are prepared to fight alongside them for our beloved National Health Service.

{Web Ed. you can connect with those spear-heading the campaign in the Forest via Forest of Dean Against the Cuts Facebook prescence}.

THE MAKING OF AN ACADEMIC “Beyond Nab End”, by William Woodruff. Reviewed by RUTH RICHARDSON

In R.Richardson, Reviews on December 18, 2012 at 1:39 pm

This book is the sequel to the autobiographical Road to Nab End, a best seller of 2000.

It is a tale of three journeys – of time through the depression years of the 1930s, of space from Bow in East London to Oxford, and of class mobility, from the life of a “sand rat” in an iron foundry to that of an Oxford scholar.

Making this journey, William Woodruff went on to become a world historian, and it was only in old age after a number of scholarly books that he could look back to his formative years. The result is “absolutely fascinating as a social as well as a family history,” wrote Eric Hobsbawm in The Guardian. Woodruff has an eye for character and place. His own personal story, his quest for education through night school and the WEA is interposed with comment on historical events and well-known figures of the 1930s.


The personal journey that Woodruff travels has several aspects. The one that caused him perhaps the most anguish was the relinquishing of his pacifist ideals.

The Labour Party pursued a policy of pacifism in the 1930s, and against this the challenge of Fascism grew. Woodruff had a great admiration for the pacifist George Lansbury, who lost his leadership of the Labour Party over the proposed use of force against the Italians in Abyssinia. “I was young,” writes Woodruff, “and my sense of rightness was typical of the pacifist and anti-militarist stand of many of my generation. I felt wholly right. Time would prove me… wholly wrong.”

Woodruff examines his conscience all over again at the time of the Spanish Civil War and sees off comrades who join the International Brigade. But it was only when World War Two is declared that Woodruff decides that Nazi aggression must be halted. “To fight was the lesser of two evils” – and so he joins up.


One day Woodruff sees a notice in the underground: “Do you want a better job? Education is the key. Join a LCC night school. There is one in your area.”

This was the beginning of Woodruff’s long journey to become educated. Interestingly he has to pay no fees and is given vouchers for the books he needs. Indeed, at each stage in his education, he seems to be able to gain access to grants to see him through, even to the extent of going on a study tour of the industrial centres of Belgium, Luxemburg and North West Germany. Could that happen today?


When at nineteen Woodruff gains entry to the Catholic Workers’ College in Oxford, his life is transformed. It is a steep learning curve and the academic demands are extreme. He felt that he was in a world into which he did not fit naturally. “I was an outsider,” he writes, “with a deep-seated feeling of social inferiority.”

But excellent tutors stimulated Woodruff’s naturally inquiring mind and these formative years were the foundation for his professional life. Sometimes tensions are evident between the working class mores he is leaving behind and his present situation. When his childhood friend, Harold, visits, Woodruff writes: “It was obvious that our lives were drifting apart.” Harold say to him, “when that’s famous don’t forget me or where tha’s cum frae.”

Later Woodruff acquires a posh girl friend who takes him home to meet her family. To many going into that family would have been like going over to the enemy. “They belonged to the class who owned; I belonged to the class who worked.” So in spite of moving in the exalted circles of Oxford academia, Woodruff remains with his feet firmly on the ground. Indeed, he writes about all the many characters who inhabit his pages with perspicacity and warmth. There’s Mrs Tinker in her man’s trilby decorated with a large wax flower and her private jug of beer behind the aspidistra. Equally vividly portrayed are his Oxford tutors, such as A.B. Rodger whose “flushed face and large bald head which was cocked quizzically to one side gave the appearance of a bulldog about to bite.”

There is an excellent website devoted to William Woodruff. After the war he went back to academic life and went on teaching until the age of 80. During this period he wrote a number of books and many articles. He went on writing until his death at the age of 92 (following a fall from his exercise bike!). Well worth reading is an article from 1999, “On Iraq, a policy gone bad”, which begins: “America’s stand on Iraq increasingly seems fraught with danger.” Woodrow was insistent that Britain should not allow America to drag us into armed confrontation with Iraq.

A fact that I was not aware of was that as early as 1995 the US Congress set aside 100 million dollars to “take out” Saddam Hussein.

