Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

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THE SCOURGE OF “UNIVERSAL CREDIT”

In A.Graham, R.Richardson on November 7, 2017 at 6:51 am

Explained by RUTH RICHARDSON

Universal Credit was introduced in 2012 as part of the Welfare Reform Act (sic). Its aims were to simplify the system whereby clients claimed a number of benefits with a multiplicity of forms to fill in. It also aimed to encourage people into work and to make sure that work paid. And, it was claimed, the system would reduce fraud and be cheaper to administer.

The transition to Universal Credit from so-called “legacy benefits” such as Jobseekers’ Allowance, Income Support, Child Tax Credit and Housing Benefit has been gradual. But it is the Government’s aim that the roll out should be completed by 2022.  A report from the Trussel Trust [1] lists a number of points of difference from the previous system.

These include:

  1. A six-week delay for first-time claimants.
  2. Payments made in arrears with housing benefits paid directly to claimants rather than landlords.
  3. New forms of conditionality for claimants both in and out of work.
  4. Digitisation of how payments are managed (ie, on-line communication regarding benefits).
  5. Some reductions in the amounts received.

The Trussel Trust report detailed the problems clients face in coping with these changes.  The six week delay in the first payment hits particularly hard and food banks report that this alone has led to a 65 per cent increase in referrals.

Digitisation seemed fraught with difficulties with misinformation, claims being lost and documents misplaced.  To speak to an advisor directly, claimants have to hold on for an average of 40 minutes (at no small cost).  In fact the administration in general seems to be in disarray.

Since Universal Credit has been introduced, Food Banks have seen increasing problems with mental health, debt, work issues and housing. The report emphasises that where possible clients are sign-posted to local support services such as Citizens Advice – though these services are often stretched with a waiting list for appointments.

CALL FOR RE-THINK:

This report was published in April this year.  More recently, a newsletter from the Trust asks for the Universal Credit roll-out to be halted.  The Trust asks the Government to re-think the six-week waiting time for a first payment and to tackle the poor administration that can lead to ever longer waits.  More support for claimants could be provided through programmes like Universal Support [2]

Meanwhile the Trust calls for a  pause “particularly until appropriate emergency financial support is available and accessible to all people left with no income and no food in the cupboard.”

It is feared that as winter approaches problems will only get worse for the most vulnerable in our society.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] The Trussel Trust is the largest provider of Food Banks in the UK. Like many charities (such as Amnesty International) it bends over backwards to appear non-political.

[2] Universal Support is a partnership between the DWP and local authorities to give advice on the transition to Universal Credit.


FOCUS: What happened to public transport in the Forest?

a Clarion report by A. Graham

There was a time when we were well served by bus and rail services both in and out of the Forest of Dean – but sadly those days have long since gone.

The network of bus services is now dominated by Stagecoach, whilst all that’s left of the public rail service are the trains that serve Lydney station.  The network that once ran up into the Forest (and indeed across the Severn) has long since gone (true, we have the Dean Forest Railway, but that is basically a tourist-style “heritage” line).

ON THE BUSES:

The bus network in the Dean, and indeed beyond, was swallowed up through a ruthless takeover of other local companies in Gloucestershire by the Stagecoach group. It followed a series of acquisitions by the company throughout the country.  When Stagecoach finally set its sights on our neck of the woods in the early 1990s, it took over four companies in one fell swoop – Cheltenham & District, City of Gloucester, Stroud Valleys – and Red & White Services with its network of routes in the Forest and into South Wales.

The “Red & White” company had its head offices in Bulwark, near Chepstow, though its roots were in Lydney, having been founded by the John Watts’ group of companies between the wars. In 1950 Red & White was brought under public control along with other major bus undertakings throughout the UK. Routes were co-ordinated in order to provide an integrated network of services throughout the country, and fare levels were controlled.

In the Forest, there were two major bus service “hubs” – one in Lydney and the other in Cinderford. In Lydney (as an example) there was a sizeable bus depot and a cafe. The main service operated from Gloucester through Lydney and on to Cardiff – whilst there was also a service up to Hereford. From Cinderford there were connections with the Western Welsh company’s buses.

“DE-REGULATION”:

All this came to an end with legislation passed by the Thatcher Government in October 1986. This de-regulated the way that buses were operated, and effectively ended public control. Before then there had been a legal obligation on bus operators to provide adequate services, whilst any changes in routes or fares was subjected to scrutiny.

CHAOS – FOLLOWED BY CO-ORDINATION:

The immediate result of the legislation was chaos, when any old Tom, Dick or Harry who felt that he/she could run a bus service could buy up an old bus or two and put it on the road. In many parts of the country, timetables ceased to have any meaning. But then came a phase of co-ordination, with the big companies putting the privateers out of business. Within a short while Stagecoach and the “First Bus” groups established a virtual monopoly in their respective areas.

It should, though, be noted that for a while some well-established local operators (such as Soudley Valley Coaches, Cottrells, Willetts and – of courses – Bevans, continued to provide an adequate network of local services in the Forest – but over time they were put out of service or taken over. Now only Willetts and Bevan’s survive.

OFF THE RAILS:

What of the rail network that once served the Forest? Much of it survived the notorious “Beeching Report” (although there was a degree of shrinkage), but the old Forest and Wye network suffered a mortal blow with the destruction of the old Severn rail bridge in 1960. After a decade of inaction it was finally decided to demolish it in 1970.

When John Major came to power he decided to de-nationalise British Rail and carve up the remnants of the network into an overlapping patchwork of franchises. At the present time, our last remaining railway line is served by two passenger rail companies – Arriva and CrossCountry. Both are now owned by Deutsche Bahn (the German state railway) – although their franchises are up for renewal. So, as they say, watch this space!

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Obituary: BART VENNER: “THE QUIET MAN”

In Obiturary, Uncategorized on November 7, 2017 at 6:41 am

The Crematorum, near Cinderford, was packed to capacity for the funeral of Bart Venner at the beginning of August. Indeed many of those who came to pay their respects to Bart were unable to get into the building.

Many of us knew Bart through the Labour Party, which he always served faithfully and well.  But there was more to Bart than this. Although not a Forester by birth, his dedication to the Dean gave him the right to regard himself as one.

He came here back in the ‘fifties to take up a training course at the old Parkend Forestry School. And he worked for the Forestry Commission all his working life.

