Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Archive for July, 2013|Monthly archive page

Re-visiting “the Spirit of ’45”

In A.Graham on July 11, 2013 at 12:57 pm

“The Spirit of ’45”, directed by Ken Loach.


In many ways this moving film is a departure from Ken Loach’s normal work. It is for a start wholly documentary, shot in a period monochrome, with snatches of old documentary film interspersed with contemporary interviews. A selection of those who lived through the years portrayed in the film recall memories of how it was for them.

It begins with a depiction of the grim 1930s, when poverty and unemployment hung like a grey pall over Britain: the years of rotting slum housing, the means test for those out of work, and the hunger marches.

Then we move on to the end of the war in Europe, the joy of families re-united as troops return home – and the determination that the country would not slide back into the conditions that prevailed in the hungry ‘thirties. There are shots of George Lansbury (leader of the Labour Party in the mid-1930s) speaking at an open-air meeting, and affirming that “the key is who owns industry and who controls that industry”. And Attlee declaring at a post-war meeting that Labour “puts first things first…” There would no longer be an option “based on rent, interest and profit in the interests of the few.”


In 1945, Labour won a landslide victory. The Tory seats tumbled, and supporters celebrated the dawn of a new day. But Britain was in desperate straits economically. Our monetary reserves were drained, we were deeply in debt, and the country’s infrastructure had been badly battered by the war.

Public ownership and control was seen as the key, both to recovery and to create a new, more egalitarian, society from the ashes of war.

A symbolic cornerstone was the creation of a new national health service, to replace the old patchwork system, in which money and the ability to pay was paramount. A Parliamentary Bill to establish the NHS was passed in 1945 (despite opposition from the BMA). Aneurin Bevan, as Minister for Health and Housing, was responsible for steering through the Bill – winning over the leaders of the medical profession by (in his own words) “stuffing their mouths with gold”.

All hospitals came under national ownership. The new system ensured that no commercial relationship existed between doctor and patient, and a pro-active approach to health was ushered in. As Doctor Tudor Hart was quoted as saying, “we’re all responsible for everybody else”.


In quick succession came the nationalisation of those industries that represented the “commanding heights of the economy”. The British Transport Commission was set up to co-ordinate a national railway system with road haulage and the network of canals – to ensure that the component parts of the system worked together, not in opposition to each other.

Then came the eagerly awaited nationalisation of the mines. The new NCB flag was hoisted over the nation’s pitheads – and that year there was a mass turnout at the Durham Miners’ Gala.

Although such factors as safety down the mines, together with modernisation, improved drastically, there was some criticism of the form that this new public ownership took. Tony Benn is quoted as saying that there’d been “a top down system of nationalisation” in the mines. The old tiers of management remained, often with the same faces.

The National Docks Labour Scheme followed , together with the nationalisation of energy, plus the water supply. Electricity and gas generation, of course, form “natural monopolies”, in which the notion of competing companies vying for business should play no part.

Housing in our new Britain was, of course, a priority – not only to replace homes destroyed during the war but also the rotting slums left over from before the war. The emphasis was on public housing – as Nye Bevan declared, “the need is to build houses for poor people.” For him, and indeed the Government as a whole, the key issue was health and welfare. This also included the building of integrated communities and new towns (such as Stevenage in 1947).

The mood of the film changes abruptly as we switch to the election of Margaret Thatcher as PM. Suddenly, as one interviewee declares, “it became all about the individual and getting rich.” The free market now ruled, and mass privatisation followed. During the ensuing years there was a wholesale dismantling of nearly everything that Labour had created between 1945 and 1951. One interviewee declared that the selling off of council houses was “one of the biggest disasters” of the Thatcher years.
Even the National Health Service has suffered from a campaign of attrition, starting with the privatisation of cleaning, laundry and catering in 1983. All that’s followed since then has been aimed at “bringing the NHS back into the market place,” said Dr. Tudor Hart. If we don’t defend the NHS, then we’re finished.
A last few words must go to Dr. Tudor Hart: “Talk of ‘caring capitalism’ is like talking about the Arabian phoenix. People have heard about it, but no-one’s ever seen it.”

