Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

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CLARION REVIEW: THE PM WHO TRANSFORMED BRITAIN

In John Wilmot, Reviews, Uncategorized on May 5, 2018 at 10:10 pm

Citizen Clem: a biography of Clement Attlee, by John Bew (2017 “riverrun” paperback)
(a review by J.Wilmot)

It’s instructive to look back to the world and the achievements of Clement Attlee.  He was the man who led the first majority Labour Government, and helped to change the face of a war-battered Britain.

Much to the surprise of the Tories (at least) was the scale of Labour’s victory. It was a clear rejection of Churchill’s vision of a post-war Britain. Constituencies that had never voted Labour before helped to swell Attlee’s majority – as did the “forces’ vote”, still scattered through war zones in different parts of the world.

THE WELFARE STATE:

Looking back, commentators tend to judge Attlee’s major achievement as being the establishment of the Welfare State.  It was the central focus of Ken Loach’s documentary film, “The Spirit of ‘45” which was reviewed in the Clarion when it was released on DVD. He was able to track down a fair number of those who were able to experience those heady days when the Beveridge Report was adopted by Attlee’s government and transformed into our Welfare State.

Of course there was more to Clement Attlee than that – and he had plenty of other problems to grapple with in post-war Britain. And in many ways he was an unlikely figure to transform our society.

As John Bew, the author, points out Clement Attlee was born into a conservative (with a small “c”) family and this conservatism marked his early student years, when he studied Modern History at Oxford. But it was a developing social conscience that opened his eyes and led him into the Labour Party.

By the ‘thirties he had become leader of the party, travelling to Spain to give his support to the Republican cause in the bitter civil war (where he was photographed giving the “clenched fist” salute). When the coalition government was formed following the outbreak of war with Germany, he became deputy Prime Minister – and famously became Prime Minister when Labour trounced the Tories at the polls in 1945.

John Bew makes the point that Labour effectively put Churchill in power in the first place, by backing a vote of no confidence in Neville Chamberlain’s premiership.  As for Attlee’s role as Deputy Prime Minister, there were complaints within his own party that he was too subservient to Churchill.  Certainly, says Bew, Churchill wanted to keep Attlee as close as possible – and Attlee believed that co-operation was essential for the successful conduct of the war – particularly at those times when it seemed that our backs were against the wall.

Attlee’s reputation, even today, rests on the adoption of the Welfare State, with its crowning glory, the National Health Service, under the stewardship of Nye Bevan.  Incidentally, Churchill’s response to it all was to declare that it might seem good on paper, but “we can’t afford it.”

“FROM THE CRADLE TO THE GRAVE”:

To enable the state to pay for it all, a period of austerity was imposed, including rationing which lasted through the Attlee years. But we did gain a society in which the state looked after its people “from the cradle to the grave”.  And a mass housing drive was launched to replace those homes destroyed during the blitz, not to mention slum dwellings that were just not fit for purpose. In this, council homes were given top priority, including the mass construction of “prefabs” which became a familiar sight throughout the country.

“THE COLD WAR”:

But there were other points of policy which at the time (and perhaps even today) were more debatable. This was the era of the “Cold War”. Stalin had ceased to be our ally, “Uncle Joe”, in the fight against Nazism and had become instead the leader of a new threatening empire in eastern Europe. Those in the west were forced to take sides. In Britain, conscription (“National Service” as it was called) remained, and new frightening nuclear weapons were developed.

This, of course, caused new divisions on the Left, and fractured the unity created by the adoption of the Welfare State.  Another point of contention that bubbled vaguely below the surface was Britain’s imperial past. In the post-war period, whole swathes of any world map would be below the surface was Britain’s imperial past. In the post-war period, whole swathes of any world map would be coloured in red, to mark out territories that were still part of the “British Empire”. Those of us still at school during those years just took it for granted.  Others of course didn’t.

John Bew covers the controversy in his book, and suggests that any moves for Britain to divest itself from the trappings of empire moved very slowly. A case in point was that of India (once described as “the jewel in the empire’s crown”). Here some degree of independence had been promised as early as the 1930s – at least for “dominion status”.

DISILLUSION AMONGST THE MIDDLE CLASSES:

Of course, Attlee’s Government didn’t get whole hearted support – and Bew discusses the reaction of the middle classes (living in the fictional county of Barsetshire, popularised by the novelist Trollop).

It was the continuation of austerity that alienated them from Attlee’s Government.  They rebelled against the controls and rationing (particularly when bread was rationed in 1946). Apart from the rationing, it was the loss of that elusive quality in life we call “choice”.

Of course in any class-based society there’s always a difference between the amount of choice that different strata of society may have (never truer than the situation we have today!). Certain elements fail to appreciate the old saying that “we’re all in the same boat” however much it may be true. As far as the Attlee government was concerned, the middle classes targeted three of his ministers in particular – Stafford Cripps (president of the Board of Trade), Hugh Dalton (Chancellor of the Exchequer) and John Strachey (Minister for Food). Those, in fact who were seen as presiding over the “Red Tape and Sealing Wax Office” and the “Ministry of General Interference”.  No doubt the Daily Mail (not to mention the Express) had a field day. And it inspired the American poet, Orville Prescott, to pen the following poem which appeared in the New York Times:

“In Barchester all is not well,
The county people pine and sigh.
They wish the Government in Hell
And long for happier days gone by
When the gloom did not obscure the sky.1”

Only one verse is quoted here, but it does clearly express the sentiments involved!