A QUICK REPLANT:

One story told about his forestry work was of a visit to the Dean by the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh. They planted young oak trees in the plantation beyond Speech House. When they departed, the trees were promptly dug up and taken away as souvenirs. Forestry Commission workers, including Bart, were called out hastily to plant replacements… no names, no pack drill, of course.

Norway spruce were also planted, and, despite a bout of appalling weather in the early 1960s, they also survived as a testament to Bart and his fellow Forestry workers.

Another story from his young Forestry days dated back to the last war, when soldiers used trees for firing practice, peppering the trunks with lead. When the trees were felled for timber, merchants were advised to use metal detectors to check for “lead poisoning” before applying a chain saw to the felled tree trunks.   .

A LABOUR STALWART:

Bart’s allegiance to the Labour Party was engrained in him, like the lettering in a stick of rock.  He held a number of offices within the  Party, including as councillor on the District Council   It’s worth noting, as well, that he was always a  good friend to the Clarion, taking a quiet interest in our paper, and even contributing to its columns.

PEDALLING AWAY:

Bart’s other interest was reflected in his membership of the Forest’s cycling club, and his fellow members were well represented at his funeral. Bart had asked that mourners should attend the event dressed in “something colourful”, and his fellow cyclists came along dressed suitably in their lycra cycling gear.

Those who knew Bart always had a sense of affectionate respect for him. Tributes included the fact that he “was a thoroughly nice chap” and “a true gentleman.” He will be particularly missed by his family.


MEDIA WATCH: STOP PRESS: THE “CITIZEN” BECOMES A WEEKLY

by a Clarion correspondent

So our long-established local evening paper, the Citizen, is ceasing to publish on a daily basis and now will be coming to us on a weekly basis instead.

This should come as no surprise to its readers. It’s happened before in towns and cities across the country as our local press has been cut back, to meet falling sales, and (more important to publishers) cuts in advertising revenue. A number of cities have suffered as their local daily papers have become weekly papers. In many places even local weekly papers have been axed, in a cull of the local press across the UK.

CHANGE IN OWNERSHIP:

For many decades the Citizen and its sister paper, the Cheltenham-based Echo, were owned by the Daily Mail group, which also controlled other local papers throughout the country. The Citizen tended to reflect the business-orientated views and coverage of the Mail group in its pages. But then, a few years back, the Mail decided to sell off all of its interests in the local press – and the Citizen and Echo both passed into the hands of the Mirror group.

A change in the tone of the papers was soon apparent. But, it seems, economies still had to be made. The first, took place when publication of the Citizen was moved out of Gloucester altogether – to the Echo offices in Cheltenham.

Shared facilities didn’t stretch as far as combining the two titles into one paper, however. Perhaps the new owners decided that was a step too far! But it was a far cry from the days when our Citizen managed to produce local editions for the diverse areas in its catchment area – such as the city of Gloucester, the Stroud Valleys – and, of course, the Forest of Dean.

“HEART THROB OF THE COMMUNITY”:

Once upon a time local newspapers represented the heart throb of the local communities where they were published. They were bought eagerly when they appeared on the streets or in the newsagents. Some older folk may remember when daily papers (local and national) would include a “Stop Press” column to be filled with any “breaking news”, as we call it today, just as the paper was about to be roll on to the presses. Others would run to two or more editions.

Those days have, of course, long since gone. And newspapers have had to move with the times. They are no longer just in competition with each other but also with other, more immediate, sources of news such as television or on line, on the ‘web.

But our local press still, or should, perform a function. It keeps members of local communities in touch with each other. It can ferret out the minutiae of local life or provide a platform for local issues and debate.

In the Dean, we still have the Forester, not to mention the “freebie”, the Review (both, incidentally, now owned by the Tindle group), both of which appear weekly and are published in the Forest. And both still maintain a reasonable coverage of local affairs.

WHAT ABOUT THE CITIZEN?

So, what of the Citizen? In September, the paper announced its decision to go weekly. In explanation of the move, it declared: “We still have a loyal print audience but the majority of the people who read the Citizen and the Echo do so just once a week.

“Daily readership is coming more and more from our website Gloucestershire Life and our digital audience – not just on the site but across social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter – is showing amazing year-on-year growth. And our digital advertising revenues are growing at the same rate.

“In making this change, we’re acknowledging and reacting to how our readers behave.”

Thus says the Citizen spokesperson. She doesn’t explain, though, why the Citizen plus Echo couldn’t use these rising profits from its online activities to cross-fertilise a daily print edition of its papers. Neither does it give any figures on possible loss of jobs involved in the switch from a six-day a week publication to a weekly.

Of course more and more newspapers are adding “on line” editions to their print versions. The Daily Mail on line edition is particularly successful. But it should not be at the expense of print editions.

When Caxton developed the printing press in the Middle Ages he revolutionised communication. It allowed the emergence of newspapers from the 17th Century onwards. Not immediately, maybe, but over time they became the major source of communicating news, opinion, debate, and so much more.

It would be a pity if yet more printed newspapers are superseded by the more ephemeral on line alternative when it comes to communication.

 

EDUCATION MATTERS & HEALTH WATCH

In O. Adams, R.Richardson, Uncategorized on November 7, 2017 at 6:26 am

COMING TOGETHER:

Earlier this year we heralded the amalgamation of two large teachers’ unions – the NUT and the ATL. Now it has happened, and the result is a union half a million strong – the fourth biggest affiliate to the TUC. Its title is the National Education Union (NEU).

The NEU will have its work cut out. De-regulation and marketisation has seen local authorities undermined and support services cut.  A prescribed narrowed down curriculum is dominated by assessment and testing and teachers’ workloads are unacceptable.    The new union, says the Morning Star, “promotes an opportunity for an organised fight-back against the dominant ideas that have done so much damage in education.”

SATS SCRAPPED FOR 7 YEAR-OLDS:

Infants’ teachers throughout England have no doubt seized with delight on the news that SATS (Standard Assessment Tests) for seven-year-olds are to be scrapped – but not until 2023.  If it has at last been recognised that these tests are, as teachers have long argued, harmful, why wait six years to abolish them? A new “baseline” check will be introduced in the reception class, presumably to help assess progress made – yet it’s something else to fit in to the busy infants’ teacher’s day.

