Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Archive for the ‘Dinosaur’ Category

MODERN TIMES: the Dinosaur column

In Dinosaur, Uncategorized on April 25, 2017 at 12:34 pm

Saving our Forest way of life:

dinosaurMany old timers in the Forest regret the passing of the “old ways”. Patterns of life have certainly changed over the past fifty years or so.  Mining is now a thing of the past – apart from a scattering of free miners, and even they are fading away.

And we’re losing that thick, sometimes impenetrable, “Vorest” accent, swamped as we are by outside influences. Basically the population is changing as once settled communities are affected by the arrival of incomers in our midst.

Whether this is a good thing or bad depends on your point of view. Me, I couldn’t possibly comment.

But I was interested to see in the local press that attempts had been made to raise money from the heritage lottery to save the distinctive Forest dialect for future generations.

It’s in danger of being lost completely, say those behind the bid.  They aim to make use of oral history recordings (both of the spoken and written word). Attempts will be made to introduce youngsters in the Dean to old patterns of employment – such as ochre mining and “ship badgering” (in other words tending the free-range Forest sheep).

As an old dinosaur I wish them luck. But I must confess to a certain degree of skepticism. We’re all caught up in the forces of change, whether we like it or not. The population of the Forest is changing, patterns of employment, too, are not what they used to be. The best we can hope for is to build up a bank of memories for generations to come. To let them know what our “Land between two rivers” used to be like.

Mark Harper has his say:

I read one of Mark Harper’s contributions to the Citizen the other week with a little bit of interest. Only a little, mind. He is, after all still our MP even if he has been consigned to the backbenches in the Commons.

Now he’s out of government he does seem to be scrabbling around for something relevant to say. He skirts cautiously round the subject of Brexit, before lighting on the High Speed Rail Act which will it seems generate “new jobs and economic growth”.  The trouble is that none of it really affects the Forest of Dean. And it’s somewhat overblown anyway. Our own railway connections will remain exactly the same, apart from some dubious connections in the Bristol direction from Severn Tunnel Junction.

He then lights on the Government’s Bus Services Bill, which will help local authorities improve bus services. Oh yeah? Who’re you kidding? With Stagecoach now running the lion’s share of bus services in and out of the Forest?  I don’t think so.

Then Mark seems to run out of things to say. He rather limply tells us that “the Government is getting on with the day-to-day job of running the country, as well as delivering Brexit.” Yes, that’s what many of us are afraid of.

hoof_signs_victory

Tory Mark Harper MP will be forever linked with the betrayal of what we hold dear and in common: our Forest!

But to be fair to Mark he does go on to tell us about his constituency, with people contacting him “email, phone or in writing.”  He adds that “in addition to this I have continued to attend local events, visit businesses and meet local residents around the constituency.” Well, that’s what he’s paid for.

 

All in all I got the impression that Harper, now he’s no longer involved in Government circles, is casting around to find things to say to his constituents.  But never mind. At least some would say he’s trying. Others might add that he’s very trying.

Clarionposter

The Good Life? Or not so good.

It seems that after trying vegetarianism we’re now being encouraged to go the whole hog (if that’s the right way to put it) and go Vegan. Veganism is the “smart way to save the planet” we’re told.

Humph. A recent item in one paper I read said this isn’t necessarily so.  It doesn’t take into account the air miles that our vegetables travel before they arrive in our shopping bags. Or unless we have our own allotments, how growing them devastates rain forests or other natural climatic regions. Not only that but those who go in for those trendy veggie boxes are more likely to throw away half the contents.

So, let’s think about our culinary habits, eh?

Dinosaur

MODERN TIMES: The Dinosaur Column

In Dinosaur, Uncategorized on April 24, 2017 at 12:12 pm

So, what’s a “clean break”?

dinosaurTheresa May, our new “iron lady” Prime Minister, has declared that she’s aiming for a “clean break” from the European Union when we have to surrender our membership and leave (by the back door maybe?).

A “clean” break?  When it comes to an exit of this sort there’s no such thing as a “clean” break. Mark my words, it’s going to be messy for an awful lot of people.  We’ve been members of the European Union for a long time now. Many folk were born into it. Whether we liked it or not we grew up as Europeans. We may have grumbled about the EU but many folk moved to mainland Europe, made their homes there, whilst other Europeans moved here. Now, it seems, according to May’s dictat, they’ll no longer be a right of automatic entry to this country for our fellow Europeans on the other side of the channel.    Or, perhaps, no right to stay here if some petty bureaucrat decides otherwise.

