Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Archive for January, 2017|Monthly archive page

Clarion Comment: THE MANY FACES OF DONALD TRUMP

In Editorial, Uncategorized on January 19, 2017 at 1:46 pm

Those of us who followed the US presidential election contest on television must have watched the performance of Donald Trump with increasing revulsion – mixed perhaps with a certain amount of dread. It wasn’t just his message. It was also the reaction of his cheering supporters – and the sneaking thought that maybe, just maybe, he could actually win and become the next President of America.

The pledge to build a wall to keep Mexicans (whom he described as “rapists”) from “flooding into America”, the promise to bar entry to Muslims, to abolish “Obamacare” and to impeach Hillary Clinton as a “criminal” got her opponents cheering – and (as far as Hillary Clinton was concerned) got them chanting in unison, “lock her up, lock her up!”

Lest we forget the frenzy, those were just a few of the headlines that we witnessed from the Trump campaign. As well there were the smears against women in business, and attacks on those of minority ethnic origin.

Then came the culmination of the election – the counting of the votes. Despite the fact that Clinton, on a straight head count, got a substantial majority of votes overall, she lost. Our worst fears had been realised. As the results were confirmed, those who opposed Trump in New York and San Francisco took to the streets in outrage.

ANOTHER FACE:

But then another face of Trump briefly emerged. From the moment he met Obama at the White House we saw a more conciliatory Trump. One who declared the need to work together for the “sake of America”. It seemed that the notion of building a wall between the USA and Mexico had been put on hold. “Obamacare” we were told wouldn’t be scrapped altogether but merely amended (whatever that would mean). Suddenly the rhetoric of confrontation was scaled down to the point where it became almost placatory.

So which Trump are we to believe? And does it matter? The answer must be yes, it does. It was his performance on the hustings that stirred up his supporters and brought previously hidden emotions bubbling to the surface, like a poisonous, putrid stew. They made the public face of UKIP in Britain seem almost cuddly by comparison (though the congratulatory visit to Trump Towers by Nigel Farage was all the more nauseating for that). Basically an ugly side of America was revealed during this campaign, and the surge of “Trumpism” won’t just go away.

Then, just when we thought that Trump himself was having second thoughts, he told us all that he was going to build his wall to keep out the Mexicans after all (and that Mexico would pay for it. Oh yeah?). It may be that the wall might be scaled down to a barbed wire fence in places, but it would be built, he declared. And he’s still going to “deport or incarcerate” up to three million “criminal aliens”.

We don’t of course yet know what the future will bring. In particular we don’t know what impact it will have on relations between the UK and the USA. Theresa May went through the obligatory motions of welcoming Trump’s election – whilst he made it clear that she wasn’t exactly on his list of priorities – or if she was on his list at all.

But more complex matters, such as his odd attraction towards Putin, the conflict in the Middle East, and the whole approach to international aid are likely to be affected by Trump’s entry to the White House.

But perhaps more serious in the long term is the fact that Trump is a climate change denier. He doesn’t believe in global warming – and his refusal to clear up his act could affect us all. Already he’s threatening to cancel America’s agreement to the Paris Accord (signed by leading nations to cut back on carbon emissions to tackle global warming). All this could be deadly serious news for our planet. More recently he’s been brandishing the nuclear military option, in a way designed to send shivers down the spine.

CONSPIRACY?

At this stage of the Trump saga signs of conspiracy began to emerge. Could it be that the vacillations over previous policy statements were less due to changes of heart and more the effect of manipulation?

Enter Steve Bannon. He’s been appointed the new chief strategist for Donald Trump.

He’s not a name that many of us know on this side of the Atlantic, but he is the executive chair of “Breitbart News” – described as a “white ethnic nationalist propaganda mill”. He’s been a strong supporter of Trump during the presidential campaign. And his appointment has been welcomed both by the leader of the American Nazi Party and the former head of the Ku Klux Klan. To be fair, we doubt if he asked for this support (or, indeed, welcomed it), but it’s a sign of where his more extreme support might lie.

And if anyone needs any more evidence of the kind of government that Trump will be providing then they only need to look at those he’s chosen to fill the rest of his Cabinet. They’re not a pretty sight.

