Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Archive for March, 2015|Monthly archive page

HOOF AND THE ELECTION

In O. Adams on March 26, 2015 at 1:46 pm

un-edited preview from the next edition of the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley Clarion
Guest feature by Owen Adams

AT the time of writing I have so far received two pieces of election propaganda – from the Conservatives and UKIP. Both pledge they will prevent the Forest of Dean from being privatised.

Both parties know this is a vote-winner, as I’m sure all other candidates standing will know as well. But it’s all very well saying it – how will they do it?

As regular Clarion readers will know, I have my own political views – I agree fully with the Clarion principles and my aspiration is for full communism (not the Leninist kind, but the sort advocated by Kropotkin, Emma Goldman, Bakunin etc). Realistically though I doubt whether this is around the corner! I am also the secretary of the Hands Off Our Forest campaign, which aims to represent everyone regardless of their political views or voting intentions.

HOOF has resolutely avoided being aligned with any political party and we will continue to remain independent, yet lobbying all parties. We have an unwavering champion in the House of Lords – Jan Royall, who helped found HOOF back in October 2010 – and our Green MEP, Molly Scott-Cato is also working with us in Brussels. What we really need though is a champion in the House of Commons and a district council also on our side.

To this end, we are writing to every council and parliamentary candidate asking if they will back three pledges: to back us when we call for adequate resources for the English Public Forest Estate; to support us in our bid to secure community representation in the future management of our Forest (and others); and for a special status for the Forest of Dean to protect its unique customs.

We are also staging a hustings event at the Forest Theatre, Five Acres, from 6.30pm on April 22 – a Question Time-style event titled Our Forest My Vote, to which we are inviting every parliamentary candidate to take part on a panel alongside HOOF chairman Rich Daniels and chaired by the retired Bishop of Liverpool, who also headed the Independent Panel on Forestry which recommended community overseers, or guardians, to be given seats at the top table of management.

Our call for guardians is at odds, however, with the Forestry Commission Trade Unions (perhaps the only difference of opinion we really have), who want things kept as they are, with civil servants and politicians alone able to call the shots. It has also been called into question by both our sitting MP, Mark Harper, and by the Shadow Forestry Minister, Barry Gardiner – who visited us in February. They ask “who will guard the guardians?” We respond: “A parliamentary charter.” Neither the Conservatives or Labour want any power over the future of our Forests relinquished by politicians or senior civil servants.

Also of concern is both parties’ refusal to commit to properly funding the ongoing management of our Forest by the Forestry Commission. Establishing a new economic model based on “natural capital” (as both parties seem intent on doing) is all very well, but in the meantime our Forest is falling to rack and ruin, or being over-harvested, and staffing is at a skeleton level while private contractors ride roughshod over public access and fail to clean up after themselves. As for training a new generation of forestry workers, this is scarcely happening.

Yet the need for a community voice which can have a veto is vividly illustrated by the case of Forest Holidays. In 2012, behind closed doors and without any consultation or even competitive tendering, 80 per cent of the campsites operation was handed over to venture capitalists from Lloyds Banking Group. This, granted, has less repercussions in our own Forest – the sites at Christchurch and adjoining Woodlands have long been used by holiday-makers rather than residents, so swapping hundreds of camping and caravanning pitches with exclusive £800-a-weekend log cabins had little effect on our public access to the woods. But in other public woods, such as Fineshade in Northamptonshire, Houghton in Sussex and Delamere in Cheshire, people faced losing their access to woods entirely. So far councillors in these areas have thrown out these plans; in the Dean, the only councillor (Bill Evans) to raise concerns about the exclusivity of the Christchurch site at planning last year was ignored and the application sailed through without comment.

Jan Royall was contacted by forest campaigners in East Anglia and Sussex and on March 17, she raised the issue in the Lords (this went unreported, sadly) and the Government confirmed that, yes, the venture capitalists could sell on the sites – which have been granted 125-year leases by the Forestry Commission – to anyone. And so, nibble by nibble, the backdoor privatisation of our Forests is continuing regardless of public opinion. Indeed, even the Lib Dem Lord Greaves, who sits on the Defra committee, was unaware of what had transpired, as it seems a single Forestry Commissioner (conveniently retired in late February) was privy to this privatisation. This underlines the need for community representation at the top level of management.

It should also be noted that, while 12 out of 14 parish and town councils visited by HOOF last year gave their full and unequivocal backing to HOOF, Forest of Dean district councillors – acting as if they one big homogenous corporate board of directors – refused to even discuss whether they would back us against proposals to transfer land to the Homes & Communities Agency in the Infrastructure Bill. No thanks to these councillors (but thanks to Jan Royall) we managed to get an exemption for the Public Forest Estate.

To use another example, Mr Cameron has stressed time and time again the Tories are not privatising the NHS – the institution as a whole may remain public, but the components of it are going into private hands. The same, I fear, is what is and will happen to our forests, unless we get a say in it.

