Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

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REPORT: Saying NO! to new Nuclear Power

In A.Graham on April 26, 2013 at 12:47 pm

On 11th March, in commemoration of the second anniversary of the disastrous nuclear meltdown at Fukushima in Japan, demonstrators converged on the offices of Horizon Nuclear Power on the Gloucester business park.

The demonstration was organised by STAND (Severnside Together Against Nuclear Development), the campaign set up to oppose the proposed new nuclear power plant at the Oldbury site, just across the Severn from the Forest of Dean. Horizon is the company that has been contracted to build the new power plant, on behalf of Hitachi, who will be operating it.

On a bitterly cold day, with snow and sleet in the air, some eighty protestors took part – the bulk of whom had come by coach from the Dean. Others from Stroud, Hereford and even Avening joined the throng outside the Horizon offices.

MUSIC AND SPEECHES:

It was a bitterly cold day, with snow in the air, as protesters made their presence felt. But the occasion was enlivened by music and songs provided by Roger Drury, and speeches, explaining why we were all there, from Barbara French, James Greenword and Carl Spiby.

Barbara French remembered those who had suffered at the Fukushima nuclear power plant following the tsunami that had battered the Japanese coast. She went on: “we’re also here to start our campaign to stop Hitachi building another huge nuclear power station so that people living around the Severn don’t have the same experience as those in Fukushima.”

James Greenwood, from the Forest of Dean Green Party, tackled the myth that we needed nuclear power to fill the “energy gap”. There are plenty of renewable sources of energy that could and should be developed to meet our needs, he declared.

And Carl Spiby read out the letter that the campaigners from STAND had prepared, to deliver to the Horizon offices.

K06A2055

“INTIMIDATION”?

When it came to delivering the letter, though, there was a slight hitch. Management at Horizon refused to accept it – on the grounds that the crowd outside the building posed a threat of intimidation to the staff inside. Even moving the demonstrators away from the shelter of the office entrance to the other side of the car park, failed to satisfy them.

Finally, campaigners had to disperse, and departed without seeing the letter being delivered. Carl Spiby was left as the sole representative of the demonstration, who was allowed in to deliver the letter.

BBC Points West sent a camera man, to record the event – but when it came to showing it on the TV news, it seemed that the races at Cheltenham were considered more important. It did gain coverage on Radio Gloucester, however, and in The Forester. The Citizen chose to ignore it.

HORIZON:

Who are Horizon Nuclear Power, the company contracted to build the monstrosity on the Oldbury site?

It was formed in January 2009, at a time when it seemed that the nuclear power industry might get a new lease of life. In November 2012 it was sold to Hitachi, and it is now contracted to develop nuclear plants on sites at Oldbury as well as Wylfa, on Anglesey.

Horizon declares that it is “committed to the highest levels of engagement and consultation with communities and stakeholders at local, regional and national level“.

So that’s all right then.

Report by Alistair Graham for The Clarion

ONLINE EDITION EXTRAS:

STAND’s next public meeting will be 16th May at the Annexe in Lydney (7.30pm).

Visit http://www.nuclearsevernside.co.uk/ to find out more about the campaign, news, background and events.

Here is the text of that letter to Hitachi Horizon…

5210 Valiant Court
Gloucester Business Park
Delta Way
Gloucester
GL3 4FE

11th March 2013

Dear Sir

RE: Fukushima Anniversary & new development of nuclear power station at Oldbury

On this day in 2011, the world saw just how ineffective health and safety regulations were in confronting a release of deadly radioactivity.

Ironically, nuclear power was meant to save us from climate change. But it was flooding at Fukushima which caused the cascading disaster which followed. And more flooding is exactly the kind of extreme weather event climate change will bring about.

And yet Hitachi-Horizon want to build a new nuclear power station in an area already only just above sea level; an area where the impact of major flooding is rated by Gloucestershire County Council as ‘Significant’ and risk rated as ‘High Risk[i]’.

You want to build it on the banks of a river which has the second-highest tidal range in the world. A site identified by the Government’s own watchdog as liable to erosion and inundation[ii].

You want to build in an area that has been historically subject to severe flooding, including a Tsunami-like event, in 1607[iii].

