Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Archive for March, 2016|Monthly archive page

MODERN TIMES: The Dinosaur Column

In Dinosaur on March 9, 2016 at 1:31 pm

The dwindling world of local newspapers

dinosaurWhat’s been happening in the world of local newspapers? Once they were the lifeblood of their communities. The means whereby folk found out what was going on, or kept in touch. They were the local heartbeat.

But sadly no more. Over the past few years they have been going down like ninepins. Many long established papers have folded, others have been sold on. Some local dailies have even found themselves relegated to weekly publication.

There’s one simple reason. They’re no longer as profitable as they used to be. Once they could be a licence to print money. Advertising poured into their columns. But no more. That precious revenue is going elsewhere – and some like the Daily Mail group (which owned amongst many other titles, the Gloucester Citizen), started to cut back. There were rumours that the Citizen was to be put up for sale. But then finally three years ago it passed to consortium called “Local World”, in which the Daily Mail still kept an interest.

 

But cutbacks have been made. Local news coverage has been pruned, to the point that the Forest now only has a couple or so pages of coverage once a week. Local columnists have all but disappeared.

In more confident times, the Citizen had taken over our own local weekly, the Forester – once a broadsheet owned by the Bright family. Later, as profits started to shrink, it was sold on, to the Tindle group (which owns our weekly freebie, the Review).

Now, though, more change seems to be afoot in the consortium that controls Local World. As we on the Clarion slowly go to press the news is that the Trinity Mirror group is to buy (possibly) a controlling interest in the Local World group.

Well, at least it isn’t Rupert Murdoch.

A special prize for dictators?

Who’d have thought it? A small news item caught my eye which stated that this year’s “Confucius Prize” (described as China’s equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize) has been awarded to… wait for it … Robert Mugabe.

I just wondered what the qualifications were to win what I presume is regarded as such a prestigious award? Longevity, perhaps? I’m sure Confucius would have had something pithy to say about it.

Tough being rich:

What is it with money for some people? That inner drive to accumulate more and more millions despite the fact that you end up with far more than you could ever spend in one lifetime?

Something like one per cent of the population now have more dosh than most of the rest of us put together. Yes, I know, most of us would like a bit more cash to ensure the security of a decent home, enough to spend on food, clothing, and what I believe are called utilities. With, of course, some extra for such things as holidays or leisure activities. But most of us don’t really hanker after the millions that pour into the coffers of the uber-rich. Do we?

But it seems that even these multi-millionaires have their problems. Call it conscience, if you like. Many have become aware of their privileged position and have become troubled by it.

Well, fear not. There are now psychologists who are only too happy to offer therapy, counselling, and the whole package, to help such people get over their guilt. (Or as it’s now labelled, “wealth fatigue syndrome”). At a price naturally.

Of course there’s one simple solution to the problem. Give all your surplus millions away. Try indulging in a bit of wealth re-distribution. I expect there are plenty of accountants willing to help out, and I’m sure the wealthy can afford the fees.

Meanwhile I can rest assured knowing that whatever problems I may have, at least I don’t suffer from “wealth fatigue syndrome”. If only.

Dinosaur

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Education Matters: TROUBLE AT DEAN ACADEMY

In R.Richardson on March 9, 2016 at 1:28 pm

It was back in March that we reported on the troubles facing the Dean Academy in Lydney. Originally it had been Whitecross School, and its transfer to academy status in 2012 had been marked by controversy. It seemed that few parents wanted the change (either of name or status).

Back then the sponsor of the new academy was a group called the Prospects Academy Trust. But then Prospects was required to shed six schools from its “portfolio”, because of the inadequate provision of services.

CHANGE AT THE TOP:

The Dean Academy was one of those that were offloaded. It lost its sponsorship in July 2014, and consequently was left without a sponsor for ten months. But earlier this year, the school acquired its new sponsor, the Athelstan Trust – and its Head, David Gaston, was able to put a very positive spin on future prospects for staff and pupils alike.

SPECIAL MEASURES?

However, following a recent Ofsted inspection, it now seems that the school is likely to go into “special measures” – an Ofsted term which basically means there is cause for grave concern. This will be the second time in four years that the Dean Academy has been placed in special measures. The head, David Gaston, who sounded so upbeat only a few months ago, has now left and there is an acting head.

Councillors have called for a definitive statement from the school, but at this stage nothing has been forthcoming. The school’s website is bland and says all the right things, but there is no way to access the results of any Ofsted inspections. We hope to be able to report more at a future date.

Meanwhile, a recent report in the Forester struck a more positive note. A new “Learning Resources and Literacy Centre” was opened by Mark Harper MP in November. It is, in fact, the re-modelled library and it cost £195,000. It’s true that no additional books appear to have been purchased, but never mind, there are extra laptops, rolling news on screens and under floor heating. Wow! Surely that will boost performance?

