Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Archive for May, 2015|Monthly archive page

What now for the Forest of Dean Left?

In O. Adams on May 29, 2015 at 12:36 pm
I DARESAY this is not every Clarion reader’s experience, but on May 7 I was in a real quandary: who to vote for – red or green?

My disenchantment with Labour’s tacit support for austerity and neoliberalism nationally and support for the progressive social policies of the Green Party had been steadily growing. (But at the same time I acknowledged that the Greens’ one sniff at power, on Brighton council, was blighted by the binmen going on strike over reduced pay and Caroline Lucas herself crossing their picket line, and also I could never ever agree to support some of Labour’s actions on Forest of Dean District Council, particularly the Cinderford Northern Quarter fiasco, and also many councillors’ tacit support for Brian Bennett and opposition to Yorkley Court Community Farm and apparent ignorance of the positive proposals of the food growers.)

On the one hand I wanted to be part of the ‘Green surge’, but on another I desperately wanted to get the Tories out. What made the decision harder was that both the Forest of Dean Labour and Green parliamentary candidates were men of integrity, who took the same positions on causes dear to my heart – our public Forest, nuclear developments, renewable energy, austerity and social justice.

So I was torn between James Greenwood and Steve Parry-Hearn. In the event I voted for the latter, based on that desire to get Harper out.

But in the grand scheme of our ‘first past the post’ so-called ‘representative democracy’ my vote counted for precisely zilch. I may as well have been one of the 29.1% in the Dean, and 34% nationally, who didn’t vote.

Ever since May 8, the mantra espoused in the media is that the Tories have been granted a solid mandate by scoring a comfortable majority. But only 24.4% of those eligible to vote have elected this Government. And even if you add UKIP’s 8.3% share of the entire vote, Nobody still emerges as the majority.

Another interesting UK-wide analysis shows that if we are to bracket Sinn Fein, Green, Plaid Cymru, the SDP and SDLP with Labour on the Left and the Tories with UKIP, the BNP and Ulster Unionist parties on the Right, the combined Left vote share has leapt in five years from 33.5% to 40.6%, while the Right has leapt from 42.4% to 50.4%. The Centre (represented by the Lib Dems) is the vote which has collapsed – from 23.5% in 2010 to 8% now.

But the Forest of Dean constituency result is perhaps more worrying – Mark Harper trumped the non-voters, and the Tories have regained the balance of power on the district council (not that they ever really lost it, due to the cabinet system). A glance at the respective turnouts for council wards shows that turnout was far higher in the Tory heartland, seats such as Tibberton, than in Cinderford, which remains a Labour stronghold.

While Labour, the Greens and UKIP supporters all shouted from the rooftops their party espousal before election day, the Tory majority remained unseen. It was evident that Harper realised the Forest sell-off issue was important, and ensured in his propaganda a commitment against privatisation, while at the same time applauding the privatisation via leasehold of Christchurch campsite to Lloyds private equity.

But at the end of the day, aside from the few hundred people who followed the various hustings and looked at the HOOF election coverage and utterances made by candidates, thousands of voters (and especially those to the west, east and south of the Statutory Forest) stayed disengaged and went for “I’m alright Jack”. As long as austerity was directed at those in society’s gutters, they were happy with the programme. Many may have reasoned that, ok, the Government made a blip when it tried to sell the Forest in 2010/11, but Mr Harper had helped sort it all out.

Still, while nationally the “comfortable Tory majority” is an illusion and locally it is less so, those of us on the Left – whether Labour, Green or non-voting – must carry on regardless. We must resist Tory tyranny with all our might and not give in to this notion that they can do as they wish because they were elected.

My dearest wish is that we can do so beyond any party lines, and that democracy means so much more than the fruitless cross in the box every five years. In fact, in the vast majority of historical events, the rights of people have only been won through direct action and not the ballot box.

In the weeks after the election, we hear reliance on food banks in the Forest continues to soar, and it’s going to get a whole lot worse. And if the Tories succeed in doing away with human rights legislation, even the most peaceful protest could be rendered illegal.

I am just about old enough to remember the slogans of the 80s which accompanied successive Tory victories, such as Agitate, Educate, Organise. These remain as valid now.

But the big question is, is the Labour Party and indeed the entire Parliamentary system of embedded privilege, a judiciary created by and for the rich, any kind of solution? It seems to me the Party system is a dead end. The massive anti-austerity vote in Scotland should be a wake-up call to Labour, but already the big guns are calling for Labour to be more like the Tories to be “electable”. (While the far-right sirens will also see Labour politicians shamelessly play the anti-immigration charade).