CUTS IN FUNDING:

School funding was one of the key issues in June’s General Election. Here in the Forest leaflets were distributed outlining what the proposed cuts would mean to individual schools. Many Conservative MPs pointed to the cuts as being a decisive factor behind the Tories losing their majority, and several in the worst affected areas lost their seats after sustained anti-cuts campaigns. Justine Greening, the Education Secretary, under significant pressure from her own MPs, was forced finally to find an extra £1.3 billion to ensure that no school was left worse off after the reforms. But heads complain that inflationary cost pressures have not been addressed, and that schools are still losing out in real terms.

TROUBLE UP NORTH:

We have long been concerned at the lack of accountability of academies. Now the Wakefield City Academies Trust has admitted that it is unable to improve its schools quickly enough, and is asking the Department of Education to seek new sponsors for its 21 schools.

Only two years ago this trust was earmarked by the Government as one of the best-performing sponsors in the North. It was handed a share of a £5 million pot to take on more schools.  Since then, however, it has come to light that the trust paid £440,000 to companies owned by the CEO, Mike Ramsay and his daughter.

A report some months ago in the Independent said that the trust had been put in an “extremely vulnerable position as a result of inadequate governance, leadership and overall financial management.”

SCHOOLING IN FINLAND:

Robin Head, an educationalist writing in the Morning Star, produced an interesting article on education in Finland. It is a country, says Head, whose standards are universally admired and which does very well in the international “Pisa” league tables.

In Finland young children up to the age of seven learn mainly through play, develop at their own pace and are not crammed with inappropriate rules of grammar or mathematical theory.

When more formal teaching is introduced classes are of mixed ability and are kept below 24 pupils in size. Pupils have free transport to their nearest school and free school meals. There are no league tables and no national inspection system – the teaching profession is trusted to regulate itself.

Such a regime, says Robin Head, improves life chances and opportunities for all.

He goes on, “Theresa May and Justine Greenwood would do well to heed the lesson of the Finnish experience.”

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HEALTH WATCH: OPPOSITION TO FOREST HOSPITAL PLANS

When the authorities produced their new plans for hospital provision in the Forest of Dean they might have thought that it was all a matter of working out the details.

It was about replacing the Dean’s two existing hospitals with one single facility (referred to as “the hub” in technical jargon).  It was, they thought, just a matter of deciding where this new “hub” would be sited – and perhaps a bit of tweaking of the facilities to be offered.

Although the concept had been on the cards for some time, it only became public in mid-September – and immediately controversy came bubbling to the surface.

It wasn’t simply a parochial reaction to the (still) rather sketchy plans – though there was a certain amount of that in where, out of the three Forest towns, would the new facilities be based. It was more concern about what this new “hub” would offer.

SOME ANSWERS?

The Forest Review gave us some information. First it would be paid for by the NHS. No threat of private capital, then.  The new hospital would contain a “minimum” of 24 beds. This compares with the combined number of 47 in the Dilke and Lydney at present. Readers can, of course, do their own maths.

Meanwhile, we’re told, that the new “hub” would contain a “wider range of services” possibly including an endoscopy suite. What it wouldn’t have, though is a maternity unit, or a full operating theatre.  For such facilities patients are expected to take themselves out of the Forest to such places as Gloucester or even further afield.

The new hospital is planned to open by 2021 – though given the consultation needed plus the decision making involved before work actually begins, such a planned opening date must be speculative to say the least.

NEED FOR CAMPAIGN:

There is, of course, concern about these plans, with some critics feeling the need for a campaign of opposition on the scale of the “SOS” campaign in a previous decade, when a (“New Labour”) government put forward plans to close both the Forest’s hospitals.. That campaign was successful.

According to one critical Facebook page, “this consultation is asking us to sign up to plans without scrutiny of them.  All we know is there will be half the number of beds there currently is.”

A PERSONAL VIEWPOINT:

Meanwhile, Owen Adams writes:

“… do you worry about the lack of any detail except the new hospital will be ‘state of the art’ , have better X-ray facilities and endoscopy  if we’re really lucky (but no maternity ward and half the number of beds – and no guaranteed minor injuries unit either… )

“Are you concerned that our attachment to the two hospitals is patronisingly classed by professionals as “emotional” or “affectionate” – never mind that the Dilke was built by mostly local subscription, is public land in the heart of the Forest (private developers must already be dreaming of the pounds) and has a covenant for the site to be always used for a facility to treat the poor and the sick?”

“Are you convinced this project has nothing to do with asset-stripping; the Naylor Report (now Government policy) to help make £220m of NHS cuts (otherwise known as ‘savings’) or to help private contractors rake in one billion pounds in contracts?

“Maybe it’s just me but I feel we’re being ripped off … and a great many of our elected and unelected representatives have fallen for the con (and that goes for people of all political persuasions). Anyone with a vanity development project they want fulfilled?”

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MODERN TIMES: the Dinosaur column

In Dinosaur, Uncategorized on November 7, 2017 at 6:06 am

dinosaurThe Rees-Mogg view on Foodbanks

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the old Etonian MP for North East Somerset, recently voiced his views on Food Banks,

His opinion wasn’t exactly the kind of outright denunciation that we’ve heard from other Tory leaders in the past. Indeedy, he found that the growing use of Food was “rather uplifting”.  After all, he mused, they showed what a “good, compassionate society we are”.

After all, said Rees-Mogg in a radio interview, “I don’t think the state can do everything that it tries.”

Well, it might if it tried. But a Tory-run state doesn’t even try.  It may be quite ruthless in making cuts, but it doesn’t even try to make provision for the growing number of people stuck on or below the poverty level. Under the Tory Government poverty has increased steadily.

But Rees-Mogg denies that. He declares that the increase in the use of food banks has come about because more people in need now know that they’re there. Before Labour “had refused to tell them”.

Eh?  What kind of blinkered world does Rees-Mogg live in?  No wonder he’s the favourite amongst Tory Party members to be the next Party leader.

What me? Party leader?

Another MP who may be touted (or not) as next Tory Party leader is our own Mark Harper.  When asked by the Citizen whether he might throw his hat into the ring, he denied any such thought.

It seems that his name was included in a list of possible contenders published in the Sun newspaper.  But Harper declared in the Citizen that he was focusing on supporting the Prime Minister in “delivering a successful Brexit and making improvements here at home” (sic).