From our perspective, with the Iraqi war nearly a decade in the past, this article makes very interesting reading.

It is clear that all his life William Woodruff was at heart a pacifist and saw aggression as absolutely a last resort.

“Beyond Nab End” by William Woodruff, published 2003: IBSN 0-349-11622-9.

ASDA: and an interview with BEN REID, Mid-counties Co-operative

In Guest Feature, O. Adams on December 18, 2012 at 1:34 pm

The Waltons of Arkansas, USA would be setting up shop just off Valley Road in Cinderford, if Asda hadn’t been blocked by the Co-op. A judicial review over whether the application had followed due process is being sought by the Mid-counties Co-operative Society. And yet, despite the Co-op being part-owned by the people of Cinderford, others in the town and elsewhere in the Forest have been campaigning on behalf of the American corporate empire.

Why? Because they believe an Asda store would save them money and offer more choice, and because of a build-up of resentment at perceived Co-op actions to block other retail giants. I sometimes shop at the Gloucester Asda store to get ingredients unavailable in the Forest and the ins on offer, so can understand the desire to bring cheaper shopping closer to home. But the planned Asda in Cinderford would not be a “super centre” like that in Gloucester. It would sell nowhere near the amount and range of the city mega store.

Trilogy, the developer behind the Cinderford scheme, has promised 200 jobs (whether these will be full-time, part-time or workfare isn’t known). It has also offered as sweeteners some enhancements to the town centre, and improvements to the bus station – including a bus that will take you straight from Dockham Road to the new Asda store! Yet another incentive not to visit the independent high street of the town!

Do we actually want or need Walmart/Asda in our Forest, especially if it will be at the expense of both the Co-op and independent shops, of which there are still many in Cinderford. The same can’t be said of Lydney, post-Tesco. Walmart, a company notorious for exploiting producers and resources around the world as well as its own employees, or Associates as it likes to call them. Its mighty muscle means that it can dictate “free trade” to its own advantage at the expense of workers worldwide. Walmart regularly engages in “predatory pricing” and loss leaders to wipe the floor with its less-powerful opponents.

About 70 per cent of Walmart employees worldwide don’t last more than a year in the job. Studies in the US have shown employees typically earn 20 per cent less than equivalent posts in other stores. Workers are banned from organising in a union, and there have been many lawsuits over employees being forced to work overtime with no pay, as well as complaints of workers being spied on by management.

While the Co-op may deserve some of the flak it gets, it rarely gets a chance to have its say – unlike those parading with corporate signs through our Forest towns. The Clarion put some pertinent question to Ben Reid, chief executive of the Mid-counties Co-operative (based in the West Midlands, rather than Arkansas!)

* What in your view would be the effects, detrimental or otherwise, of an Asda supermarket opening in Cinderford, for Mid-counties Co-op and the town as a whole?

Inevitably trade will be diverted away from our Co-op store if an Asda opens in the town, but the key point is that a large store on the edge of town which sells both food and non-food products will have a significant impact upon the viability of the town centre.

* How would you respond to pro-Asda campaigners’ claims that a new store would offer more choice and cheaper produce?

Each retail brand has a mix of different strengths and it is difficult to evaluate them in simple terms. The public has demonstrated around the country that they wish to have a choice of retailer regardless of a particular store’s current promotional policy.

* Is resisting the prospect of an Asda store an issue of ethics or protectionism, a mixture of the two, or something else?

It is our responsibility to defend the investment that we have made on behalf of our members. In addition, why should we stand by and allow the jobs of our colleagues to be put at risk when it appears that the local authority has not followed due process? If your neighbour was building an extension to their house without proper consent wouldn’t you protest?

* One charge some are making against the Co-op’s recent extension in Coleford was that rather that it filling a gap in the local market, such as non-food retail, the result is squeezing the business of smaller cafes in town. Why did you decide to open a cafe rather than sell products unavailable elsewhere?

We carried out a survey of our customers and high on their list of requirements in the enlarged store was a coffee shop. As a member-owned business it was therefore appropriate to respond positively.

* What would you say to those dissatisfied with the Co-op who say they would prefer to shop at Asda?

Be careful what you wish for. Towns up and down the country deeply regret the development of the large edge-of-town superstores.