PRIVATISATION ACROSS THE WORLD:

An interesting article in the Morning Star caught my eye recently. It concerned the creeping global privatisation of education.

There has always been a small elite who send their children to private schools and pay high fees. But now private schools that target the middle class are emerging in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil.

Pearson, the world’s largest education company, has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in establishing chains of schools in these countries. Such schools attract children already in government schools whose parents can afford modest fees.

UNDERMINING OPPORTUNITY

But they do nothing to extend access to education for the 58 million children who are out of school worldwide.

Moreover, they undermine government schools, as funding is often based on the number of pupils. One commercial education chain is Bridge International, expanding in Africa at the rate of one new school every three days. It’s funded by hedge fund speculators.

Three recent reports indicate that the Department for International Development is increasingly channeling its public funding towards supporting the privatisation of education around the world.

RUTH RICHARDSON

OBITUARIES: TANIA ROSE

In Obiturary on March 9, 2016 at 1:25 pm

tania_roseA friend of the Clarion

Tania Rose, daughter of Morgan Philips Price, has died at the age of 95. She had a long life, and a fulfilling one. She was married to artist Walter Rose and outside her attachment to politics and the lengthy parliamentary career of her father she developed other interests that took her on parallel paths.

She was born in Germany during those turbulent pre-Hitler years of the Weimar republic. Morgan Philips Price was there as a reporter on events for the Daily Herald (then edited by George Lansbury). He’d married Lisa Balster, secretary to Rosa Luxemberg, and Tania was born amidst the political chaos that marked the rise of Nazism.

Later she was to edit her father’s reports, which were published by Pluto Press in 1996 under the title ‘Despatches from the Weimar Republic’ (And later reviewed in the Clarion).

RETURN TO BRITAIN:

With the rapid rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party, the family returned to England. Philips Price re-engaged himself in politics, and finally became MP for the Forest of Dean constituency in the 1930s (defeating the incumbent, a member of Ramsey MacDonald’s “National Labour Party”).

Philips Price was to remain the MP for the Forest right through to the mid-1950s – the longest serving member for the constituency. As for Tania, in 1943 she married William Rose, an American who’d joined the Canadian Black Watch regiment to fight the Nazis during the war. After the war ended Rose settled in Britain with his new wife – and it was then that Tania found herself embarking on a new career.

NEW DIRECTIONS:

With her husband she co-scripted a number of films, including Genevieve, the Ladykillers and It’s a Mad Mad World. Probably her best known collaboration though was Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, released in 1967, and starring Katherine Hepburn, Sidney Poitier and Spencer Tracy – in its day, a ground-breaking and timely production.

Sadly, perhaps, this film script collaboration ended when she and her husband divorced. But Tania remained active, serving on the Race Relations Board and then the Commission for Racial Equality. She finally retired in 1980, but carried on writing – including a couple of pieces for the Forest Clarion in 1996. She also wrote a biography (Twas Brillig) – and edited her father’s reports from Germany.

As her health deteriorated, she was given what she described as a “grace and favour” apartment in Tibberton Court. She continued to support the Clarion though her contacts lessened as her health waned.

Her funeral took place at the Forest Crematorium on October 22nd.

EDITORIAL: Poverty Knocks

In A.Graham, Editorial on March 9, 2016 at 1:15 pm

Clarion Comment: What’s all this about a “living wage”?

“The poor are always with us” is one of those platitudes that was once popular amongst those who had plenty of money. Nowadays, of course, they don’t bother. Far too many have swept the whole topic of poverty under the carpet. And far too many of them are in the present Government.

But there are means to, at least, ameliorate the impact of income differentials on families and allow them to lead a more acceptable life. First, we need to ensure that all those in work are paid a decent wage. And second, to maintain an adequate welfare system to look after all those in society – regardless of age, income or social position.

WORK AND WELFARE:

Britain’s welfare state was, when it was first implemented following the Beveridge Report, a great social leveller. Not only did it provide comprehensive health care but also ensured homes for all and relatively full employment. Of course it didn’t happen overnight. And neither was it perfect. But when we see the callous way in which it’s been dismantled we can also see how fundamentally necessary it all was. Today it no longer provides even a sufficient safety net.

The second point is of course to try to ensure that all families receive at least an adequate income, and prevent them being prey to the vagaries of a capitalist market place. It was to deal with this point that Gordon Brown (under a Labour Government) first introduced the “minimum wage”.

