Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Archive for September, 2014|Monthly archive page

The LEFT INSIDE column: “Fundamentally Left-wing”

In C.Spiby on September 3, 2014 at 9:33 pm

{web exclusive: from the next Clarion, an un-edited edition of Carl Spiby‘s ‘Left Inside’ column in which he gives us his view  as a communist within the Labour Party}.

To all open-minded people of the Left {see footnote}. That is, to all those who have still yet to be convinced to vote Labour in the next General Election but are swaying dangerously close to the Green Party, Left Unity or other minority party to the left of Labour.

I want to appeal to your powers of logic and reason over your rightful anxiety on many issues facing British working people today. And suggest why you must vote Labour in 2015.

Perhaps we might begin by agreeing on a few basic principles. Firstly, that we want rid of the current Government: the ConDem coalition. Secondly, that we do not wish to replace it with a Tory majority government or a Tory/UKIP coalition.

We want a government that is left of centre. In fact, we’d probably settle for a centre-left government in order to keep out an even more right-wing government than the ConDem coalition. Wouldn’t we?

Irrespective of our wont for more: we all must be able to agree on at least that. Surely?

But not all of us see politics as a compromise.

I’d go so far to say that politics without compromise is essentially fundamentalism. You can read my blog on the topic but I believe that eco-fundamentalism is the only valid fundamentalism. All other forms of fundamentalism are merely rejections of reason and flaws in humanity.

My point is that an unwillingness to vote for Labour as a compromise on one’s ideals only places principles before logic. And that’s a fundamentalist point of view.

Not entirely happy with all Labour’s policies, I am, however, not willing to tolerate a right-wing government just to satisfy those principles alone. These things have value to me, they form part of my integrity, but they are an abstract. And they won’t stop a right wing government taking power. And by their nature and philosophy they will form policies which are even more an affront to socialist principles than those of Labour which might compel some to stand up for their principles alone.

Failure to vote Labour runs the obvious risk that such a tactic results in the kind of right wing government we just agreed we collectively oppose.

But a compromise which recognises the reality of our current system, our current realistic choices does not have to be a sell-out. It’s not capitulation, it’s progressive. By building our movement within Labour both locally and nationally, you build the Party you want. And that’s just what happened at the recent National Executive Committee elections, where Labour MEMBERS voted for a left-wing Executive, defeated the Blairites soundly.

And, in Stephen Parry-Hearn, we have a local candidate who is willing to attend a vigil for Gaza, calling for peace on all sides and to halt the despicable killing of children. In Parry-Hearn we might have a voice in Parliament calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons and nuclear power (see earlier Clarion interviews/articles). In Steve we’d have an MP who cares about the Forest of Dean and its heritage, who supported and supports HOOF.

Then, in Labour councillors, we have a team who really do carry Labour principles into each and every difficult debate, seeking to serve local working class people in the way they serves local jobs, welfare and livelihoods best.

Together they form a version of Labour Clarion readers must recognise as anything but Blairite and New Labour. We don’t want Harper or UKIP locally and we certainly don’t want unabated right-wing Tory rule in Britain.

Help us all by working for the Labour choice you want.

Of course, once the job is done, then campaign within. Or, hold a Labour Government to account through campaign groups or opposition parties. That is the time to fight for those points of principle you feel are an affront to our heritage and run counter to one’s own view of modern British democratic socialism. But don’t risk inviting the right through the front door, while you stand un-moving on principle out in the cold.

There are lines in the sand. I could never vote for New Labour for many reasons. Their balance sheet of inequities reduced support and made Britain ripe for the right. In doing so they disenfranchised the working people of their vote. Immoral actions such as the war in Iraq made voting New Labour an impossibility for democratic socialists. The problem was there was nowhere else to go, so many of us retreated to campaign groups. I went to Forest Stop the War and Amnesty International to try and make a difference. But politically we are thankfully in a different place today. Ed Milliband was the choice of the Unions as leader of our Party and it is his team which pledge to stop the rot in the NHS, to reverse the Bedroom Tax and so much more which we might recognise as principles they can deliver on which are akin to our own. That is why it is our party. No compromise on that.