* Is it true, as some claim, that the Co-op had an agreement in Cinderford that no competitors would be allowed into the town (besides Lidl, which was allowed, some claim, as it was registered as a discount store rather than a supermarket)?

Completely ridiculous.

* Some are urging a boycott of Co-op stores in the Forest of Dean. Has this had any effect?

There is a vocal minority but don’t under-estimate the significant silent majority who are strong supporters of our business. We have seen no impact upon our levels of trade.

* What are the advantages for Co-op employees compared to employment rights and conditions at Asda or other supermarkets?

As Co-op colleagues almost all are members and therefore owners of the business. There is a strong colleague-focused culture within the Society. That gives them a voice and a strong sense of loyalty. Our colleague engagement scores are amongst the highest in the industry and we have been rated one of the top 25 large employers in the country. There is therefore a clear indication that the Co-op is a good place to work and we would be quite happy to be compared with Asda. In our view it’s no contest.

* The Asda developer, Trilogy, is offering to improve the centre of Cinderford, the bus station and local public transport system in exchange for the store – are there any incentives Mid-counties Co-op could offer in improving the town centre?

The amount on offer is tiny compared to the profits they and Asda will make from the development. When compared to the long-term damage they will do to the town, their offer is derisory.* If your bid for a judicial review comes out in favour of Asda, what next?

If the judicial review fails, then we will consider our options both in terms of further appeals and the potential re-configuration of our store.

* Why should people stick with the Co-op?

The Co-op is owned by the people of Cinderford. We have supported the town for many years when other retailers shunned it. It is therefore not unreasonable to ask that the actual owners of the business show their support. If they are unhappy with any aspect of our business they are able to express their views freely to management either directly or at our Member meetings and we will do our best to respond.

That is not an offer that will be made by American-owned Asda.

ArticIe and interview by OWEN ADAMS


In O. Adams on December 17, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Or, how did we get where we are today? Some thoughts by OWEN ADAMS

Many Clarion readers may draw comparisons between the ConDems and Thatcher’s 1980s, when “Ghost Town” by The Specials topped the chart, inner cities were ablaze, the Government declared war on the workers and destroyed their industries and rights, the poor were told to “get on their bikes” to find non-existent jobs, there was a rapid privatisation programme ….

But… wait… the clocks are whirring backwards at a phenomenal rate, and, yes, our time machine (thanks, HG Wells) has taken me much further back, to the years before Nye Bevan, Keir Hardie, the Suffragettes, Chartists and Luddites. I’ve come to a shuddering halt a decade before the French Revolution, Tom Paine’s Common Sense and the Rights of Man.

It’s 1776, the dawning of the Industrial Revolution, the year that Adam Smith lit the touch paper for laissez-faire capitalism with “The Wealth of Nations”, when a fresh class of privileged merchants and stockbrokers joined forces with aristocrats to form a consolidated elite. Known as tons, bucks, men of quality, or simply “The World”, the dandified ruling class kept different hours to the hoi polloy, gambling through the night and blearily taking up their daily offices in parliament and the judiciary – when pertinent to their own interests. Membership of the group was tiny. They had their fingers in many lucrative pies, home and abroad, and their only contract with the other 99 per cent was to press them for taxes so that they could build their own little fiefdoms within an expanding British Empire.


Only a tiny percentage of the population could vote, private property was far more sacred than human lives, the poor were poor because they deserved to be poor, and their survival depended on charity.

Wiping out a native population, subjugating it and seizing the land was lauded in the highest court, while stealing a loaf of bread to fend off starvation was a hanging offence.

The Royalists in Parliament had, post-restoration, been given the name “Tories” – from the Irish “torai”, for robber – and it stuck. The two “sides”, the Tories and the Whigs (now the Lib Dems) together represented solely the interests of the ruling class.

The idea of widening the voting franchise was preposterous to MPs and their cronies. The Leveller Thomas Rainsborough politely asked Cromwell’s grandees in 1647 what he and fellow New Model Army veterans had been fighting for in the Civil War if it was not their individual rights, including a vote. He was slapped down by General Ireton: “No man hath a right to an interest or share in the disposing of the affairs of the kingdom… that hath not a permanent fixed interest in this kingdom.” And so it remained until the 20th Century.