One point that needs to be made is that the “austerity” imposed under Attlee’s Government was very different indeed from that many of us have to endure under our latter-day Tory regimes. Back then it was imposed to allow our Government to install a Welfare State that benefited all, and endured right through until Thatcher came to power.

All in all, whatever the criticisms that may be made of Attlee’s Government, he emerges in my opinion as one of our greatest Labour Prime Ministers (the other one being Harold Wilson).

As for Attlee, he served one full term of office, before winning the ensuing election by such a narrow margin that he was forced to the polls again in 1951 when the Tories were once again returned.  But the Welfare State remained firmly rooted (and, no doubt, was accepted by the middle classes of Barsetshire).

JOHN WILMOT.

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LOOKING BACK: Beveridge and the Birth of the NHS

In A.Graham, Uncategorized on May 5, 2018 at 9:49 pm

In the 1945 general election the Labour Party swept in to power, shocking the Tories (under the leadership of our wartime PM, Winston Churchill). But Labour had managed to chime with the mood of the electorate, who, after a grueling war, were yearning for change.

It was, after all, the first opportunity for many in the electorate to vote since before the war. All elections had been suspended for the duration of “hostilities” – and a lot had changed since the 1930s when Britain had faced up to depression and hard times.

The new Labour Government, under Clement Attlee, set about providing the change that was yearned for. Amongst many changes that were planned, a report was commissioned from a committee headed by William Beveridge, to provide a new welfare deal that would not be discriminatory but would embrace the entire population.

Beveridge was by no means a raving left-winger. Indeed, he was a progressive Liberal (with a capital L). But his Committee produced a report which was both thorough and comprehensive. And, for its time, it was revolutionary.

The legislation based on his report made its way through Parliament, and was introduced in the summer of 1948. The Daily Mail (not with any enthusiasm!) described it to its readers thus:

“… You will wake in a New Britain, in a State which ‘takes over’ its citizens six months before they are born. Providing care and free services for their birth, for their early years, their schooling, workless days, widowhood and retirement. Finally it helps defray the cost of their departure.”

It was all to be paid for by a new scheme of “National Insurance” (at that time fixed at 4 shillings and eleven pence a week).

There were, of course, some teething troubles, including the cobbling together of a National Health Service that could provide a unified level of care in all parts of the country (it had in too many ways been decidedly patchy, with the best services concentrated in large urban centres – particularly of course in London). Many doctors and surgeons just didn’t want to face the challenge of moving from a settled practice. Another problem was that existing hospitals and health centres were run by a disparate collection of bodies. Many came under the control of local authorities, others were run by health insurance schemes whilst many were wholly private. On top of that, a large number of GP’s were responsible for their own surgeries.

abevan2It was Aneurin Bevan who was given the responsibility of Health Care (which he combined with the equally challenging role of Minister for Housing). He tackled the problems with energy and finally won over the majority of doctors and a pattern of a new unified Health Service began to emerge.

By 1951, when the Conservatives were once again returned to power, most of the Tory critics of the new “welfare state” had been won over. There would be little or no change to the structure of the “Welfare State”, and the NHS continued with the task of modernising and improving the health care of the people. One example I remember as a youngster was the mass drive to inoculate the population against diphtheria.

Other elements of the “Beveridge Plan” continued to flourish, even though rising responsibilities meant that the concept of a regular “National Insurance” payment had to be modified to cope with rising costs and responsibilities.

And despite its technical, often heavy, nature the Beveridge Report was a best seller. No government report, before or since, sold as many copies.


CLOSURE OF FOREST  HOSPITALS CONFIRMED

On January 26th (as this issue of the Clarion was going to press) the news  was confirmed.  Gloucestershire Health bosses confirmed that it had decided unanimously to close the Forest’s two hospitals – Lydney and the Dilke, near Cinderford.

The public were told that they were “no longer fit for purpose”.  In their place a single hospital would be built  (no time scale was given), with facilities and services falling far short of what Forest people wanted. This number of beds remained a bone of contention,/ but in the final announcement it was suggested that it could be open to amendment.

As we go to press, no proposed site has been announced for the new hospital, but it’s more than likely that most patients will have to travel further for treatment. Just as likely, many may be sent outside the Forest altogether, perhaps even to Gloucester or Cheltenham.

QUESTIONS:

The news of the decision had been broken in the Review the day before the meeting took place, and a crowd of demonstrators assembled at Forest Hill Golf Club, Coleford (where the news was confirmed) to protest.  Many wanted to know why on earth if money was available, wasn’t it  being invested in the two existing hospitals rather a new build where there’s likely to be less beds available, no extra facilities available.

“CONSULTATION”:

A consultation exercise preceded the confirmation  of closure – but this was effectively a  whitewash. Questions were loaded, or so glib as to be meaningless. It declared that the aim of the changes was to achieve “Health and Wellbeing for all”, without explaining how this was to be achieved.

This was back in November last year. Time enough for opposition to mount (it emerged at a public meeting held in Lydney Town Hall) – and indeed time enough for the administration at  Gloucestershire Health to listen.  But instead the bosses voted unanimously to go ahead with plans. It seemed that they were all suffering from an attack of the Andrew Lansleys!

