Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Archive for July, 2016|Monthly archive page

EDUCATION MATTERS / HEALTH WATCH

In R.Richardson on July 30, 2016 at 8:55 pm

HEALTH WATCH: JEREMY HUNT – A PROFILE

So, who is Jeremy Hunt – and what led him into such a bitter confrontation with junior doctors, their union – and indeed with most of the medical profession?

First, some biographical points. His background was in consultancy, but he entered Parliament as member for South West Surrey in 2005, and became Culture Secretary in the new Government. But in 2012, he took over as Health Secretary from Andrew Lansley. It may have been seen as a strange choice – particularly as he’d already courted some controversy by co-writing a book which proposed replacing the NHS with a system of health provision in which those who could afford it would pay into personal accounts which would enable them to shop around for care and treatment. Those who couldn’t would have to put up with what care was still available. This, of course, would have sunk the NHS replacing it with a second grade two tier system.   Maybe he was a bit ahead of his time, as the concept sunk without trace!

DISPUTE WITH DOCTORS:

Last autumn, Hunt was accused by a number of doctors and medical experts of making false claims that hospitals were more unsafe at weekends. He was accused of “misrepresenting the facts”. Not only were figures inaccurate but they were also out of date. His claim that stroke patients were more likely to die if admitted to hospital at weekends was also denied by those working in the profession.

These misrepresentations were Hunt’s pretext for attempting to force junior doctors into a new contract – which was bitterly opposed.

By September 2015 came the announcement that new contracts would be imposed on junior doctors in England (Hunt’s remit, of course, doesn’t extend to other parts of the UK). Basically these new conditions would include extended hours on all days except Sundays, without premium pay. Instead those doctors affected would be given an overall increase in salary.

After several days of action, backed by the doctors’ union, Hunt announced that he would impose his proposed contract unilaterally. Those in the medical profession united in condemnation of his announcement. Some suggested that Hunt saw himself as emulating Thatcher, in her dispute with the miners.

Certainly, there’s been no attempt at conciliation – and no sign that the doctors involved are prepared to accept their new working conditions.

“GET ANGRY AND GET ACTIVE”:

Meanwhile, a recent issue of Tribune carried an article by a GP, Dr. David Wrigley, under the headline, “Get angry and get active: we must fight to save our NHS”. He joined the picket lines himself, at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary.

“As a GP, I support our junior colleagues 100 per cent in this fight for a safe and fair contract and what is in effect a fight for the National Health Service,” he wrote. “… they don’t want to be on strike but they have been forced into this by David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt who now see doctors as their enemy and are trying to crush them.” He continues with the point that if the junior doctors lose their battle then “next in line will be nurses, porters, radiographers, midwives and many other public sector workers.”

Dr. Wrigley concludes: “The Government should be ashamed of itself having brought the service to its knees but they continue to ply us with their lies about the NHS doing well and care improving – when every NHS staff member knows the exact opposite is true.

“It is a national scandal. It should see the Government fall. It should see millions of us on the streets….

“The only way to stop what is happening is to get angry and get active.”

Since then, of course, agreement has been reached, via ACAS, on the dispute, and further action has been called off. The conditions agreed certainly aren’t perfect, but enough has been conceded for agreement to be reached.

And many in the medical profession still believe that this was a dispute that just shouldn’t have happened, if it hadn’t been for the obstinacy of Jeremy Hunt who chose to make an issue out of his plans to rub the noses of senior doctors in the dust.


EDUCATION MATTERS

ACADEMIES? WELL, MAYBE LATER

As our last edition of the Clarion was being prepared, the news had just broken that the Government intended to force all schools to become academies by, or before, 2022.  There was a huge outcry from parents and teachers alike. Petitions were organised and rallies held.

In the face of all the opposition, the Government was forced to back down and withdraw the target date for wholesale academisation. A welcome victory for people power! This does not mean of course that the Government has abandoned the idea of academies. It is still its preferred model.

CAUSE FOR CONCERN:

And other proposals in the White Paper remain, giving cause for concern. The requirement for schools to have elected parent governors is removed and, even more worrying, qualified teacher status is to be abolished.  Already unqualified teachers are regularly employed in academies and free schools, and this latest piece of legislation can only accelerate the process. In a recent article in the Morning Star Sarah Carter describes the situation in Chile where for-profit schools regularly under-perform in relation to the not-for-profit schools, as the former pay low salaries and have less qualified teachers. It’s precisely what academies are doing here.

WHAT ABOUT FREE SCHOOLS?

The other model promoted by the Tories is that of the Free School. These are state-funded institutions set up by groups of parents or other interested bodies. The NUT has called for councils to be able to open new schools, especially as a population bulge is about to hit. But bizarrely all new schools must be “free schools” – councils can only try to persuade someone – any one – to open one in their area. Solomon Hughes in the Morning Star says that “this is a massive piece of social engineering”

“BEWARE THE BLOB”:

Back in 2013, Michael Gove (then Minister for Education) said that his school reforms were being resisted by “The Blob”. By this Gove meant teachers, LEAs and teacher training colleges – all those with professional expertise. He branded them “Marxist”.  Instead, Gove wanted to give control of schools to private chains, religious groups or rich men “wanting a bit of glory”.