OBITUARIES: John Hale & Bert Stapleton

In Editorial, Obiturary on July 3, 2013 at 12:44 pm


We were saddened to hear of the death of John Hale last month. He would have been 90 in June, but his health had been in decline for some time.

Jan Royall declared that he had “given extraordinary service to our community”. Most of us will remember his work as secretary of the Bream Health Forum which came into being in 1987, and worked hard to improve health service facilities in the Forest. Later it was to widen its scope to become the Forest Health Forum.

Health matters were always of prime concern to John. He took an active part in the campaign to save Lydney and the Dilke hospitals from closure, when they were threatened with closure in 2006., together with other local health facilities. Thanks to a sustained and high profile local campaign to “Save Our Services”, our two community hospitals were saved from closure – and John Hale was active through the campaign.


Bert Stapleton, an active member of Lydney Labour Party and one-time local town councillor died after increasing poor health. He hailed originally from Devon where he worked on the railways, and was an active trade unionist. After retirement from his job, he came to live in Lydney, where he took an active part in local affairs.

He was a regular reader of the Clarion, but after the death of his wife, his health began to deteriorate and he was unable to participate in local affairs. But as far as he was able he maintained an interest in the affairs of his adopted town.


In R.Richardson on July 3, 2013 at 12:41 pm

As Tribune recently commented, “Michael Gove’s revolutionary zeal shows no sign of slowing down.”

A proposal earlier this month to change the GCSE grading system to a numerical one would, said Mr. Gove, address the problem of “a low grade of expectation in the past”. A and A* grades would be replaced by levels one to four. Quite how this would raise standards is unclear.

In an article in the Mail on Sunday, Michael Gove expressed concern at teenagers’ ignorance of history. When his Department was asked the source of this damning research, it could only identify a 2008 survey by TV Gold which included all age groups. Other possible sources were a survey by the hotel chain, Premier Inns, and one carried out by Sea Cadets reported in the Daily Telegraph!

Spelling and grammar tests under the present regime are to be given precedence over any other form of literary assessment in primary schools. Mark Steele wrote a sarcastic article in the Independent showing how over-attention to grammatical correctness can destroy any enjoyment in reading and writing.

Gove protested at the “infantilism” of the school curriculum at a conference for independent school heads. He would prefer, he said, to see a child reading George Eliot’s Middlemarch than books like Stephanie Meyer’s “Twilight” series (written with a teenage audience in mind). He hit out at exam boards who seldom set pre-20th Century novels or plays in their GCSE syllabuses.


Meanwhile the fallout from the growth of academies and free schools continues. One of the country’s biggest academy sponsors, E-ACT, has been censured for extravagant over-spending. Hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money have been spent inappropriately on items such as unapproved consultancy fees, first class rail travel and monthly lunches at the prestigious Reform Club. A spokesman from the ATL union said that the funding pose serious doubts about the Government’s ability to police such academy chains.

The banner “Hove vs. Gove” was raised in East Sussex, over plans to concrete over a playing field in order to build a new free school. Currently the playing field is shared by four local schools, and is also used as a “village green” by the community. There was no consultation, and not surprisingly locals are up in arms. “We’ve already had three offers for people to climb the trees and refuse to be moved,” said a spokesman for the Friends of the Field group.


Many parliamentary questions have been directed at Michael Gove, and the chair of the House of Commons Procedures Committee has commented on the “poor performance” of the educational team in answering them. Earlier this year the committee issued an official censure, and legal action to improve the Department of Education’s record has not been ruled out. A senior Whitehall official told the “i” newspaper that Mr Gove’s department was in danger of “resembling an information black hole”.


UKIP: a history through conspiracy theories

In O. Adams on July 3, 2013 at 12:38 pm

In 1785, just nine years after it was formed, the Bavarian Illuminati ceased to exist, dismantled by the Catholic Church; in 1921, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion was comprehensively proved a nasty anti-semitic fiction; and in 1991 the USSR and KGB became history.