Mr Harper and all other candidates will be given the opportunity to explain how they intend to fulfil their promises to protect our Forest from privatisation at the event Our Forest My Vote, Forest Theatre, Five Acres, from 6.30pm. At the time of writing, Labour, Lib Dem, Green and UKIP candidates have confirmed their attendance – we are still waiting on the Conservative candidate. Also as I write we have yet to email all council and parliamentary candidates with the HOOF pledges document.

I hope we get more response than we did when we called on councillors to support HOOF against the Infrastructure Bill last November. The collective near-silence of councillors (you could count on one hand those who responded) was appalling and shameful. Now the sitting councillors standing for re-election have a chance to redeem themselves and commit to supporting the aims of HOOF, a campaign which enjoys – as our extensive consultations have confirmed – massive and widespread support from the Forest population. Unless they sign up to be HOOF champions, and keep their pledges (we will hold them to it), their election promises will be treated with the cynicism they deserve.

And so in conclusion, politicians can say whatever they like about saving the Forest – unless they give communities a right of veto on the sales, leasings and disposals of land and facilities and an overseeing role, and ensure the Forestry Commission can do its job properly without hiving facilities and land to the private sector to balance the books, their promises mean nothing.

COMMENT: Scrap All Women Shortlists

In M. Davies on March 25, 2015 at 12:59 pm

by Mat Davies from Monmouth, currently resident in Japan. Mat posted this on 5/2/15, 10 days before a speech to the Japanese Women’s Association.

Despite the incoherent arguments of celebrities such as Russell Brand, a constitutional environment exists for any person who wants to influence mainstream political parties, and therefore British policies. Because of this, it is time for someone to speak out against the Orwellian DoubleSpeak term known as positive discrimination. All politically unethical actions tend to be justified in the name of ethics. And AWS are no exception. It undermines the democratic framework within mainstream parties and also fails to empower the feminist movement its supporters claim to champion.

The lack of women in positions of influence is historically alarming. However, do the mainstream political parties in the UK welcome both genders as members? The answer is yes. Secondly, are there any constitutional barriers to women gaining key positions within political parties? No, there are not. Women can be voted into key positions on Executive Committees or Policy Forums, or as representatives at the British, devolved, or European Parliament.

Since, the principle of equality of opportunity is adhered to across all mainstream political parties; there is only one reason which explains why women are unable to match their male counterparts in parliament. It is that not enough women are joining political parties and supporting other women within the party in achieving their goals. Despite my efforts, I have not been provided with the ratio of men to women within British political parties. However, as a former Secretary of a Constituency Labour Party, it was always clear to me, that there were not enough women in the party.

That is worrying because representatives need to be selected by the party before he or she gets the chance to be elected by the public. That vote is done through a election among members within the political parties. If the number of women within the party falls short of men, so too will the interests of women. The problem is therefore not inside the party political system, but outside of it. Yet, the push for AWS has been relentless, and has side-lined an important debate we should be having about how to welcome more women into politics. Simultaneously, Militant feminism has found a home with AWS by addressing the symptom of the problem and not the disease.

This can be clearly observed in Wales where the Welsh Executive Committee has already decreed that winnable seats should be contested only by women. One prominent Assembly Member has gone further and argued that all selected parliamentary candidates in Wales should be chosen through an AWS. This would effectively exclude the male gender from representing an entire Nation. I fail to understand how this could be perceived as anything less than extreme. In my role as a councillor for a European Economic Forum, and former Constituency Secretary I had many conversations with male and female party supporters, members and observers who thought AWS immoral. Unfortunately, speaking out was too risky, and endangered the support they needed to achieve their goals within the party.

AWS are creating a new kind of social exclusion. It is time that policies focused on the disease of gender inequality, and not the symptom. The bottom line is that a framework already exists for women to push their interests. However, militant feminists are indirectly ignoring the women who deserve to be empowered by looking inwards, rather than outward in our communities. What is needed is a policy which reaches out to women across the social spectrum and explains how they can make a difference.

Tackling Health Policy within Capitalism

In Uncategorized on March 20, 2015 at 12:55 pm

A discussion feature by MAT DAVIES

The NHS has delivered significant achievements in terms of research and curative medicine. Many of my Japanese students are amazed at the results of nationalised research projects which at first glance appear limited by a modest budget.

Regardless, British politicians must start seriously considering the ramifications of an ageing population and the mushrooming non-communicative diseases (NCDs) throughout Britain. The NHS, and health policy, must no longer be part of a political football game.  There are problems affecting the mental, physical, economic and social health of the country. And it is a consequence of our history and its outcomes under capitalism.

For example, our bodies are not designed for the high salt, fat and sugary foods which have become a staple in many households. We stopped living in roaming tribes relatively recently, and we only developed a state-based society following the introduction of an agricultural diet some 12,000 years ago.

Consequently, the cost of surplus carbohydrates meant that larger human groupings emerged as in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Genetically, however, we haven’t adjusted to all of these changes – and that coupled with modern capitalist-based lifestyles has led to a number of economic problems.