Since then, of course, the notion that the minimum wage comes anywhere near meeting basic requirements has been torn to shreds. Work patterns have changed (usually for the worse), the welfare state no longer provides the kind of succour it once did – and poverty has risen steadily, in tandem with the increase in wealth enjoyed by those at the top.

TALKING OF A LIVING WAGE:

That’s why politicians have been bringing up a new concept of a living wage. One that would take families beyond that of the basic minimum wage.   At the beginning of November, a new group calling itself the People’s Movement was launched to campaign for a real living wage. It was a response to George Osborne’s announcement that he was to introduce a new “national living wage”. But this isn’t due to come into force until next April

For many campaigners the levels he announced simply weren’t considered enough. There are claims that it’s merely the existing “minimum wage” dressed up in new clothing. Not only that but his new “living wage” doesn’t stretch to those under the age of 25, and it will also depend on how the Low Pay Commission estimates “what the market can bear” (the Observer, 1st November).

One can appreciate that many campaigners feel that this just isn’t good enough. Some would go further and suggest that it’s all smoke and mirrors. In reality this Tory Government isn’t interested in dealing with the problem of starvation wages – where an increasing number of working people are paid less than the living wage being promoted by the People’s Movement (23 per cent at the last count). The Government is more concerned with maintaining profit levels for the rich whilst massaging figures on pay.

As for the People’s Movement, it is a commendable campaign. But it would seem to rely on trying to persuade employers to “do the decent thing” and pay their workforce appropriate wage rates. Admittedly, as a pressure group, its role is limited – but in the present climate, is this sufficient?

UNEMPLOYMENT:

Meanwhile unemployment rates are also massaged to present the kind of statistics the Government wants. From our viewpoint they remain disturbingly high, but according to Government figures they’re falling – which should be good news if we could take them at face value.

However, such broad statistics don’t take into account part-time work (particularly those on zero hours contracts), or those who’ve been forced off the unemployment register by harsh, bullying conditions or the negativity of those who now work at Job Centres throughout the country. There are many who are prevented from taking up jobs because the infrastructure that would allow them to do so just isn’t there. Others simply drop below the radar and are no longer part of the Government’s statistics.

LOW WAGE ECONOMY:

Maintaining a low wage, poverty-fuelled economy is not good for society. It does none of us any good. But that is what the present Tory Government is doing. Whilst it remains in power we will continue to see people forced to sleep on the streets. Food Banks will stay in business, as a necessary (but hardly adequate) prop for those who no longer have the means to feed themselves.

Is that really what we want?

ENDNOTES: Testing Times for Jeremy

It’s been a challenging couple of months for Jeremy Corbyn. Not only has the Tory press (led, naturally, by the Mail and the Murdoch minions) been stepping up its attacks on the Labour leader but also there’s been the rising surge of public expressed dissent from certain Labour MPs, plaintively calling for a “change in direction”.

Considering this scenario, it’s not surprising that Labour slipped somewhat in the opinion polls. Indeed, everything considered, Labour’s by-election victory in Michael Meacher’s old constituency in Oldham came as a morale booster for all of us.

The poison that’s been coming from the right-wing press is to be expected (though surely it went too far when a commentator on Sky News referred to Corbyn as “Jihadi Jez!), though its corrosive influence should not be under-estimated. The atmosphere created by the horrifying ISIS attacks in Paris has been bound to have an impact, and here, Jeremy’s position was grossly misrepresented. To give an example, unless we believe in a policy of lynch law, surely it’s better, where possible, to arrest terrorists and try them in a court of law rather than just gunning them down?

But what’s even more dispiriting are the activities of those in the ranks of the Labour Party who have chosen to attack him – and to hint that the Party needs a change of leadership. With friends like these, where do we think we’re going? Whatever happened to that old Socialist slogan, “Solidarity forever”?

Of course events in Paris plus the ongoing refugee crisis in the Middle East had tended to overshadow those domestic policies where Labour should have been able to hit the Government hard, as it did with Osborne’s budget attack on tax relief for the low paid. We also need to go on the offensive against the continuing privatisation of what’s left of the public sector, and the treatment by Jeremy Hunt of junior doctors within the NHS, not to mention the disintegration of the Health Service as a whole – to give a couple of examples. But there have been a host of examples where Corbyn’s leadership has been frustrated by the antics of right-wing Labour MPs whose notions of solidarity seemed sadly lacking. They seem more concerned with infighting than facing up to the real enemy.

What’s necessary within the Parliamentary Labour Party is unity – unity in the face of a vicious, uncaring Tory government that has no scruples when it comes to deepening the divisions in our society. “New Labour” is dead in the water. It has been for some time. Now’s the time to give Corbyn the Party’s backing, to fight the real enemy – the Cameron/Osborne Government.