At present, Gloucestershire Health Trust tells us on its website that it has responsibility for seven community hospitals in the county, plus the surgeries in the Dean and those further afield in the county.  Now, it seems, the Trust wants to  reduce the two hospitals in the Forest to one single unit with facilities that local people regard as inadequate for their needs.

There has been a singular lack of local democracy here – but that’s not surprising considering the top down structure imposed on our NHS today. There was a time when the concept of local democracy was built in to the system, but that was demolished,  to be replaced by a tier of bureaucrats and managers who act as though they are the ones who know best.

Another question arises. Would our new hospital be a “PFI” construction (now, since the collapse of Carillion, a discredited approach to providing public works such as new-build hospitals).
FIGHTING ON:
Meanwhile, opponents of these planned hospital changes have pledged themselves to fight on. Opposition to the plans for a single hospital solution to meet the needs of Forest folk has intensified, rather than waning.

MODERN TIMES: The Dinosaur Column

In Dinosaur, Uncategorized on May 5, 2018 at 9:35 pm

dinosaurNHS? Not Out of Our Pocket!

I’m sure that most folk accept the fact that when the National Health Service was first put before Parliament, (as a major component of Beveridge’s plan for a welfare state) the Tories were not in favour. The official line was “it may be a nice idea but we just can’t afford it.”

But in fact a large proportion of the Tory voting public, along with the leadership of the party, were bitterly opposed to the creation of what they saw as a “nanny state”. A recent letter in the Western Daily Press reminded me of some of the false rumours that were spread at the time in a vain attempt to discredit the NHS and the whole notion of the welfare state.

I remember some of the accusations myself, though I was only a fledgling dinosaur at the time. Attlee was accused of being a “Socialist thief” The right-wing press ran stories (such as the claim that NHS patients carried away car loads of cotton wool. Or one that I dimly remember, patients hoarding loads of false teeth supplied by NHS dentists. Such “fake news” was spread to indicate how profligate the new born Health Service was.

There was also the argument that “no-one values what he/she doesn’t pay for” (that was a favourite amongst comfortably well-off Tory voters). Indeed, the NHS, it was said, was “undermining the moral fibre of the nation”. The letter in the Western Daily Press goes on to suggest that such views reflect President Ronald Reagan’s famous words, “the poor deserve to be poor” (and also, perhaps, helps us to understand why those in the USA who vote Republican are so bitterly opposed to anything even approaching what could be seen as a national health service.

Adverts on the box

I’ve always had a somewhat mixed attitude towards the adverts shown on telly. Some just float over my head, or give me the opportunity to get up and make a cuppa tea – or maybe to check my emails on my new-fangled computer. But some really annoy me.

Take a couple, for example. One’s for some estate agent called “Purple Bricks” (why I don’t know). It consists of some hapless individual being shouted at and generally humiliated because he didn’t know that Purple Bricks was a “proper” estate agent – it just didn’t charge commission.

It’s really designed to show the nasty, bullying and humiliating side of people’s nature. I’d like to know why doesn’t the hapless victim respond with the question, “how do they make their money then?” That might shut up the bullies!

The other one is the government “information” ads. Particularly the one that calls on us to “switch” today (presumably they’re talking about our energy suppliers). But why should we? What if we’re reasonably happy with what we’ve already got? Or should we just get caught in an endless cycle of switching? It just doesn’t make sense.

What happened to the old adverts we used to snooze through? The jingles, about happy motoring? The vacuum cleaners that swept as they beat as they cleaned? Ah, happy, innocent days!

Footnote:

So Theresa May has decided that our new UK passports won’t be printed in in the UK – but in France where it’s cheaper. Quelle Horror! Naturally enough papers like the Mail and the Express are livid.But where, I’d like to know, are May’s principles? If she’s serious about leaving the EU, surely the jobs should go to a British firm? Or am I missing something? Personally I’m a “remainer” but having said that, what about the jobs in Britain that are being threatened?

Dinosaur. Grrrr.

EDUCATION MATTERS: Academies in the news – again

In R.Richardson, Uncategorized on May 5, 2018 at 9:26 pm

by Ruth Richardson

Academies have hit the headlines once again and not in a good way. A recent Observer investigation revealed that six out of the top ten academy trusts which operate hundreds of schools across England are in financial difficulties.

Pay, staffing levels and building maintenance are all under pressure. Mounting deficits have led to a reliance on emergency government handouts. As an example The Observer article examines the financial situation of one such chain, the Birmingham-based “Academy Transformation Trust”. The trustee’s annual accounts state that the “net position of income funds shows the trust to have a deficit of £2.513 million… A material uncertainty exists that may cast considerable doubt on the Trust’s ability to continue as a going concern.”

Because academy chains are businesses, like any other capitalist concerns, when profits disappear they seek to cut their losses. In October we reported on the Wakefield City Academies Trust which asked the Department of Education to seek new sponsors for its 21 schools (a Guardian article reported in some detail on the asset-stripping that occurred in the previous year.

Another recent article in the Guardian told the story of what can happen when there is a delay in finding a new sponsor. Rose Hill Primary School in Oxford has been without a sponsor for two years. No longer the responsibility of the Local Authority, Rose Hill is crying out for repairs, with shabby corridors and mould on ceilings. Staffing costs are high, with 35 different languages spoken and a third of the children with special educational needs. Thus, to a profit-minded academy chain, a school like Rose Hill is not an enticing proposition. Estimates suggest that there are about sixty “orphan” schools in England waiting for a sponsor.