FOOTNOTE I say ‘open-minded’ as logic and reason is unlikely to change a closed mind – the position of the fundamentalist. And that is why this article appears to those who are truly willing to challenge their own position.


POSTSCRIPT: This may be playing on your mind if you’re considering abandoning voting Labour:

 

“Chris Leslie, Labour’s shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, promised, like George Osborne, that the cuts would be sustained for “decades ahead”. He asserted that Labour’s purpose in government would be to “finish that task on which [the chancellor] has failed”: namely “to eradicate the deficit”. The following day the shadow business secretary, Chuka Umunna, sought to explain why Labour had joined the political arms race on immigration. In doing so, he revealed that his party will be “radical in reforming our economy” in support of “a determinedly pro-business agenda”. They appear to believe that success depends on becoming indistinguishable from their opponents.” (summary by George Monbiot from a few months back). But surely that is reason to join The Labour Party and campaign within for a change in the Parliamentary Labour Party which reflects the wishes and hopes of its members, rather than the wishes and hopes of big business.

Advertisements

The Forest of Dean reflects on events in Gaza

In A.Graham on September 3, 2014 at 9:00 pm

July – August, 2014:  Whilst Israeli forces set about the destruction of the infrastructure of Gaza, demonstrations and peace vigils have been held across Britain and the world. 

Meanwhile, the death toll in Gaza continued to mount – over two thousand, most of them hapless civilians, and too many of them innocent children – before an uneasy ceasefire was declared. 

Schools have been bombed (with what seemed like pinpoint accuracy), Gaza’s one power station was put out of action – and even over-crowded hospitals were not immune from attack. 

We’re talking here about an area somewhat smaller than the Forest of Dean, but with a cramped population of 1.8 million.

Where, and how, it will end we can’t, at this stage, say.  At present the ceasefire is holding, but whether there are more horrors ahead for the people of Gaza we don’t at this stage know. But such a densely populated strip of land can only take so much punishment. 

DSC00980Photos on this page are from a peace vigil held in Coleford on July 30th. It was attended by local peace campaigners, together with many who were simply shocked and dismayed at what is happening to the people of Gaza. For them, there is no escape. Steve Parry Hearn also came along to add his support.

It’s worth adding that Mark Harper, our current MP, refrained from comment, until spurred into a response by letters from constituents. In one such communication he stated that “it is vital that all security operations (ie, the Israeli response) are conducted with due care and proportionate use of force….” but adds that “Israel has a right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks… International humanitarian law requires both sides to distinguish between military and civilian targets and enable unhindered humanitarian access”

In this, Israel has blatantly ignored such “international humanitarian law”.  By the way, it should be noted that Mark Harper is a member of Friends of Israel.

DSC00990Vigil organizer Roger Drury lights a candle for peace with Forest of Dean Labour Party 2015 parliamentary candidate Steve Parry-Hearn.

Photos by John French.

CLARION COMMENT: Parties set out their wares for the coming General Election

In Editorial on September 3, 2014 at 8:48 pm

The lifetime of the present Government is slowly grinding to a halt. And already the two main parties are preparing  for next year’s election battle.

As we go to press, the Tories are yet to hold their annual conference, and any comment will have to wait until our next issue. But we can see at least a whiff of the hustings in Cameron’s Cabinet re-shuffle that took place in July. This clearing of the decks was clearly focused on the General Election. 

Many members of his Cabinet just had to go. They had become just too unpopular. Michael Gove, of course, is a case in point. So, too, was Owen Patterson, the former Environment Secretary. Here was a man who’d never had time for Green issues and policies, and he succeeded in botching up the Government’s response to the floods that ravaged much of the West earlier this year.  He had to go (as did his predecessor, Caroline Spellman, when she botched the Tories’ attempt to sell off the forests in 2011). Others in and around the Cabinet went before they were pushed.

But there were some surprising omissions. Osborne, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, may be untouchable at present, but what about Ian Duncan Smith?  Here’s a hatchet man who’s become deeply unpopular in certain circles through his sustained attacks on the poor and underprivileged in our society. Surely he should have faced the axe? 