What all this means for the future of the USA (or indeed the rest of us) remains to be seen. At present America remains a deeply divided country – one that looks as though it’s shifting ominously to the right. So, watch this space.

trump_may

HEALTH WATCH / EDUCATION MATTERS double-bill

In R.Richardson on January 3, 2017 at 5:22 pm

EDUCATION MATTERS: Who Wants Grammar Schools?

As schools went back after the long summer break, the big news was that Theresa May intends to lift the 17-year ban on establishing new selective schools – in other words to bring back grammar schools.

The “tripartite system” of secondary education which was set up following the Education Act of 1944 prescribed  a universal exam at 11, whereby children were selected for what was considered the most suitable education for them.  The three types of schools were grammar schools for the more academic pupils, technical schools  for the technologically minded (though few of these were established) and secondary modern schools for the rest.

UNDER FIRE:

Twenty years later the system was  being criticised by educationalists on several counts. First, eleven was far too young an age to predict ability  and consequently to prescribe a suitable educational path.  Secondly, those who went to the secondary modern schools were all too often deemed to have “failed” and thus had low expectations.

The solution was the setting up of comprehensive schools countrywide, where children worked and played alongside all their classmates from the primary schools. This policy which obviously took several years to implement, was begun under a Labour government, with Harold Wilson being PM and Anthony Crossland as the then education minister.

REVERSE GEAR:

When a Conservative government under Edward Heath was returned in 1970 , the comprehensive  programme was not yet complete, so there was the anomaly of some grammar schools remaining in Tory local education authorities.  It has never been part of Conservative education policy to promote comprehensive schools, and Margaret Thatcher (who was then education minister) brought the programme to an abrupt halt.

SURVIVAL:

Those remaining grammar schools have survived through successive Conservative and Labour regimes, so it is possible to look today at areas such as Kent and Buckinghamshire which have retained their policy of selection at 11. . An article by Stephen Bush in the “i” newspaper points out that while in those areas the grammar school  does create higher education opportunities for some children it is by no means a panacea for those from the working class.

A third of grammar school pupils from deprived backgrounds left without a single GCSE, wrote Stephen Bush. Strangely, Theresa May claimed on September 9th that “the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils is reduced to almost zero for children in selective schools.” So who is correct?

Jeremy Corbyn cited Kent as an area  where there was evidence of the shortcomings of selection. He said that GCSE results in Kent showed the system was not working.  In Kent, said Corbyn, only 27 percent of children on free school meals (an important indicator of social deprivation) got at  least five GCSEs whereas in inner London, a fully comprehensivve area, the figure is 45 per cent.

Some Conservative MPs have also expressed concern. Theresa Villiers, former Northern Ireland Secretary, asked how new grammar schools would actually benefit the communities in which they are situated. Keith Simpson, Tory MP for Broadland also had “severe reservations.”

Theresa May was at pains to point out that new grammar schools would be required to take a proportion of pupils from lower-income households.  They would, in fact, promote social mobility, she claimed.

UNITING THE OPPOSITION:

May’s announcement managed to unify against her the “seemingly un-unifiable Labour Party, along with a coalition of the likes of Teach First, the University of Oxford  and Kings College, London”, The Sutton Trust has recently produced research warning that grammar schools entrench inequality. Its CEO, Dr. Elliott Major points out that children from less affluent backgrounds would have to be offered lower thresholds to take up a place if May’s claims of social mobility are to be met. At present only 3 per cent of grammar school pupils are entitled to free school meals as against 17 per cent of the national average.

An article in the Observer quotes the reaction of a number of educationalists to May’s announcement. Among them is Melissa Benn, who writes “All the evidence shows that where schools select social segregation  and widening gaps in attainment follow, and it’s ordinary working class people who lose out …  but what May and co. have not yet reckoned on is the fury these plans will arouse among parents across the country…   for whom comprehensive education is working well. They certainly won’t accept the rejection of their own children before they have even left primary school.”

RUTH RICHARDSON


HEALTH WATCH: WHAT’S THE SUSTAINABILITY AND TRANSFORMATION PLAN WHEN IT’S AT HOME?