During flooding in 2007 the risk to the River Severn was rated by the Environment Agency as ‘Severe’. Flood water penetrated and knocked out the Walham and Castlemead substations close to the Severn at Gloucester, as well as the Mythe Water Treatment works. Like Oldbury, the Gloucester sites are just above sea level. During that flood 320% of the average annual rainfall fell in that short period and all three sites had to be shut down. If these events are to become more likely, more frequent and of greater velocity, how much will Oldbury be able to withstand? Will we be host to the next Fukushima?

You are obliged to consider a 1 in 100,000 year worst-case scenario. But both Fukushima and Chernobyl have occurred within just a 30-year period. And both measured the highest number on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES).

The chances of winning the national lottery are 1 in 14 million[iv]. Considerably less than your 1 in 100,000, and yet almost every week someone wins. Of course, there are no winners in a catastrophic nuclear accident like Fukushima.

While estimates vary, events at Fukushima are likely to have killed hundreds; though some sources predict thousands might ultimately die through radiation-related cancers.

Then there’s the emergency evacuation and displacement of some 140,000 people from their homes within a 30km radius of the station. Two years on some of these families are still unable to return.

Recently representatives of Hitachi-Horizon have written to the local press stating that ‘‘safety is, and will always be, our first concern”; but do you not you think the operators of the Fukushima plant the day before that accident would have said exactly the same thing?

On the issue of flooding alone it makes no sense to build a new nuclear power station at Oldbury.

But there is also a host of other reasons. The environmental impact; the lack of a long term safe solution for waste management and storage; the years of incidents and accidents; and the leukemia clusters linked to low-level radiation.

Together the reasons are compelling and that is why we are united in our STAND Against Oldbury.

In February this year, following the tragic events at Fukushima, the World Health Organisation issued a report[v]. It stated that there is a 70% greater chance of women in Japan who lived near Fukushima developing thyroid cancer compared to those not near the stricken plant.

This is a day for reflection.

What better way to reflect than to really take stock of the proposed build at Oldbury and reconsider the site. A ‘high risk’ site widely acknowledged as liable to flooding.

Yours sincerely,

STAND Against Oldbury Steering Group


[i] Item SW/4, pg. 19 Gloucestershire Local Resilience Forum ‘Community Risk Register’ version 2.6 October 2012.

[ii] Impact of Rising Sea Levels on Coastal Sites with Radioactive Waste Stores 2005 NIREX report for CoRWM.

[iii] Haslett, Simon; Bryant, Edward (2004). “The AD 1607 Coastal Flood in the Bristol Channel and Severn Estuary: Historical Records from Devon and Cornwall (UK)”. Archaeology in the Severn Estuary (15): 81–89. ISSN 1354-7089

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CLARION COMMENT: Osborne’s budget – and beyond

In A.Graham, Editorial on April 26, 2013 at 12:32 pm

George Osborne described his Spring budget, released on March 20, as a “budget for an aspirational nation“.

It contained nothing for those who have little to aspire to – except of course, security, perhaps a job and a decent home. Although he didn’t spell it out this time, his budget was aimed squarely at those he’d previously termed the “strivers”. Those who have a comfortable job, can make choices in their lives, and maybe would also like a second home to retreat to occasionally.

It wasn’t even a budget capable of kick-starting our flagging economy. We’re still heading for a “triple-dip” recession (though such economic terms mean little to those who’ve been suffering from an increasing squeeze on their living standards ever since the present government took office). It’s been a long time since the difference in living standards between the “haves and have-nots” has been so marked. And for those who struggle just to get by, there are yet more cuts to social welfare in the pipe line.

Of course as we all know, the difference between those who are labelled as “strivers” and those who are seen as “scroungers” is clear cut. The “strivers” still have security and reasonably paid employment. The “scroungers” are those who’ve lost their jobs (or in the case of many young people, have failed to gain employment at all), and have to live on the margins. And their number is growing.

NICE ONE, GEORGE?

The bits in the budget that the right-wing press really liked were the penny off the pint of beer, the freezing of excise duty and the offer of help to buyers of new-build houses. But how much of that is available to the millions who live outside Osborne’s notion of society? They are still there, on the outside looking in.

As many social commentators have pointed out, any society marked by a growing gulf between rich and poor, where the very rich get even richer whilst the poor sink deeper into poverty, is a “dysfunctional society”. Or as we’d phrase it, a very sick society. But that is what is being created by the economic policies of this Government.