HEALTH POLICY WITHIN CAPITALISM:

Former adviser to President Clinton, Benjamin Barber, has illustrated how the process of corrupting children and infantilising adults is a threat to health policy and, he argues, democracy itself. This comes through marketing campaigns which target children, and thereby their parents, in the process of creating needs from wants.  The effects are worrying (as shown in the wide reaching documentary, Supersize Me).

For example, mass salt intake leads to hypertension and sugary drinks to obesity and diabetes. This was observed dramatically in the Nairu islanders whose diets were changed significantly after World War Two.  As Jared Diamond pointed out, they are now the most obese Pacific island population. Diabetes has increased massively since the first case in 1925, the second in 1934, to a staggering 70 per cent of the current population. There is a clear correlation between the modern lifestyle and NCDs.

However, some NCDs occur due to the simple fact that we’re living longer. Studies have shown that the effects of exercise and language learning counteract the brain’s metabolism in order to starve off dementia. Healthier lifestyles are an area where policy makers need to act. The physical wellbeing of individuals, the public cost of the NHS, and mental health are interlinked.

The impact of marketing and advertising has led to a bizarre obsession with what constitutes beauty. This has led to an unnatural perception of what makes a person attractive. It’s not surprising that there’s a rocketing of Anorexia victims, and many other mental illnesses.

There are natural ways to improve our health. Exercising regularly can produce an endorphin rush, whilst depression compounded by alcohol and cigarettes is a debilitating affliction, which can be countered by regular exercise. Sadly the UK has become a nation of pill poppers with medication being used to alter the brain’s chemical circuitry.

TACKLING THE CHALLENGE!

Welsh Health Minister, Mark Drakeford, pointed out that the NHS is under stress due to the effects of excessive drinking and smoking. He then proposed a mandatory approach from Westminster, including a tax, with the intention of reducing sugar in processed food.  British people already pay 50 per cent tax or more once direct and shadow taxes are taken into account. That is significantly higher (15-30 per cent) than in countries such as Germany and Japan. Should we really tax British people more?

A mature policy approach would instead look outwards to how other countries have responded, and look inward at the nuances that are quintessentially British.  Japan has seen its obesity levels fall to 3.5 per cent through a mixture of home education and sanctions. There is also a care in the community approach for victims of dementia which reduces care costs. The UK could learn from other countries, but a national policy review is needed.

At the present time increasing (shadow) taxes to pay for the rise of NCDs appear likely, since privatisation is thankfully a toxic subject. I would argue that the most humane and rational approach is to develop a policy which couples a public awareness campaign starting with the intake of salt, and to then find a middle ground between the individual and society. This means that both companies and individuals will need to pay for the consequences of their personal and business choices.

THE RISE AND FALL OF TESCO

In A.Graham on March 5, 2015 at 9:11 pm

How the mighty appear to have fallen! A few years ago, the supermarket giant, Tesco, seemed unassailable.  Through tactics which many considered somewhat dodgy, it had bulldozed its way to the top of the retailing tree. It had expanded its business empire across the world. In the UK it created retail deserts in its wake, as small shop keepers were forced to close down because they simply couldn’t compete.

SATURATION:

Tesco’s tactics were varied. One was to saturate a particular area with stores, to try to block any competitors from moving in on what it had earmarked as its territory.

Another was to build up a “land bank”. Here potential development land was bought up, and then allowed to remain unused until such a time as the company deemed it appropriate to build on it. This, too, had the effect of preventing rivals from gaining a foothold.  Other supermarket giants soon followed, buying up “development” land and leaving it to lie fallow.

And, like some of its more aggressive competitors, it has also been accused of squeezing its suppliers to the point where some were forced out of business.

TESCO IN THE FOREST:

Tesco’s attempted invasion of the Dean began with the new millennium, with plans for new stores in Lydney and Cinderford. The supermarket in Lydney went ahead (involving the demolition of a whole swathe of the High Street) but plans for a new Tesco in Cinderford – right next door to the Co-op supermarket were fiercely contested. Finally, Tesco was forced to abandon its plans for Cinderford  (though in later years, Asda has attempted to build in town).

But then Tesco signed a deal with a local developer to build a new store in Coleford – slap bang next to that town’s Co-op store. A local campaign to stop Tesco was mounted, but work on preparing the site went ahead – until abruptly at the end of last year, the company announced it was abandoning its plans for a superstore in the centre of Coleford.

PROBLEMS, PROBLEMS:

No specific reasons were given at the time, but very soon it emerged that Tesco was in trouble.  It seemed that its end of the year accounts were based on what might be termed “creative accountancy” (see our last issue of the Clarion), when in fact Tesco’s profits had seemingly evaporated. The company is now facing criminal investigation.  Even Terry Leahy (former boss of the retail empire) accused Tesco of taking “its finger off the pulse of the customer.”

tescopolyRETREAT?

Since then, Tesco’s top management has been forced into a humiliating retreat. It has announced the abrupt abandonment of new store development, plus the closure of over 40 stores that are deemed to be unprofitable. Its overseas investment has also been trimmed.  Even before this crisis it had pulled out of its loss-making venture in the USA. Now, it seems, it is to dispose of its stores in Hungary.