Or maybe not.  After all, attacking the poor is part and parcel of Tory policy. It’s dirty work, but someone’s got to do it. It may be unpopular with those who have a social conscience or are part of the anti-poverty lobby but they’re not likely to vote Tory, anyway. And it all goes down very well amongst readers of the Murdoch press, the Daily Mail or the Express. In other words, those who believe in the myth of those “skivers” who just want to “live off the Welfare State” (or what’s left of it). 

Of course we’re likely to get more details the Tories’ actual election policy later this year – and as the campaign mounts as we go into 2015. We don’t see much change in its general thrust, but there maybe some re-phrasing or a few tweaks here and there.

LABOUR IN CONFERENCE: 

But what of Labour?  What kind of counter-attack to the repugnant face of latter day Toryism are we likely to see from the Labour leadership?  

If the headlines from the party’s policy deliberations are anything to go by, the answer’s not a lot. “Austerity” (as defined by the ConDem Government) is likely to continue. Ed Miliband made that clear with his declaration that “we can’t spend our way out of recession”.  It’s a statement that needs questioning – or, at least, clarifying.

We could spend our way out of recession if we were prepared to apply some re-focused Keynesian policies.  Or, as the Labour Government did between 1945 and 1950, concentrate on the priorities needed to re-build a broken Britain. 

Britain remains a wealthy nation – yet that wealth is hardly evenly distributed.  And, in too many ways, the present Government has created a broken Britain that badly needs fixing. And it should be emphasised that austerity was applied during those post-war years.  It was a case of spending what money was available on the needs of the people.

In the last issue of the Clarion, we suggested in our Comment column that there was a division within the Parliamentary Labour Party between those who favour a “cautious” electoral strategy “(in other words, one that doesn’t promise too much) and those who advocate one based on radical change”. 

We suggested that a radical change IS badly needed. If not, what is the Party offering the electorate that’s different? What many of the voters want is a sense of hope – hope for a better future, and a better society. But if Labour’s recent meeting of its national policy forum is anything to go by, it seems that the advocates of caution have won out. 

OFF THE RAILS: 

Even promised action on our railways sounded like a botched compromise. It seemed that rather than taking back our railways, to be run in the interests of those who use them, a Labour government would merely tender for franchises when they arose. 

This badly needs clarification, but on the face of it, it sounds as though the result could at best be a patchwork of lines under different forms of ownership.  There seemed to be no pledge to end the franchising system completely, as and when each particular franchise ran out – despite the fact that in successive opinion polls, an overwhelming majority want a return to British Rail. 

Which is a shame – as “Labour sources” emphasised that its policy would not include a “return to British Rail”. Why not?  It’s true that following the Beeching cuts (and particularly after Thatcher came to power) British Rail was under-capitalised, but it still managed to run services cohesively and reasonably efficiently without the massive subsidies that the private rail companies receive today.

It all seems symptomatic of a fear of public ownership and control by the current Labour leadership.  Maybe it goes further than that. Maybe there’s a fear of offering the electorate hope in the face of a hostile media and a society that seems to be losing trust in the political process altogether.

Labour needs to grasp the nettle, and at the very least offer voters something different.  

But maybe we’re just being too pessimistic. After all, when it comes to deciding who’s going to form the Government next year, there are really only two options. Either we endure another five years of Tory rule (This time without the Lib Dems) or we’ll have a Labour Government – warts and all. 

THE CURATE’S EGG:

The experience may well be rather like the curate’s egg – good and bad in parts. Miliband and his party have promised to repeal the appalling legislation that is undermining the NHS. He’s also pledged to do away with the iniquitous “bedroom tax” – probably one of the nastiest measures introduced by any government in recent times. And the promise to introduce a living wage for all should make a dent in our scandalous low wage economy. 

Hopefully, Labour would apply its social welfare policies without the vindictive zeal of current Tory politicians, and provide some level of relief for the poorer  families in our society. 

Periods of Tory government – such as those of Thatcher and now Cameron – quite often force those who believe in a far better, more egalitarian, society to lower our sights.  We may still aspire to our Socialist principles, but the situation we live with today forces us to face up to a new, and nasty reality.