One pundit from the Labour List had it right in my view:

“They didn’t buy what we were selling, how we sold it or who was selling it. In fact, all too many didn’t know what we were selling at all.“A party too isolated in terms of geography, mindset and pure human contact from the British people can never hope to prevail against a surprisingly resilient and resurgent Tory party – and a tidal wave of nationalism. If we stay trapped where we are right now, we’ll lose again.”

I suspect Labour loyalists will now seek to rebuild their party and fight for its buried socialist soul, just as they have been doing and failing to do since the death of John Smith. In the process they will be prepared to defend the next Party leadership no matter how similar to the Tories they become, and oppose the Greens, anarchists or any other Left entities, all for the sake of their Party and a hope that in 2020 some sort of compromised red team will have some power.

I find the words of blogger Johnny Void, referring to the power elite, more inspiring and real-world:

“So cossetted and pampered have their lives been so far that they think we will continue to accept any indignity. That we will work for peanuts, or nothing at all, and let them sack us on a whim and jail us if we strike. That we will continue to pay them huge rents to live in hovels and willingly accept being socially cleansed from our homes and communities. That the champagne will flow forever and their lives remain undisturbed as they steal the very world from beneath our feet.

“Only a few of the pampered elite have looked to history and realised that this situation cannot last. That the rage of the working class has conquered dynasties and empires centuries old in the past. That no army, or fucking copper will save them when they finally push too far. And they will only have themselves to blame when the pitchforks eventually come.”

Party or no party, comrades, we must and will keep up the dissent. Whoever they vote for, we must ensure we are ungovernable.

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VOTE GREEN – GO BLUE

In T. Chinnick on May 5, 2015 at 9:22 pm

An on-line Clarion special for the General Election 2015 by Monmouth Labour’s Tyler Chinnick, in between canvassing for Ruth Jones in Monmouth.

On Shamocracy yesterday Brogan Morris took exception to the main parties urging the electorate to vote tactically.  I understand amidst the noise and blackmail it can be easy just to think ‘Fuck it’ and vote for the party that most closely represents your own views, but that would be a mistake.  Let me explain why.

I came of political age under New Labour and to a large extent I defined myself in opposition to it; to its policies of war and privatisation, of ID cards and 90 day detention.  I loathed its rightward lurch and felt absolutely no affiliation to it.

As my political education continued my opposition to New Labour quickly became indistinguishable from my opposition to neo-liberalism and American imperialism.  During this time I flirted with a number of groups – TUSC, the Socialist Party, the Socialist Labour Party, the Socialist Party of Great Britain, the Socialist Workers Party, the Communist Party of Britain, the People’s Front of Judea… the Judean people’s front…

Prior to the last election I organized a hustings to which our then Labour candidate was invited alongside Plaid, Green, Communists and others.  When confronted with a semi-hostile left-wing audience* the Labour candidate’s default argument as to why we should vote Labour was ‘to keep out the Tories’.  This struck me as being horribly negative.  I hated that they had nothing positive to offer and I resented the implied blackmail.  And so at the last election, knowing that Labour were certain to lose and living in a safe conservative seat I felt no regret about casting my vote for the most left-wing party on the ballot – The Greens.

I presumed that even though my vote would make absolutely no practical difference Labour would at least register the discontent that I and many others felt.

In 2015, however, you absolutely should fear another Tory government and it isn’t illegitimate to point out that the only way to stop it is by voting Labour.

Nonetheless, I fully understand that that isn’t enough.  People have the right to demand something to vote for; luckily in Ed Miliband’s Labour we have it.

When the financial crisis hit a few years previously I had naively assumed that everyone would more or less instinctively see the error of their ways and, with the exception of a few free-market fundamentalists declare neo-liberalism dead.  The political parties could then begin in earnest to decide what would replace it.  This would be remarkably propitious to the left in general and the Labour party in particular.

Skip forward to the Labour leadership election.  On the BBC Parliament channel Ed Milliband is giving a speech to the Fabian society outlining his assessment of Labour and the country and his vision for our future.  His basic contention is essentially this: like the post-war consensus before it the Thatcherite consensus is now dead, Labour has alienated many of its core supporters, shed thousands of members and been reduced to its second worst election result since 1918.  It is time to reconnect and forge a new path.  I’m sold and although not a member I’m rooting for him.