That’s a good boy, Mark. I wouldn’t get ideas above your station if I were you.

Ours not to reason why:

I’m indebted to Terry Haines, Co-op Party member and one-time mayor of Gloucester, for this letter which appeared in a recent issue of The Forester.

“Meeting a respected community leader, who had canvassed with me for a “Remain” vote, I asked: “Voted yet?”

“Yes, OUT, the council didn’t collect my bin last week”.

Another pensioner colleague voted “Out”, annoyed her surgery had re-arranged an appointment.

Earlier I was vehemently told by a “Leave” voter, proudly polishing his new BMW in a street where 40 per cent of the cars were German: “listen mate, the Germans will always want our cars.”

I canvassed many old and poor people epitomised by the “Alf Garnett “diatribe: “I’ve lived under 19 different prime ministers and been poor under every single one.”

This solid “Leave” vote was surprised to find we were in the EU the next week. They were suffering from the 15 per cent rise in retail prices and the losses in the emigrant services they need from their NHS and caring services. Many thought we would be back to the Empire and its imported riches.

Should our country be subjected to such fickleness?”

Indeed, Terry. Indeed.

Cost of Yorkley Court:

It was revealed last month that the cost of evicting those who occupied Yorkley Court amounted to a staggering £150,000.  So now we know where the money went in this whole shoddy business.  The biggest amount was the cost of the overblown police presence at the site, with legal costs also adding to the total sum.

And what was gained by this eviction?  As I see it, nothing at all. But in my opinion. We lost a praise-worthy initiative from a group of eco-farmers (following in the footsteps of the 17th Century “diggers”)

Dinosaur

 

CLARION COMMENT: IT’S BREXIT AGAIN – BUT PERHAPS NOT AS WE’VE KNOWN IT

In Editorial, Uncategorized on November 7, 2017 at 5:58 am

Suddenly Theresa May has changed tack in her negotiations with the EU over our departure from the European Union. Gone is the image of a tough Prime Minister, intent on steam-rolling through a “hard Brexit” (and the harder the better). Suddenly we’ve got the conciliatory May, willing to go that extra term in order to iron out our differences with EU leaders.

In so doing she rather flummoxed such hardliners as Boris Johnson (though he had to swallow his bile and give his backing to the PM). But if such newspapers as the Mail and Express were anything to go by, Boris was soon once more stepping out of line. As for Nigel Farage’s reaction – well, let’s not go down that road!

SO WHY THE CHANGE IN APPROACH?

So why did May execute this sudden volte face in her approach to the EU negotiators? Was it because it eventually dawned on her that being tough was getting her absolutely nowhere? That attempts to fix up alternative trade deals were falling apart? And that the only way to ensure markets for the UK was to extend our connections with the European Union as long as possible?

It’s difficult to say exactly what was going on in her mind – but her new approach of slowing down the whole process involved in Brexit certainly seems to have led to dissent in the ranks of the Tory Party. The Express (24th September) headlined Boris’s claim that he masterminded the Brexit campaign.

“FAKE NEWS”?

Of course the Mail, and (particularly) the Express are noted for producing what’s become known as “fake news”. Maybe we need to take their claims about Boris leading the revolt with a pinch of salt – but having said that, there’s no doubt that there’s dissent in the Tory ranks.

But getting back to the facts, Theresa May chose to propose her change in the Brexit programme at a meeting in Florence. She was there with Philip Hammond, Boris Johnson and David Davis ostensibly to present a united front on her new proposals. In Florence there was no public dissent from the UK (Tory) delegation. What Boris’s private thoughts were at this point were kept to himself.

But there will, no doubt, be dissent amongst the Brexit-leaning members of the Tory Party. There could even possibly be a revival in the fortunes of UKIP (though we’re placing no bets). Suffice to say, May has placed her party at yet another cross-roads. Which direction her membership will choose to go (let alone the electorate as a whole) remains to be seen.

BACKWARDS WITH THE LIB DEMS:

Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats have been meeting in conference under their new leader, Vince Cable (back once more in the Commons). They chose another road completely – one that would involve another referendum, to bring the UK back into the European Union. Whether such a move is even possible is questionable. And whether it would achieve the desired effect is not certain. The Lib Dems’ approach seems to be that voters should be told that they made the wrong choice, and they’re being given a second chance to change their minds.

Sadly, Mr. Cable, that’s not quite how it works. Particularly when the Party only has twelve MPs at its disposal!


LABOUR IN CONFERENCE: LABOUR UNITES BEHIND CORBYN (But still has differences over BREXIT)

The Labour Party chose Brighton (again) for its annual conference in September. This time it really seemed like a Party preparing for power.

When the next General Election will be remains to be seen. That depends largely on who’s leading the Tories when the time comes (It might well not be Theresa May). What’s clear is that the Labour Party is united behind Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership – even though there seem to be still significant differences over Brexit.

Even before the referendum there were those in the Party who backed Brexit (though the official party line was to remain part of the EU). Now opinion has become even more fragmented within Labour. There were those who demonstrated outside conference carrying both Labour banners and EU flags. As for Jeremy, he seems to have taken a more idiosyncratic line.

It’s not over the free movement of labour once we actually leave the European Union (there seems to be general agreement over this). It’s over how far we can accept a transitional period of association with the EU (or agreeing to the “market” elements of association with it) if its rules oppose the re-nationalisation of key elements of our infrastructure (such as the railways, for example). Or indulging in public investment projects. This may be a valid point.

Basically, if we follow the Jeremy Corbyn vision then we leave the EU, but accept the right of its citizens to travel to or to live or work in England – but also work for the right to plan and shape our own economy, including the public ownership of key elements within that economy.

Differences were still apparent at Labour’s conference, but it’s likely that such a line will gain general agreement. For one who has spent long and formative years within the EU (and its predecessor, the European Economic Union), it has changed our perceptions. To a certain extent we’ve all become Europeans now. The right to travel or to live and work throughout Europe has become ingrained and (to some extent) is practised even by the most hardened Eurosceptics.

It would be regrettable if that was to change. Maybe Labour’s conference has done something to ensure that it doesn’t. After all we still have links with like-minded European political parties plus the trade union movement.

Of course Labour’s conference debated other, equally important topics. At the end of the day, the “i” newspaper commented that Labour was now looking like “a Government in waiting”.