Today, a frighteningly sizeable number of Eurosceptics talk of the EUSSR, claiming that covert Communist, Soviet and KGB power lies behind the EU “superstate”, thus recycling a fable invented by the US’s John Birch Society in the 1950s (then it was the UN and Eisenhower working for the “red menace”).

It was only a few years after its disbandment that conspiracy theories began to circulate about the Illuminati: it was seen as the shadowy puppet-master behind the French Revolution. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was informed by this wild theory. In 1975 the Illuminatus Trilogy, a tour-de-force satire on conspiraloons by American authors Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea was published. It’s a great yarn, and it was referenced by ravers Spiral Tribe and the Justified Ancients of Mu-Mu and KLF between 1987 and 1993.

But today many, many people, including quite a few who’ve been given ‘the knowledge’ by David Icke, take it all too seriously. They are convinced the Illuminati control the whole planet. According to this ever-growing army of believers – who like to call themselves ‘truthers’ – every political drama has been scripted by this cabal. Events such as 9/11 and the recent Boston bombing were orchestrated by the powers-that-be as a “false flag” operation, either as a bid to launch the ‘war on terror’, or as a Zionist plot under the auspices of the Rothschild banking dynasty.

The Rothschilds have been blamed for orchestrating everything from the Napoleonic wars to the Second World War and Jewish Holocaust, in order to secure the Zionist state of Israel. Hitler blamed the ultra-rich family for the Russian Revolution. He read it in the Protocols. It doesn’t matter how comprehensively a hoax has been debunked, there will always be some who cling to it as truth. The Nazis used the Protocols as a warrant for the extermination of the Jews. Now Hamas uses it against Israel, and David Icke uses it to justify his theory that lizards rule the Earth (he claims ‘Jew’ is code for our Lizard Queen and her co-conspirators).

It wasn’t long ago that, in Britain at least, the Illuminati, the New World Order, 9/11, the Rothschilds, the Bilderberg Group (an annual pow-wow of world business and political figures this year to be held in Watford, cited by ‘truthers’ as proof of the NWO/Zionist conspiracy) and the ravings of David Icke would only be found in the twilight zone, mostly confined behind closed curtains and in esoteric online mutterings.

The Occupy movement’s efforts, in the UK and worldwide, to open a dialogue about the excesses of capitalism and to experiment with participative democracy were increasingly hampered by ‘truthers’, including Anonymous followers who wear Guy Fawkes/V For Vendetta masks; many are anti-authoritarian, anti-state, anti-government libertarians who believe the powers-that-be are out to get them.  Many on the left spent hours and hours trying to persuade them their energy is wasted on battling paranoiac shadows, and would be much better spent opposing capitalism, an actual entity that causes real misery and destroys lives. But to little avail.

And lately I’ve discovered more and more ‘truthers’, some wearing those Guy Fawkes masks, have emerged, blinking in the light, not with anarchists but instead on the side of the far-right, linking arms with fascists, Nazis, white supremacists and the lunatic fringe that has now thrown its combined weight behind UKIP. The hate-filled morons and brainwashed paranoids are now at risk of outnumbering the disillusioned Tory unfaithful who turned to UKIP.

I’d always envisaged the Establishment to comprise Old Etonian billionaires who raised hell at the Bullingdon Club before making further fortunes hedging bets on economic collapses, and laughing all the way to their offshore banks. However, the “manifesto” of the Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Breivik saw the Establishment and the mainstream media as “cultural Marxists”, propagating multiculturalism, paving the way for a Muslim takeover.

Breivik got what he wanted: a show trial to get primetime coverage for his “manifesto” – much of it cut and pasted from rightwing commentators, including the Mail’s Melanie Phillips. He wasn’t a Nazi or fascist, he insisted, but a fundamental conservative. I considered him hopelessly delusional, a lone wolf with no friends. But he must be smiling in his prison cell, as his views have become almost mainstream.