To quote from The Observer (24th March), “Mr. Osborne… crafted a set of measures that will make it increasingly difficult for those in the bottom third of society to manage income, housing, employment and childcare. Favoured are those already several several rungs up the ladder, and high earners”. As the chief executive of Citizens Advice declares, “the lowest paid, part-time working parents, won’t benefit, whilst some wealthy parents earning eight times the minimum wage will.”

FAILING:

Yet, whilst Cameron, Osborne (and Clegg?) remain at the helm, there seems to be no let up. Their stated aim of sorting out the economy is failing. Growth forecasts have had to be scaled down to the point where they’re in danger of disappearing altogether. Only a few months ago, the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast that the UK economy would grow by 1.2 per cent this year. That’s now been revised down to just 0.6 per cent. For the past three years, growth forecasts have had to be scaled down, as the economy stagnates. All that Osborne could say was “it’s taking longer than anyone hoped.”

We’re not even cutting the deficit, which, we’re told, is what this is all about. Indeed, the Government is going to have to borrow even more this year.

This means, of course, more cuts for us all. The Government’s spending review for the years ahead suggest a further £11.5 billion, on top of those already implemented or in the pipeline.

And it seems there is also talk about introducing a cap on all welfare benefits – what’s been labelled AME (or annually managed expenditure). Basically what this means is that there will only be a set amount in the welfare pot. If the number of claimants, and their needs, grows, their benefits will shrink – making it even more difficult for them to make ends meet.

HOMES FOR THE NEEDY?

As for Osborne’s cunning wheeze to help home seekers to b houses, this would only affect those who can afford a mortgage anyway. Meanwhile it’s estimated that a family is currently made homeless every 15 minutes – either because they can’t keep up with mortgage repayments or the rent on their homes. For those in such desperate straits, Osborne’s ploy is just a mockery.

So what happened to the old slogan, “from each according to their means, to each according to their needs”? Under this Government it’s become more a case of another old slogan: “to those that have shall be given, from those that have not, so shall it be taken away.”

If we want evidence that this really is a nasty government led by an extremely nasty party, we only have to look at Osborne’s budget, and his programme for further cuts.

From our point of view, it can only be seen as a class budget, aimed at improving the lot of those that today’s Tories represent, at the expense of the rest of us. Of course, Osborne may simply be suffering from myopia (necessitating a visit to Specsavers to widen his field of vision). But we fear that it will need more than that.

A change of government and a change of outlook are urgently needed. And by the time we reach the next election, in 2015, the damage done to our society, and to the victims of Tory policies, will be even greater.

That’s why it’s vital that we all keep up the campaigning, to ensure we don’t lose sight of all that needs to be done after the election.

THE CLARION EDITORIAL COMMITTEE

IMMIGRATION: and the ugly face of racialism

It seems that they’re all at it. Cameron and the Tories (keeping one watchful eye on UKIP) want checks on immigrants. The Daily Mail and other right-wing newspapers lead with dire warnings of floods of foreign nationals coming to Britain in order to sponge off our Welfare State. And even Ed Miliband and the Labour leadership seem to shuffle rather uncomfortably.

As for UKIP, it declares that unless we do something to stop it, we’re going to be overwhelmed by hordes of Bulgarians and Romanians coming to Britain to live off the fat of our land. They have decided that this tack is a vote winner, and they’ve been plugging it for all it’s worth.

Of course most of those gullible enough to lap this all up have never seen a Bulgarian or Romanian in their lives. These would-be immigrants have become akin to bogeymen (like the myths about the gypsies of old who it was claimed used to steal our children).

As for Cameron, he wants to “end Britain’s reputation for being a soft touch”. They’re flocking in to claim our benefits, it seems – despite the statistics that show that the vast majority who reach our shores actually come to seek work.

Of course, many of those who want to shut the door on immigration deny vehemently that they’re “racist” – unless they happen to be paid up members of the BNP of course. But if those who are denied entry simply on the grounds of who they are or where they come from (are you listening, UKIP?) isn’t that just a tad racist?

The European Union (under its old name of the European Economic Community) had as one of its founding principles the free movement of labour within member states. We signed up to this and – unless UKIP has its way – we’re bound by it.