Adam Smith’s laissez-faire is about freedom… for some. An “invisible hand”, a self-regulating mechanism, would ensure that all would remain well and prosperous… for choice players. Laissez-faire relies on the poor, child labour, the low paid and slavery as the necessary cogs (although steadily replaced by machines), the producers, the middling types, the petit bourgeoisie, are the consumers and junior managers, fuel to ensure the running of the oligarchical engine.

In 2012, it’s a version of the same scenario: still many producers can’t afford to be consumers of the products they spend many of their waking hours making; the British Empire has been replaced by a corporate jostle for global dominance; our police and army exist mainly to protect private property and secure more of it (in Iraq’s case, for oil interests); the “Big Society” and the shrinking of the welfare state are signs of passing any social contract to the passing whim of charity.


As for the class-variable treatment of thieves, whilst someone who steals a bottle of water from a supermarket can be imprisoned for four years, we in the Forest of Dean have recently fended off a government-driven land-robbery attempt.

 We live in a “kleptocracy” – the word was coined for post-Communist Russia, but Cameron and co’s asset-stripping of the NHS and our other public possessions , so blatantly being handed to MPs and their close friends and beneficiaries, are, to be polite, signs of obvious “crony capitalism”

The laissez-faire ideal of globalisation has resulted in the increasing exploitation of cheap labour abroad, and herding the discarded, more expensive, British cogs into a workfare conveyor that amounts to a new slave trade between the Government and multinational giants.

Now, rather than London being riddled with slums as it was in 1776, the poor are being driven out altogether. The latest cunning plan for the London of Boris is that many Londoners priced out of renting their current homes will be shipped to cheaper estates as far away as Merthyr Tydfil. Squatting is now officially illegal, and rough sleepers are to be eradicated (following an attempt in Cardiff, it’s due to become City of Westminster policy). So, in 1776, the poor were stepped over – or on – by the rich. In 2012 they are being pushed out of sight, out of mind. Who wants a filthy, destitute beggar despoiling the sacred heart of commerce?


Fast forward, to 1962, when the Beatles released “Love Me Do” as a prelude to the swinging ’60s and the permissive society – and Chicago economist Milton Friedman published Capitalism and Freedom, interpreted further down the line by Naomi Klein as The Shock Doctrine. Friedman’s creed has now engulfed almost the entire world. It’s a strain of neoliberalism or classical liberalism, which calls for more law and order enforcement for property, and less laws or restrictions for free-marketeers, encouraging global exploitation of people for profit, removing any safety net in order to ensure cheap labour.

Friedman got the chance to try out his laissez faire upgrade in 1975 when the quasi-fascist dictator Augusto Pinochet called for his expertise. Never mind Chile’s countless “disappeared” supporters of democracy. Friedman’s “Chilean Miracle” became the toast of Washington and London. Thatcher had much to discuss with Pinochet over tea, and Reagan also followed Friedman’s recommendations. Eventually Russia and China and much of the rest of the world bought into Friedman’s neoclassical liberalism, casting aside that jarring social liberalism that suggests that politicians have a responsibility to people, and not just profits and markets.

After dumping Labour’s Clause IV, Blair and Brown continued down the same Thatcherite path, thinly disguised as the “third way”. This meant more privatisation, authoritarianism, “shock and awe in Iraq and Afghanistan and bailing out haemorrhaged banks with public money, all coinciding with a decline in Party membership.

 Any glance at the Greek Syriza movement, the Indignados of Spain, the Occupy movement, the Bolivars and Zapatistas of South America, the Arab Spring – mass movements despite their marginalisation and scant coverage from mainstream media, reveals a growing consensus for “real democracy now”. We all know that the banking system, property, wealth and the magic-wand creation of money as debt are resting on shaky foundations, or are a bubble ready to be punctured, and that so much wealth and power has been ill-gained.

One major difference between now and 1776 is that we have secured the vote. If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain. This argument often blames low turnouts simply on apathy, hence the Tories taking the reins in 2010 with a mandate from a whopping 20 per cent of us.