I’ve spent several months now delving into the world of UKIP, trying to understand the nature of the beast, and I’m horrified at its nasty, nasty murkiness – the racism exposed in the Mirror (almost alone – incredibly, even most articles in the Guardian and Independent equate to appeasing or fence-sitting) is only the tip of the iceberg of a deluge of brutal xenophobic lies.

So many supporters of the “I’m not racist but…” party insist that the Tories are left-wing; I’ve even seen Cameron and Osborne denounced as “closet Marxists” and the BNP as “left-wing”. They use the terms “fascist” and “communist” interchangeably – unaware that fascism means something more than totalitarianism. They claim the BBC is “Bolshevik” and use the same terminology as Breivik did.

“It’s but a short step from hearing about Common Purpose from someone at the back of a UKIP meeting to uncovering a world of inconvenient truth, anti-Zionism, the banking swindle, the New World Order and even more paradigm-shifting facts and conspiracy theories. Thus, far from leading pro-nationalist and anti-Establishment ideas and activists into a blind alley, UKIP is actually playing a historically crucial role in the political awakening of a whole new generation of grassroots radicals. Our time will come!”

So the swivel-eyed leader of the BNP Nick Griffin predicted in April. And I fear he might be right. Just after the election Griffin urged BNP supporters to join UKIP to form an electable nationalist force. Another party to accuse UKIP of stealing its clothes is the Oswald Mosley-worshipping New British Union, the only party to openly describe itself as fascist.

Kippers believe their leader Nigel Farage is a “good bloke” and trust him when he tells them Britain should brace itself for a flood of Romanian and Bulgarians, 29 million of them, in January, and that many of them will be benefit-scrounging criminals and gypsies.

I doubt the average UKIP voter in the Forest of Dean – roughly one in 10 of eligible voters proved enough to gain them three out of eight county council seats, and second place in many of the others – is tuned into the Illuminati or the Protocols of Zion. A recent national survey found that a large majority of those who voted UKIP did so only to kick the big three parties. Others presumably did, not because they necessarily buy into UKIP’s toxic hybrid of Thatcherism and fascism (for that is what it is – give me another 1,000 words and I’ll explain), but because UKIP jump on every populist bandwagon: tax, potholes, parking charges, whatever’s a hot potato. And it’s becoming normal to hear people described as “coloured”, “half-caste”, “Pakis” and simultaneously deny prejudice or bigotry. Racists. No matter how much they deny it, that’s what they are – people within our communities.

And now all the media, the Tories and monarchy (QED the Queen’s speech) are all singing from UKIP’s hymn-sheet, aiding and abetting, and scarcely bothering to question the stream of unfounded mythology about immigrant criminal gypsies, “fascist” left-wingers, dole-scrounging flag-burners, climate-change denial and disabled people that should be put down at birth.

The Forest UKIP chairman, Richard Leppington labels anyone who opposes him a “red fascist”, sings the praises of Enoch Powell and announced to those congratulating him – including several notorious Gloucestershire fascists – on being made county councillor for Bream & Blakeney that he, flying his English and British nationalist and xenophobic flags, is representing “the whole Forest”.

This all perturbs me. And it perturbs many I know. I would hope it perturbs the majority of us in the Forest, and not only Clarion readers. The morning after May 2, I received desperate phone calls and visits from friends. Determined we just HAVE to do something to counter the rise of UKIP. The general consensus was to form a community association – one which wears no particular political hat – to promote the goodness of equal rights, tolerance, multiculturalism, compassion, peace, love and understanding and counter the corrosive and divisive bigotry and xenophobia propagated by UKIP, increasingly in concert with the Tories.

And so we’ve formed Forest Unity. We are all about having a good time and celebrating our togetherness in the face of adversity. Our first event will be a gig and social for all ages on Saturday June 29 at Ruardean Village Hall. We hope this will be the first of many positive events around the Forest, a non-combative way of resisting the rise of bullying bigotry with a mixture of entertainment and “communiversity”. Come and join us if you feel the same way. Email for info.