We’ll see…

CLARION REVIEW: KEIR HARDIE – Labour’s first leader

In A.Graham, Reviews on September 22, 2017 at 1:32 pm

“What would Keir Hardie say?” Edited by Pauline Bryan   and published by Luath Press Ltd, Edinburgh. ISBN 978-1-910745-15-1

Clarion Review by Alistair Graham


 

KeirHardieKeir Hardie can justifiably be seen as Labour’s first leader. He was one of those who helped to found the Independent Labour Party (ILP), in I893 – called “Independent” to distinguish itself from those who’d been elected to Parliament as “Lib-Lab” members – in other words who relied on Liberal support for their seats.

Hardie, who grew up in the Scots town of Cumnock, went on to be the first truly Labour MP in the Commons. He opposed the looming clouds of conflict in the years leading up to 1914 and spoke eloquently from anti-war platforms. But worn out with his efforts he died prematurely in 1915.

This book is a collection from contributors assessing Hardie’s record and his relevance to the politics of today – though as there’s been a over a century of change since his day I found it difficult in places to trace the connections. But there are, of course, common themes that run through the decades.

One of the contributors to the book is Jeremy Corbyn, today’s leader of the Labour Party. Others include fellow political activists and academics.

“A LEGACY FOR THE PEACE MOVEMENT”:

Corbyn sees Hardie’s work as a “legacy for the Peace movement”, and introduces his contribution with an account of the mass peace march in London, in February 2003 in which well over a million took part., to voice opposition to the invasion of Iraq. “It was the biggest ever demonstration in British history.” He goes on to look at the carnage of the First World War, and how it is remembered in his own constituency of Islington.

Another contributor is Melissa Benn – writing in the footsetps of her mother, Caroline Benn who produced a definitive “warts and all” biography of Hardie back in 1997. Melissa makes the point that Hardie had no love for Parliament. (And it’s worth adding, Parliament had no love for him). He saw his role more as an agitator. “Agitation was at the heart of three of the most significant movements of his lifetime – the representation of labour, the struggle for women’s suffrage and pacifism”.

Barry Winter, who has had a long connection with the ILP, remembers two old party members (no longer with us) who had memories of Hardie when he was alive. Bert Lea remembered Keir Hardie asking him to sell copies of the ILP paper, the Labour Leader, which he continued to do for the rest of his long life. And in Bradford. May Allinson was one of the children who performed for Hardie at an ILP concert in 1914. She gave a lifetime commitment to both the ILP and the Socialist Sunday School.

Barry’s contribution is in the main a historical account of the foundation of the ILP (at a special conference in Bradford) through the early years of its growth. Hardie saw the need to forge an alliance with the trade union movement which was then finding its feet. In 1899, the TUC voted to form “a Labour Representation Committee” (though not all unions backed it). Then, in 1906 this Committee transformed itself into the Labour Party, though it made slow progress in its early years.

“MORE THAN A CREED”:

A contribution by Richard Leonard describes Hardie as a “visionary” dedicated to the creation of a Socialist society.” He sees Hardie as a man guided by moral principles rather than by philosophical theorising.” He believed that the truths about Socialism were self-evident, rooted in ethical values and moral courage.

“Yet Hardie clearly understood the class-based nature of capitalist society and the need to appeal to workers as a class. He saw the value of the work of Marx and Engels, but he did not believe in following it rigidly. And Richard Leonard quotes from Hardie’s from Serfdom to Socialism “The economic object of Socialism is therefore to make land and industrial capital common property, and to cease to produce for the profit of the landlord and the capitalist and to begin to produce for the use of the community.”

Many I would hope, would see this as a good summary of their own beliefs when it comes to the transformation of society under Socialism.

HARDIE’S “WELSH ODYSSEY”:

During his Parliamentary career, Hardie represented two constituencies – first was West Ham, and then came Merthyr Tydfil. The account of his “Welsh Odyssey” is written by Owen Smith (MP for the neighbouring constituency of Pontypridd).

Smith starts his contribution with reminiscences of growing up amidst the slag heaps of South Wales, with his grandfather telling him of Keir Hardie campaigning from slag heaps when he gained the seat of Merthyr Boroughs in 1900. He “gave a hundred or more such ‘Cinder Hall’ sermons” before his election.

Hardie had lost his seat in West Ham five years earlier, which gave him some time to visit South Wales, and to build up a following for the ILP as well as for himself as a potential candidate. “This period cemented Hardie’s reputation as a standard bearer for the working class,” writes Owen Smith.

Despite Merthyr’s radical traditions, stretching back to the days of the Chartists, Hardie had his opponents. There was a strong Liberal tradition in the area, but there was also a strong conservative element amongst chapel goers. But Hardie was able to capitalise on the anti-war -feelings, stirred up by the Boer war, as well as his support for the miners in the struggle. He won, and was to represent Merthyr until his early death in 1915.

RELEVANCE TO TODAY:

Owen Smith then turns to the relevance of Hardie’s work to today. “How can a Queen’s Speech in 2015 call up the spectre of Taff Vale with its promise to curb the right to strike and break the democratic power of the trade unions?” He asks. “Perhaps Hardie would have been surprised that we still have so far to travel, and that such hard won progress can be halted with such ease.”

In such a rich collection of fact and comment in this book it’s only really possible to skim the surface in a review such as this. But I will finish with one more contribution – on Hardie’s roots in Cumnock, in Scotland.

HARDIE’S HOME TERRITORY:

Kier Hardie was an internationalist, but according to Cathie Jamieson, the Scots community of Cumnock in Ayrshire was always his home. It was where his family was raised, and where he always returned. And even today the town still remembers him in so many different ways

He and his wife Lillie arrived in Cumnock in 1979. He was then involved with the miners’ union in Lanarkshire.

It was in Cumnock that Hardie developed the political ideas that would shape the rest of his life. “The struggle of the miners he represented was fundamental to his work and his emerging political beliefs,” writes Kathie Jamieson. It was here that he realised that the Liberals would not deliver the kind of changes that the working class needed. He was soon backing a resolution put forward by the Ayrshire miners that “the time has come for the formation of a Labour Party in the House of Commons…”

Later he was to declare: “I am a Socialist, and until industry is organised on a co-operative basis, wherein men shall work, not to make profit, but to produce the necessaries of life for the community, the evils complained of will never be eradicated.”