If May wants to take it to her “logical” conclusion, she should cancel the Eurostar and fill in the Channel Tunnel. That would help to make a clean break. It wouldn’t have kept the Normans out of course (don’t forget, they were Europeans), or indeed previous waves of Europeans who came here to settle. But who cares these days?

Meanwhile there are plenty of folk both sides of the Channel who’re now working to re-define their nationalities to their best advantage. All because May has decided to make a “clean break”.

Scots wha-hey?

And what of our Scottish neighbours, where the voters decided by a clear majority that they wanted to remain part of Europe?  Scotland has a clear, historically-based sense of separate nationhood, and they don’t want to be bulldosed into a “clean break” with the EU, thank you very much.

What the Scots would be happy to accept it seems would be some kind of “associate status” with the EU – rather similar to that enjoyed by our friends in Norway.  But Theresa May has made it clear that she wants nothing to do with that.

So, if you live in Scotland, where do you go from here?  Hold another referendum?  In which case would May accept a result in favour of Scottish independence?  I wouldn’t know, but then I’m only an old Dinosaur, who enjoys his trips north of the border. Whenever I can. But it’s worth mulling over.

Crossing the river:

I’m afraid I never managed to cross the Severn by way of the old ferry.  It ceased to run in the 1960s – the day before the gleaming new bridge that replaced it was royally opened.

And so the ferry became the stuff of legend, whilst the bridge became something to wonder over.  It was a thing of beauty – and it only cost half a crown (two shillings and sixpence in old money) to motor across.

This was fine – for all except nostalgic thrill seekers who looked back the days of the old ferry.  But then came the craze for privatising everything in sight, and the bridge was franchised out to a French company. Inevitably the cost of crossing started to go up, and up. Not only that, when the new bridge (which bypasses us in the Forest altogether) was built, they threatened to close it down.

It’s now well over six quid. But here’s some good news. It seems the franchise is due to run out in 2018 when it should revert to public ownership. And the estimated cost to cross should fall to three pounds.  I don’t know how this compares to two shillings and sixpence in old money, but it could be worse.

Of course some years back all bridge tolls in Scotland were scrapped completely. But then they’ve never suffered from a Tory government.

Dinosaur

DINOSAUR: Grammar Schools? Back to the past!

In Dinosaur, Uncategorized on November 18, 2016 at 1:59 pm

dinosaurI confess that when I was merely a fledgling dinosaur I was sent packing to a grammar school.  Well, back in those days it was something which we had no control over.

Under the “tripartite system”, brought in after the war, schools were divided into three difference types that were meant, theoretically, to suit children’s particular set of abilities. Basically, at the age of 11 years, youngsters were tested to see which kind of school suited their particular talents. Well, that was the theory anyway.

The choice was between the grammar schools, or the secondary modern and the technical high schools. But as the technical schools were to say the least in short supply, it usually boiled down to a choice between the grammar and the secondary modern – and basically if you didn’t gain a grammar school place you were deemed to have “failed”, and were packed off to the nearest secondary modern.

So there I was, my satchel on my back, heading for a small West Country grammar school – but completely unaware of those who were destined for the local secondary modern school. As far as I could see they just didn’t exist.  The set-up basically created a system of social division.

My kids on the other hand went to comprehensive school.  They attended their neighbourhood “comp”, mingling with those from the local community and benefited from a sense of social integration.

Then some bright spark of a politician came up with the notion of what became known as “parental choice”. In other words they, the parents, could send their children to any school within the local education area that they wanted to.  As a result we now had a structure based on social fragmentation.

Goodness knows how we’d describe the system we’ve got now. Me, I’m lost for words. To make matters worse, the Tories (well, some of them) now think it’s a good idea to bring back the grammar schools – a notion that should have been buried decades ago.

Bang to rights!

I’ve been a follower of the radio soap, “The Archers” on and off for as long as I can remember. Its catchy signature tune always evokes a sense of rural cosiness in the community of Ambridge where everyone knows their place.

But occasionally a plot line crops up that shakes the foundations of the old order. The example of Helen Titchmarsh (nee Archer) and her knife attack on her controlling, scheming husband Rob has had millions gripped over many weeks, with Helen in custody and the wicked Rob recovering – and scheming.