As I write, giant corporations are holding our government, the people and our Forest of Dean to ransom, bearing down on our economy, exploiting workers, stealing our public services for their own nefarious ends, while evading taxes and responsibilities. Divided as we are, riddled with the poison of UKIP’s little-Englander brand of nationalism, divided by Tory propaganda, we have less and less collective bargaining power against global capital, which is playing nations off one another in order to get the best deal. All that is by the by, as UKIP’s poll rating is rising by the day.

The richest people in the world, whose incomes are rising at record rates as ours steadily decline, are perfectly content to see us fragment into smaller, embittered groups, one against the other. They will do nothing to stop the march of crypto-fascism and neo-Thatcherism from trampling on our heads.

Maybe that’s the real conspiracy?

The Thatcher Legacy (and local election results)

In A.Graham, J. Bratton on July 3, 2013 at 12:34 pm

John Bratton looks back to the miners’ strike of 1984-85 and the Thatcherite policies that led to it.

Shouts of “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie: dead, dead, dead” and blasts of Ding Dong the Witch is dead symbolized the deep loathing for Thatcher the politician amongst many communities. In Glasgow’s George Square, at miners’ welfare clubs in Scotland, and in Goldthorpe South Yorkshire, for example, political adversaries of Thatcher and former miners gathered to celebrate and to condemn her economic and social legacy.

Back in 1936, the economist John Maynard Keynes had written: “The outstanding faults of the economic society in which we live are its failure to provide for full employment and its arbitrary and inequitable distribution of wealth and incomes”. As it was 77 years ago, so it is today. Now, as in the 1930s, our society is blighted by mass unemployment, under-employment and inequality in income, education and health. Starting with Thatcher in 1979, successive governments – both Tory and “New” Labour – have been responsible for the economic revolution that has created the mess we are in today.

The essence of Thatcherism was to roll back the gains of the working class introduced by Attlee’s 1945 Labour Government. To replace a “mixed” public and private economy and Keynesian demand management with Friedman’s monetarism: “free” markets, privatisation, the emasculation of unions and abolition of much state regulation. Thatcher’s political legacy shows that ideas and class matter. The eulogies and “canonization” of Baroness Thatcher following her death is, in part, explained by her attack on the post-war collective reforms, on behalf of society’s social elite. “New” Labour in the 1990s, under Blair’s stewardship, won three elections, offering the core ideas underpinning Thatcherism – albeit without the callousness.

The Economist called Thatcher the “freedom fighter”. Of course it’s not the freedom fighter the left associates with human emancipation. For the Economist, it was her willingness to buttress “the right of individuals to run their own lives, free as possible from micromanagement by the state”. A doctrine that has created reckless and nefarious individual behaviour that eventually caused the near collapse of the UK banking industry and the current crisis.


The week of debate before the ceremonial funeral caused me to reflect upon the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike, and how vivid memories of that struggle have re-occurred at each prominent anniversary and at more unexpected times during my adult life.

At the time, I was vice-president of the Halifax & District Trades Council. Soon after the start of the strike, the Council set up its Miners’ Support Group, which adopted two West Yorkshire collieries, Emley Moor and Park Mill. Each Saturday, a roster of volunteers collected food and money outside a local supermarket. The Group organised demonstrations and supported miners on the picket line. We also commissioned a local potter to make a ceramic mug and plate commemorating the strike. The plate proudly adorned our kitchen wall in Canada, as it does now in our flat in Scotland. The plate has the following inscription which summed up the struggle and why it was so important to the labour movement:

“To commemorate the miners’ strike March 1984 to March 1985: a year of struggle for jobs, families and communities against the Coal Board and Tory Government. We supported two local pits throughout the strike with food and money. Our thanks to all who helped.”

Some of us joined the miners when they marched back to work. A brass band played, miners’ wives, families and supporters clapped and cheered. It still ranks as one of the saddest days of my life. After the rally I walked back to the car with Alice Mahon, a part-time trade union tutor, later to be elected MP for Halifax. Neither of us spoke, each trying to control our emotions.

