Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Archive for October, 2016|Monthly archive page

LOOKING BACK: Saving the Party from Socialism?

In A.Graham, Uncategorized on October 4, 2016 at 12:34 pm

THE ONSLAUGHT ON MICHAEL FOOT

Michael Foot was a much loved leader of the Labour Party and a highly respected writer and journalist He’d edited Tribune for many years, inherited Nye Bevan’s old constituency of Ebbw Vale, and had held a number of posts in the Labour Governments of Wilson and Callaghan.

After Labour’s defeat in 1979, he became leader of the Party the following year, after Callaghan’s resignation.  Thatcher was now in power, but the country was in recession and she was at that point in her career far from popular. Michael Foot was able to provide a clear Socialist alternative to her policies – policies that were welcomed by those on the left, but not by all in the ranks of Labour. Those opposed to Foot soon set out to undermine his leadership.

BREAKAWAY:
This culminated in the breakaway by the “Gang of Four” Labour MPs who split, to form the Social Democrat Party (SDP), led by Shirley Williams and David Owen – both of whom had held Cabinet posts in the previous Labour government.

As far as the media was concerned, the glossy new SDP was flavour of the month. But the new party soon realised that if it was to take the “centre ground” that it cherished it would have to come to some accommodation with the Liberals. And so the SDP/Liberal Alliance was soon cobbled together.

As for Michael Foot, he was by now 67. But despite the right-wing split in the Labour Party he still maintained an impressive lead in the opinion polls. Sadly this was to melt away, and in 1987 he led Labour to crushing defeat. The Party recorded its lowest vote since before the war – and Thatcher remained in power.

There were two factors involved in Labour’s defeat. First, of course, the new SDP/Liberal Alliance siphoned off a significant number of former Labour votes. And second, the Alliance had the backing of the media, spearheaded by the Murdoch conglomerate, which worked tirelessly to undermine Foot. He was given the nickname “Wurzel Gummidge”, lampooned for his dress sense – and the image stuck.   Few will forget the charge in the Sun that Foot had turned up at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day wearing a “donkey jacket”. In fact it was a smart coat bought for the occasion by his wife Jill Craigie.  Be that as it may, the charge stuck.

IN THE FOREST:
Incidentally, one of those who joined the SDP band-waggon was the former Labour MP for the Forest of Dean, John Watkinson. By splitting the vote he allowed Paul Marland to gain the seat for the Tories. Marland was to hold it well into the ‘nineties, before Diana Organ regained it for Labour.

After Labour’s election defeat, Michael Foot resigned as Labour leader.  His place was taken by Neil Kinnock, a one-time left-wing MP who had re-branded himself as   a “middle of the road” sort of guy.  But, standing against John Major, he still managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

And the rest, as they say, is history. The SDP was completely swallowed up by what became the Lib Dems, whilst the untimely death of Labour’s leader, John Smith allowed a cabal led by Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair to take over the Labour Party, re-brand it as “New Labour” and win the ensuing election.  Labour would have won anyway, as by this time the Tories were looking and acting like a party whose time in office was over. And no doubt they knew it.

As for Michael Foot, he retired gracefully and returned to his west country roots (including his support for Plymouth Argyll football club). He finally died in 2010, well in to his 90s.  As a republican, he  refused a peerage, or indeed any honours. But he remained a man of honour and integrity to his dying day.

CONCLUSIONS:
Conclusions may be drawn, comparing the events surrounding Michael Foot’s leadership bid and those of Jeremy Corbyn – but none are intended. In order to do so, the brush strokes would have to be very, very broad indeed.  And history rarely repeats itself in the same way.  So, any conclusions drawn by readers would have to be their’s alone.

michael_foot_cnd_small

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REVIEW: Paper Tiger – Inside the Real China

In R.Richardson, Reviews, Uncategorized on October 4, 2016 at 12:31 pm

THE REAL CHINA:

“Paper Tiger – Inside the Real China”, by Xu Zhiyuan (published by Head Zeus and translated by Nicky Harman and Michelle Deeter. Reviewed by RUTH RICHARDSON 

“Paper Tiger” is a phrase coined by Mao Zedong  which originally referred to American imperialism. He said, “In appearance it is very powerful but in reality it is nothing to be afraid of; it is a paper tigchairman_mao1949er.”

Xu Zhiyuan uses the phrase as the title of his book of essays, but with slightly different connotations. He believes that China gives the appearance of a transformation into the 21st Century, but “under the bright shiny service lies a political and social crisis.”