Britain has a patchy record when it comes to immigration. Once, of course, we assumed we had a God given right to colonise the Empire. Or anywhere else, come to that. And, towards the end of the 19th Century, we did accept thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing pogroms in Russia. In those days, passport controls were, shall we say, more fluid – until the passing of the “Aliens Act” in the early 20th Century. But in the 1930s we did accept many hundreds of Jewish refugees fleeing from Nazi Germany – though most of these had to be sponsored by those willing to give them a home. Incidentally, Ralph Miliband (father of David and Ed) escaped in the nick of time, arriving in the UK in 1940.

I’m sure that Cameron doesn’t see himself as a racist. Fair enough, but he is a populist, and as such he seems to be quite prepared to give the public what he thinks they want. And the tactic he’s trying is to make immigrants pay for the dubious privilege of coming to Tory Britain.

Of course this notion of making them pay over a “bond” before gaining entry will ensure that we get the right kind of immigrants – the rich ones. And to blazes with “the poor and huddled masses”.

ALISTAIR GRAHAM

MARKETS NEED MORALS: the EU is a vehicle to achieve that!

In M. Davies on April 26, 2013 at 12:27 pm

At the liberal Democrat Party Conference in 2011, Vince cable said “We now face a crisis that is the economic equivalent of war”. The Prime Minister does not appear to share that sentiment. The price of that ignorance and petty illusions will be the loss of sovereignty, workers’ rights, and economic power.

The former Minister of Health, Aneurin Bevan asked two of the most candid and important questions for socialists throughout the world. Where does power lie? And how can the working class get it? This article will tackle the first. Today, lefties of all shades probably agree that markets need morals. What some fail to realise is that such a moral stance requires the power to make it happen. In the context of power in the 21st century, the EU is vital

However, the British Labour party is at a progressive crossroads. Twenty years of consistent pandering to innate nationalism by all political parties to the right-wing press has led to a toxic situation. The ocean of anti-EU sentiments and myths led by UKIP and confused Conservative Party MPs simply currying favour, is usually based around the costs of membership and the supposed attack on British sovereignty. Both arguments can easily be deconstructed.

Firstly, the cost of youth (16-24) unemployment in the UK was a staggering 1.5% of GDP in 2012. It is worth pointing out that the membership of the EU is well under 1%. The point here is that the moral issue of unemployment dwarfs EU membership, however, it is just as pronounced by the media and populists. Furthermore, without resorting to the benefits for Wales, or less fashionable statements such as the EU is the greatest peace project the world has ever known. An idea which I firmly believe is central to post-war security. Let’s turn to the nub of the issue for posterity and the welfare state. Power and money!

International regulations of financial and monetary frameworks occur at the International Monetary Fund, Central Banks, and the World Bank. Additionally, they are streamlined by the Bank of International Settlements and its accords. It is noticeable that they hardly receive any press coverage, and are framed as de-political institutions. They are highly political institutions. Moreover, the decisions they make are steered by credit rating agencies and hedge funds.

This can be seen in the post crisis prescriptions. It is now confirmed that the IMF failed to prescribe the adequate medicine. It now accepts that austerity is choking growth. Yet, the lack of growth affects our health service and job creation. Joseph Stiglitz points out that the creation of real jobs depends on 3 – 4% growth. This fact is masked in the UK by an increase in precarious work, such as part-time and temporary positions with the notorious zero-contracts.

Beyond jobs, the attack on the welfare state including the Department for Work and Pensions, under the guise of welfare ‘reform’ is another symptom of an attack on the most vulnerable members of society. The Chief Executive for the Association of Voluntary Organisations Sir Steven Bubb at a conservative party conference fringe argued that ‘’faith’’ was evident in the Health Bill. The economy requires ‘’2.2%’’ compound growth to sustain the current system”. However, we cannot foster growth without tending the landscape of power.

That landscape has changed over the past twenty years in most policy areas. The sociologist Zymunt Bauman has argued that we now live in a world where power is divorced from politics, which was the power to make decisions. This recognises the fragmentation of power in the world today. He says that “any true liberation calls today for more, not less, of the ‘public sphere’ and ‘public power’ … in order to enhance, not cut down individual liberty”. To enable that requires the left to accept the reality of international power, and institutions.