That memory of the walk from the rally has re-occurred many times, most notably when I watched the film Billy Elliot in Canada. Readers may recall a scene where Billy’s father decides to cross the line in order to support Billy’s dancing aspirations. Billy’s brother stops his father going into work. The scene is intense and I experienced deep emotion. Tears ran down my cheeks as I relived the “silent walk”. Even after the film, as my wife and I drove from the cinema, I felt so much emotion that I had to pull over, stop the car, to gather my composure.

My visceral dislike for Thatcher the politician and Thatcherism as an ideology is what consumed my thoughts as politicians and political pundits praised her. The celebrations in Glasgow’s George Square, and in many former mining communities, can only be understood by those who experienced or read the history of the destruction of jobs, families and communities through Thatcher’s policies. Thatcher and Thatcherism have left not only an economic and social legacy but also a psychological scar on tens of thousands of working people.


As most on the political left understand, Thatcherism lives on. As the Economist warned the political elite, “Because of the crisis, the pendulum is swinging dangerously away from the principles Mrs Thatcher espoused … What the world needs now is more Thatcherism, not less.” Since 2010 much of the EU’s political elite who define economic wisdom have implemented unforced austerity measures, cuts in government spending, cuts in real wages and cuts in taxes for uber-salary earners. In this sense, the political pundits are right. Mainstream career-focussed politicians are now Thatcherite.

It’s depressing to note that while research data demonstrates the folly of austerity measures, here in Britain Ed Millband has to date, failed to break the conventional wisdom. Miliband et al can learn much from Thatcher. Having chosen Friedman’s free market strategy, she effectively framed an argument that the electorate understood, executed it, and let the voters judge her. For Miliband, the first two stages remain indefinable.

END (J. Bratton)

The County Elections: SO, WHO WERE THE WINNERS?

At the beginning of May, the County Council elections came and went. Judging by the number of people who turned out to vote, it could hardly be seen as an overwhelming endorsement of any political party, let alone an indication of how these respective parties would fare come a General Election. But it did provide a few straws in the wind.

Overall, Labour won a respectable tally of seats, the Tories lost out – and predictably the Liberal Democrats fared badly. The Green Party made modest gains in some parts of the country – though the headline news seemed to concentrate on the success of UKIP in its first major test at the polls. This party now has councillors in counties throughout England, where it never had representation before.


In our own neck of the woods, the Tories have now lost overall control of the Gloucestershire County Council. Labour managed to boost its total number of councillors to nine – whilst UKIP gained three seats, all of them in the Forest, and all of them in potentially Labour seats.

This, of course, ensures that as far as UKIP is concerned, the Forest becomes a target seat come the General Election. How far this should worry us all is very difficult to estimate. The way people vote in local elections is often different from the way they cast their vote when it comes to electing their MP. And, on a much higher turnout, the results could be very different. It’s just possible that all those UKIP votes could melt away like snowflakes in Spring.

However, for those who like to look at the figures involved, here is a breakdown of the votes given to the respective parties in the County elections. There was also one Independent elected (not included in the table) – and the Greens did not put up a full slate of candidates in the Forest (their single seat gained in the County was in Stroud).

Party / Seats  / (Total Vote)

Labour: 2 (5,292 votes)

Conservative: 2  (5,257 votes)

UKIP: 3 (6,247 votes)

Lib Dem.: none (1,127 (votes)

Green: none (924)

What conclusions we can draw from these totals is debatable. One factor is how the UKIP votes might have been re-distributed if they hadn’t been in the equation. Another is how they might fall in a future election.

Meanwhile, it remains interesting that UKIP’s three county councillors all came from the Forest of Dean. It clocked up no successes in the leafy lanes of the Cotswolds, the urban areas of Cheltenham and Gloucester, nor in the districts of Tewkesbury or Stroud. True, it benefited from some form of protest vote but hardly came close to winning seats.

What we in the Forest have done to deserve that result is difficult to estimate. The personal popularity of certain UKIP candidates could be a possible factor. Or maybe we had more voters here who just wanted to give the three main parties a “bloody nose” than in other parts of the County.