The notion of  “Sustainability and Transformation Plans” (STPs) seems to have been exercising the minds of those within the English NHS a great deal this year. It seems to be presented as a kind of panacea for the problems facing the Health Service – without providing any extra funding.

Draft plans for STPs were submitted in June this year. To the layperson it’s difficult to understand what exactly they will mean for the Health Service on the ground. There’s plenty of talk about “co-ordination” and “working together”- and, perhaps more ominously, of “closing the funding gap”.

Health campaigner, Dr. John Lister,though is in no doubt. He points to the fact that Health Care managers and top bureaucrats have been involved from the beginning in the preparation of these STPs, whilst those on the ground have been left out of the process. “The STPs don’t just exclude GPs and primary care staff  from the process – they also exclude hospital staff and staff in community health services” he points out (writing in the Morning Star) . In other words, all those who will be most affected by the planned changes are to have no say.

With NHS budgets frozen at levels totally inadequate to meet needs plus mounting deficits, it’s difficult to see how the STPs are supposed to resolve the underlying problem of lack of funding.  Indeed, Dr Lister suggests that they are little more than a “slash and burn” exercise.

At present NHS budgets are insufficient to meet the needs of the Service.  Rather than looking to increase funding, the STPs seem to be based on cutting services to meet what money’s available.

As far as the care for those who need it in the NHS is concerned, that’s no solution.  The proposals like to use words like “reconfiguration” without spelling out what this means – the closing of hospitals.

All this is to prepare us for making the NHS a second class service – whilst opening the door to more private health care, charges for certain treatment within the NHS – and private health insurance.

So, beware of managers bearing gifts. Study the small print – if you’re able. The more jargon is involved the more we should be suspicious of the intentions. The STPs look suspiciously like another blow at the National Health Service as we’ve known and cherished it.

Paying for a consultation – or a quick fix?

A new service has recently been promoted by a group of  GPs allowing patients to gain access on line to a quick quarter of an hour consultation.  Those surgeries who wish to be involved sign up to “Doctaly”, which allows its doctors to join in the new service.-  And  to charge £40  for the 15 minute consultation.

According to those behind the scheme, it’s “the quickest way to find and book an affordable face-to-face GP  appointment. Choose from our trusted private doctors, at a convenient time  and location from just £39.99”

The blurb tells those who may be interested that the scheme “allows patients to book and pay for a 15 minute appointment with a GP – who primarily works in the NHS – at a local practice for £40 on line” (incidentally, this cost rises to £69.99 for  any out of hours appointments).

This new service has already been rolled out in North London (and the Doctaly website includes a glowing reference from a patient from Bounds Green). It’s being extended throughout London, followed by the rest of the country over the next couple of  years.  Incidentally, London patients can also get a same-day appointment at a BUPA hospital for £70.

It’s not surprising that it has its critics. “This is privatisation of the worst kind,” declared  Alan Taman for “Keep our NHS Public”.  “Not only is it substituting for what should be freely available to all – a GP appointment in a decent time – but it’s doing so at a time when GP services are on their knees.

“This creates a three-tier service – a fully privatised version for those willing to pay, a deteriorating NHS service for those who cannot afford to pay, and now this – a queue jumping scheme parasiting off the NHS while getting people to dig into their pockets.”

RUTH RICHARDSON

ON THE DAY FARES GO UP: Getting our Railways back on track!

In A.Graham on January 3, 2017 at 5:17 pm

Question: why have rail workers, though their union the RMT, been in dispute with the company that owns and runs Southern Rail?

And what are the implications for passengers?  In the short term many commuters may complain of the inconvenience. Indeed, many no doubt have. But looking at the industrial action and its causes, RMT members are campaigning for all passengers on our trains. The issue is over the need for guards on our trains.

Southern Rail is one of a number of companies that wants to get rid of guards on their trains. Which means that there will just be a driver to deal with any problems that may occur en route, check tickets and ensure that journeys go smoothly. How passengers get their tickets at any unmanned stations (like Lydney) isn’t explained.