IN LYDNEY:

Locally, the Dean Academy, in Lydney, was sponsored by Prospects Academy Trust until it closed down in 2015. The school was without a sponsor for ten months, though now under the Athelstan Trust it seems to be doing better. But the ethos of a business enterprise being responsible for an educational establishment, with all the uncertainty that involves seems to me to be wrong-headed.

SCHOOLS IN ALL BUT NAME:

An recent article in the “i” newspaper highlighted a matter of concern that is surprisingly low-profile. Ofsted has identified more than 350 unregistered educational establishments. The legal definition of a school is an establishment “in which full-time education is provided for five or more pupils of compulsory school age.” But there is a key loophole in the Education Act which allows these unregistered schools to operate. If the curriculum is severely restricted the establishment does not count as a school and therefore can’t be held to Ofsted requirements.

These schools, of which a quarter are religious, have been accused of everything from physical abuse to fostering extremism. “The message,” says Jay Harman of Humanists UK, “is that if you want to avoid scrutiny and oversight of the government, teach as narrow and doctrinaire a curriculum as possible. This is nonsense.”

The article quoted a mother who was a member of the Orthodox Jewish community in Stamford Hill in London. She was worried about communal pressure for her sons to begin studying at unregistered “Yeshivas”. Teachers were not vetted, she said, and there was “zero non-religious education. The schools are totally Yiddish speaking and the children are not even taught basic English.

This woman has complained to Ofsted, her Council and her MP. “Everyone has turned a blind eye for decades”, she said.


REGIME CHANGE:

“Be careful what you wish for”, the saying goes. With hindsight, the sacked Minister of Education, Justine Greening, was perhaps rather more teacher friendly than her predecessors Michael Gove and Nicky Morgan. Simon Kidwell, a primary school teacher, said “Justine Greening has been the most thoughtful and measured education secretary of recent times.”

She was, of course, a casualty of Theresa May’s January Cabinet re-shuffle, and apparently refused a position in the Work and Pensions Department. Justine Greening instigated the abolition of SATs in primary schools and appeared to be dragging her feet over the building of new grammar schools. This, of course, was one of the Prime Minister’s pet projects, so maybe that was why Justine Greening had to go.

It’s early to assess what impact her replacement, Damian Hinds, will have, although he is thought to be more enthusiastic about grammar schools – and according to Laura McInerny writing in “Schools Week” is “sharp-minded and independent”.

And it seems he is keen to promote the initiative called “Opportunity Area plans”, begun under Justine Greening.. Under-performing areas such as Blackpool, Bradford and Derby were targeted. Damian Hinds has announced a £36 million package for six more areas, to be delivered through successful multi-academy trusts. While we welcome additional support for disadvantaged schools, we feel that support would be best delivered through local authorities.

LOOKING BACK: THE BIRTH OF THE TRIPARTITE SYSTEM

I recently had the opportunity to browse through past copies of the New Leader, founded by Keir Hardie under the title of the Labour Leader, which was then the weekly paper of the Independent Labour Party (ILP).

An article that caught my eye was in an edition published in February 1946. The “tripartite system” of secondary education had of course already been established by the Butler Education Act of 1944. In 1946, under the new Labour Government, the Minister for Education was Ellen Wilkinson and the New Leader was critical of her commitment to “profoundly reactionary social policies in the field of education.”

The article claims that the Butler Act did little to change the realities of our education system. 90 per cent of children went to secondary modern schools and left at 14 “to work in factories, mines and fields”. The other ten per cent went to grammar schools, able to take the School Certificate at 16 – a passport to a white collar job and possibly to university. Apparently said the feature, some children did stay on in secondary modern schools and take the School Certificate, but new draft regulations under Ellen Wilkinson would make this impossible in the future.

The Minister should be widening opportunities for all pupils not closing them down. Social mobility should be one of the aims of education, the article declared.

Of course it would be twenty years before a programme of comprehensive schools was rolled out nationwide under Anthony Crosland, a Labour Minister for Education. Interestingly there were a few earlier schools set up on the comprehensive model. In 1946, five such schools were set up by the London County Council – always a forward thinking body.

Today, equal opportunity and social mobility should be the hallmark of our education system; we look to the Department of Education to provide leadership.

RUTH RICHARDSON

FOUR MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT

In Guest Feature, Uncategorized on May 5, 2018 at 9:09 pm

by Rowan McKeever

August 6th 1945, August 9th 1945. Hiroshima, Nagasaki. Two planes, two bombs, two days. And 226,000 dead.

Thankfully, these are the only two times nuclear weapons have ever been used. It was World War Two, the USA wanted to stop the war and to try out these new bombs. A test run – a test run that killed nearly 300,000 people.

Britain has had some form of nuclear weapon for well over fifty years now and along with other catastrophes of 2016 (the election of Trump and the Brexit vote) the Commons voted on July 18th to renew Trident  and continue the nuclear weapons programme. This means that Britain will have nuclear weapons at the ready all the way into 2060. That means we would have relied on a nuclear “deterrent” for over a hundred years.

RETALIATION:

A common argument is that “we need nuclear weapons to strike back, if by any miniscule possibility Britain ever does get hit by a nuclear bomb.”  This is absurd.  Hundreds of thousands of people would be  murdered  and instead of dealing with the damage, do we really want to bomb another city into dust?  It is estimated that if a nuclear bomb hit London in 2018 around six million people would die.