This is vital. In the long term there is absolutely no future for the welfare state in Britain when economic power is contingent on speculators such as hedge funds and credit rating agencies. This is due to their models which are firmly neoclassical, and, effectively, based on never-ending labour market flexibility and decadent notions of ‘competitiveness’. This proliferates the mushrooming of the ‘precariat’ and ‘flexible’ labour markets. This should, and must be resisted in order to prevent exploitation and the rise of the ultra-right parties.

This is where the EU is absolutely vital internally and externally. Internally through the Committee on Financial, Employment and Social Affairs which oversees the implementation of key policies such as the Robin Hood Tax. Their importance can also be seen in the monitoring of the Working Time and European Agency Directive which counters the drive to increase job insecurity and deepen precarity across Europe. But they are misunderstood mechanisms.

Sadly, the media have failed to report the actions of the European Parliament. Beyond those formal mechanisms, the external form of soft power delivered by being a member of the EU is priceless and essential. This is clear from negotiations at international global financial institutions and global forums such as the G8 and G20. Make no mistake. Without that influence, the rest of us will be paying more, working longer, eating less, and leading even more insecure lives. Working with socialist parties globally offers potential solutions.

Nevertheless, we are retrenching back to the old nation state under this government. This is an approach which will leave us no better off in an age of globalisation managed by neoliberal financial institutions. The British Labour party has a vital role to play in the construction of a socially democratic international economic order. Perhaps even in pioneering an international economic constitution for the 21st century which favours labour over capital.

Now that austerity has lost the political and social legitimacy it had. The left has the moral high ground and should repeat Karl Polanyi’s warning of ‘self-interest and ideology masquerading as good public policy and science’, with conviction and verve. As always, the greater issue concerns Aneurin Bevan’s second and troublesome question. How can the working class attain power?

Bibliography
  • Aneurin Bevan, In Place of Fear
  • Conservative Party Fringe: ‘What Will Doctors Do Now They Are Meant To Be Running The NHS?’
  • EUROFOUND Report NEETs – Young people not in employment, education or training: Characteristics, costs and policy responses in Europe: Available from: http://www.eurofound.europa.eu/publications/htmlfiles/ef1254.htm
  • Gordon Brown: Beyond the Crash.
  • Guy Standing. The Precariat: The new dangerous class
  • IMF Working Paper : Growth Forecast Errors and Fiscal Multipliers: Available from: http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/wp/2013/wp1301.pdf
  • Karl Polanyi: The great transformation
  • Joseph Stiglitz: Freefall: Free Markets and the Sinking of the Global Economy.
  • Vince Cable’s speech to Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference Available from: http://bit.ly/112tEIj

Mat Davies is Secretary and European Spokesman for Monmouth Constituency Labour Party. He is co-founder and Director of Employment and Social Affairs at Europe21, which is a young leader’s think-tank with branches in 5 countries including Wales. He writes here in a personal capacity.

LEFT INSIDE: Building ONE NATION

In C.Spiby on April 26, 2013 at 12:22 pm

The Bedroom Tax is so diabolically typical of Tory Government. Exactly the type of policy which creates a two-nation state. The ‘them’ and the rest of us state.

But it is the rest of us who fuel the economy with our labour, skills, services, creativity, drive and devotion to both our jobs and our society. It is the rest of us who help those in need; not to leave them behind. We do this through our taxes and many do much more by providing real-term care, by which I mean all those who stay at home to look after our very young, or the elderly in need, or those disabled.

And it was US who bailed out the banks.

But, as Liam Byrne MP (Labour’s shadow Work & Pensions Secretary) points out it is Cameron’s Government which is about to give 13,000 millionaires a tax cut worth an average £100,000, while more than half a million households with a disabled person will lose £700.

And not content with rising inflation and stagnant wages, the Tories go on to offer us (from 1st April) a real terms cut to maternity pay, taking £180 out of the pockets of mums by 2015. In Hull alone 4700 people will be affected by the Bedroom Tax – and there are just 73 properties available for them to move into. Meanwhile youth unemployment is now almost at a million mark and unemployment amongst women is also on the rise.

Labour on the other hand challenged the Tories and Liberal Democrats to support a mansion tax on properties over £2 million stating this would pay for the reinstatement of a 10p tax rate to help millions of people on low and middle incomes.