For those affected by Tesco’s withdrawal in the UK, it hasn’t necessarily been good news. Shopkeepers forced to sell out or close down in the face of the Tesco juggernaut have been left high and dry – and whole swathes of urban land have been abandoned, as new store development has been shelved, or left derelict.

Tesco’s strategy of retrenchment may be considered necessary in the short term, to aid re-capitalisation of the business – but it may leave it more exposed to others in a highly competitive retail business.  Asda is always hungry for a larger share of business – and there’s always the new kids on the block, Aldi and Lidl, who are eager to expand their store portfolio. Tesco may well have to watch its back.

ALISTAIR GRAHAM

PIECES: Education Matters & Campaigning Against Trident

In Guest Feature, R.Richardson on March 5, 2015 at 9:02 pm

2 PIECES (the first by Ruth Richardson, the second – with her first Clarion article – Rowan McKeever)

EDUCATION MATTERS

BALANCING THE BOOKS:

As we move into 2015, head teachers are worried about balancing their budgets. A dossier drawn up by schools in Wirral, Merseyside, indicates that 19 out of the district’s 22 secondary schools will be unable to balance budgets in 2016/17.  The problems stem partly from increases in national insurance and pension contributions.

DEMANDING A POUND OF FLESH?

Another significant expense in many cases is the repayment of deals done under PFI (Private Finance Initiatives) signed years ago. Schools, like hospitals, were regularly rebuilt or refurbished under such deals, often tying them into thirty years of repayments.

Frank Field, the MP for Birkenhead, declared that the impact of such PFI agreements was particularly alarming.  Schools were being ripped off through high-charging maintenance  agreements.

And Russell Hobby of the head teachers’ union, NAHT, said “we’re reaching the end of the line for efficiency savings…  the fact is we’re not reaching the end of the projected cuts. We face as many cuts in the future as we have in the past.”  Schools may have to cut staffing levels and raise class sizes. The curriculum may be reduced with fewer options offered.

PROTECTED??

A spokesman for the DfE responded  saying that budgets were protected and that local authorities received the same amount per pupil as in 2010. With rising costs this is obviously totally inadequate in 2015.

FREE SCHOOLS:

The Free School movement has been in the news again – and not in a good way. First, in December, Labour acquired information via a Freedom of Information request  that 80 per cent  of those opened in 2014 had failed to fill all their places. New Free Schools, of course, attract a huge government subsidy – meaning that there’s less money for local authority schools. In Brixton, £18 million  was spent on new premises for a Free School for 120 pupils – but only 17 enrolled!  It was calculated that the present government has spent £241 million on Free Schools in the past twelve months.

Meanwhile, Durham Free School, a secondary school, was ordered to close after a damning Ofsted report, after having been open only 16 months. A Christian school, it was condemned for poor standards, bullying and financial mismanagement, as well as religious bigotry.

THROUGH THE LOOPHOLE:

A loophole allows both Free Schools and Academies to ignore government nutritional standards for school dinners. The Local Government Association  has urged Ministers to to pass legislation to bring them into line.

NEW SPONSORSHIPS:

Meanwhile, our own local academies  have found new sponsors. The Dean Academy in Lydney will be sponsored by the Athelstan Trust. Readers may remember that in 2012, Whitecross School was transformed into the Dean Academy, having been acquired by the Prospects Academy Trust. However, Prospects was found to be providing inadequate support and services, and was required to shed six of its schools. Consequently the Dean Academy has been without a sponsor for ten months.  David Gaston, the head, sounded positive about the new arrangement which includes working closely with an academy in Malmesbury, Wiltshire.

The Forest Academy in Cinderford (formerly Heywood School) also lost its sponsor, E-Act, last year. It will be taken on by South Gloucestershire and Stroud (SGS) College. In this instance the school will have a “brand new curriculum”, and the school will be re-launched in September 2015.

RUTH RICHARDSON

PROTESTING AGAINST TRIDENT:

by ROWAN McKEEVER

On Saturday 24th January, my Mum, Dad and I were among the thousands who protested in Westminster against the renewal of Trident. Trident is our nuclear weapons system which is made up of four submarines and kept on the River Clyde in Scotland.

WRAPPING UP TRIDENT:

As we came out of the station, we saw a crowd of people walking past, holding signs and banners in one hand and part of a seven mile pink knitted scarf in the other.  We were surprised that we had just got out of the station and we were already part of the protest..  We joined in, holding the scarf and chanting “Wrap up Trident! Ban the Bomb Now!”  After following the scarf around for a few minutes, we reached the Ministry of Defence, where we saw just how long the scarf really was, and how many people wanted to get rid of Trident.  Tourists on open-top buses were amazed, and took photos and videos of us. Others walking down the streets stopped and stared. It was a much bigger turn-out than anyone had expected.