This is a horrifying statistic, but is only what would happen on the first day. Thousands, if not millions of people would be injured or die long after the bomb had struck. The causes would include radiation burns, birth defects and increased cancer risk. Even after these terrible facts, many people still believe that Britain should keep Trident as a “defence”. They believe that we should keep the weapons “just in case”.

I am certain that they wouldn’t be saying this if they considered how much taxpayers’ money is being spent on maintaining Trident. One hundred million pounds. Over the last ten years, the British economy has shattered. People have lost their homes, had their benefits cut, and some people with jobs vital to our economy are being paid barely enough to survive. Food banks can’t cope with the record number of people who can’t afford basic necessities. And yet our money is being put into pointless, inhumane murder weapons about which we’re not informed.

PROTEST….

There are lots of groups protesting around the world.  In the UK there’s CND, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. CND campaigns for unilateral nuclear disarmament, which means that they want Britain to get rid of their nuclear weapons regardless of what other countries choose to do.

AND SURVIVE:

CND holds regular protests, rallies and meetings to raise awareness of their campaign. As a member I have attended many of their events – my favourite being one to “wrap up Trident” in January 2014.  This was a powerful demonstration as people from all over the country knitted or crocheted parts to a very long scarf which was then sewn together. The scarf was then wrapped around the Ministry of Defence as a visual and unusual way to spread the message of stopping the renewal of Trident. CND has influenced many politicians including Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader who was chair of the organisation for many years, and is currently Vice President.

WHERE THE PARTIES STAND:

It is important to look at what the different political parties are saying about nuclear weapons. The Green Party is against Trident and would scrap it immediately if it came to power.  The Labour Party has said that if they win they will review their whole defence strategy, including nuclear power. However, the Conservative Party has said that it will not change anything and is happy to keep these deadly weapons. It argues that the UK would be less powerful without them – although such countries as Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Norway manage fine without them. South Africa and Belarus have scrapped their nuclear weapons.

So Britain would not be the first and may encourage others also to abandon nuclear weapons.

“DON’T YOU HEAR THE H-BOMBS THUNDER…”

But many politicians wouldn’t be affected by a nuclear strike.  While they were safe and warm in their cosy bunkers we would have less than thirty seconds before our bodies, our homes, our lives were obliterated.

We all deserve to live without a shadow of fear hanging over us. These lyrics from the song “H-Bombs Thunder” – written in 1958 by John Brunner for the Aldermaston March sum it up well. We still sing the song around the fire at Woodcraft Folk camps.

“Shall we lay the world in ruin?
Only you can make the choice.
Stop and think of what you’re doing
Join the march and raise your voice.

Time is short, we must be speedy,
We can see the hungry filled,
House the homeless, help the needy,
Shall we blast or shall we build?

Men and women, stand together,
Do not heed the men of war
Make your minds up now or never,
Ban the bomb for ever more.”

bomb_tree

MODERN TIMES: The Dinosaur Column

In Dinosaur on May 5, 2018 at 8:51 pm

Votes for Women!

It seems that this year we’re celebrating the hundredth anniversary of women gaining the vote in parliamentary elections. There’s been a number of events to mark the occasion, including one I rather liked – a train excursion to Severn Beach by latter-day Suffragettes dressed in period costume and the suffragette colours. I hope they all had a good day out!

Of course it didn’t immediately mean that all women had the vote. First, they had to be over thirty (those still in their twenties had to wait awhile, until the 1920s, to gain the right to the ballot box (in the so-called “flapper election”).

Earlier, votes for women had been bitterly opposed by the Liberal Government under Asquith. He described women as “hopelessly ignorant of politics, credulous to the last degree and flickering with gusts of sentiment like a candle in the wind.” Wow!

Today there’s a misconception that all suffragettes were violent campaigners who specialised in smashing windows, setting fire to buildings- and even throwing themselves under race horses. In fact there were two bodies campaigning for votes for women. More effective than the Pankhursts were probably those who were labelled the “Suffragists” who attempted to win over the newly emerging Labour movement (then largely organised through the ILP). It might be significant here that in the “flapper election” the result was a significant rise in the Labour vote.

UKIP IN STALLING MODE

Why, I wonder, does UKIP get itself in such a twist over electing a new leader? Since Nigel Farage announced his retirement from the leadership of the party they’ve managed to get through three successors (one of whom lasted only a matter of days). Even before then there seemed to a succession of switches in the party’s leadership.

Now the latest incumbent, a gentleman called Henry Bolton, has had a vote of no confidence passed against him by the Party’s executive. It seems that it’ll be only a matter of time before he’s out of the door.

The fracas is over Mr Bolton’s lady friend who’s been making some very nasty online comments about Prince Harry’s new American fiancee. I can appreciate that this would cause outrage amongst the UKIP faithful (and, indeed, further afield). All I can say is that I don’t know what came over her. Suffice to say, Mr. Bolton has broken off the relationship.

But to write off UKIP completely may be a bit premature. During its very chequered history it has faced other crises – and then metaphorically risen from the grave. It has had other leadership conflicts, and at one point in its history lost out in a contester for the racist vote in the form of the BNP (not, I hasten to add, that I’m trying to suggest that there was any comparison in terms of the two parties’ policies. Only in the muddled views of those who’d want to vote for them).