Local Authorities, of course, have less money for schools under their control. This makes it increasingly difficult for them to provide for the schools they do retain services such as special needs provision, musical instrument tuition or outdoor pursuit centres. So local authorities look to private service providers to fill the gaps. At a stroke the Tories have curbed the power of local authorities and provided business with money-making opportunities.

“DREADED SATS”;

This is the term when our year two and year six primary school pupils undergo the dreaded “sats” (standardised attainment targets). This year, new, tougher tests have been introduced.

In response parents formed a group called “Let our kids be kids”, and took their key stage one children out of school for the day on May 3rd in protest. The parents’ website explains that they “want our kids to be kids again and enjoy learning for learning’s sake, not for Ofsted results or league table figures. Bring back the creativity and the fun – say goodbye to repetition and boredom.”

Sats for six and seven year-olds were dropped some years ago, but were re-introduced in the belief that testing raises standards. Another explanation put forward by one campaigning parent is that children and schools are being set up to fail so that the Government can push through its academy agenda and claim it as saving struggling schools.  Apart from the stress of the tests themselves, the curriculum for the whole of year two (six to seven year-olds) is skewed, say campaigners, being centred on comprehension and arithmetic.

Teachers are as vociferous as parents in their condemnation of SATS, as was evident in the recent NUT conference. Christine Blower, General Secretary of the NUT, said “it frankly beggars belief that Nicky Morgan is not listening to the voice of the profession on the chaos that the Government has caused in the assessment system.”

FOOTNOTE:

Another Forest school, St. John’s Church of England primary in Coleford, has just been placed in special measures. Significantly the Ofsted report said that “Since converting to an academy in 2012 leaders have received little scrutiny or challenge.” There were low expectations and a failure to inspire. However, pupils’ personal development and welfare was praised. We wish St. John’s well for the future.

RUTH RICHARDSON

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MODERN TIMES: the Dinosaur column

In Dinosaur on July 30, 2016 at 8:34 pm

dinosaurVICTORY IN THE MAYORAL STAKES!

I’m not a supporter of the notion of elected mayors wielding political power. And I‘m more than happy that we don’t have any of that nonsense in the Forest or in Gloucester.

As I see it, mayors are there to fill purely ceremonial roles. Chairing council meetings, wearing their chain of office, opening fetes or meeting visiting dignitaries – that sort of thing.

But having laid my cards on the table, I was glad that the Labour candidate in Bristol had successfully defeated the previous “independent”. Marvin Rees beat red-trousered George Ferguson by a big majority, and Bristolians can now rest easy in their beds.

Ferguson could be described as a controversial figure. Apart from schemes for trying to sort out the city’s traffic congestion, I think his two decisions that stirred up most controversy were the “metrobus scheme” and the sale of Avonmouth and Royal Portbury docks – thus disposing of important assets to the city.

It was the metrobus scheme that created the most active opposition, when his route ploughed through woodland and allotments (many of which had been worked for generations). Protestors took to the trees to block the route. It’s worth adding that Ferguson always claimed “green” credentials. In this instance he had a funny way of showing it.

REFERENDUM FEVER?

We’re now on the brink of the referendum on membership of the European Union and the sound and fury via the media has reached fever pitch. Politicians have put their case for “in” or “out” (well, some sort of parody of their case, anyway), while the turmoil increased around them.

One would think that public interest in the Forest and across the Wye would have been rising as a result – but I have to confess that I haven’t noticed much sign of it. How many doorstep chats have you had on the topic? How many arguments have you heard in the stores or pubs? And how many leaflets have popped through your door so far?

Having said that, the debate did hit Lydney briefly back on May 21st. with a short foray outside the Co-op by the “Leave” campaign, but it didn’t seem to have disturbed the Saturday shoppers much – if at all.

If it wasn’t for the newspapers and the telly, I reckon we’d have all stayed in the dark about it. Mind you, if you’d tried to follow the media debate you were probably not much wiser.

CHANGING THE GUARD AT THE CITIZEN:

There are still quite a few folk in the Forest who skim through the Citizen every day (though not, of course, across the other side of the Wye). And I’m sure that those Forest readers will have noticed a few changes in the paper.

For starters it’s no longer owned by the Daily Mail group. Instead it’s been snapped up by the Daily Mirror.

The Citizen has a long history, going back to 1876, though its roots are even earlier than this. Under the old Daily Mail regime it was very much a local “establishment” kind of paper, casting a rosy hue over the city of Gloucester and beyond into the Forest and over to Stroud. All was well with its world, and the city was always moving forward, with new shopping opportunities and businesses springing up like Spring blossom. It was enough to make many readers somewhat cynical.

Now that the Mirror has taken over at the helm, it doesn’t have that same gloss. There’s a new occasional edginess to it. There’s been a piece on sleeping rough in the city, for example, and mention of unemployment figures. And, if I may say so, I think it’s all the better for it.

Oh, and one other thing if I may mention it. It’s no longer published from Gloucester. Its new home is in Cheltenham, where its sister paper, the Echo, is produced.