OTHER BOOKS ON HARDIE:

There have, of course, been quite a few books written and published on the life and times of Kier Hardie. That’s only natural. But this volume is different. It sees his life from so many different angles, and though it contains numerous viewpoints, all are sympathetic to a man who, more than most, helped to create a movement that over the decades has helped to shape our society – and hopefully will continue to do so in years to come. If, of course, we remember the ideals that Hardie worked so hard for.

And it’s a compendium to be read from cover to cover – or just dipped into over a period of time.

EDUCATION MATTERS: SCHOOLS OUT FOR THE SUMMER BREAK

In R.Richardson, Uncategorized on September 22, 2017 at 1:20 pm

NOTE: we still promote print-first, so if you’d like your Clarion more up to date, then please subscribe to the print edition. Online is FREE, so we need your subs to keep going – that’s why we post to the web a bit later. Although sometimes we do drop the occasional web-only special edition, or unedited longer pieces – so do drop by even if you do read print first. Thanks – your Clarion needs you.


So, schools are out – and what’s been happening in the final few weeks of the academic year?

One consequence of Theresa May’s ill-judged decision to hold a General Election is that a number of her more right-wing policies have had to be modified. As far as education is concerned the abandoned policy which has had most teachers and educationalists cheering is the fact that the grammar school expansion programme will now not happen – not yet anyway, and hopefully not ever.

WASTING MONEY:

Although grammar schools have been put on the back burner, the Government’s free school programme goes ahead. An NUT review of available data found that £138.5 million has been wasted on free schools that have either closed, partially closed or failed to open. This would fund 3,680 teachers for a year.

The report came out days after Justine Greenwood (Education Secretary) announced that 130 more free schools would be created.

Angela Rayner, the Shadow Education Secretary, declared that the initiative would fail to provide schools in the areas where they were most needed, and the cost entailed came at a time of unprecedented budget cuts for schools.

SATS FOR THE YOUNG:

Both the NUT and the ATL unions have condemned the “Sats” exams which pupils take in their final year at primary school. In the last two years these tests have been toughened up, and only 61 per cent of pupils have reached the expected standard this year. According to Kevin Courteney (NUT) 95 per cent of teachers say that the tests “reduce pupils’ access to a broad and balanced curriculum”

Almost 40 per cent of 11-year-olds are being given the message that they have not reached the expected standard and are not ready to begin secondary education. Mary Bousted (ATL) echoed these sentiments and said that “SATS are at the centre of a toxic accountability system that is driving teachers and leaders out of the profession.”

PROFITS MADE OVERSEAS:

We have commented before on the profits to be made by private companies from educational provision. In May, the AGM was held of Pearson, the largest such international company. Teachers from Britain rallied to protest against them.

Why were teachers so angry? Pearson is “up to its neck” in the privatisation of schools in Africa and Asia, helping to fund Bridge International Academies, a so-called low-fee school chain. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have also helped to set up the chain. Bridge has received millions from Britain’s overseas aid budget and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has pointed out that using aid money to fund private education is against its principles. Bridge’s academies undermine public education provision, which is open to all in Third World countries starving it of investment and funds. Moreover, the education provided by Bridge schools has been widely criticised. A standardised and scripted curriculum is delivered by teachers following lessons on a tablet and pupils are subjected to endless standardised tests.

In Uganda all Bridge schools were ordered to close because of their use of unqualified teachers and unsanitary conditions. Although Bridge academies with their connections to big business is the most widespread private school chain in Asia and Africa, there are others. One such, reported on recently in the Morning Star is Omega in Ghana (see picture, left).

Omega offers “pay-as-you-go” education, i.e. if a parent cannot afford the school fee on any given day, the child does not attend. The schools are set up in shacks and the teachers are mainly unqualified. The Ghana National Association of Teachers mobilised to urge the World Bank to stop funding the schools, and two of our main teaching unions, the NUT and NAS/UWT, have lent them their backing.

A BIT OF CLARITY NEEDED:

Some clarity is needed in Labour’s education policy re. Student fees and debt. In June, before the election, Jeremy Corbyn said: “First of all we want to get out of student fees altogether… plus reduce or ameliorate the massive debts owed by graduates. “  Subsequently John McDonell endorsed that. But in a Parliamentary debate on July 18, Angela Rayner, Labour’s education spokesperson, said that there were “no plans” to write off existing loans and that her party had “never promised to do so.”, And had only promised to abolish tuition fees from the date when Labour might be elected.

Graduates struggling to pay off huge debts, and indeed some undergraduates at present accruing them might see that as something of a betrayal. It’s true that our party leader failed at the time to clarify what was meant by plans to “reduce or ameliorate “graduates’ massive debts.

Compiled by RUTH RICHARDSON

END OF THE ROAD FOR “BLAIRISM”?

In A.Graham on September 22, 2017 at 1:11 pm

Whatever we want to call it, “New Labour” or “Blairism”, the model that was foisted on Labour Party members back in the lead up to the 1997 election, effectively died in 2010. That was when Gordon Brown lost the election to  Cameron and Ed Miliband was chosen as Labour  leader in his place.

As the Clarion commented at the time,  the “New Labour” experiment has long since run its course. “The attempt to impose a finance-based economy, where the demands of the City are always put first, has now run into the buffers.” (Clarion, June-July 2010).

True, Ed failed to claw back enough of the Labour vote to win the ensuing election, but it was clear that the Party was in no mood to return to Blairism.  Instead the Party took a further lurch to the left with the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader.

But that strange anomaly (let’s call it Blairism) continued in an organised form, based around a glossy magazine called “Progress”, largely funded by Lord Sainsbury.

PULLING THE PLUG:

Now this wealthy backer has decided to pull the plug on “Progress”, and instead put his money into less overtly political causes.  Thus, turning to the “Progress” website, the latest  comment available to us was dated April of this year.

It was, however, an unrepentant defence of Blairism,  or whatever we want to call it.  It kicks off with the declaration  that there is no going back to New Labour , only going forward with its ‘attitude of mind’.

The Progress document obviously feels let down by those MPs  whose support it relied on, by abandoning “their role as gatekeepers by allowing Jeremy Corbyn on the ballot paper (which, it continues, means that Labour will be extremely lucky to form a government again in the next decade).

“GREATEST EVER VICTORY”?