MARCH – AND RALLY:

After a while we were told to move along, and CND workers rolled up the scarf again, ready to be cut up and sent out to homeless people as a kind gift. We turned out on to the main road, where half of it was closed and police were everywhere. We saw big TV cameras recording everything and journalists doing news reports. My Mum and I waved the banners we’d picked up earlier. Hers said “Jobs Not Trident” and mine said “Homes Not Trident”.  After marching past Downing Street (and booing) we reached Parliament Square where a rally took place and there were speakers from many places, including a woman who sang “Four Minutes to Midnight” which was a really moving song and made us think about how short four minutes really is. And that people would only have that much time to save themselves.   Then the Green Party’s deputy leader, Shahar Ali, filled us in on all the facts – such as, it has cost £3 billion just to review whether to renew Trident or not; and if the renewal did take place it would cost a horrifying £100 billion!

WASTING MONEY?

Personally, I just can’t understand why anyone would even consider that. There are homeless people who don’t even get enough food , people without jobs , schools having to expand to fit in all the children applying for them and people waiting over four hours to see a doctor in NHS hospitals. So why is £100 billion going to be wasted on nuclear weapons which won’t be used and are just for “safety”? It is completely absurd.

I am pleased I went on the protest, because it was an unusual way of getting the point across to the people of our country. Also, it was a kind gesture to give the pieces of the scarf to people without homes. Thirdly, and finally, it shows that the people of London are doing what the Government should be doing – helping the homeless instead of wasting money on nuclear weapons.

I hope the Government can now see that people in Britain are against the renewal of Trident. I will go on all protests possible to make sure the nuclear weapons are not renewed.

bomb_tree

THE WORKHOUSE: How to penalise the poor

In John Wilmot on March 5, 2015 at 8:17 pm

The Victorians, it seems had their own way of dealing with poverty. It was known as the workhouse, brought in under the New Poor Law in the 1840s, and immortalised by Charles Dickens in his novel Oliver Twist.

Poverty, of course, has long been with us. But for some decades  before the New Poor Law came into being, it had been dealt with through the granting of “out relief”, paid out by the Parish to those unable to provide for themselves or their families.

INDUSTRIALISATION:

But the 19th Century was a time of sweeping change. Industrialisation and the introduction of the factory system was undermining old patterns of employment. Whole swathes of the population found that  their jobs were cut from under them. And the cost of administering “out relief” rose sharply.

But in his book, “A People’s History of England”, historian A.L. Morton suggests that there was another reason for the setting up the workhouse system.  Effectively, he said, those thrown out of work “were offered a choice between the factory and the workhouse.”  Industrialism needed a workforce – and the harsh conditions laid down by the workhouse system ensured that workers were in plentiful supply.

PENALISING POVERTY:

The new Poor Law Commissioners appointed stated that inmates of the new workhouses must be “subjected to such courses of labour and discipline as will repel the indolent and vicious.” Within the walls of the workhouse,  families were broken up, food was meagre and hard grinding work was the order of the day.

THE POOR LAW COMMISSIONERS:

Poor Law Commissioners were appointed to administer the new system (thus making sure that there was no longer even a vestige of democratic control), headed by their secretary, Edwin Chadwick. Morton comments that “they became for a whole decade the most detested men in Britain.”

Opposition to the workhouse system was particularly strong in the north of England. In some towns they were stormed by angry mobs and even burned down. In the West Yorkshire town of Todmorden it took thirty years for the workhouse to be built.

THE WORKHOUSE IN THE FOREST OF DEAN:

An illuminating talk on the workhouse system in the Forest of Dean was given last month  by Cecile Hunt at a meeting of the Local History Society.

There were some special circumstances that  applied in the Forest. As much of it at the time was Crown land, the pattern of parishes didn’t always exist. Consequently, two workhouses were built to house “paupers” within the Forest. One was built at Westbury, and the workhouses at Chepstow and Monmouth took inmates from the west of the Dean, whilst the second within the Dean was at Newent. Schools were, at first, attached  but these were often ineffective.  The children were often orphans, or were placed in the workhouse by parents who just couldn’t feed or look after them.

Both the conditions and the food were invariably poor.  Patterns of work were strictly regulated and inmates were given bread and gruel for breakfast and soup for dinner alternating with small amounts of meat.

The men worked some ten hours a day, often picking oakum, stone breaking or bone crushing.  Such work was inevitably hard, pointless, manual labour. At Westbury Union, a contract for stone breaking was carried out. Meanwhile, women inmates had to carry out domestic work.

The guardians of the workhouses lasted until 1930, and the name “workhouse” itself was subsequently dropped for something more euphemistic. The institution in Westbury, for example, eventually became Westbury House, and then morphed into homes for the elderly.

Today few signs of the old workhouse buildings remain, either in Westbury or Newnham. Few would wish to be reminded of them. The site of the workhouse in Westbury, for example, is now occupied by new housing.

“VICTORIAN VALUES”?

The workhouse system could be seen as part of those “Victorian values” extolled by Margaret Thatcher. Certainly it was the Victorians (or some of them) who came up with the differentiation between the “deserving and undeserving poor” – a distinction that many who should know better still hold today. Remember Osborne’s distinction between “strivers and slackers”?