Last month we had the grand finale. The trial. With Rob still making plans for his future, the two of them have their time in court. And finally, in an hour long episode, the jury argues its way to a conclusion. She’s not guilty. No doubt there were cheers from millions of listeners glued to their wireless sets.

I thought the conflicting opinions of the members of the jury were particularly well handled – particularly the emerging views of the self-appointed “chairman” who, it’s finally revealed, has a very dim view of women and feels they’re capable of all sorts, in order to keep men in their place. Gradually, however, a more rational set of opinions emerges – and Helen is found not guilty.

No doubt the verdict gained the applause of all those listeners who support women’s rights.  And that’s how it should be. And congratulations to the Archers’ script writers for their handling of this particular story line!

Just curious:

Being a curious sort of dinosaur, a number of questions have crossed my mind recently. For example, in the great purge by Labour’s head office, how many members of the party have been expelled or suspended?  And how many of these found themselves unable to vote in the leadership elections as a result?  Not only that, but how many would have cast their vote for Jeremy Corbyn, and how many for Owen Smith?

Just wondering, you understand

Dinosaur

MODERN TIMES: the Dinosaur column

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

MODERN TIMES: the Dinosaur column

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

dinosaurVICTORY IN THE MAYORAL STAKES!

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

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

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

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

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

REFERENDUM FEVER?

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

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

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

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

CHANGING THE GUARD AT THE CITIZEN:

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

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

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

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

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

Dinosaur

MODERN TIMES: The Dinosaur Column

In Dinosaur on May 3, 2016 at 4:39 pm

A surreptitious sharpening of knives:

dinosaurThere are those in the Parliamentary Labour Party who refuse to accept the fact that Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party fair and square. They act as though their exclusive little club had been invaded by an uncouth outsider and go out of their way to make it difficult for Labour to function as a cohesive opposition in the Commons.

Few of them, though, go so far as to advocate openly outright rebellion. They prefer to throw their toys out of their play pen. Or sit in the corner and sulk. But it seems there are those who are ready to plot a coup in the party.

An interesting, if somewhat incoherent, piece appeared in the Daily Telegraph in early March by one Tom Harris, an unreformed and unrepentant Blairite.  He’s all for mounting a coup to oust the “selfie-loving Corbynite radicals” (sic). And he’s nominated  deputy leader Tom Watson to lead the rebellion against Jeremy Corbyn.

Why Tom Watson, I hear you ask?  Well, according to Harris , it was Watson who master-minded the plot that got rid of Blair and replaced him with Gordon Brown. A politician capable of achieving that should have no difficulty in master-minding a coup against Corbyn. Well that seems to be the logic behind this rather rambling article aired in the Telegraph.

I must say that I was completely unaware of such a plot to get rid of Blair – but us dinosaurs do tend to be a bit naïve. We just don’t live in the world of plots and counter-plots .

Of course there’s no evidence to suggest that Tom Watson has the slightest inclination to attempt such an act. And such fanciful  notions don’t take into account the reaction of  Labour’s membership. But then, of course, the Blairites never did.

Remember the BNP?

Remember the British National Party?  The far right, racist party that seemed to be making such an impact a decade or so ago?  Then it imploded and seemed to disappear from the scene.

Well it seems it’s still with us, just about. It’s putting up the odd candidate or two – including one in the contest for London mayor. Its slogan seems to be “don’t vote for a Muslim Mayor!”

But an interesting news item recently revealed that the party had come into some money. £180,000 had been left to the BNP by two members who had died and left the money in their wills.

The organisation “Hope Not Hate” has accused the BNP of gaining money through “coffin chasing”.

Life in the fast lane.

The name of Adrian Beecroft  isn’t perhaps very well-known – unless you’re in the heady world of hedge fund banking and the like.

He’s currently part of the financial set up that controls Wonga. But before that he was “chief investment officer” for a venture capital financial outfit called Apex.

One of his acquisitions was that of the supermarket chain, Somerfield. Somerfield, it seemed, had run into difficulty after it took over KwikSave. Merging the two concerns had cost more than had been bargained for.

Mr. Beecroft was able to acquire Somerfield in 2005 – and then, in 2009, it sold it on to the Co-operative Group at a handsome profit.  Apex did very well out of it, the Co-op did less so. Now many of the Co-op’s former Somerfield stores have been sold on (like the one in Chepstow, for example), in order to finance its growth in the smaller convenience store sector.

Incidentally, Mr Beecroft has donated more than £500,000 to the Tory Party since 2006.