“As the Party celebrates the 20th Anniversary of its greatest ever victory and subsequently three full terms in power… there is much to reflect upon,” declares the Progress statement. It bemoans the fact that nothing has been done to mark this achievement – and of course blames Corbyn. But, as we on the Clarion see it, it’s difficult to quantify this so-called achievement except in terms of criticism or rejection.

Meanwhile. Ed Miliband was described as being a “poor man’s Corbyn”.

Blair “rightly argues”(sic) that we have got to demystify New Labour. It was, he argues, ‘an attitude of mind’ And that attitude of mind by its very definition never loses relevance.”

REFLECTION:

“So how do we best reflect on 1997 and the years that followed it? On the 1997 election itself, Labour must understand history was not a given, nor would it have won ’with a pig’s bladder on a stick’ as the disgraced former mayor of London Ken Livingstone argues”, according to the “Progress” document.  That, in itself was a point of contention for those who remember back that far.

“Labour is now at a fork in the road. Its brand is being damaged day in, day out by the hard-left leadership and a failure to provide proper opposition. Blair asks “in Tory high command, how much time do they spend worrying about the prospect of a Labour victory at the present time?’ He would guess zero – and you can see why.”

“Those who want to see the Tories thrown from office must internalise this reality.  There is no going back to New Labour, only going forward with its ‘attitude of mind’.”

All this, we must assume was written before Theresa May’s ill-fated attempt to sweep Labour away with her snap election.  Not only was her rationale fatally flawed but so, too, was that of “Progress” and its Blairite followers. Where they go from here must be a matter of conjecture.

no_blair

Alistair Graham


THE CHANGING FACE OF NORTH KENSINGTON

Recollections by A. Graham

The events surrounding the tragic fire at Grenfell flats in North Kensington this summer stirred memories for me. Memories of a brief period of my life, living in the mean streets of Ladbroke Grove back in the late 1950s.

Time brings changes, of course. But some things stay much the same. Back then there were no tower blocks in the area – these came later, in an attempt to get rid of the narrow streets of crumbling slum dwellings that dominated the Ladbroke Grove end. I lived in one of them – a one-room “flat” with only a single window, with a view on to a cramped back yard.

As for the Grenfell Tower, this wasn’t built until the 1970s – and the lead architect on the project declared that it “could last another hundred years.” But between 2012 and 2016 it faced renovation – with a different contractor brought in who offered a cheaper quote.

Back in the 1950s, though, the landscape was very different. Up at the Notting Hill end there was affluence. The houses were expensive, and privately owned. The Portobello road had street stalls selling expensive antiques and crafts. Down the hill towards Ladbroke Grove the street market tailed off into junk and scrap as is and fruit. But overall it was still a shabby, down-at-heel area with neglected, crumbling tenement buildings subdivided by slum landlords into bed-sit accommodation with a constantly shifting population.

ENTER THE MOSLEYITES:

Back then the “colour bar” hadn’t been made illegal, and indeed many of the slum landlords refused to let accommodation to “the coloureds”. It was this that helped to provoke racial unrest in the area in the ‘fifties – and encouraged Oswald Mosley to abandon his strongholds in the East End, and put himself forward as candidate for North Kensington in the 1959 General Election.

The shabby streets of Ladbroke Grove were soon covered with whitewashed slogans daubed by Mosley’s supporters. I did attend a couple of his meetings, where he was given a rapturous welcome by his supporters. They clapped, stamped their feet and raised their arms in the fascist salute.

On the eve of poll, Mosley led a triumphant march through the streets of Ladbroke Grove. Anyone taken in by the cheers might have thought that it was all over bar the counting. But after the votes had been counted, Mosley was bottom of the poll with some 3,000 votes. His intervention had merely helped to concentrate the minds of his opponents – and Mosley himself had failed to realise that there was more to North Kensington than just Ladbroke Grove.

Shortly after the election I packed my bags and slipped quietly out of the area – and eventually out of London altogether.

CHANGES:

Meanwhile, Ladbroke Grove has changed, probably beyond recognition for most. The council blocks (like Grenfell Tower) were an honest enough attempt at the time to supply better living conditions for those who’d occupied the slum dwellings. And the disappearance of the colour bar has produced a much more homogeneous mix in the working class population. The response to the tragedy by those who’d lived there, and those who gave their support ran right across racial lines. There was righteous anger against the complacency of those on the Council (and indeed in Government) in the face of the disaster – but there was a sense of unity, as well.

The class divisions in North Kensington still exist of course – indeed the affluence of Notting Hill has probably grown since the 1950s – whilst Ladbroke Grove remains the poorer area. Its population is most likely to suffer deprivation – and upheaval, when their homes are destroyed.

Alistair Graham

CLARION COMMENT: HOW MAY MANAGED TO LOSE HER OWN ELECTION

In Editorial on September 22, 2017 at 1:02 pm

What can we say about May’s decision to hold a snap election that went so sensationally wrong for her?  A miscalculation? An example of hubris writ large?  This and much more has already been said in the media and by commentators galore.

Let’s just say that May managed to undermine her position as PM in spectacular fashion, and turn her slender but workable majority into no majority at all. She now has to rely on the dubious support of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist MPs. The DUP, for goodness sake! That really is scraping the barrel!

And it’s a bit rich when we consider the Tory attempts to smear Corbyn with allegations that he’d supported armed Irish Republicans!

corbyn_yourChoice

A PERSONAL CAMPAIGN:

May chose to personalise her electoral campaign. At the hustings her publicity promoted her as leader, with the Tory Party demoted to a strap line. For May the election was intended to reduce the number of Labour MPs elected to the point where they could no longer function as an effective opposition – whilst at the same time  boosting May’s own standing as she set about doing a demolition job on Jeremy Corbyn.

As it turned out the election results achieved just the opposite.  May has weakened her position in the Tory Party, whilst managing to boost Corbyn’s reputation as a leader who can win seats (some of which had rarely if ever been held by Labour before) and as an effective team player.

LOCAL RESULTS:

Here in the Forest of Dean, Labour’s candidate Shaun Stammers managed to increase his party’s vote from 12,000 to 18,000-plus. Readers can do their own maths!  It was quite an achievement considering that, by necessity, he’d been a last minute choice with no time to get “bedded in” to his role. A candidate could do with a year if he/she is to level the playing field, to get to know the voters, keep abreast of constituency matters in the local press and shape the debate rather than merely react to it. But he and the party locally ran a vigorous high-profile campaign that seem to have paid off.