JOHN WILMOT

REVIEW: ‘The Establishment – and how they get away with it’ by Owen Jones

In R.Richardson, Reviews on March 5, 2015 at 8:13 pm

Reviewed by RUTH RICHARDSON (‘The Establishment’ is published by Allen Lane).

Who’s in charge?

Owen Jones is one of our most able young political journalists. Aged just 30, he is a regular columnist in the Guardian, as well as a former contributor to the Independent, the New Statesman and other publications.

owen_jonesJones’ first book, in 2011, Chavs: the demonisation of the Working Class, was acclaimed both in the UK and elsewhere. Now he has published a searing account of the all-powerful network of the real people with power – the Establishment.

Systematically, chapter by chapter, Jones gives his account of the workings of those at the top of our society – the politicians, the media bosses, the financiers and the big businessmen. He shows how they are interconnected, bound by a common mentality, a set of ideas that helps  to rationalise and justify behaviour directed at maximising wealth and power.

THE “REVOLVING DOOR”:

The Establishment is cemented by a “revolving door” culture – ie, powerful individuals moving between  political, corporate and media worlds, and sometimes managing to inhabit these worlds at the same time.  Political debate is largely dictated by a media controlled by a small number of extremely rich owners,  whilst political parties are funded by wealthy individuals and corporate interests. Many politicians and top civil servants are on the payroll of private businesses, and personal contacts and family connections often make for even closer ties.

THINKING ALOUD:

Jones first chapter is on the “Outriders” – a term with which I was unfamiliar. The Outriders are political “think tanks”, non-accountable bodies which shape political theory and give validity to policies.

He gives a brief but interesting history of the setting up of such think tanks. Immediately post-war, workers in Western Europe demanded far-reaching social reforms at the expense of big business, and the policies that emerged were perceived as mainstream until the 1970s. Meanwhile in !947, the Mont Pelerin Society was born – a think tank of forty academics, economists and journalists. They aimed to turn the clock back to a supposedly “golden age”  of laissez- faire politics at home and free trade  abroad.

The Institute of Economic Affairs was founded in the 1950s, promoting similar ideas. One suggestion of theirs was the privatisation of the telecommunications industry – a notion that was considered totally mad. But the Institute was doing an excellent job disseminating free market ideas, particularly in universities.

ADAM SMITH:

The Adam Smith Institute  was set up in 1977, and following the wave of strikes and the “Winter of Discontent”, in the late ‘seventies it began a relentless campaign of agitation.  The Adam Smith Institute and the Institute of Economic Affairs joined with other free marketeers to form the St. James Society. They would meet regularly with senior members of the Tory shadow cabinet, such as Keith Joseph. They helped to make acceptable policies that would soon become the cornerstones of Thatcherism – privatisation, de-regulation and slashing taxes on the rich.   When Margaret Thatcher came to power, much of the hard work of laying the foundations  of her policies had already been undertaken.

To be an outrider in modern Britain is to wield considerable power.  Corporate interests, links with the media and political connections can all be exploited. Exactly who funds right-wing think tanks, such as the Taxpayers’ Alliance and Policy Exchange is not always clear. “We have some donors who would cease giving us money if their name was to be put out in the public domain,” said the  director of Policy Exchange.

The outriders have laid the intellectual foundations of radical right-wing ideas, and then popularised them to a mass audience. They connect together the worlds of business, politics and the media, and are a crucial part of Britain’s ruling elite.

“GREATEST  ACHIEVEMENT”?

In 2002,  the Tories held their party conference in Southampton. Only eighteen months before, Tony Blair had won a second landslide victory and Tory morale was at rock bottom.

But Margaret Thatcher was not daunted. She declared, “Our greatest achievement was Tony Blair. We forced our opponents to change.” “New Labour “ in office was keeping the flame of Margaret Thatcher’s beliefs well and truly burning.

Although Blair was happy to embrace free market principles wholeheartedly, others in the Labour Party were not.  When Ed Miliband was elected leader he was labelled “Red Ed” by the media and portrayed as being in the pockets of the unions.

Miliband made three commitments in 2013:

  1. To take action against firms which hoarded land waiting for its value to increase.
  2. A tax hike on big businesses to fund tax breaks for struggling small businesses.
  3. A temporary freeze on energy bills.

DANGEROUS EXTREMIST?

The Establishment’s response was to paint Miliband as a dangerous extremist. Yet opinion polls showed that three quarters of voters backed the proposals.  And an earlier You-Gov poll showed  60 per cent of the population backing a 75 per cent tax band for millionaires. Polls like these, says Jones, show how out of touch with ordinary people the Establishment is.

Jones touches on many events in recent political history – such as the miners’ strike, the events at Wapping,  the rise of UKIP, and the 2008 financial crisis. The power of the Establishment is highlighted throughout.

POSITIVE POLICIES:

Jones final chapter is entitled “a Democratic Revolution”  He ends on a positive note – that with collective action we can create a new and  fairer landscape for Britain. He sets out a number of policies that could lead us there.