A battle between left and right ensues.  That his brother, an unreconstructed Blairite should embody the other pole of Labour opinion and also be Ed’s main rival gives the contest the feel of a Shakespearean tragedy. What’s left of the New Labour machine is mobilised for David and the media have more or less crowned him winner before the battle proper has even begun.  So as well as having the right prescription Ed is also the anti-Blairite candidate – suddenly I feel that it is even more important that he should win.

A year later Ed Milliband gives his first speech as leader at the Labour conference.  By anyone’s standard it’s not good.  Propped on the lectern is a voluminous manuscript from which he reads like a particularly uncharismatic politics professor.  The content is very similar to the speech given to the Fabians that so impressed me a year earlier, but overly academic and lacking the common touch it fails to connect with the audience.  The verdict from the commentariat is damning.  The right wing press wrongly interpret his attempt at left-wing populism as a return to 1970‘s style ‘old Labour’.  That he lacks the rhetorical skills of a Thatcher or Blair is evident but the content for me is more important.

The calls of having chosen the wrong brother intensify and treacherous Blairites crawl out of the woodwork to sniff and sneer; people begin to talk about getting rid of him “before it’s too late”.

In fact the reaction becomes so hysterical, so over-the-top, so nasty and personal that I decide to join the party in the hope of bolstering his leadership credentials in whatever small way I can.

Miliband’s time as leader since has been characterised by challenging conventional wisdom and taking on powerful vested interests, and winning.

He has broken the neo-liberal consensus by championing market interventionism, opposing privatisation and proposing some re-nationalisation, albeit limited.

He defied both Rupert Murdoch and conventional wisdom when Murdoch tried to take over the remaining shares of bskyb.  He followed it up by vowing to implement Lord Leveson’s findings in full, which would, amongst other things break up Murdoch’s press monopoly.  It’s no wonder the ‘dirty digger’ harangued his journalists a few weeks ago for not doing enough to harm Miliband.  The sound of the gutter press in full attack mode combined with Lynton Crosby’s shameless smear campaign (it seems British politics is now overrun with venomous antipodean reptiles) should be enough to elicit your sympathy for Mr. Miliband if nothing else.  The fact that he has faced all this with a commendable humility and resilience should – if people really do want politicians of principle and decency – consider awarding him their vote on Election Day.

Consider this also – if Ed Miliband becomes prime minister tomorrow it will mean the end of the toxic stranglehold that an unaccountable foreign national has held over our politics since the 70’s.  The British press and British democracy will be infinitely healthier as a result.

By voting for the recognition of a Palestinian state and refusing to support the bombing of Syria he defied the assumption that Britain will always support the U.S.  But this still won’t be enough for some people.  He doesn’t want to scrap Trident and has no aim of disbanding the army like the Greens.  But if he does become Prime Minister we will see the most significant shift in British foreign policy since at least the 1970’s.

I probably don’t need to remind readers of Shamocracy of the legacy of this government but quickly: 700,000 people on zero hours contracts, at least a Million people forced to rely on food banks, the worst rate or underemployment in the E.U, 3.5 million children living in poverty, the bedroom tax, a huge onslaught on welfare which has led to people dying, large scale privatisation of the N.H.S, privatisation of the Royal Mail and probation services, rising energy prices, a cost of living crisis, disability hate crime up, homelessness up.  We have the ability to end all this tomorrow.  But only if we vote Labour.

If elected Miliband will end the bedroom tax, ban zero hours contracts, take action on food banks, reverse the Health and Social Care Act, start a million new house builds, raise the minimum wage, take action on energy prices, ensure a fair deal for private renters, introduce a mansion tax, hire 20,000 more nurses, end the free school program and the list goes on.

The Labour party supports TTIP.  I do not.  I share the Green position. But this is one issue out of many and I would much, much rather spend my energies fighting a Labour government on that one single issue than a Conservative government on everything.

Even then, Labour has pledged to ring-fence our most valuable public service – the NHS – from TTIP.

So, since on more or less everything else the Greens and Labour are in agreement – the only question is the extent.  Greens want a minimum wage of £10 by 2020; Labour £8.  Greens want to bring the railways back into public ownership by waiting for the contracts to expire; Labour want to set up a state rail company to bid for contracts and gradually bring the railways into public ownership that way.  The Greens want to raise the top tax band to 60p; Labour want 50p.  The Greens want a complete end to privatisation in the NHS; Labour want to reverse Tory privatisation and cap profits on contracts already awarded.

The main difference between Labour and the Greens is that the Greens don’t have to worry about either large-scale electability or whether their ideas are practical.  Labour on the other hand doesn’t have the luxury of being a minor party; they can’t throw out ideas and see what sticks. If they commit to something chances are they’ll have to implement it.