As for Mark Harper, he nailed his colours firmly to Theresa May’s banner.  His election address declared that he was “standing with Theresa May”, and it included a personal letter from May herself.

hoof_signs_victory

Meanwhile, in the Monmouth constituency, Labour managed to increase its share of the vote, as well. Ruth Jones, for Labour polled over 18,000 votes – an increase of nearly ten per cent.

WHAT NEXT?

In the circumstances, the future for Labour (both nationally and locally) seems rosy. It has enlarged representation in the Commons – and few dissidents within the Party are likely to challenge Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership right now. The great purge of members is now surely over, leaving only those who were expelled to lick their wounds.

Meanwhile, within the Conservative Party, the opposite is the case.  Theresa may is now a Prime Minister living on borrowed time.

But there are plenty of ifs and buts. First, the Tories are hardly likely to call another election in the near future unless circumstances force them to.  Meanwhile, if there was to be a Tory coup to replace May, we just don’t know who’d be in the running to replace her. There are those, of course, who seem happy to throw their hats into the ring (Boris Johnson and David Davies are two names that spring to mind), but who knows what future candidates may emerge from the shadows?

It was Harold Wilson who once famously declared that “a week in politics is a long time”.  As the Clarion only appears bi-monthly, many of our comments may well be overtaken by events before our next issue hits the presses.

Time, as it always does, will tell.


BREXIT?  AN EXIT IN CHAOS!

It’s difficult to envisage a situation in which so-called negotiations were carried out with so much ineptitude as those for the UK’s exit from the European Union.

Cheered on by Tory “exit” supporters, Theresa May first promised a “hard exit”. Then she followed this up with the declaration that no agreement at all with the EU would be better than a bad agreement (would it really?).  There have been quibbles over the amount of money being demanded by the EU, with some Brexit cheer-leaders such as Boris Johnson declaring that we shouldn’t be paying the EU a penny (or should that be a Euro?).

BECOMING DISPLACED PERSONS?

There have been disagreements over the rights of EU citizens living in Britain. Many live and work here, and so far it’s all been perfectly legal. Should they be allowed to stay, with second-class citizen status?  With, perhaps, the threat of possible expulsion hanging over them?  So far there’s been no clear agreement, only the declaration that we should be in charge of our own borders.

And what of those Brits living in the European Union, either working there, perhaps raising families, or just enjoying retirement in other parts of Europe of their choice?   There has been no recognition of the fact that the creation of a united Europe created significant movement in population.  People could choose to live wherever they wanted in the EU, travel for employment opportunities – or settle somewhere else in Europe simply because it suited them better.

AND WHY A “HARD BREXIT”?

And why, oh why, did our Tory Government decide that it had to be a “hard brexit”?  There were to be no ifs or buts. We’d just cut ourselves off from mainland Europe, sign our own treaties and make our own way in the world – because that was what the people of the UK wanted. Well, in fact only a little over fifty per cent voted to leave. In some parts of the country a clear majority voted to stay in the Union. In Scotland it was overwhelming.  There were to be no concessions for them.

So, if we really wanted to leave, wouldn’t it have been a better strategy to go for what might be termed a “softer” strategy?  Such as that taken by Norway, for example?  Both Norway and Iceland opted to remain within the EU’s trade agreements whilst withdrawing from the political aspects of the Union.  For many in Britain it may not be ideal, but it would ensure that the massive level of trade we do with the EU would be safeguarded.

Jeremy Corbyn has now come out with his own proposals for softening the blow of our departure from the EU.  This would considerably lengthen the amount of time that we would, in effect, remain within the remit of the EU, in order to safeguard the rights of EU citizens within the UK (as well as safeguarding those UK citizens in mainland Europe). It would also mean that our present trade agreements with the EU would remain in place.  It might be termed a much “softer” departure from Europe.

MODERN TIMES: the Dinosaur column

In Dinosaur, Uncategorized on September 22, 2017 at 12:56 pm

dinosaurPOINT TAKEN:

I’ve received a response from one of the quartet of former Labour councillors who’d chosen to resign from the party and sit on the district council as “Independent Labour”.

Bill Osborne puts a somewhat different viewpoint from what seemed to have been agreed by his colleagues.  He tells me that his resignation was in fact motivated more by his suspension from the Labour Party (at national level) which deprived him of his vote in the second leadership election  – when Jeremy Corbyn was confirmed as party leader.

Bill described this as “the straw that broke the camel’s back”.  He also makes the point that the only reason that Labour’s NEC could provide for his suspension was that a comment Bill had made on social media “might have caused offence”.

Which, perhaps, casts a rather different light on Bill’s decision to leave Labour’s ranks. Personally, I take his point!

It’s an opt out:

I’ve always been a fan of the 1950s film, Passport to Pimlico, in which a plucky community in central London decides to opt out and declare itself independent – facing the full wrath of bureaucracy as a result.

It might not be on the same scale, but I was drawn to a piece in the Citizen the other week.  Dr. William Riches, from Newnham, has decided to declare his home an “independent republic”  His wife, Judith, has been declared president, and his children and grandchildren  are citizens.

When the UK finally leaves the EU anyone visiting his home by the Severn, Middlewatch, will have to make sure that they have their passports with them – plus a visa.  And Dr. Riches  and his family will then formally apply for entry to the European Union.

Dr. Riches (a retired university lecturer) is a much-travelled Europhile, and has worked in America, Canada and Northern Ireland.  He’s no “Little Englander”, and sees the world on a different scale than many of those who backed Brexit.  Good luck to him, I say.

Applying for European citizenship?

Of course there are other ways to make the point that you want to remain part of Europe. The kind of “hard Brexit” advocated by many enthusiasts, who believe that we can just go it alone, is bound to create mass upheaval. There are those Brits who’d chosen to make their homes in mainland Europe – as well as  those Europeans who’d chosen to make the UK their home.  Now all this is about to be torn apart.

But a new initiative is now being launched, to try to allow Brits to retain their European citizenship (as shown ou our current passports).  At present we all have “the right to move and reside freely within the territory of Member States under objective conditions of freedom and dignity.”

A new initiative is being launched to allow UK resident citizens to maintain these rights.  So, for more details, email info@eucitizen2017.org

Go on, give it a try!

Dinosaur