Dinosaur   

MODERN TIMES: The Dinosaur Column

In Dinosaur on March 9, 2016 at 1:31 pm

The dwindling world of local newspapers

dinosaurWhat’s been happening in the world of local newspapers? Once they were the lifeblood of their communities. The means whereby folk found out what was going on, or kept in touch. They were the local heartbeat.

But sadly no more. Over the past few years they have been going down like ninepins. Many long established papers have folded, others have been sold on. Some local dailies have even found themselves relegated to weekly publication.

There’s one simple reason. They’re no longer as profitable as they used to be. Once they could be a licence to print money. Advertising poured into their columns. But no more. That precious revenue is going elsewhere – and some like the Daily Mail group (which owned amongst many other titles, the Gloucester Citizen), started to cut back. There were rumours that the Citizen was to be put up for sale. But then finally three years ago it passed to consortium called “Local World”, in which the Daily Mail still kept an interest.

 

But cutbacks have been made. Local news coverage has been pruned, to the point that the Forest now only has a couple or so pages of coverage once a week. Local columnists have all but disappeared.

In more confident times, the Citizen had taken over our own local weekly, the Forester – once a broadsheet owned by the Bright family. Later, as profits started to shrink, it was sold on, to the Tindle group (which owns our weekly freebie, the Review).

Now, though, more change seems to be afoot in the consortium that controls Local World. As we on the Clarion slowly go to press the news is that the Trinity Mirror group is to buy (possibly) a controlling interest in the Local World group.

Well, at least it isn’t Rupert Murdoch.

A special prize for dictators?

Who’d have thought it? A small news item caught my eye which stated that this year’s “Confucius Prize” (described as China’s equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize) has been awarded to… wait for it … Robert Mugabe.

I just wondered what the qualifications were to win what I presume is regarded as such a prestigious award? Longevity, perhaps? I’m sure Confucius would have had something pithy to say about it.

Tough being rich:

What is it with money for some people? That inner drive to accumulate more and more millions despite the fact that you end up with far more than you could ever spend in one lifetime?

Something like one per cent of the population now have more dosh than most of the rest of us put together. Yes, I know, most of us would like a bit more cash to ensure the security of a decent home, enough to spend on food, clothing, and what I believe are called utilities. With, of course, some extra for such things as holidays or leisure activities. But most of us don’t really hanker after the millions that pour into the coffers of the uber-rich. Do we?

But it seems that even these multi-millionaires have their problems. Call it conscience, if you like. Many have become aware of their privileged position and have become troubled by it.

Well, fear not. There are now psychologists who are only too happy to offer therapy, counselling, and the whole package, to help such people get over their guilt. (Or as it’s now labelled, “wealth fatigue syndrome”). At a price naturally.

Of course there’s one simple solution to the problem. Give all your surplus millions away. Try indulging in a bit of wealth re-distribution. I expect there are plenty of accountants willing to help out, and I’m sure the wealthy can afford the fees.

Meanwhile I can rest assured knowing that whatever problems I may have, at least I don’t suffer from “wealth fatigue syndrome”. If only.