No doubt we’ll see. UKIP may well stagger on, but not necessarily as the kind of force that it was during the referendum campaign.

Amazon has it: if this turns you on:

Do we really fancy a new style of shopping where there are no checkouts and all you need is a sort of swipe card?

Amazon has just opened one such store – but it’s all right, it’s over in Seattle. To start your shopping, you scan an Amazon “smartphone app” to get you through a turnstile. Then you start your shopping. Whenever you take an item from the shelves, your account is charged. It you put the item back, the charge is automatically removed.

Amazon has admitted to some flaws in the system (such as small children who remove items from shelves but don’t put them back where they should be). But what this Dinosaur wants to know is whether this is really how we want to shop? Who do we go to for help in finding what we want? Do we always know what we want?   And does Amazon really care?

DINOSAUR

CLARION REVIEW: HAROLD WILSON – Labour’s face of the ‘seventies.

In John Wilmot, Reviews on January 23, 2018 at 5:43 pm

wilsonbook“Harold Wilson” by Ben Pimlott, and published by Harper Collins – a review by John Wilmot for The Clarion.

Most of us (over a certain age of course) remember Harold Wilson. As Prime Minister, he helped to usher in a period of great change – before it was halted in its tracks by the arrival on the scene of Margaret Thatcher, of course.

This book by Ben Pimlott (a former warden of Goldsmiths College, London, and professor at Birkbeck College) is described as a “scholarly work”.  Which means in effect that it emerges as long and over- detailed. He spends one lengthy chapter on Wilson’s childhood, growing up near Huddersfield – and then carries on from there for over 700 pages.  But for those with staying power it’s well worth persisting.

A BRIEF OVERVIEW:

But, to put it into perspective, perhaps a brief overview of Wilson’s political career may be useful. He had studied at Oxford (first taking Modern History before transferring to Philosophy, Politics and Economics) and emerged with a first class honours degree.

He went on to enter Parliament in the 1945 General Election – a Labour landslide. He must have caught the eye of the new Prime Minister, Clement Atlee, as he was made President of the Board of Trade at the age of only 31 – to become the youngest member of the cabinet in the 20th Century.

Atlee’s pioneering government came and went, and Wilson finally rose to become leader of the Labour Party (following the death of Hugh Gaitskell) and from there went on to be Prime Minister on four separate occasions before bowing out of politics.

“MODERNISATION”:

His focus was on “modernisation”, coining the term, “the white heat of technological revolution”. He also did much to liberalise the law (still stuck largely in a pre-war mould) on censorship, divorce, abortion and homosexuality. He also legislated on discrimination against women and ethnic minorities – though it could be argued these days with less success. And he also created the Open University.

Other more controversial aspects of his Government(s) included the Vietnam War, in which Wilson attempted to walk a difficult tightrope. He did his best to maintain good relations with the USA whilst at the same time keeping Britain out of the conflict. He succeeded, but that did not prevent those of us who went on the march in protest against the war from chanting, “Where has Harold Wilson gone? Crawling to the Pentagon!”

STERLING CRISIS:

Another blip in Wilson’s premiership was the so-called “sterling crisis”, when an over-heated economy forced him to de-value the pound in November 1967. He also started Britain’s withdrawal from “east of Suez”, confirming the end of our role as an imperial power. He also applied to join the EEC (the European Economic Council – the predecessor to the EU), but Britain’s application on that occasion was unsuccessful.

In 1970, Wilson lost to Edward Heath, but made a return to power as head of a minority government in 1974. He managed to gain a slim majority (of 3) in the same year – which in a later election rose to 83.

What followed were the final years of Wilson’s premiership. In March 1976, at the age of just 60, he abruptly resigned to be succeeded by James Callaghan.

LAST YEARS:

So why did Wilson resign so suddenly?  According to Ben Pimlott, by 1974 he was ageing rapidly. “He no longer had the same energy… he took less exercise, drank more brandy, spoke at greater length… he looked older than his years.”

There seemed to be good reason to retire at sixty. Indeed, wrote Pimlott, his plan had been to retire at 56, four years earlier.  But it seemed the desire to beat Edward Heath in one last election made him postpone the decision.

Mary (his wife) it seemed was an important influence. “She wanted her husband out of politics. But it was Heath’s victory that stalled that. Wilson decided to put off his decision by a few years.

They talked it over during one of their holidays on the Scilly isles, and agreed on four more years.  Wilson was successful in beating Heath at the ensuing election, before handing the reins over to James Callaghan.

JOHN WILMOT.

Profile: THE MAN WHO TRIED TO TURN THE TIDE: Ian Smith

In A.Graham on January 23, 2018 at 5:35 pm

There’s been much publicity given by the media to Mugabe’s attempts to cling to power in Zimbabwe as he became increasingly isolated.

But there’s been hardly any coverage given to the man who preceded him – Ian Smith.  Smith was the last white Prime Minister of what was then called Rhodesia. It was a self-governing colony in which the black majority had no say in the government of their own country.

Ian Smith was a second generation Rhodesian settler, one of the white minority who ruled the country (they numbered no more than 120,000 at their peak). Smith became Prime Minister in 1960, and was to occupy that post (increasingly precariously) until 1979).