Xu is a journalist in his 30s and much of his writing is published outside China. He writes of the contradictions of modern China, the dominance of consumer values above any real commitment to social justice. He paints a picture of the elite who live and work inside air-conditioned blocks covered in one-way mirror glass. Salaries in the financial companies are huge and financiers’ “whirlwind  lifestyle takes them to New York one day and Paris the next”.  But, says Xu, they are unwilling to transform their wealth into wider social improvements.

RELATIONSHIP WITH FATHER:
An interesting essay concerns Xu’s relationship with his father, now in his sixties, who has lived through the Cultural Revolution and seen China’s huge economic boom. “Don’t let your tongue run away with you,” he advises. Xu’s  father always cared about his son’s future, but he worries that journalism will get his son into trouble. He is afraid that voices of dissent will disturb the peace.

“It is difficult,” writes Xu, “for him to believe that an individual’s right to enjoy free speech is just as important as his right to an adequate standard of living.”

EDUCATION: THE WAY IT’S DONE:
I was particularly interested in Xu’s essay on education. Unsurprisingly he is critical of the strict discipline and the exam-orientated regime. The one aim is to gain pupils places at top universities. Linchuan Number One  school, which Xu visits, has 14,000 students. Their curriculum comprises maths, science and formulaic essay writing.

Rows of bookshops near the school’s entrance are full of revision materials; there is no poetry, nothing reflecting  China’s cultural heritage. The school’s library is no longer in use and Xu sees thick layers of dust piling up on the books. When we read what amazing results Chinese school children achieve, we would do well to ponder on how they come about.

FREEDOM TO CRITICISE:
Xu does not call for the overthrow of the existing regime in China, but he wants more freedom to be able to criticise it. The media should be able to expose injustices  and call corrupt officials to account. Xu writes, “We will only have security, democracy and individual freedoms if everyone fights for them. Freedoms that are bestowed never really belong to us.”

Most essays deal with China under its previous leader, Hu Jintao, but in 2012 Xi Jinping took office. Most observers feel that under him a stricter regime has been imposd, and academics, lawyers and journalists are under more pressure to toe the line. It will be interesting to read Xu Zhiyuan’s observations on the current regime. I am sure that he will not be easily silenced.

Ruth Richardson

EDUCATION MATTERS: Issues outstanding

In R.Richardson, Uncategorized on October 4, 2016 at 12:24 pm

{nb. this article was written before the start of the new academic year; 99% of our articles are published in the print of the Clarion FIRST – subscribe to get your copy and support our paper}

As we come to the end of  the academic year, it would be good to feel that some of the issues that have given us cause for concern have been resolved. Sadly this appears not to be the case.

Well over a year ago when Nicky Morgan took over as Education Minister, she made a promise to lighten teachers’ work loads.  This promise has not been fulfilled. Another pledge, that school budgets would be kept at the same level as formerly was also broken. These issues were just two that motivated the NUT strike at the beginning of July.

Lack of funding meant that some arts subjects have been dropped and class sizes have increased. John McDonell, addressing the rally declared that those calling for Jeremy Corbyn’s resignation  were “partially motivated by his support for proper education funding.”

TESTING TIMES:

This year new, tougher standard assessment tests were brought in for eleven-year-olds (they were also re-introduced for seven-year-olds after a lapse of several years).  Only about half of eleven year-olds reached the required standard , whereas last year 80 per cent did so.

As we reported in our last issue, teachers and parents alike were vociferous in their condemnation of these tests. And we wondered (cynically perhaps?) whether schools were being set up to fail so that academisation plans could be forced through. These results will depress and demoralise teachers and pupils alike. Mary Bansted of the Association of Teachers & Lecturers  said, “we are appalled by the shambles of the Key Stage Two Sats results.”

LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY:

We have been critical of the Government’s academisation policy for several reasons, not least their lack of accountability. A new report from the National Audit Office shows that there is no accurate record of the billions of pounds of school buildings and property that have been handed over. The incomplete accounting “could take years to put right.”

Meanwhile, Nicky Morgan has promised to publish new figures which will be “robust.”  They were to be published “after the referendum” – but then that was a Nicky Morgan pledge.

MONEY MAKING:

A special investigation in the Observer focused on venture capitalist Mike Duran, who has ambitions to run over 200 schools. Staff at Colchesyer Academy, recently acquired by Bright Tribe Multi-Academy Trust, were informed that auxiliary services – catering, cleaning and building maintenance – were to be provided by a “national facilities management company” called Blue Support.  Eagle-eyed union official, Hazel Corby, spotted that its address was was the same as that of Bright Tribe. Further investigation revealed that  Blue Support’s  parent company was Equity Solutions , of which Mike Duran’s brother was managIng director. Mike Duran himself is also a diirector, one of ninety directorships that he holds.