And it is with enthusiasm that I welcome Gloucestershire Labour Party’s 2013 County Council Election manifesto. It keeps the one nation theme running at a local level, pledging to ‘support and campaign for all health and education provision to stay in the public sector’.

It also says much about trying to restore those services lost through the cuts including library and youth services as well as children’s centres.

As an anti-cuts and pro-NHS campaigner the manifesto is a real boost for those who recognise Labour as it should be.

Join us in our fight against the cuts.

Now I know that readers will write in an warn me that Labour supports the cuts too. But our mantra has always been not so deep and not so fast. True; the theme is to cut the deficit when many Trade Unions, socialists and anti-cuts campaigners argue whether that is even a necessity. But to them I say this: you may compromise your position, but by not supporting Labour you might well be gifting the next election to a stand-alone Tory government.

Now that’s one compromise too far.

And I won’t compromise the elderly, the infirm, the disabled, the very young, the workers for a position in an argument or an ideal. No matter how attractive that ideal is. The pragmatic compromise is to help build a nation against the injustice of Tory policies.

And then, within that victory go for the battle within to build socialism. But don’t jeopardise that victory on a principle alone. Go for the victory which benefits our nation. One nation together for all.

DINOSAUR: Modern Times

In Dinosaur on April 26, 2013 at 12:15 pm

dinosaurCOMING HOME AGAIN TO WALES?

Stuck precariously as we are on the border between Wales and England, I was intrigued to read an item recently on the appeal of moving across the Wye into the county of Monmouth. Or, indeed, even further afield in Wales if that takes your fancy.

According to a piece in the “i” newspaper, one attraction is the health care system. The pernicious Health & Social Care Act, introduced by the ConDem Government, doesn’t apply over the border. The Welsh NHS spends (on average) £100 more per person than it does in England. Prescriptions are free – and there’s even free hospital car parking.

It seems that it was this that persuaded the folks who live in the English village of Audlem (nine miles from the Welsh border) to hold an online referendum on whether to join Wales. 60 per cent of those taking part voted yes.

Of course, the NHS in Wales still has its problems, but it’s a system enjoyed by many Clarion readers who live on the other side of the Wye valley. And none of them so far have contacted the Clarion to tell us that they’d prefer the English health care system.

Gun law – US style

Somewhere that I really wouldn’t want to move to, though, is the town of Nelson, in the state of Georgia, USA. The council there recently approved a proposal weirdly called “the Family Protection Act”. This would make it compulsory for every household in the community to own a gun.

I kid you not. It seems that it may not be enforced – but what kind of message does this send in the wake of that tragic school massacre that took place in the US only a few months ago? Already there’s another town in the state of Georgia that forces residents to own firearms – a place called Kennesaw. It seems that in certain parts of America (particularly the deep south), the right not to bear arms just doesn’t apply.

Finding Cameron:

I was interested in a letter in one newspaper recently, bemoaning the state of the roads in the rural county of Oxfordshire. Potholes it seems are proliferating and many motorists are suffering a bumpy ride. And they don’t like it.

It goes on to point out that David Cameron has a house in the county. “the road that goes past it is a quiet country lane. It has been resurfaced from end to end.”

So, if anyone wants to find out where our PM lives, follow the one pristine rural road in the county!

Incidentally, I wonder how many spare bedrooms there are in Cameron’s country home?

Suffer the children…

Do you remember a recent piece in the Clarion about the number of schools offering breakfasts to kids who were turning up with empty stomachs – because their parents couldn’t give them any sustenance to start the day?

Well, sadly, because of spending cuts, over twenty schools have now had to abandon their “breakfast clubs”. According to a survey of teachers, it was thought that many cash-strapped parents were relying on the school to feed their children at the start of the day.

The “slash and burn” policies being pursued by Cameron and Osborne are in danger of blighting the future of an entire generation.

Public opinion – by telephone poll

According to a new poll reported in the newspapers, the ConDem government is still “more trusted to handle the economy” than Labour.

My first reaction when I read that was to wonder, “what planet do some people live on? Have we become a nation of masochists?!” And then I thought, no. It’s based on one of these unsolicited phone calls that so many of us suffer from. You know, the ones that are trying to sell us something like double glazing, or ask “have you got time to answer a few questions…?”