Labour may well not Socialism today – or even tomorrow.  But hopefully it’s a player that has a greater grasp of social realities than those who make up the present Government – and a degree of sympathy towards those who suffer the most. And however we look at it, our people and our society just can’t afford another five years of Tory rule.

RE-DRAWING THE MIDDLE EAST: And re-visiting the film “Lawrence of Arabia”

In John Wilmot on September 3, 2014 at 8:38 pm

Recently I’ve been re-watching the classic 1960s film, Lawrence of Arabia.

It was much acclaimed at the time, winning a clutch of awards. It was directed by David Lean but backed by American money through Sam Spiegel at Columbia studios – and the US influence does tend to show through.

Much of it follows the heroic (and sometimes manic) actions of T.E. Lawrence (played by Peter O’Toole) attempting to unite the Arab tribes against the Turks during the First World War. Thus much of the action takes place in the scorching heat of the desert as the various tribes quarrel, unite, and then go on to score stirring victories over a disintegrating Turkish army. They manage to gain control of  Damascus just ahead of the British forces led by General Allenby.

But here Lawrence’s dream of creating an independent Arab state falls apart, as the various tribes once again quarrel amongst themselves, divide the loot, and leave the city.

ARTIFICIAL BOUNDARIES:

And we become aware of a sub plot to all this action. The major players had no intention of allowing the emergence of an independent Arab nation. Instead they had plans to divide the Middle East amongst themselves.

France was to be given what became Syria (further subdivided into Syria and Lebanon), whilst Britain would take control of Iraq.  And so, as they say, it came to pass.

The Middle East and much of North Africa was to be carved up between the European nations. France had much of Morocco plus of course Algeria, and now added Syria to its portfolio. Italy had already seized control of Libya in 1912 and it was to be administered as an Italian colony until 1943.  Meanwhile, Britain added Iraq and what was then known as Transjordan to its “sphere of influence” – that already included Egypt.

“A HOME FOR THE JEWS”:

It was of course a case of the imperial powers sharing out the booty. And, to complicate matters even further, under the “Balfour declaration” we also promised a “home for the Jews” in “the land known as Palestine”.

The declaration was contained in a letter sent by James Balfour, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, to Lord Rothschild in November 1917.

True, the declaration stipulated that respect should be paid to “the existing inhabitants” of Palestine. And, at the time, it was not intended that it should become effectively a Jewish state. But what the letter succeeded in doing was to spread both hope and mistrust amongst Arabs and Jews alike.

Meanwhile, Britain was given the mandate to govern Palestine by the League of Nations (fore-runner of the UN) which it fulfilled until the late 1940s.

The territory was handed back to the United Nations, which decided on partition as a solution to an increasingly intractable problem. The rest, as they say, is history.

A BITTER CONCLUSION:

The Arab nationalism that T.E. Lawrence had bought into so avidly endured until perhaps the 1950s. The notion that a better world, for all Arabs, could be built has now fragmented and sadly has been replaced by a divisive, sectarian, religious fervour that is tearing parts of the Middle East apart..  That sense of Arab identity still exists on paper in the form of the Arab League, but in recent conflicts it has proved to be powerless.

And maybe we can trace much of the conflict back to divisions created by the European powers at the end of the Firs World War. It’s said that we can learn from history (if we’re prepared to do so) – but sadly we can never wind back the clock.

by JOHN WILMOT

EDUCATION: OUR CHILDREN’S FUTURE

In S. Richardson on September 3, 2014 at 8:21 pm

Why teachers and their unions are so angry.

By SARAH RICHARDSON

There have been many changes in Education in recent months and teachers are angry!
 
The NUT has compiled a growing list of changes on which there’s been no consultation. These include:
 
  • Changed to teachers’ pensions
  • Unqualified teachers in charge of classes
  • Introduction of performance related pay
  • End of pay portability
  • Councils unable to build further schools
  • Introduction of Free Schools
  • Expansion of the academy programme
  • Excessive workload for teachers (60 hours a week for primary teachers).

NO NEGOTIATION:

The Government has refused to negotiate with teaching unions on the policies behind these changes and has only consulted with them (briefly) on how the changes are implemented.
 