Dinosaur

Clarion Comment: JEREMY CORBYN TAKES UP THE REINS

In Dinosaur on December 22, 2015 at 4:24 pm

dinosaur

Jeremy Corbyn: first impressions
The result of the long drawn-out Labour leadership elections was finally announced around mid day on Saturday September 12th. My first sighting of the news was from an email from the Labour Party general secretary, Ian McNicol, This was closely followed by the news announced on Radio 4.
Yes, I was delighted by the result – including the size of Jeremy’s majority (he polled some 59 per cent). In so many ways his victory represented a new, and encouraging, mood that’s building up in the country – and has struck the Labour leadership like a tsunami.
NEW MOOD:
It’s a mood reflected in the reaction to Cameron’s mealy-mouthed response to the refugee crisis (another tsunami for those involved in the pitiful trek of abused humanity seeking sanctuary from a world that had turned vicious and violent).  It’s a growing antidote to the uncaring society that the Tories have been creating.  And it’s a rejection of the Westminster bubble in which much of the Labour leadership resides. These residents  seem unable to see beyond the boundaries of their cosy little world.
Jeremy Corbyn has become a symbol of the rejection of the ingrained world of Westminster whose inmates have reacted with sound and fury to his election as leader of the Labour Party. After all, the Labour leadership had changed the rules to try to ensure that this didn’t happen. Corbyn was seen as the rank outsider, simply there to show how tolerant the Labour’s parliamentary leadership could be. He was expected to trail in, bottom of the poll – and business as usual could then be resumed.
NEW WORLD:
There was a failure to understand that there was a groundswell that saw the political world in a different way. There was a growing number of people who wanted it to make a difference – and they rallied around Corbyn.  We saw them at his rallies, and recognised and welcomed the mood.
If politics is to have any impact (let alone relevance) it has to have vision. After years of bleak Tory rule, and anodyne opposition there’s been a growing need in people for something better. Something more meaningful. Those with eyes to see saw it in the dramatic rise in the Green Party’s vote in the last election – and, perhaps the near wipe-out of the traditional Westminster parties in Scotland.
The writing was already on the wall, for those who could recognise it (though I must confess that I’ve only done so in retrospect).
WHAT’S NEXT?
What will happen next I can’t foresee. But if it’s really to go forward, the Labour Party has to recognise this sea change. It has to understand that there’s no going back. “Blairism” and its phoney invention, “New Labour” is now dead in the water and its dwindling band of adherents have become irrelevant to the Party today. But, to date, there’s no sign that they’re prepared to accept the fact. Already there’s talk of plots to unseat Labour’s leader – thus flying in the face of the party membership. Which of course gives rise to the question, whose party is it?
Things won’t be easy for Corbyn. There’s a lot of rancour still, with members of the former Labour leadership declaring that they will no longer contemplate serving in any Shadow Cabinet. That’s up to them – provided of course that this bitterness doesn’t turn into downright opposition, or even sabotage.
As for Jeremy Corbyn himself, we hope we can look forward to a refreshing new approach. Of course he’s not without his flaws but he does have a sense of purpose lacking in too many politicians.
As leader of a major political party whose Parliamentary representatives are by no means united behind him, he will no doubt have to make some compromises (though not, I hope, on such matters as Trident!). His role for the next few years is to built a united and, above all, an effective opposition.
DINOSAUR 

MODERN TIMES: The Dinosaur column

In Dinosaur on September 2, 2015 at 12:47 pm

dinosaurDOING AWAY WITH CHILD   POVERTY?

Iain Duncan Smith, whose day job is Minister for Work and Pensions, has come up with a dastardly wheeze for eliminating away with child poverty.

That’s a good idea, you might think. Well, no, not exactly. He’s planning new legislation to do away with the official criteria that allows us to define where child poverty exists. So, effectively, we may know that there’s a lot of it about but we’ll no longer be able to prove it to the satisfaction of government officials.

True, he’s come up with a new scale – but it’s got nothing to do with how much income the child’s family has, despite the old saying that money makes the world go round. Instead it’s focused on factors that are more peripheral, such as the child’s level of educational achievement, unemployment in the family, and addiction (whatever that may mean). All these might be the effects of poverty but they don’t necessarily tell us that it exists in financial terms.

Talking in strange tongues?

As I was strolling around our local Co-op the other day I paused to glance at the headlines on the newspaper stand. As you do.

The somewhat xenophobic Daily Express had as its headline, “311 LANGUAGES SPOKEN IN OUR SCHOOLS”. Its subhead stated that there are “Classrooms where English is starting to die out.”

Oh dearie me, I thought. Now some folk might think that such news is a sign that our society is becoming much more multicultural. But I doubt if that’s the sort of spin that the average Express reader would put on it.

I didn’t read the actual article in full, I must admit. That would have involved buying the paper. But it does pose questions, though. Which language does the teacher use to address the class, for example? It could be anything from Aramaic to Yiddish, I suppose. But I somehow suspect it’ll be standard English – which in turn these multi-tongued children would learn too.

I also wondered whether these 311 languages might have included such indigenous tongues as Welsh, Gaelic or even (these days) Cornish?

If so, I have a tip for any Express readers who might be reading this. There was a time when determined attempts were made in Highland classrooms to teach Gaelic speaking youngsters the error of their ways. If any pupils were caught speaking Gaelic in class they were handed a piece of wood called a “torse”. He/she would then hand it on to the next pupil caught speaking their native tongue – and so on.

At the end of the school day the youngster who had the torse was brought out to the front, given a sound beating and told to pass the piece of wood back to the offender he’d got it from , and so on down the line.

Fortunately we now live in more enlightened times, and children no longer have their native language beaten out of them.