Today, Duran is worth £75 million. One lucrative deal back in 2004 was a PFI  project at Speke, Liverpool. It included a school, library and leisure centre. The school actually closed in 2014 because of poor academic results. But Liverpool continues to pay a company called “Education Solutions Speke”  (of which Duran is a director and significant shareholder) over £1 million a year in interest payments. By the time the loan is paid off  in 2028 the complex which cost £22 million to build will have cost taxpayers £90 million.

“The story of Mike Duran,” says the Observer “is the story of an English education system that has been thrown open to private business interests  in unprecedented fashion.”

The National Audit Office has been investigating Bright Tribes accounts. The Observer investigation sets out a complicated  trail of companies and parent companies such as Pure Creative, an equity  solutions  company owned by Duran. Meanwhile, the National Audit Office continues to monitor the situation.

WORRYING:

In conclusion , a short but worrying report caught my eye.  A primary school teacher for thirty years, Sue Stephens, has such died from mesothelioma. This incurable cancer is caused by inhaling minute particles of asbestos dust. It seems that in 2013 (the latest year for which figures are available), seventeen teachers died from mesothelioma.

Apparently, 86 per cent of schools contain asbestos and amazingly there is no long-term strategy for its removal.

Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the NUT, called on the Government to act urgently on this vital health and safety issue.

RETURN OF THE GRAMMAR SCHOOLS?

Teresa May’s Cabinet reshuffle has resulted in the departure of Education Nicky Morgan, whose policies were largely a continuation of those of her predecessor, Michael Gove.

Her replacement is Justine Greening. In the Andrew Marr Show on July 17th she said that she was  “open” to the idea of selective schools, but wasn’t going to make any decisions immediately. Theresa May has in the past expressed support for existing grammar schools, and it is reported that she may repeal the ban on new grammar schools brought in under Blair in 1998.

Other members of the new Cabinet including Boris Johnson and David Davis strongly support grammar schools. But policies leading to the establishment of new selective schools are likely to be strongly opposed  by many teachers and parents. Concern was also expressed by Melissa Benn, of the campaign group Comprensive Future, and by Alex Shapland Howes of Future First . He said “The priority… has to be reducing the gap in outcomes between those born in high – and low – income homes.”

RUTH RICHARDSON

TRIDENT: What use is it?

In A.Graham, Uncategorized on October 4, 2016 at 12:20 pm
Once again, on July 18th, we  witnessed the Commons in full cry, debating whether we should renew our (small but no doubt beautifully formed) fleet of Trident nuclear submarines.
bomb_tree
We’ve watched the same old arguments trotted out – this time, though, by the new Tory Prime Minister, Theresa May. We also witnessed the un-edifying sight of serried ranks of Labour MPs all doing their best to show that they didn’t support Jeremy Corbyn on this issue (or, indeed, much else).  What were they trying to prove, I wonder? And we also watched Theresa May trying to do a Cameron by slapping down Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas as she spoke against Trident.  It wasn’t a pretty sight, and we can do without it in any serious debate. Carolyn Lucas by the way was making the point that the logic of renewing Trident was that “every other country must seek to acquire nuclear weapons.”  After all,  If we had to have Trident, why shouldn’t they? Renewing our own nuclear submarine fleet  Is hardly a move towards preventing proliferation!
When it comes to who supports what, Trident presents us with a tangle of opinion. The SNP don’t want it in their back yard – understandably. On the other hand, Unite the union (particularly its members in the Barrow shipyards) want the Trident project to go ahead. After all, their jobs are at stake. Having said that, wouldn’t it provide more security if marine “jobs for peace” could be guaranteed at Britain’s remaining shipyards? There are plenty of naval vessels that need building.
In effect, what we got from supporters of Trident in the debate were cliches that steered clear of the reality of the situation. For a start it’s not “our” independent nuclear deterrent.  And it would hardly be of any use against any of the opponents who we face in those conflicts we’ve got ourselves involved in. We may have built our fleet of Trident subs ourselves but the nuclear warheads are a different matter altogether. The missiles are American, and no way could we take unilateral action without seeking consent. From the USA.  Basically, our Trident subs tie us firmly into US nuclear/military strategy.
CAMPAIGNING:
I have to confess that I’m something of a veteran peace campaigner – and well remember one particularly fraught action which saw us on the march to Holy Loch  where our nuclear missile system squatted like a giant toad on the waters of the loch. In those days we relied on the Polaris nuclear submarine, to provide our deterrent. It was to be replaced by Trident in the 1990s without  firing a single missile in anger.
Most of our attempts to get to the loch and board the submarine were thwarted. We were dragged away by sweating, disgruntled policemen, and we ended up in the Glssgow central police cells.  But we believed then that we’d won a moral victory.
Nowadays, older and maybe wiser, I believe that moral victories are not enough. The “Cold War”, as it was then, is no longer with us, but we still live in a very dangerous world, even if the dangers are more fragmented. And it’s because of this fragmentation that old theories based on “mutually assured destruction” no longer have the same validity.
IRRELEVANCE:
Our nuclear missiles were completely irrelevant when it came to the Iraq War, spearheaded by Bush and Blair. They are even more irrelevant in the trouble zones of the Middle East today, or in the campaigns to contain and overcome the outrages committed by self-styled jihadists in Europe.
The list goes on. But meanwhile we’re determined to spend billions of pounds so that we can be seen to be playing with the big boys.