POOR PERFORMANCE:

Maybe it’s because the poor performance of Southern Rail (part of the Southern/Govia-Thameslink Group) that it’s found itself in the front line. But there are other rail companies that aspire to getting rid of their guards on their trains as well. Scot Rail, Richard Branson’s Virgin East Coast trains, and even Eurostar would like to go down that track,

But it’s not the only point of complaint that travellers may have with the current rail system. Indeed, it’s more a case of “how long have you got?” But the dispute over the employment of guards on trains is a glaring example of what’s wrong with our privatised system.

When the rail network was de-nationalised in 1996 (by John Major), it turned out to be a botched job.  All British Rail’s assets were taken over, and the network of tracks on which the trains ran were placed in the hands of a new company called Railtrack. In order to give as many aspiring rail companies as possible a bite of the cherry, routes were parcelled out and awarded as franchises to different bidders, all eager to milk the opportunity to make loads of money for their shareholders.

PATCHY:

The results were, to say the least, patchy. A few companies soon lost their franchises through sheer incompetence.  Others were taken over. There was little co-ordination, and the whole system became fragmented. And fares continue to rise across the whole network.

And it continues to fray around the edges. Meanwhile the major companies continue to make nice profits. – All helped by generous subsidies.

In 2014-15, for example, rail subsidies came to £4.8 billion. In the same period, Network Rail (the successor to Railtrack)  managed accumulated losses of £40 billion.  We could also add to the taxpayers’ bills the overall cot of such vanity projects as  HS2 (the high speed rail link to the north). Meanwhile, Southern Rail has been given a nice  fat handout  to help them over their “troubles”.

Incidentally, many of the companies running our train services are now foreign-owned.  The two companies who cater for passengers through Lydney , for example, are both owned by Deutsche Bahn (the German State Railways. Both Arriva and Crosscountry are part of the German company’s portfolio.

All this surely increases the case for taking the railways back into public ownership.  And to reinforce the point, in successive polls, public opinion has been firmly in favour of returning the railways to public hands.

TRUMBO: WITCH HUNT – the black days of McCarthyism in the USA

In John Wilmot, Reviews on January 3, 2017 at 1:30 pm
Review: Trumbo DVD

The reality of purges, witch hunts, or whatever else you wish to call them is always ugly.  Whether we’re talking about Stalin’s show trials in the USSR in the ‘thirties,  or the purge of all those hauled up before the so-called “Un-American Activities Committee” in the USA of the 1950s, such attempts to purify and cast out “undesirable” elements from any society are based on organised intolerance or bigotry, and lead only to suffering – or (in the case  of Stalin’s show trials) worse.

The film, “Dalton Trumbo” covers the Hollywood screenwriter’s attempts to fight back against the the so-called “UnAmerican Activities Committee”.  He won out in the end, but it almost cost him his family, and the lives of many of his friends. It was an ugly intolerant period for those who were caught up in it.

ATTACK ON HOLLYWOOD:

Although far too many ordinary folk suffered from the bleak attentions of the McCarthyite period, the film industry centred around Hollywood suffered particularly. Actors were blacklisted, as were directors and screen writers such as Trumbo. Only “good” Americans, such as Ronald Reagan or John Wayne were able to flourish, under the baleful patronage of Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper.

Trumbo found himself one of the blacklisted “Hollywood Ten” who attempted to fight back. They lost, and Trumbo found himself serving time in prison. On his release he found that he was now  unable to gain work – certainly under his own name. He was forced to take work writing scripts for cheap “B Movies” to scrape a living. His family  begins to fall apart, and he‘s shunned by those who he thought had once been his friends.

Despite all this he did succeed in winning an Oscar for his script of the film “Roman Holiday” – though he had to write it using a false name. But his big breakthrough was the film “Spartacus”. Not only was this released under his name but it also won an Oscar.  It was    to be the beginning of the end of the Hollywood blacklist.

Others were also to suffer of course, including such actors as Edward G. Robinson, and to a lesser extent, Humphrey Bogard, and his wife Lauren Bacall.  Others escaped the net by moving abroad – or leaving the industry altogether.

One example was Sam Wanamaker, who was to settle in  Britain. He went on to become responsible for the re-recreation of Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, whilst his daughter, Zoe became a prominent character actor in UK  film and television. Hollywood’s loss was to be our gain!

JOHN WILMOT