Trade union laws should be reformed and democracy in the workplace put in place (such as workers’ representatives on company boards). Rail franchises should be brought back into public ownership as each comes up for renewal.  There should be public ownership of utilities involving both service users and workers. Banks that were bailed out could be turned into publicly-owned regional investment. Financially more capital controls should be put in place which should shift economic sovereignty from corporate interests to elected governments. The top rate of tax should be raised, and there should be an all-out assault on tax avoidance.

MPs should be barred from taking a second job and former Ministers should be barred posts that operate in their areas of interest and “expertise”. The revolving door should be firmly shut.

“Change is not won through the goodwill and generosity of those above but through the struggle and sacrifice of those below,” says Jones in conclusion.

R.R.

READ MORE OWEN JONES HERE: http://www.theguardian.com/profile/owen-jones

LABOUR’S ELECTION POLICIES: The writing’s on the wall

In Guest Feature on March 5, 2015 at 7:36 pm

An assessment by HARRY BARNES former Labour MP for North East Derbyshire, and is a member of the ILP. 

With a speech in Manchester just after the New Year, Ed Miliband launched Labour’s General Election campaign.  Yet we may not know the full thrust of Labour’s policy proposals until those are confirmed in the final publication of the General Election manifesto.  There are, however, plenty of writings on the wall to examine.

These can be found in a series of eight substantial policy documents which were endorsed at the Party’s 2014 conference, under the National Policy Forum procedure.  Given the centralised control which now operates  within the Labour Party, it is inconceivable that the proposals  they contain  don’t have the general backing of the party’s leadership. Or at least of its leader.  Especially as afterwards, a 52 page document was published entitled Changing Britain Together which contains 114 bullet points drawn from the agreed Policy Documents. This is a summary which has the full endorsement of Ed Miliband and starts with his words, “My mission is to make Britain work for everyone, not just for a privileged few”.

THE CENTRE GROUND?

The problem with lengthy sets of proposals is that people can draw selected material from them to fit in with their own interests and viewpoints. When Ed Balls says that Labour still occupies the “centre ground” in British politics (as if we were still in the days of New Labour!), then it is an interpretation he is  keen to push at the heart of the Labour Party. But my own interpretation of the central thrust of Labour’s policies and of what Ed Miliband’s position would be if he was to find himself elected Prime Minister, differs from that of Ed Balls. But beware. Perhaps I am just being as selective in a counter direction. And I don’t have any clout at all, but Ed Balls still does.

OR PERHAPS NOT?

I am not claiming that Labour’s documents reveal that we are heading significantly to the left in some democratic socialist direction. But they do seem to offer a programme which seeks  a) to regulate the current crude role of capitalism and b) produce a more equitable society. If so, this approach is at least Labourite, if not fully Socialist. And it could open up a voice for the left in the Labour Party which it has not enjoyed over the past two decades. In my experience, we could at least get listened to and have some influence at the margins as in the days of John Smith.

I give below some snippets in only one of the categories which can be drawn from Labour’s National Policy Forum report.  Such proposals need to be pressed, to ensure that they finally appear in Labour’s election manifesto. If we win, these items will need to be on the agenda of a Labour Chancellor of the  Exchequer – whoever that might happen to be.

On Improving Wages and Working Conditions:

Strengthen the National Minimum Wage. Expand the Living Wage. Advance the role of Pay Review bodies. Stamp out “Zero Hours” abuse. Review TUPE’s rules to avoid a race to the bottom on pay. Pursue equal pay for equal work. Expand the work of the Low Pay Commission to tackle in-work poverty.  Ensure that there is an employee representative on re-numeration committees. Support flexible working for parents. Provide proper health and safety in the workplace. Ensure that self–employed workers are protected. Use a European Court of Justice’s ruling to assist in calculating holiday pay.

All this covers only one area of what is proposed for Labour’s likely manifesto. There are also important commitments  made for young people, education, energy, climate change, transport, the NHS, disability, pensions, policing, security, Europe, immigration, our global role, an equitable tax structure and fair and sustainable forms of economic growth.

Summaries of all these additional areas and more can be found on a blog “Three Score Years And Ten”. It has been running for over eight years, since my 70th birthday!

Clarion Comment: TOWARDS A PEOPLE’S MANIFESTO

In Editorial on March 5, 2015 at 7:26 pm
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Labour’s candidate for Parliament, Forest of Dean Labour’s Steve Parry-Hearn with Clarion Editorial Committee member Roger Drury at a vigil in Coleford to stop the destruction and killing of children and civillians in Syria in 2014.

The purpose of any manifesto produced by political parties at election time is to present to eager voters the range of policies that such parties pledge to carry out if they get elected. Any such manifesto is a sort of cross between a catalogue of promises and a showcase.

But of course political parties needn’t have a monopoly on manifestos. And, with this in mind, the Clarion is producing its own “wish list” that we would like to see in any manifesto put to the voters.

And we invite readers to join in. Our next Clarion will be out before the hustings in May, so let us know what policies are important to you.