Throughout the dark days of New Labour I encountered various hard-left groups, such as those mentioned earlier who insisted that Labour weren’t left-wing enough.  But I recognised that their prescriptions – basically an unreconstructed Socialism – were completely unelectable.  There was surely a path to be trodden between ‘New Labour’ and out and out Socialism (however desirable that may be) that was both properly left wing and electable.  At last in Ed Milliband’s Labour we have such a party.

Meanwhile we now have more insurgent groups who are not only insisting that Labour isn’t left enough but are taking Labour votes.  How tragic would it be that given the opportunity to vote for change – real change unlike we’ve had in years – a section of the left should deny us that opportunity by voting for the Green or SNP?

Brogan regards the first past the post voting system as “absurd” but burying your head in the sand and voting as if we have a proportional system is even more absurd.

I’m not saying under no circumstance don’t vote Green, far from it.  If you live in Brighton or a super safe seat then by all means obey your conscience.  But if you live in a Labour-Tory marginal please vote with your head not your heart, and put your cross in the red box.

Don’t #Votegreenandfeelblue #VoteLabour

*it was at this meeting that the Green party leader in Wales Pippa Bartolotti claims to have got her political awakening

HOW TO DEFEAT THE TORIES

In C.Spiby on May 5, 2015 at 8:12 pm

THE LEFT INSIDE COLUMN by Forest of Dean Labour member Carl Spiby

There are many reasons to vote Labour come the General Election. Some might argue there is also reason not to.

I’ve written before in the Clarion about compromise, but some still feel a vote for the Greens is still the best way to deliver a left-wing agenda in Parliament.

The Greens offer much, but what can they actually deliver? The stark answer to this question is: very little without any MP’s – even Caroline Lucas will struggle to retain the Green’s only seat in Parliament. Recently though, the Greens do offer a leader to rival Labour’s own in terms of unpopularity – but that’s shallow thinking. The kind of which the media is so obsessed with.

Locally, James Greenwood – a prominent organiser for S.T.A.N.D. (Severnside Together Against Nuclear Development) – is a passionate and skilled public speaker and a good Green candidate, but his party’s support is, as our own Clarion Comment editorial states in this issue, starting from virtually square one.

So we turn to Labour’s Steve Parry-Hearn. How might he fare?

On core local Green Party issues he pretty much cleans up. Steve’s pledge card lays it down clearly: Parry-Hearn is against new nuclear power at Oldbury, against fracking in the Dean and against Trident renewal. All these policies are cornerstone reasons to vote Green. But you can get them locally and for real by voting Labour.

Furthermore, Steve Parry-Hearn is also a strong supporter of the NHS, apprenticeships and green industry but is equally passionate about scrapping the bedroom tax. The difference is, Labour can win here – the Greens will not.

Voting Green means the Tory will retain the seat (or possibly worse, what with UKIP having made the Forest a target seat). Either way, anything but a Labour win will mean your next MP will support Trident renewal, support back-door privatisation of the NHS and will be pro-nuclear.

Meanwhile Labour’s Parry-Hearn takes a risk with his position on these topics of nuclear power, fracking and nuclear weapons as Steve is running contrary to current party policy on all three issues. That’s good news for Clarion readers as it finally means we’ve got a candidate who is a strong independent voice in Labour. A man of conviction built from a bedrock of core Labour principles. What Clarion readers might recognise as one of their own.

But many will call this tactical voting. I call it pragmatic voting. It is all very well having a strong view on an issue, but to trade that passion for an unwillingness to compromise is a self-defeating way to hand victory to those supporting the exact opposite of one’s own view.

When I started writing for the Clarion many years ago I was politically adrift. Back then in 2003 I was secretary of our local Stop the War movement but I belonged to no Party. I had left the Communist Party of Britain because it could never win an MP in my lifetime. At that time I couldn’t join Labour because New Labour supported Bush’s war. So the Lib Dems temporarily won my vote but like many I was let down.

Now I support Labour which is post-New Labour. I do so firstly because of my desire to retain the NHS as Labour built it; but I am also in the Labour Party because Ed Miliband was the choice of the trades union movement – the voice of the working class; and I am proud to support Forest Labour’s Steve Parry-Hearn precisely because of his position on the topics mentioned above. All this would be for nought if a Labour victory didn’t represent the only realistic opportunity of keeping the right out of power in the Dean and in our Parliament.

Please join me in defeating the Tories.