The argument works just as well turned on its head. If you do vote, you are giving credence and sanctioning a vicious economic and political system which favours only the few, bleeding the many.

I reluctantly put a cross for Labour because I prefer bad to worse. I am continually drawn into arguments with friends who say they are both the same, that a Labour government would merely be a shuffling of the pack. I counter that perhaps there’ll be a smidgeon more compassion for the downtrodden. But is that enough?

Is Labour’s current “market” confined to the 30-odd per cent niche that turn out for the elections, or is the party also working for the disenfranchised, the let-down, democracy’s outsiders, the apathetic majority (depending on perspective)?

Will Labour continue to perpetuate this downward spiral of debt and austerity, insisting that increasingly ruthless cuts are “necessary” as borrowing inexorably soars in order to pay ever inflating interest rates, whilst trillions of pounds owed by high-flyers, more than enough to wipe clean the deficit, are being written off?

In Miliband’s Britain are we now to repeat (as farce) 1845 history rather than 1776? Then the forecast was that revolution was likely unless the proles were pacified, and quickly. Friedrich Engels published the Condition of the Working Class in England, and the radical-turned-Tory MP Benjamin Disraeli wove fiction and politics together for his novel Sybil, or the Two Nations. Engels wanted social justice and the end to exploitation, Disraeli to preserve a class structure maintained by aristocrats and their lackeys – forming One Nation – putting the brakes on the rampant commercial sector. Disraeli’s vision was a natural hierarchy where everyone knew their place and classes had obligations to each other. If Miliband’s “One Nation” is a conscious echo of Disraeli’s, it sets Labour far adrift from Socialism.

Miliband’s “One Nation” is a conscious echo of Disraeli’s. it sets Labour far adrift from Socialism.

If Labour hasn’t the courage or will to make a decisive break with neoliberalism (as has Syriza in Greece and the post-bloodless-revolution government of Iceland), I too may feel obliged to vote with my feet, telling Miliband and his market researchers, your nation is not my nation.


MODERN TIMES: The Dinosaur Column

In Dinosaur on December 17, 2012 at 1:38 pm

Depression in Soapland:

I don’t know how many readers of this column listen to the never-ending saga of “the Archers” – an “every day story of country folk” – on BBC Radio 4. It’s been part of our lives now since the 1950s and has spanned the generations. Sometimes it reflects events out in the real world. The controversy over GM crops springs to mind. But often it seems to be stuck in its own little rural cocoon.

But it can hardly ignore the state of the economy and the plight of many families who find themselves unable to make ends meet. Its been young Ed Grundy and his partner Emma who’ve had to bear the brunt of it in Ambridge. Poor Emma finds she just can’t make her budget stretch, and she has to let bills mount up to pay for essentials – like, for example, food. She even had to resort to visiting the Food Bank, in nearby Borchester. All this isn’t helped by Ed’s brother, Will, who’s still managing OK, with his job as gamekeeper on the estate. They share responsibility for little George (don’t ask!) which gives rise to plenty of bitter sibling rivalry.

In “the Archers” class divisions are very clearly drawn, and some are still doing very nicely thank you. Not all Archers’ fans will agree with me, but it’s interesting to see a touch of reality impinging on this radio soap.

Adviser in Wonga land

No doubt we’ve all seen those cosy commercials on TV for “Wonga”, the money lenders who promise short-term loans to those who find themselves cash-strapped before the end of the week. You know, the ones with the little old ladies doing their knitting. It seems you can just borrow enough to tide yourself over, and Robert’s your avuncular relative.

It’s a sure recipe, of course, to dig yourself deeper and deeper into debt. And what they don’t tell you in the adverts is that if you can’t pay back your loan within the specified time, the interest rises – until it can reach a whopping 4,000 per cent.

Of course money lending, and pawnshops (by any other name) are a rapidly growing business in Tory Britain. It reflects the state that so many people find themselves in these days. But when a Government adviser actually quits his job to join the money lenders it becomes a point of added concern.

I see in the Independent that a senior government advisor, Jonathan Luff, has quit Downing Street to start work with Wonga as a lobbyist. Wonga have been fighting moves to tighten up regulations on the money-lending business. It’s no surprise that one of its spokesmen said he was “delighted” that Mr Luff would be joining them.