Dinosaur

THE STRUGGLE AHEAD

In Editorial on July 30, 2016 at 8:21 pm

We would hope that by now the Labour Party in Parliament would have been able to sort itself out, and become a united, coherent force capable of taking on the Tories and acting as an effective opposition.

And, to a certain extent it has. We wouldn’t want to belittle its achievements since a new leadership with a new sense of commitment took over. But – and it’s a big but – it still lacks the kind of unity at Parliamentary level that it needs in order to function as ably as it should.  This is by no means a criticism of Corbyn and his team. They have scored a number of worthwhile victories against a rabid Tory Government.  But let’s face it, there are still those Labour MPs, and others in the Party, who seem to see their role as being critics of the leadership. Those who would rather see Corbyn back on the back benches, with “one of their own” shoe-horned in as leader instead. Then they can all relax on the opposition benches and wait for the Tory Government to self-destruct (always assuming it does, that is).

There are, of course, Labour members who didn’t vote for Jeremy Corbyn and for a number of reasons still have their doubts.  But a good proportion have accepted his leadership and, for the good of the Party, want it to work.  But it’s those who haven’t come to terms with the new leadership that cause concern.  Whether such elements are really capable of mounting an effective challenge at this stage, though, is difficult to say. But they remain a distraction. Many of these dissidents forecast heavy losses for Labour in the local and mayoral elections at the beginning of May. Such losses never happened. Although Labour failed to make gains in the local elections, its losses were minimal. And its victories in the London and Bristol mayoral elections should have been seen as a major moral boost.

REACTION:

So how did the dissidents (if we can call them that) react to the results? With relief, maybe? Or with a bit of polite applause? No, they raised the barrier. Their response was to suggest that we’d all have done better if we’d had a different leadership. For Labour just to break even in the local elections just wasn’t good enough. We of course would agree. Before the next General Election, Labour will have to raise the stakes – and here a party united is essential.  But simply to switch arguments when it suited them could be considered at the very least to be pathetic.

Indeed, the reaction of many of the dissidents seemed to suggest that they didn’t really want Labour to win at all – well, not without changes in the Party’s leadership. And the constant criticisms of the Labour Party leadership continues to be made public, aided and abetted by the media which has been only too happy to help. It’s been suggested, for example, that on BBC current affairs programmes, any pro-Corbyn speaker is “balanced” by an anti-Corbyn counterpart.  But if the speaker in question just happens to be anti-Corbyn, then there isn’t the same pro-Corbyn counterpart  to provide any semblance of “balance”.  As for the Tory press (and there’s plenty of that about) it’s all too happy to attack Corbyn on any pretext  whatsoever – when it’s not too busy shouting about the tide of migrants allegedly flooding our shores, or the EU referendum, that is.

Even the left of centre press – or what remains of it – seems happy to criticise the Corbyn leadership, sometimes through its columnists and sometimes through one or other of Labour’s dissidents.

For example, there was a recent article in the Observer by Tristram Hunt suggesting that Labour had abandoned its working class roots and instead is too busy chasing middle class voters. These working class models seem to be identified as young, Union Jack waving – and with presumably secure jobs. They don’t appear to have any connection with those struggling to make ends meet, the homeless or the dispossessed.

Corbynism isn’t mentioned by name, and whilst Hunt’s arguments may be considered legitimate, the inferences are there. A powerful counter-argument could be presented but that might have to wait until some other time.

Meanwhile, what are we to make of the charges of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party? The impression given is that the party is riddled with it. At this stage this seems to be based on somewhat flimsy evidence, and Labour’s leadership has acted swiftly to deal with it. As an inquiry has been set up, it would probably be wise not to comment further on the topic.

DEBATE:

When it comes to Labour’s future, one might be tempted to say “put up or shut up”. But that wouldn’t resolve the situation. The solution must lie in debate, rather than in accusation and counter-accusation. Those of us who are in the Labour Party (and many of our readers are not, but will have opinions nevertheless) must decide what kind of Party we want. Or, indeed, what kind of society we want – and that’s certainly not the kind we’re faced with in Tory Britain.  But as the Clarion says in its aims and objectives, “we believe that change is only possible through open debate and exchange of ideas, in which all who share a common sense of purpose can take part.”

So let’s start the debate!


NOTE: this article was originally published in the print edition of the Forest & Wye Valley Clarion magazine; since then the Labour inquiry into anti-Semitism has been completed by the eminent and well-respected human rights barrister Shami Chakrabarti, which concluded Labour is not overrun with anti-Semitic racists. In a BBC report (30th June 2016) Jeremy Corbyn commented on the conclusion of the inquiry:

“Under my leadership the Labour Party will not allow hateful language or debate in person, online, or anywhere else.

“We will aim to set the gold standard, not just for anti-racism, but for a genuinely welcoming environment for all communities and for the right to disagree as well.

“Racism is racism is racism. There is no hierarchy, no acceptable form of it.”

He called for an end to Hitler and Nazi metaphors and comparisons between different human rights atrocities.

“Diluting degrees of evil does no good,” he said.

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-36672022