The speed and long term impact of the changes is breath-taking. Agreements, some of which have been in place since my grandmother was a teacher in the 1920s, are being torn up.  This means that  teachers will not be on a national pay scale and individual schools  will set their own pay scales. Also, if pay is linked to performance, the altruistic reasons for teaching are eroded and “payment by results” replaces it.

MINIMUM TRAINING:

 
Many universities are closing down their graduate and post-graduate teacher training programmes as more young teachers are trained at the chalkface, in charge of a class with minimum training. Learning, supposedly, happens as they teach with days out of class on programmes such as “SchoolsDirect”. Local councils are no longer allowed by law to build or open new schools in areas of need. The only schools building programme at present is the Free School’s programme. These schools have taken a huge amount from the Education budget, and are able to open wherever they want to.

PROTEST:

 
To protest against these changes, teachers have been involved in different ways.  On 4th June, teachers lobbied 156 Members of Parliament at the House of Commons. Parents have got involved in petitioning and running street stalls with teachers. On 21st June, 50,000 people marched through central London, led by the NUT, on a “No to Austerity” demonstration led by the People’s Assembly. The closing rally was addressed by, amongst others, Christine Blower, General Secretary of the NUT. I also heard the comedian, Russell Brand, speak movingly  about boyhood memories of his father being made redundant and how common this is again. He received a big cheer for putting on a Firefighters’ T-shirt!
 

STRIKE ACTION:

On 10th July, one million people in the public sector held a one-day strike. This was made up of members from the NUT, UNISON, Unite, GMB and the FBU. Members of all these unions have been offered a one per cent pay increase at a time when Members of Parliament have an 11 per cent pay increase and inflation is still high.

On 15th July I was delighted (as was every other teacher I came across!) When the Education Secretary Michael Gove lost his job in a Cabinet re-shuffle.  Although it is wrong to personalise these savage changes, Gove has been particularly disliked and distrusted as Education Secretary. It would be good if Labour came out with some strong messages on Education. So far, the Labour front bench has been very quiet about reversing the changes.

 
If you’re interested in keeping up to date with campaigning against the cuts in public services I would encourage you to look at the People’s Assembly website on www.thepeoplesassembly.org.uk and join in!

GOODBYE, MR. GOVE!

In R.Richardson on September 3, 2014 at 8:07 pm

The big news on the education front as this issue of the Clarion goes to press is, of course, the departure of Michael Gove as Education Secretary.  He has held the post for four years, and in that time has introduced many measures unpopular with teachers and others in the world of education.  An article in Tribune earlier this year by Graham Lane (former chair of the LGA’s education committee) declared that Michael Gove  was a disaster, particularly with regard to his promotion of academies and free schools with their lack of accountability. Gove is one of the least popular politicians in Britain today. And this, of course is why he had to go, especially with next year’s election looming.

SORRY FOR GOVE??

If Gove wasn’t so obnoxious in every way,  one might almost feel sorry for him. After all, he has promoted good, if questionable, Tory values with zeal, presumably with Cameron’s approval, and has taken the flak for it. Downing Street initially tried to portray his new job as Chief Whip as a sideways move. But his salary will be considerably lower, and he can attend Cabinet meetings only as an observer.

And in case one were in any doubt about this being a definite demotion, Gove’s wife, Sarah, apparently tweeted that the decision was “a shabby day’s work which Cameron will live to regret”.  Sarah Vine (to give her professional name) is a columnist in the Mail and hitherto a close friend of Samantha, Cameron’s wife.  A friendship that, perhaps, will not endure?

HELLO, Ms MORGAN!

The new Education Secretary is Nicky Morgan, pictured in the papers striding out with four other newly appointed women. It’s thought that Ms. Morgan will pursue the same policies as Michael Gove, but perhaps not with the same ideological zeal.

She was elected MP for Loughborough only four years ago, so has climbed the career ladder quite raspidly. She attended a private school in Surrey, studied Law at Oxford and became a corporate lawyer before standing as an MP. Just the right background for an Education Minister?  A committed Christian she opposed same-sex marriage and supported a Bill to stop abortion-providers giving counselling to women.

TASKS AHEAD:

The tasks that Nicky Morgan will have to undertake in the next few months include a response to the dispute with the NUT over pay, pensions and workloads. Further industrial action is threatened in the Autumn.