Meanwhile, here’s some pointers towards the Clarion’s manifesto for the 2015 general election.

PUBLIC OWNERSHIP: We would campaign for a range of privatised services to be returned to public ownership and control. The private sector has failed us all (except for the shareholders!). Top of the list should surely be the railways (and other forms of public transport?), the energy industries, and of course the Royal Mail.

But we would press for forms of public ownership involving public participation by those who work in the industry or are involved in it – as appropriate. Public ownership should mean what it says!

CREATING A NON-NUCLEAR NATION: This means abandoning ALL nuclear weapons on British soil (including Trident of course), as well as nuclear energy – replacing this with “green” energy sources.

BRINGING OUR HEALTH SERVICE BACK INTO THE PUBLIC DOMAIN:  First, by reversing the privatisation of the NHS, and, second by re-creating such bodies as Community Health Councils to ensure local involvement in the Service.

HOMES FOR THE PEOPLE:  We desperately need to provide homes – and a return to a meaningful council house programme with full rent controls is a logical step. We need to turn away from a culture  of “moving up the housing ladder” to one based on ensuring homes for all who need them.

RESPECT FOR AND TOLERANCE TOWARDS IMMIGRANTS:  We reject prejudice, and it should go without saying that we oppose moves towards a “closed door” policy. We are, and have been for centuries, a nation of immigrants. It’s what enriches us as a people.

SHORTLIST:

This is, of course, merely a shortlist. It fails to cover a range of issues at this stage – including, importantly foreign affairs. Or, indeed, the need for an Alternative Economic Policy, based on public need rather than the strictures of austerity. And there’s also the need to bring sanity back to the education sector – for the sake of those growing up in an increasingly fractured culture.

As they have done in Greece, let’s work and vote for HOPE for a better future.

Clarionposter

NOT OUR MANIFESTO: We created and posted this image on our Clarion Facebook page; as at 5/3/15 it reached over 9,300 people, over 130 of which re-shared the image. Spread the word.

 

MODERN TIMES: The Dinosaur Column

In Dinosaur on March 5, 2015 at 7:12 pm

 

dinosaur

G4S and the Guantanamo connection:

Did you know that our old friends at G4S had been involved in security work at the notorious US holding camp at Guantanamo Bay?

No, nor did I. It seems that it won a lucrative £70 million contract last August to service the base, where 127 inmates are still being held without charge. What we don’t know of course is whether the company’s personnel were in any way involved with any of the torture practises carried out by US guards on those held there – such as “water boarding”, sleep deprivation or force feeding.

But it seems that G4S has since disposed of  its contract. At the end of 2014 it sold on its US subsidiary – which included its Guantanamo connection.  Now the civil rights group, Reprieve, has taken up the case, and referred the matter to the police. Amnesty International has also called for a full investigation.

Of course we don’t know what role G4S fulfilled in Guantanamo. But it does seem rather – er – injudicious to get involved in this notorious holding centre in the first place.

How fares the BNP?

We hear little of the British National Party (the BNP) these days. Its halcyon days were around 2008 to 2009, when it succeeded in winning over 50 council seats around the country, a seat on the London Assembly and two MEPs (including party leader Nick Griffin).

But then it all fell apart. It failed to win any parliamentary seats in 2010, and subsequently its tally of councillors just melted away. It lost both its seats in the European Parliament, and finally last Autumn, Nick Griffin found himself expelled from the party – and that seemed to be that.

But a visit to the relevant website indicates that the rump of the party is still active. And in one constituency members have been dishing out leaflets door to door, proclaiming that the “BNP is the Labour Party your Grandad would have voted for”.

Really?? I don’t think so!

It’s grim in Gloucester:

Recent figures published on the state of the economy broken down  city by city suggests that the North has been blighted most from austerity and recession – just like it was back in the hungry ‘thirties. Places like Rochdale or Hull, for instance, have been hard hit.. Meanwhile others, like Milton Keynes, London and Brighton are doing much better, thanks.

But one blip in the statistics caught my rheumy old eye. Bottom of the league table when it came to jobs was our own city of Gloucester. Here there was a decline in available jobs of 12 percent – even worse than Rochdale, home of the Co-op Pioneers and Gracie Fields.

That’s not the kind of picture you’re given if you read the business section of The Citizen is it?  Here you’d think that the city was on a roll.

But long gone are the days when the city was an industrial hub. It turned out Cotton motorbikes, the Gloucester Wagon Company made railway rolling stock that was sold across the world – and “England’s Glory” matches were on sale throughout the country.

Off the peg:

CND has started the new year with a vigorous campaign against the renewal of our Trident nuclear missile system. It’s an off-the-peg system, where we buy the missiles from the Americans – but, what with the submarines, it still costs loadsa money.

Hardened CND veterans may remember the days when Britain attempted to go it alone. Remember the campaigns against the Blue Streak missile? Or the Polaris submarine system? Not to mention Cruise missiles? They’ve all been consigned to the dustbin of history. Isn’t it time Trident joined them?

Dinosaur