FIGHTER PILOT:

Before taking up politics, Smith had had an interesting role in the Second World War. He volunteered for the RAF, and became a fighter pilot in a Spitfire squadron. After being shot down over Corsica he fought alongside Italian partisans behind German lines.

After the end of the war, he was de-mobbed and returned to Rhodesia, where he entered the colony’s political circle (restricted, of course, to the White population).  Here, he went on to become a Minister, and from there rose to be Prime Minister,

WINDS OF CHANGE:

But Rhodesia was facing the winds of change. “Colonisation” was going out of fashion, and Smith and his government came under increasing pressure to allow the black majority to vote in future elections.

Smith declared that there would be no black rule – ever – but he was becoming increasingly isolated in a changing world.  According to one joke that circulated at the time, white Rhodesia had become “a Surrey with the lunatic fringe on top” (you have to remember the song to appreciate the pun).

With a Labour government now in power, pressure was increasingly brought to bear on Smith to move towards black majority rule. In 1965, in response, Rhodesia declared UDI, declaring that the move was “striking a blow for the preservation of justice, civilisation and Christianity” (sic).

Of course this was unacceptable as far as Britain was concerned. But Harold Wilson, the PM, was reluctant to use force to impose a settlement.  Instead he imposed sanctions which he believed would be sufficient to reach a deal for the introduction of black rule.

Meanwhile, Rhodesia’s external support was eroding.. Portugal’s African colonies of Angola and Mozambique gained their independence, and the backing of South Africa (the last African bastion of white rule) was becoming less certain.

In Britain’s election of 1971, Labour lost and the Tories returned to power under Alec Douglas Home (remember him?) A deal was struck with Smith to legalise his declaration of independence, with an eventual (bur remote) movement towards black majority rule.

CIVIL WAR:

Such a formula was, of course, unworkable and Rhodesia descended into civil war. The tide was now turning against Smith and finally he was forced to hold talks.

Interestingly his first meeting with Mugabe was quite cordial. Smith declared that he was someone who “behaved like a balanced, civilised westerner”.  He was soon to revise his opinion!

Finally, however, Mugabe took over the reins of power. And Rhodesia was confined to the history books, becoming the independent country of  Zimbabwe – with Mugabe as its president.

As for Ian Smith, he left politics, to devote his time to his 5,000 acre farm – but he continued to denounce the Mugabe Government to an ever-decreasing audience.

He finally died in Capetown in 2007 – by that time an almost forgotten footnote in the history of Africa.

HEALTH WATCH: our Forest Hospitals – the controversy continues!

In R.Richardson on January 23, 2018 at 5:31 pm

Since the proposals for the shake-up in the Forest’s hospitals were first announced (see our last issue), things have moved on apace,

A glossy information pamphlet was produced and distributed – and an attempted “consultation” was made. Mobile outlets were set up in various locations in the Forest to answer questions and to provide soothing assurances.

So, what was in that information pamphlet, one that was clearly produced by a publicity company at some expense?  It’s full of pictures of the Dean, presumably to make us all feel good about the place we live in, plus text to try to persuade us that the loss of one of the two local hospitals will be good for us all.

“Health and Wellbeing for all”, it proclaims on the cover. It also assures us that our feedback is “greatly valued”.

It goes on to claim that “the two existing community hospitals are reaching the stage where it is becoming increasingly difficult to provide modern, efficient, effective, high-quality care.”

It goes on to tell us that it’s becoming more and more difficult for “healthcare professionals” to work across different sites (ie Lydney and the Dilke). And there are difficulties, it suggests, in “training and maintaining enough staff with the right skills.

It goes on to criticise the present hospital provision, and then tells us that “too many people from the Forest of Dean are having to travel outside the area for treatment…”

BENEFITS?

So what are the benefits? Well, according to the document, we’ll all benefit from a new community hospital facility “fit for modern healthcare”.

And so it goes on. There will be “significantly improved facilities, more consistent, reliable and sustainable community hospital services… and so it goes on.

GENERALISATIONS:

All these, of course are either platitudes or generalisations.  Apart from a promise of an endoscopy suite, there is not a single specific gain in service provision.

Indeed, opponents have made the point that there will be significantly fewer beds available to patients than there are now. Patients will still have to travel outside the area (to Gloucester or even further afield) for specialist care. And the Forest still won’t have many of the facilities that it wants (high on the list of demands by local people are maternity facilities).

OPPOSITION:

It’s no wonder that opposition to the plans has been growing. Whilst not everyone is happy with the status quo, few would welcome the alternative presented to us.  This amounts to a considerable cut in provision with no guarantee of better hospital service at the end of it.

A public meeting to oppose the plans, at Lydney Town Hall is being held on the 27th of November – as we go to press. It may well be a spring board for a more sustained campaign for our hospital services. Watch this space!

MORE MONEY FOR THE NHS?

One promise that emerged from the budget was a promise for an increase in funding for the National Health Service.  Indeed, it was even described as a “national treasure”!

Since the Tories came to power it’s been consistently under-funded – whilst vast sums of money have been siphoned off on privatisation schemes (resulting in waste of money that the NHS could ill afford). It has also been pointed out that the amount of money promised in the budget is nowhere near enough to meet its needs. It is at best a sop.

 

FOODBANKS: Why do we need them?

In R.Richardson on January 10, 2018 at 1:21 pm

A report from Ruth Richardsonfood-pot-kitchen-cooking.jpg
Our Co-op Member Group meets regularly to discuss topical matters – usually concerning the co-operative movement – but not always.