Just coasting:

As an ageing dinosaur I’ve always felt that “coasting” was a good thing to do. Just coasting along, with time to appreciate the better things in life, Catch up with a good book or think about life, the universe and everything. After all, is this life so full of care that we have no time to stand and stare?

But not when it comes to schools, it seems. Schools don’t just “fail” according to official criteria. If they’re seen to be “coasting” they’re just as bad.

Now, it seems that three out of four academy chains have been found to be “coasting”. Tut tut! What are we to do about them, I wonder.

And another thing. I know that our public schools, such as Eton, Rugby or Harrow aren’t technically “public” at all. They’re really puffed up private schools. But haven’t they been “coasting” (albeit with a certain amount of complacency) over the years? I know they bask in their traditions, offer an upper class education that’s forced to change with the times – but they’re still “coasting” in my book.

Dinosaur

MODERN TIMES: The Dinosaur Column

In Dinosaur on June 22, 2015 at 4:31 pm

Gutted:

Like most readers I’m sure, I was gutted by the election results. Both here in the Forest, and of course nationally. My first reaction was that it must be a bad dream. Maybe it was something I ate. That was followed by the thought, “have folk taken leave of their senses??”

dinosaurI even contemplated emigration. Perhaps moving to Scotland where I might get a better deal from that nice Nicola Sturgeon – even if  the SNP’s not quite so squeaky clean as their image suggests. But all those emotions only lasted a few minutes, and then I came to my senses.

Of course we have to fight back, and it’s here that it all begins. But we also have to sort ourselves out, following the resignation of Ed Miliband as Labour Party leader.

This was the moment when the Blairite “New Labour” acolytes and their closet supporters chose to jump out of their various closets and blame Ed for Labour’s defeat. He was, they declared, “too left”. Well, maybe about as left as Harold Wilson or Jim Callaghan actually. We were told that Labour must appeal to the “middle ground”, aspiring employees and the world of business. I even heard one Labour MP declare that we shouldn’t waste time attacking such iniquities as the Bedroom Tax or Zero Hours contracts. It makes one wonder why the Labour Party was set up in the first place.

There are a lot of reasons why Labour lost out.  One point that critics seem to have ignored was the loss of 40 seats north of the border – a number that makes a significant difference to Labour’s overall tally of seats. Incidentally, the groundwork for this debacle was laid during the Blairite years, when Scottish Labour was forced into line, losing its radical roots in the process.   After that its tally of MPs were just taken for granted.

Another point to bear in mind was the Liberal wipe-out. Their total number of MPs is now roughly down to the level they had in the 1950s, under Clement Davies. Then they were regarded as an irrelevance. Of course this time round they asked for it, but there was still something ruthless about the way Cameron set about demolishing the Liberal heartland in the West, considering they’d been his allies for the past five years. But it did increase his own total of MPs significantly. And we shouldn’t ignore the UKIP factor – according to BBC polls, the “Kippers” managed to take more votes from Labour than it did from the Tories.

As for poor old Ed, he also had to face a daily barrage of invective from the Murdoch press and the Daily Mail. Rupert Murdoch, it seems, personally ordered this attack on “Red Ed” as he was dubbed by the Sun (as well as the Mail).  As I see it, this concerted onslaught must have had some impact on the vote.

So, let’s have no more nonsense about Ed being “too left wing”. And let’s make sure that we rebut the siren voices of the Blairites in the wings.

Minor voices:

One diversion from fuming over the Tory victory and the fate of the opposition was seeking out how some of the minor players in the election fared. Well, it’s what we dinosaurs do.

Like for example “National Health Action”, made up of a handful of doughty doctors fighting to save the NHS from destruction. They polled a total of 20,210, doing particularly well in the Wyre Forest.

The “Yorkshire First” party, formed after the carrot of regionalism was dangled and snatched away, gained 6,811 in the seats it fought.  And “Mebyon Kernow”, the Cornish nationalists, did quite well in the few seats it was able to fight in Cornwall – particularly in St. Austell where it polled 2063 votes.

Mebyon Kernow now has seats in all districts of the County Council (though it doesn’t use the word “county” as this would assume that Cornwall lacks its own sense of nationhood!).

… and the Greens:

By the way, the Green Party polled well over a million votes – 1,157,613 actually – and ended up with just one MP (congratulations, Caroline Lucas, for increasing your majority!). But surely this alone strengthens the case for proportional representation, don’t you think? Not that we’re likely to get any movement on that from the Tories. Not whilst they’re sitting in power with just about a third of the total vote.

Dinosaur