No doubt the record of the UKIP trio in County Hall will be closely watched. Meanwhile, the Tory cabal will no longer be able to dominate proceedings as it has in the past. How all this works out in practice, remains to be seen.

Report by A. Graham, Clarion Editor-in-Chief

DINOSAUR: Help! I’ve been UKIPed!

In Dinosaur on July 2, 2013 at 12:43 pm

dinosaurI’m sorry to say that I’m not a happy dinosaur right now. It was the county council elections wot done it. During the campaign I did my share of lumbering around, delivering leaflets, feeling optimistic that there were enough folk in our neck of the woods to ensure that we’d elect our Labour candidate.

I cast my vote, and then took off for the May Day weekend (to Scarborough, if anyone’s interested), so I missed the count. And what did I find when I got back home? The UKIP candidate had gained the seat, and would be off to County Hall to represent us all in my particular county ward.

The fact that the “Kippers” stood on a platform which was a contradictory farrago of right-wing nonsense didn’t seem to have deterred the voters. Such slogans as “British jobs for British people” and “put Gloucestershire first by putting Britain first” (however meaningless they may be in themselves) seemed to strike some kind of chord with too many local folk.

I’m hoping that the success of UKIP in the Forest is merely a temporary blip, and that this Nigel in Wonderland outfit will soon implode – but it’s best not to bank on it. It’s up to all of us to ensure that UKIP’s policies are exposed for what they really are – nasty right-wing populism.

Getting off their backsides:

There is a school of thought amongst right-wing Tories that there is what’s termed a “dependency culture” that prevents the unemployed and their families from getting work. If they’d only get up off their backsides, roll up their sleeves and get a job then they could cut loose from reliance on the dole, and everyone would be happy.

This school of thought goes back at least to Norman Tebbit and his “get on your bikes” speech. Indeed it probably dates to the hungry ‘thirties (where many amongst the unemployed couldn’t even afford bikes). Now the mantle has been taken up by Iain Duncan Smith, the Minister for Work and Pensions. His response to this “dependency culture” is to put a cap on benefits, just to ensure that the unemployed end up even poorer. This, in the eyes of his supporters, should provide that much needed kick up the backside, to get the “skivers” back to work.

Of course we all know (or should know) that in the unemployment black spots, the jobs simply aren’t there. It ignores that sense of hopelessness, sometimes bordering on despair, that infects those without work. Those in that condition hardly feel like leaping out of bed in the morning, eager to face the challenge of a new day.

And, of course, the Tory attack on our welfare rights goes much further than that. The “bedroom tax” is already claiming its first victims. Elsewhere, it seems, few of us are safe. There’s the notion that “wealthier” pensioners should lose such benefits as free bus passes and free TV. It might seem comparatively minor – but all these pointers go against the very grain of the welfare state – and that is that we all pay in to the system and all benefit from it. Simple. And it works.

A return to Belfast:

Back in the late 1980s/early ’90s, I made several trips across the water to Belfast. This was at the height of “the troubles”, and I was able to meet a range of leading figures from both sides of the great divide – and also those like the brave “peace women” and their families who were trying to win “hearts and minds” and overcome the bitterness of the conflict.

A few weeks ago, I was back in Belfast for a few days – this time on a short holiday – and was struck by the difference. Gone were the security checks around the city centre, the patrols of armed police and soldiers or the heavily armoured Landrovers. Instead it gave an impression of a bustling city at peace with itself.

And the amount of new development was impressive – particularly along the city’s waterfront. The City Hall which once had a banner across the front proclaiming “Belfast Says No!”, has now been re-vamped, and is a pleasure to visit. Even the old sectarian murals which adorned the walls in the Protestant-Catholic flashpoints have been preserved as tourist attractions.

Belfast, of course, still has its problems. There are still some who’ve failed to learn the lessons of the past. But in many ways, the old, troubled, city has been transformed.