MODERN TIMES: the Dinosaur column

In Dinosaur, Uncategorized on October 4, 2016 at 12:16 pm
dinosaurBecoming a Corbynista
It doesn’t take much to transform a plodding old dinosaur into a raving “Corbynista”.  An attempted Parliamentary coup is just the ticket. For that was what the vote of “no confidence” in Jeremy effectively was.
After all, you don’t suddenly decide to take a vote on the spur of the moment. No siree. This was a case of secret meetings in Parliamentary committee rooms (though no longer smoke filled these days). How many were involved in setting it all up is difficult to say – but once the plot was hatched, it was time to get the bandwagon rolling.
Why this time was chosen I haven’t the faintest idea. Or whether any thought was given to such folk as the the Party members out in the sticks, and their reaction. But then if you live in a Westminster bubble, cocooned  from your membership back at constituency level then maybe you don’t.
As this is being written, the matter is far from resolved. It will probably have moved on apace by the time this issue of the Clarion appears in print.  In which case all these words should be regarded as a merely an initial reaction. Watch this space, as they say!
Challenging times, post-brexit:
It seems to be all change, following the result of the EU referendum. Cameron has taken his bat home – and, incredible though it may seem, so has Nigel Farage. One might think that he’d be happy basking in his achievement of being on the winning side when it came to the vote. But no.
Farage claims he wants to relax, and get his life back. Take a holiday, perhaps. Prop up a few bars with the odd pint in his hand. According to the Daily Express though, one factor in his resignation was the death threats that he’d received during the campaign.
Death threats, I’m sure, can be scary. At the very least they’re unsettling and unpleasant.  But in the longer term, it’ll be interesting to see what impact his resignation will have on Ukip nationally. Will any contest for the leadership lead to fall out?  Will the Ukip momentum stutter and grind to a halt?  Or even slip into reverse gear?  Already one  councillor here in the Forest has resigned from Ukip, prophesying that more will follow.
Ukip has had a chequered  history since it was founded several decades ago. After all, the one point that united its disparate membership was opposition to the EU. In its early years, it faced competition from the better-funded “Referendum Party” set up by James Goldsmith.  Later, just when it was getting going,  it suffered a split  in its ranks. Those were the Robert Kilroy-Silk years – when he failed to get his own way he walked out, forming a new party called “Veritas”, taking some of Ukip’s membership with him.
Now, without Farage at the helm, where will it be going next?  Mind you, it isn’t the first time he’s resigned – but I assume  that this time he means it.!
Threat to our buses:
The Forest’s doughty bus campaigner, Sue Dubois, is continuing her campaign to save the Dean’s network of bus services from being decimated.
One of the problems, of course, is that the bulk of them are run by that monolithic company Stagecoach – whose watch word is profit, and more of it. But the planned cuts in this case actually come from the County Council, that dishes out the odd subsidy.
Councillors (all no doubt with cars at their disposal) have come up with proposals to axe evening and weekend services in our neck of the woods. Under threat is the number 23, Gloucester, Lydney, Coleford route, the number 30, Gloucester, Cinderford, Coleford, and the 24, Gloucester, Mitcheldean to Joys Green bus. Other local shopping services are under threat.
Bus users are being given a number of options, all of which come under the general heading of “which cuts do you prefer?” In other words, leaving the council to decide who’re really going to be the losers when it comes to dishing out the subsidies.
Dinosaur