If you’re anything like me, you may well say, “not today thanks”, and put the receiver down. Or make up some excuse off the top of your head, like, “I’m sorry, I’m just going out” or “No, I can’t, the cat’s just been sick all over the carpet.”

No, I don’t trust polls over the phone. And I’d never regard them as representative of what people are really thinking.

Dinosaur

A story of struggle: “Rape of the Fair Country”

In R.Richardson, Reviews on April 26, 2013 at 12:06 pm

A review by Ruth Richard of the book by Alexander Cordell 

Recently, in Cardiff, I attended a performance of a play, The Rape of the Fair Country, based on the novel by Alexander Cordell.

It tells the story of the Mortymer family living in the iron-making community of South Wales in the early 19th Century. The production was excellent – an imaginative stage set, vivid characterisation, gripping drama and a lyricism in the language that put one in mind of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood.

The play prompted me to turn to the book. Reading it was a much darker experience. It spans the years 1826 to 1839, and Cordell pulls no punches in his descriptions of the hellish conditions under which the labourers worked.

NO CHILDHOOD:

The book opens with the hero, Iestyn Mortymer, aged eight starting work in the foundry. Children as young as five or six were employed in chipping the rock from the veins of iron. Horrific injuries to the men who handled the great ladles of molten iron were common, and the men who controlled the furnaces became blind from continual exposure to the heat and glare. There was of course no protective clothing and no statutory “sick pay”.

Workers were paid in tokens to be spent in the iron masters’ stores, where prices were inflated. Another profit-making ploy was to pay out wages in the beer houses. These were also owned by the iron masters, so that the men were tempted to drink their wages away.

Crawshay Bailey of Nantyglo (an actual historical figure) was depicted as one of the most merciless of the masters.

Benefit clubs already existed, where men paid a few pence a week as insurance against sickness. But the idea of Union was spreading – that workers needed to band together to be effective in their demands. Iestyn’s sister Morfydd feels strongly about the employment of women and children, and is often in conflict with her conservative father, who later questions his own loyalty to the iron master.

STRIKE:

Cordell describes the terrible conditions during one winter when the men strike. Irish workers are brought over, but the iron masters need skilled foremen to keep production going. People are starving, and “Evans the Death” (the undertaker) is making his fortune. One striker, goaded by his wife, attempts to return to work, but he is caught and whipped mercilessly.

RISE OF CHARTISM:

Alongside the growing trade union movement, Cordell tells of the Chartists. Meetings were held all over the valleys with speakers from London and Birmingham.

The “Charter” set out four basic rights:

  • Universal suffrage (for men)
  • A secret ballot
  • an election every year (!)
  • Pay for MPs (to ensure that lack of resources would not rule out a candidate from standing).

… AND THE NEWPORT RISING:

The climax of the book is the account of the Chartists’ Newport Rising of 1839. It’s a harrowing story.

Iestyn and his companions set off with high hopes. Contingents came from all over the valleys, but the 20,000 expected didn’t materialise. It was hoped that the “Redcoats” (soldiers) in Newport would “turn coat” and side with the marchers, but that never happened. The rising was put down savagely and the ringleaders treated brutally.

It must be remembered that the French Revolution had taken place only a few decades earlier, and the authorities were running scared.

CORDELL AND HIS WORK:

This book is the first in a trilogy. It was first published in 1959, and became an international best seller, translated into 17 languages. The other two, The Hosts of Rebecca (about the Rebecca Riots) and Song of the Earth are also set in Nineteenth Century Wales.

Alexander Cordell was born in Sri Lanka in 1914, into an army family. He made the army his career until he was seriously injured in 1940, It was during his convalescence at Harlech that he developed a love and fascination for Wales and its people. Later, working as a quantity surveyor, he became familiar with the industrial valleys – and in particular, the old iron-working towns such as Blaenafon. Cordell set out to record for posterity the hardships and humour of the Welsh people, and to make them proud of their heritage.

Rape of the Fair Country is not only a vivid and moving historical novel. It reminds us – as do the Tolpuddle Martyrs – of the struggle of past generations of working people. It is an inspiration to continue that struggle today against those who exploit us. The fight goes on.

Reviewed by  RUTH RICHARDSON