Another task is to oversee the launch of  the teaching of the revised GCSEs and A levels, as well as the new national curriculum, championed by Michael Gove. An increasing problem is the growing number of primary school pupils who will put pressure on budgets within the Education Department.

We must wait and see how MS. Morgan copes with these and other challenges in the months leading up to the election. In a statement following her appointment she said:  “I look forward immensely to working alongside parents, teachers and schools to ensure we have world class schools and the skills that will get our young people great jobs.”

by RUTH RICHARDSON.

 

 

MODERN TIMES: The Dinosaur Column

In Dinosaur on September 3, 2014 at 8:01 pm

dinosaur

The old soft shoe (re)shuffle:

July was the month chosen by Cameron for his Cabinet re-shuffle – a bright shiny new mix, all ready and prepared for next year’s General Election.

The PM chose to go down the road of “Blair’s Babes”, who were paraded in front of the press photographers back when “New Labour” came to power. This time we had a line-up of power-dressing and stiletto heels to get the photographers drooling.  I suspect that much of it is window dressing for the benefit of the more impressionable voters. It may all look different, but the policies remain the same.

But perhaps more significant is the humiliation of Michael Gove. His removal from education is a demotion however we look at it. He’s been replaced by one Nicky Morgan, about whom I know very little at this stage. Apart from the potted press reports, of course – which don’t endear her to me one jot.

And spare a thought for poor old William Hague who has been ditched as Foreign Secretary. Now he’s a man who’d come a long way since he first appeared as a precocious teenager at one of Thatcher’s Tory Party conferences – but he’s mostly made it in fits and starts. His spell as Party leader got him nowhere, and now I gather he plans to quit the Commons altogether at the next election.  I’m sure we wish him an uneventful retirement.

David Cameron was quick to label his new Cabinet as one that “reflects modern Britain”.  No, David, it doesn’t. It doesn’t even reflect the modern Tory Party, except in terms of the policies that will continue to be promoted. It’s merely a glossy, superficial facade.  But behind these changes, nothing’s changed.

“Lethargic and depressed”:
Meanwhile, I hear that local Tories in the constituencies have been warning Cameron that membership of the party is in sharp decline. There is, they claim, a continuing “mass exodus”, and “lethargic and depressed” supporters.

In Cameron’s own constituency in the leafy east Cotswolds, there’s been a loss of 170 members alone. Across the board, there’s been a drop of some ten per cent in membership over the last couple of years. Some have just slipped below the radar whilst others have wandered off in the direction of UKIP (including the Hon. Member for Clacton).

Is there any connection between all this and Cameron’s re-shuffle, I wonder?

It’s the way that you say it:
Words slip easily into our vocabulary (just as others just disappear without trace). Particularly under the kind of government we have to endure these days. Many have been around for a long time, but they develop a distinctly skewed meaning.

Let’s look at a few examples. The word “Skiver” for example. It’s used to describe anyone who has no job (and no private income to fall back on). Maybe disabled or simply been made unemployed – but he/she is still a skiver and of course is therefore a burden on the state.

On the other hand we have “entrepreneur”. Now this is a good thing to be. The entrepreneur works hard, has lots of ideas and makes loadsa money. He/she’s good for the economy, has a nice home (or two) and is the kind of person we need more of.

The word “militant” has been around a long time. Once upon a time, the Salvation Army described itself as the “church militant”. Then it became a political tendency. And now it’s used to describe any trade unionist who stands up for the rights of the union membership. “Militant trade unions” are definitely a bad thing. We’d be a lot better off without them- or so we’re told.

Remembering Tony Benn:
It was good to hear Tony Benn’s grand-daughter, Emily Benn, paying tribute to her grandfather at Tolpuddle in July.  And just as good to hear that Glastonbury organiser, Michael Eavis, has also remembered Tony – who made a number of appearances at the Festival.

Eavis described Tony Benn as a “fantastic fellow” who was “highly principled…  We’re going to miss him”. The “Left Field Tower” at the festival site (originally built by GMB apprentices from the Appledore shipyard) is being re-named  the “Benn Tower of Strength”, said Michael Eavis.