A fair Cop?

I’d had it in mind to stay at home and not bother to go out to vote in the election for a new Police Commissioner for Gloucestershire. I mean, what’s it all about? It seems to me to be step towards the Americanisation of our police forces, and a further step towards creating a structure where absolute power is vested at the top. And in my book, that ain’t healthy. Not to mention the possible dangers of politicising the whole structure.

I was persuaded to the polling booth, however, by a piece in our local paper by Rupi Dhanda, the Labour-nominated candidate. It seemed that she shared most of my own misgivings.

So I ambled down to my polling station and gave her my vote. As it happened, though, she failed to win. It was the independent, a gentleman called Martin Surl, who gained most votes, on a turnout of a mere 17.1 per cent. I know nothing about Mr. Surl, apart from the fact that he’s an ex-policeman of some 30 years standing. But my reservations haven’t gone away. And with a pitiful vote throughout the country, has the exercise any credibility anyway?

Incidentally, I notice that the online Campaign group, “Unlock Democracy” has organised a petition to urge Theresa May, the Minister responsible, to change direction. Of course she should never have gone down that road in the first place.

… and finally:

The fact that the fat cats don’t pay their full whack of taxes (if any at all) is well known. They like to make their millions and hang on to them.

Now it’s been revealed that they pay progressively less each year as they improve their tax avoidance skills. In the last financial year they paid ten per cent less than the previous year – whilst the rest of us coughed up with six per cent more. There’s something wrong there isn’t there? Particulaly when the boss at Google boasts of his company’s tax evasion policies. It’s all good for his shareholders, apparently.


Rising resistance in a rocky year: The Clarion’s review of 2012

In Editorial on December 17, 2012 at 1:34 pm

It’s been a rocky ride over the past year or so. Looking back to the Clarion of December 2011/January 2012, the Tory-led “austerity” programme was gathering pace, we had succeeded in defeating plans to sell off our forests – and legislation to privatise the NHS was already passing through Parliament.

But there was growing, organised, resistance to the Government’s agenda. After the riots that had swept London and other cities in August 2011, campaigners were taking to the streets with a more organised agenda. We focused attention on the “Occupy” movement, which had spread from Wall Street to the City of London. – a sign that many demonstrators had decided that enough was enough, and were keen to ensure that we didn’t forget who’d been responsible for the economic crisis – the bankers..


But it was the campaign to save the NHS from mass privatisation that occupied our attention for much of the year – and, indeed, still does. At the heart of the Tories’ plans was the fragmentation of a once-unified service, with healthcare to be farmed out to “any willing provider”. And there were plenty of those amongst the private healthcare corporations queuing up for contracts. Competition rather than co-ordination would be encouraged.

Opposition to the Tories’ plans was countrywide, not only amongst the public but also within the medical profession. Locally, the campaign against the Health and Social Care Bill was spearheaded by the “Forest Against the Cuts” group, working closely with campaigners in Stroud and Gloucester.

The Bill was finally passed on March 20th, when, as we commented, “the House of Commons delivered the death blow to the National Health Service as we’ve known it since 1948”. But one question remained both un-asked and unanswered. Why were the Tories so determined to push through the Act against such widespread opposition? After all, they’d caved in over plans to sell off our forests.

One possible answer lies in the power and persuasiveness of the private healthcare lobby, much of it US-owned. Nationally, the NHS is much more important than the Forestry Commission, overall it has an enormous budget, and consequently much more is up for grabs.

One might also ask why the Liberal Democrats had caved in and voted for the Bill. They claimed that they had helped to “reform” the original legislation, and on this basis they’d trooped through the Government lobbies in willing acquiescence. But their amendments did nothing to alter the main thrust of the legislation that was finally passed.

Local campaigners were now left with the task of defending NHS services within Gloucestershire, and trying to ensure that healthcare provision in the county would remain within the NHS. Mass petitioning was the main basis of activity, backed up by attendance at “consultation” meetings and events. Thousands of signatures were collected – and, finally, it was announced that healthcare within Gloucestershire would remain within the NHS.

This was, of course, a victory – but a limited one. We are still faced with an Act of Parliament that deliberately encourages the private sector. We have a new Health Minister, Jeremy Hunt, who has made no secret of his desire to “denationalise the provision of health care in Britain.”