The end of the Welfare State – as we’ve known it

In Editorial on July 2, 2013 at 12:38 pm

One of the most drastic changes to welfare provision in the UK since the 1940s came into force towards the end of April this year. Indeed, the Guardian headlined it “The day Britain changed”. The so-called reforms to the system sweep away the basic principles on which our Welfare State was built, burying them in a mish-mash of cuts, fragmentisation and means tests. Welcome to the new face of the caring state!

It’s difficult to list all the changes that are coming into force. They’re too wide ranging. There are such evil measures as the “cap on over-occupancy” – otherwise known to us as the “bedroom tax”. There are of course changes designed to erode the foundations of the NHS, until the service becomes unrecognisable as the one we inherited from Nye Bevan. And there are fresh, far reaching strictures on the payment of benefits.

Also there are changes in areas that some people might not even recognise as being part of the welfare structure, but are still important to us all. One such is legal aid, which will now be virtually beyond the reach of most of us. Some might consider this to be one of the more mean-spirited moves contained in the raft of “reforms” that we face – but of course it faces stiff competition from other such measures.

Not all these changes will affect us simultaneously. Some could be described as work in progress, whilst others are the culmination of legislation already passed. But, added together, it all amounts to the biggest single onslaught on the principles of welfare provision in our lifetimes.


Some of us might want to ask why? Why, at this stage, has our ConDem government chosen to mount such a concerted assault on the welfare of its people? One might also want to ask why the Liberal Democrats (once closely identified with the principles of the welfare state) have chosen to go along with this attack on welfare? But then, looking at the motley crew led by Nick Clegg, we’re tempted to retort, “silly question!”

There are always a number of answers to questions such as these. Overall, it’s because the Government believes it can – and can get away with it. It believes that this package of measures is, generally speaking, popular with those who voted for them , and also strikes a chord amongst others in the electorate. Too many voters seem to have been taken in by the distinction made by some Tories between “strivers” and “skivers” – and have forgotten the basic principles on which the welfare state was founded.

Another reason, of course, is that ideologically it fits in with the way top Tories see our society. Many genuinely believe in a structure within which we should all be encouraged to better ourselves (and our families, of course) – and those who fail to do so have only themselves to blame. If you believe in a competitive society, then it’s not easy to adjust to a concept of working for the common good. One might also add the point that administration of “welfare” can also provide opportunities for the private sector and thus become a nice little earner. In the case of such bodies as ATOS it degenerates into a distorted parody of what it should be.

So the notion of a “welfare state” is to be reduced to a minimum safety net for those in our society who, for a whole raft of reasons, can no longer provide adequately for themselves and their families. And thus the principles on which it came into being are deliberately ignored – and forgotten.

When the welfare state was painstakingly built up (during those reforming years of 1945 to 1951) it was based on the principle of universality. It belonged to all of us, regardless of who we were in society. We all had the same entitlements, because we were all part of the same caring society.

Now this spirit only survives with the National Health Service – and even here the Government (via the Health and Social Care Act) is doing all it can to undermine its basic principles and crush that spirit.


As Nye Bevan declared of the NHS, “It will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it.” They were prophetic words – but the same applies to the welfare state as a whole. It’s now under threat as never before. The principles of its founding fathers need to be spelled out loudly and clearly. It must be made clear that we don’t share the mindset of those in the Government who are deliberately destroying its foundations.

True, there have been commendable campaigns on a number of fronts. Resistance to changes in the NHS continues. There were those who were prepared to campaign on behalf of the disabled, affected by callous decisions made by ATOS. The fight to expose the impact of the bedroom tax carries on – and pensioners continue to fight their corner.

But what’s needed is a concerted campaign to bring the welfare state back to the people, on whose behalf it was built, brick by brick, in the first place. After all, surely its vision fits neatly into Miliband’s nation of “one nation” – doesn’t it?

And if we’re prepared to sit back, grumbling occasionally, and let it all be taken away, what kind of society are we leaving our children, and their children after them?

It will become merely a parody of Thatcher’s oft-quoted remark that “there’s no such thing as society – only individuals and their families”. Is that really what we want? A universal welfare system is what binds us all together. So let’s fight for it.