In November we invited Sandi McDonagh, the PR and training manager of the Forest of Dean foodbanks, to come to talk to us. I warned Sandi that we were a small group, but she assured me that she’s happy to talk to groups of any size including schools, the W.I., housing associations, etc.

The Forest has a foodbank in each of the three main Forest towns, and a large warehouse at Cinderford. It operates under the auspices of the Trussell Trust, a countrywide organisation and by far the largest provider of food banks, now having 400 outlets – a number which has doubled in recent years. Last year over one million three-day food “parcels” were provided.

OTHER FOOD BANKS:

There are other foodbanks in the Forest often run by churches, such as the “Lord’s Larder” in Newent. The need for and use of foodbanks is considerably greater than official statistics show – the Government doesn’t want to lend credence to the idea that its policies have exacerbated need among the less well off!

Sandi showed us the vouchers that clients have to obtain from bodies such as schools, town councils or surgeries, and present them to receive food. Different size boxes are filled at the warehouse to cater for families of different sizes, and the boxes are decanted into bags.

A box contains enough food for a family for three days, and a client can visit the food bank three times in six months. It’s not intended that there should be long-term reliance on the foodbank (The Tressell Trust doesn’t have the resources for that) and what is provided is intended to see a family through an emergency.  Extra food can be provided though for families with school-age children during school holidays when the children will not be getting their free school meals.

At present the Forest foodbanks are supplying donated hats, gloves and scarves and also Advent calendars and tins of chocolate for families. Sandi made the point that the warehouses are well stocked at present because of harvest festivals and also because of people’s generosity in the run-up to Christmas. Often there’s a bit of a shortfall after Easter.

Sandi mentioned that while all donations are welcome they are over-flowing with tins of baked beans and soup! Last year the turnover of food in the Forest was fifty tons.

HELP WITH ADVICE:

All the foodbanks are attended regularly by a representative from Green Square, a Gloucester-based body which advises on housing and debt management, and sign-posts clients to other organisations as appropriate.

Universal Credit which we reported on in our last issue is now being rolled out in Gloucestershire. Although the Government has tweaked its legislation a little, it is still expected that the change over will lead to an increase in the use of foodbanks of 17 per cent in the run up to Christmas.

* Collection points for donated food (tins and packets) are situated in many supermarkets and churches. Or go trusselltrust.org to find your nearest collection point.

R.R.


EDUCATION MATTERS: FACING UP TO WORK LOADS

In September, as we reported in our last issue,  a new large teachers’ union  came into being –  The National Education Union (NEU). It was formed through the merger of the NUT and the ATL.

It’s worth looking at their website, in particular at their campaign to reduce  teachers’ workloads. The average working week is 54 hours for a classroom teacher and 60 plus for subject heads or senior management . The NEU has detailed advice advice on how to “develop a workload  campaign in your workplace”.  The step-by-step guide looks practical and helpful, though whether hard-pressed teachers will have time to put it into practice is doubtful – even with the long-term objective of reducing the workload.

AN EXERCISE IN ASSET STRIPPING:

Another story that we covered in our last issue was the collapse of  the Wakefield Academies Trust. An article in  the Guardian detailed the asset-stripping that occurred in the year or so before the Trust’s demise.  Hundreds of thousands of pounds were transferred into the Trust’s accounts from schools such as Hemsworth Arts and Community Academy or Heath View Primary School, when they joined the chain in the last two or three years.

Even when a budget deficit was evident, the Chief Executive, Mike Ramsey, was paid £82,000 for fifteen weeks’ work. £440,000 was paid to IT and clerking companies owned by Ramsey and his daughter . But, says a draft Department of Education report, there is no suggestion of fraudulent activity. The full report has yet to be published.

NICE WORK (?):

A Times Education Supplement investigation discovered that a quarter of  England’s best paid academy leaders received pay increases of  ten per cent or more last year. The investigation analysed the top salaries at 121 academy trusts and found that on average the pay was a fifth more than that of the Prime Minister. The Department of Education commented: “It is essential that we have the best people to lead our schools if we are to raise standards.” One wonders if Mike Ramsey from the Wakefield Academies Trust was one of the “best people”?

A NARROWING CURRICULUM?

Amanda Spelman is the head of Ofsted.  Recently she condemned the narrowed down curriculum resulting from the focus on passing SATS and GCSEs .  Her comment infuriated teachers who for years  have been railing against league tables, SATS and continual assessment.

A letter in the “i” newspaper from a retired teacher expressed their views succinctly.

“I was a teacher for 43 years and had to endure a rich, vibrant and interesting curriculum being systematically eroded and turned into a narrow, blinkered, unimaginative, boring regime.”

Another letter commented  that test results decide…

“Ofsted grading, pay increases and the head’s future” so schools then “focus on results to the detriment of everything else. Who’d have thought it?”

DO IT YOURSELF?

A recent article in the “i” newspaper reported on the lengths that some head teachers are going to, to keep costs down as their budgets undergo the heaviest cuts in a generation. They are carrying out the work of caretakers, support staff and maintenance men.

One head spent his summer holidays repainting the school, whilst another has had to let the playing fields go to seed as he cannot afford to mow them.

Schools funding levels have been frozen whilst costs have increased. Which means a shortfall in real terms of around eight per cent.

Ruth Richardson.