And, of course, contracts for provision of health care services will be subject to renewal – and possible change. Who’s to say that three or four years down the line, our hospitals and clinics will remain within the NHS? After all, the ultimate aim of the Act is to reduce the NHS to an empty shell, with provision in the hands of private companies. Faced with tight budget controls (effectively leaving healthcare with less money), we still have a long and continuing fight ahead of us. We need continued vigilance if we’re to protect the NHS from its predators.
Another issue affecting our communities has been the remorseless impact of cuts in public spending at both national and local level. Such cuts are not merely a “one off” imposition. Each budget year, local authorities are expected to tighten their belts just a bit more.
Already, public libraries have been threatened, youth services reduced to a bare minimum – or less – legal aid services are being axed, and thousands of public sector jobs have been lost. And the Government hides much of this under the bogus slogan, “localisation” – otherwise known as passing the buck.
So, where will it end? If many in the Government have their way, with the gutting of the public sector.
The public sector unions have, of course, been fighting the cuts in services and to their livelihood. Clarion readers were on the march in Gloucester at the end of 2011, and again in London in October 2012 (see report on page 9 of this issue).
Whatever our views on Europe may be we must surely view Cameron’s shenanigans at the EU budget summit with (at least) distaste. He was posturing for effect – partly to appease his anti-Euro backbenchers, and partially to pretend that he could be as macho as the next man.
Cameron wants more austerity, more cuts in the Euro budget – whilst countries like Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal are suffering from the cuts already imposed. Where do you want it all to end, Mr. Cameron?

THE PLIGHT OF PALESTINE: Experiences of occupation

Jane Harries is from South Wales. She is a Quaker, and has been involved in the “Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel”. And in November she came to the Forest, to the Bailey Inn, Yorkley, to give us the background to her work in the Israeli-occupied territories of the West Bank.

The Ecumenical volunteers in Palestine have certain set roles. They are there to monitor and report violations of human rights; to offer protection through a non-violent presence; to support Israeli and Palestine peace activists – and to pass on their experiences at meetings back in the UK and Ireland.

Jane opened her talk with a look at the small Palestinian community of Yanoun on the West Bank, where she was based. It is now surrounded by illegal Israeli settlements and outposts, together with what have been designated “security areas” – blocking Palestinian access to much of their land and their olive groves.

Those who have set up these settlements in the Yahoun area are religiously motivated “and quite extreme”. Palestinian residents are constantly harassed in attempts to drive them from their homes. In this creeping process of settlement, 40 per cent of the West Bank is now occupied, reducing the integrity of the area. It is being ruthlessly torn apart, so that it now resembles “Swiss cheese” – in a clear violation of human international law. Jane talked of events in 2002, when threats from the settlers forced those living in Yahoun to leave their homes. However publicity and pressure allowed them to return. But harassment continues. Local people have had their sheep shot, and olive trees destroyed. The Israeli Army on the spot should have been there to protect local inhabitants – but instead Palestinian villagers have been fired on and wounded by soldiers as they attempted to defend their livelihood.

The Jordan valley, to the east is the “bread basket” of the West Bank – but 56 per cent of it is now taken up by closed military areas. To those who live on the West Bank, access to water and sanitation is vital. But the pumping stations now provide water exclusively to the Israeli settlements. Palestinian communities have to have it transported, and pay for the privilege – and Jane gave one example of villagers scraping by on as little water as possible, whilst one settlement boasted of a “fish farm”!

Jane also met up with Israeli peace groups, who are working away to improve relations between the two communities, and improve the lot of Palestinians. One group of Israeli women organises “sea days” for Palestinian children, who are taken on trips to the seaside. Meanwhile, in Sokrot, close to the Gaza border, another group calling itself “the Other Voice” has been formed, with the slogan, “Yes to Coexistence. No to Violence.”

Education is very important to Palestinian families – yet the provision of schools is very patchy. Access to settlement schools is denied, and Palestinian children often have to travel long distances to reach their nearest school.

Palestinian communities, meanwhile, put much faith in the international support that they receive – and this includes the tireless work provided by those like Jane Harries and the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme.