Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Archive for the ‘Editorial’ Category

CLARION COMMENT: THE BUDGET – Hammond style

In Editorial, Uncategorized on January 8, 2018 at 1:45 pm

Our new-style Tory Chancellor has now, with a suitable flourish, presented his Autumn budget, But what are we to make of it?

Most of the items on his list of “goodies” seemed to amount to something or nothing. So was it meant merely as a kind of “steady as she goes” approach? One with one eye on our stagnating economy (which currently seems to be flat-lining)?  Or maybe he thought he would scatter a few crumbs in our direction – maybe in the hope that we’d all be suitably grateful. Or was it just a piece of typical Tory flannel?

HOUSING

The one item that seemed to capture the attention of the media was the promise to build 300,000 house in a year (he didn’t stipulate whether that would be maintained over future years, or whether it was to be a one-off).  We wonder who these houses  will be built for?  There’s the usual talk of “first time buyers, whoever they may be. For them stamp duty will be scrapped providing their new home costs less than £300,000.  But it’s highly unlikely that there will be anything for the homeless.  Their numbers are increasing – but as far as the Tories are concerned, they’re off the radar,

There was a slight concession as far as Universal Credit was concerned (that much hated system that used to be referred to as “the dole”). This will remain but there will be “additional aid” to tide claimants over that waiting period. No, we’re not talking about food banks here – we’ll come back to that on another page. But we were told that the waiting time for payment will be cut from six weeks to five, which is hardly a big deal.

HEALTH SERVICE:

As far as the NHS is concerned there’s a promise of an extra £2.8 billion for the Service. Sounds good – until you consider the needs of the Health Service.  Indeed, the head of NHS England responded with a call for an immediate payment of £4 billion. Philip Hammond, instead, promised a mere £350 million to help counter “winter pressures”. The rest of the promised cash will be spread more thinly over the next couple of years.  And, as Jeremy Corbyn pointed out that was no cash promised for much-needed social care.

The only thing to be said is that this isn’t an Osborne-style budget. Any cuts are well hidden – and if Hammond is to carry it through it will involve a significant amount of borrowing. But we’re assured that this will only be temporary.  As the economy picks up, we’re told, the borrowing will be paid back and everything will be hunky-dory.

This is a Tory budget. But, like most budgets, it may be the headline news on the day, but the reports may well be next week’s fish ‘n chip wrapping paper (except of course that’s gone out of the window these days).  It’s hardly likely to have any long-term impact on the economy, or on the lives of people  to whom it’s directed. It will not re-distribute any wealth, and for those who need the benefits of a welfare state there’s  nothing for them.

Basically it isn’t what was in the this budget speech, but what wasn’t in it.

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

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

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

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

SO WHY THE CHANGE IN APPROACH?

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

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

“FAKE NEWS”?

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

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

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

BACKWARDS WITH THE LIB DEMS:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll see…

CLARION COMMENT: HOW MAY MANAGED TO LOSE HER OWN ELECTION

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

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

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

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

corbyn_yourChoice

A PERSONAL CAMPAIGN:

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

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

LOCAL RESULTS:

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

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

hoof_signs_victory

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

WHAT NEXT?

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

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

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

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

Time, as it always does, will tell.


BREXIT?  AN EXIT IN CHAOS!

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

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

BECOMING DISPLACED PERSONS?

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

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

AND WHY A “HARD BREXIT”?

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

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

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

ENDPIECE: Where’s the diplomacy?

In Editorial on July 4, 2017 at 12:37 pm

We think it was US President Theodore Roosevelt who coined the phrase “talk softly – but carry a big stick” as he set out to conquer various remaining Spanish colonies off the coast of America. He could be described as the founder of US imperialism.

We won’t dwell on his motives. After all, times change. But as for his famous quote, perhaps there’s something for Theresa May to think about.. She has a habit of speaking very loudly – and to all intents and purposes carries no stick at all. Perhaps she might just run to a handbag.

She has told her cheering followers that “when we say Brexit we mean Brexit!”. It’ s to be a “hard” exit from Europe. And then, with all charm she could muster she sets off to engage EU ministers in talks to try for improved trade deals with Europe. She even embarked on a disastrous election to try to bolster her slim majority in Parliament.  She mistakenly thought that it would impress EU leaders and give her more clout. And we all know what happened with that!

It’s not surprising that European leaders  haven’t been impressed. After all what could May put on the table after her own euphoric utterances to her own supporters?

She’s been told by EU leaders that she must guarantee free movement of European citizens to and from Britain, a point she may find it difficult to concede considering that (possibly) the majority of those who’ve been cheering her on voted for Brexit in order to put up the barriers against Johnny Foreigner. In their terms they might end up with a very soft Brexit indeed. Meanwhile, it’s interesting that an increasing number of UK citizens (both in Britain and in mainland Europe) have been seeking ways and means of gaining European citizenship.  Sometimes this is because they see it as being in their interest. But sometimes it’s because they identify with the soul of Europe, and don’t want to be identified with the “little Englander” mentality of many of the Brexiteers.

At the same time May and her Government have been busy trying to fix up trade deals with countries outside the EU bloc – such as China and Canada. Perhaps even a handout from Trump in the USA.  So far she’s had little luck. After all, these days what do we have to offer? Let’s face it, what industrial assets we might still have can be bought up wholesale by the Chinese etc., without bothering themselves with trade deals.

So far, all that May hasn’t tried is diplomacy. It can sometimes go a long way.

Clarion Comment: BEWARE THE IDES OF MAY

In Editorial, Uncategorized on April 25, 2017 at 12:44 pm

It’s interesting how quickly memories of Cameron’s premiership fade away, Now that Theresa May is at the helm, Cameron has become well and truly yesterday’s man.

So, what do we make of May’s reign so far? It’s been less than a year – but we can’t complain that it’s been uneventful. We’ve had her attempts to woo Donald Trump (the US president that most of us love to hate). There’s been her decision to opt for a “hard brexit” from the European Union. And there’s been her attempt to drive Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP into a corner which threaten to produce further divisions between England and Scotland – perhaps irreparable ones.

One of May’s major flaws as Prime Minister (or indeed as a politician) is her acerbic style. She’s like a bull terrier, constantly on attack mode. In her view, political opponents are there to be put down, their faces ground into the mud. But it may be that she’s taken on more than she can chew when she decided to take on Nicola Sturgeon.

BAD JUDGEMENT:

Another flaw with Theresa May is a marked lack of judgement. What on earth led her to invite Trump over on a state visit to the UK when he’d hardly got himself settled into the White House? Her haste flouted all existing protocols as well as offending millions of people.

Another example of bad judgement was her decision to go for a “hard brexit” from Europe. If we look at the overall figures, the referendum results showed deep divisions between those who wished to stay and those who voted to leave. Those who voted to leave won – but by a slender margin. In the circumstances might it have been better to aim for a course that respected the majority without trampling on the concerns of the minority? Let alone upsetting the European Union – the bloc that one way or another we will have to do business with.

REVIVING THE DODO?

Meanwhile, on the domestic front, she has chosen to take on the education establishment with her persistence in ploughing scarce resources into the setting up of new grammar schools. Selective education was phased out over fifty years ago. Most rational folk regard it as dead as a dodo, and in Parliament a cross-party alliance, including Nicky Morgan (former education Minister), Lucy Powell (Labour’s shadow minister) and Nick Clegg for the Lib Dems, has emerged to rally opposition to grammar schools.   So, the question is, why has May chosen to revive the whole controversy now, to the point where she’s even divided her own party?

The opposition to May’s plans led by Morgan, Powell and Clegg were spelled out in The Observer on 19th March. Whilst making the point that whilst they had their differences, they were all agreed that selection was bad for schools, and bad for societies that they served. Selection failed to tackle inequality or to boost social mobility.

A MATTER OF EXPENSES:

Another blot on the horizon that has rocked the Tory Party is the electoral expenses scandal in a dozen or so “key” constituencies (including the Thanet seat, where Nigel Farage made his bid for election). Inflated expenses involving the Tory electoral machine were not declared in these seats, possibly having an impact on the results.

Of course, May wasn’t guilty of involvement in this. It happened on Cameron’s watch. But it’s been an episode in which she’s chosen to take a low profile approach, despite the fact that it could have repercussions on her Parliamentary Party – possibly even a loss of a few of her MPs (a factor that should concentrate May’s mind considering the limited size of her majority).

Basically Theresa May seems to be riding high in the polls, with no overall opposition from within the Tory Party faithful – but it may well be that this degree of support is based on shaky ground. There are plenty of challenges ahead, starting off with how she manages to handle our exit from the European Union.

We’re indebted to Joy Johnson, in her Tribune column for these last words on Theresa May:

“It’s a Prime Minister that masquerades as the champion of ordinary working people as she sidles up to Donald Trump after racing over the Atlantic to be his first foreign visitor (after his election as president).

“It’s a government that has all the hallmarks of a harsh, hard right administration. Nothing that has been done so far can illustrate this approach so well as their policy to ignore Alfred Dubs’ amendment to the Immigration Act. Out of the thousands of unaccompanied refugee children who made it to Europe the UK was going to take in 3,000. Yet even this figure was too high for May’s administration. They pulled the plug at 350 children. Shameful.”


The brutal Indifference of Deportation

And it’s happening on May’s watch

from a Clarion correspondent

Are we suffering from an obsession? Or is someone at the Home Office just trawling through files to see who can be deported from Britain next?

Certainly there seems to be both a lack of any sign of compassion in the way that deportation is being used against those who are seen as “breaking the rules”. It almost seems to qualify as a vigilante approach.

Two cases have been highlighted in the media recently. The first was that of Irene Clennel. She had lived in Britain for over thirty years. She has a UK husband, two children born in this country – and even a grandchild. But this didn’t stop her from being seized by the authorities taken to a detention centre in Lanarkshire where she was transported to Singapore and left with the grand sum of £12 in her pocket.

Back home she’d acted as her sick husband’s carer. But earlier, it seems, she’d had to return to Singapore for lengthy periods of time to care for her dying parents. Because of this she lost her rights to remain in Britain. Now she’s back in Singapore, where (since the death of her parents) she knows nobody.

DETAINED AT YARL’S WOOD:

The other case concerns Sophia Kamba, from Kettering. She has been held in the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centre for some five months.

Now she has learned that her 13-year old son Joel has sickle cell anaemia. With his condition deteriorating he has been admitted to hospital twice in the past few months.

Sophia Kamba (who has lived and worked in the UK for 27 years) has applied for leave from Yarl’s Wood to be with her son. Incidentally, Sophia was born in Britain, as was her mother, but she failed to get naturalised.

In response to her plea for temporary release to see her son, she was told: “you can Skype him from Jamaica.”

As this issue is being prepared, her appeal for temporary leave from detention is still under consideration.

 

Clarion Comment & Health-watch special: CRISIS IN THE NHS

In Editorial, R.Richardson on April 24, 2017 at 12:08 pm

As 2017 dawned, crises struck the National Health Service in England. Our hospital services in particular were hit by what seemed like a sudden tsunami of patients needing treatment. The media showed us queues in hospital corridors of patients left (often overnight) on trolleys because beds just weren’t available. Or, indeed immediate treatment. It showed up a service in meltdown. Even the Red Cross described it as a “humanitarian crisis”.

Yet it was a crisis that seemed to have a certain inevitability about it. Indeed it wasn’t really a case of if but when. A bout of bad weather together with a build-up of urgent cases that couldn’t be put on the back burner was enough to trigger the emergency. Even cancer cases were put on hold in some hospitals.

The National Health Service has come a long way since it was founded with such high expectations in the post-war years. It came into being in the summer of 1948, at a time when the country was trying to pull itself together after the devastation of war. It was the most visible, and most welcomed, part of the new welfare state being created following the adoption of the “Beveridge Plan”. The Tories didn’t like it, of course, claiming loudly that it was something that we just couldn’t afford.

We could of course afford it (as we could today if the will was there). True, the provision of “National Health” glasses disappeared, along with free dental care, not to mention modest prescription charges. But apart from that the NHS had become rooted and accepted by the time the Tories returned to power in the early ‘fifties. And the new Government accepted it as part of the status quo.

THATCHER – AND BLAIR:

It wasn’t until Margaret Thatcher returned to power that the NHS came under attack. She made it clear (at least privately) that she disliked our Health Service. But she realised that any frontal attack would be unwise, and so instead she encouraged the spread of private health care, to provide “options”. The strategy was clear. As funds were re-directed from the public to the private sector, then the NHS would decline into providing a second class service.

Certainly within Thatcher’s own period of office it failed to have the impact she desired. But when Blair came to power it seemed he had his own plans for the NHS which in many ways ran counter to the original ideals of the Service. Early examples of democratic control disappeared. Smaller hospitals and care facilities were closed, and a process of centralisation of services was introduced.

Even hospital provision in the Forest came under threat. Both Lydney and the Dilke were earmarked for closure, and were only saved after a determined and sustained campaign across the Forest of Dean.

But Blair’s biggest attack on the founding principles of the Health Service was the introduction of “foundation hospitals” in 2003. This was bitterly opposed by Labour MPs in the Commons (63 voted against it), and Frank Dobson, a former Health Minister described them as a “cuckoo in the nest”. Health campaigner, Professor Allyson Pollock declared that such foundation trusts were a “fig leaf for privatisation.”

Incidentally, one of those that applied for “foundation trust” status was the Gloucester hospital trust. Fortunately, it never went ahead.

EROSION OF THE NHS:

All these changes to the structure of the National Health Service contributed to its fragmentation. Local health boards had, by now, disappeared – and there was a blurring of the line between public and private health care.

Fast forward to the Cameron era, and the “age of austerity”. Health care was soon identified as one of the country’s big spenders which, it seemed, we couldn’t afford. Strict financial controls were imposed on health care – particularly on hospital budgets.

Of course if a patient needs treatment, he or she should get it. And the NHS was founded to ensure that the care would be available, “free at the point of need”. They shouldn’t have to shop around, or join a waiting list, let alone dig into their pockets in order to “go private”.

David Cameron was keen to point out that “we were all in this together, but by this time the lines were so blurred and care was being increasingly rationed that the NHS was struggling to provide adequate care.

A SORRY SAGA:

We’ve come a long way from the establishment of the NHS in the summer of 1948 to the sorry state of the service today. Our Health Care needs more, much more, than extra cash to fund it adequately. It also to be able to return to the principles and practices on which it was founded.

And we should also salute those who work within the service who’ve worked hard, for long hours, to keep it operating for so long – often for little reward.


HEALTH WATCH: PROMISES, PROMISES

Whatever happened to those promises that if we achieved “Brexit” there’d be all that extra money to pump back into the NHS?

The pledge was plastered all over the sides of campaign buses. It figured in speeches made by pro-Brexit campaigners. And then quietly forgotten after the votes had been counted.

Now, it seems, the opposite will be true. There will be swingeing cuts to an already cash-strapped service.

According to the BMA, £22 billion’s worth of cuts will have to be made in order to balance the books. And Dr. Mark Porter, head of the doctors’ union, charged those with pushing the cuts of using them “as a cover for starving services and resources and patients of vital care.”

“SUSTAINABILITY AND TRANSFORMATION”:

The cuts are all part of the new “Sustainability and Transformation” plan (revealed in the last issue of the Clarion.) The plan has been introduced with little or no consultation with those who will be most affected – the doctors (not to mention the patients!

In response Dr. Porter says, “improving patient care must be the priority… There is a real risk that these transformative plans will be used as a cover for delivering cuts, starving services of resources and patients of vital care.”

Meanwhile, a conference held in Birmingham to “challenge the Sustainability and Transformation Plan” back in September was organised by Health Campaigns Together. It drew a packed audience. One of its main speakers was Dr. John Lister.

“MISSING ELEMENTS”:

There are three missing elements from the NHS as we know it today, declared Dr. Lister. One, the money. Two, the staff to do the job. And, three, the evidence that the policies can deliver the expected results.

Documents produced by the Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) show a reluctance to engage with this harsh reality, he said. Instead there’s an air of wishful thinking, of pie in the sky.

Consequently, plans are written not by those from within the NHS, but by lavishly paid management consultants. Meanwhile, have these consultants, however lavishly paid, offered any real evidence to support the assertions and proposals that they’ve made?

WHAT’S “INTERMEDIATE CARE”?

“What is glaringly obvious is that throughout the 51 pages of text there is not one example of a working model of the type of new systems that are proposed to replace hospital bed provision… According to another document prepared by management consultants “intermediate care” is supposed to enable the NHS in North West London to dispense with over 400 hospital beds – but the document lacks any definition of intermediate care, let alone any plans to establish or expand it.”

THE CUTTING EDGE:

Faced with this welter of confusion, Dr. Lister sees the STPs as being presented as ways of curbing health spending, to live within the impossible spending limits imposed since 2010 even while the needs for health services continue to grow.

Or, asks Dr. Lister, “is it in fact the cuts that are being driven through now on the ground, and already happening even as we plough through the small print?”

Meanwhile, Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS providers, has been busy in the media stating the case that there is not enough money to sustain services at the current level or meet increased demand over the next four years.

His options include: a reduction in the number of priorities that the NHS is trying to deliver; rationing access to care; and reducing the size of the NHS workforce.

Dr Lister retorts that “Hopson’s choice” is effectively to abandon NHS principles – or to cut the NHS to vanishing point. He adds that “most of these things are already being done in some form at local level…”

Hopson suggests a “public debate” on how the NHS should be sustained. Dr. Lister doesn’t favour the idea, in which one side “backed by the right wing media… and the backwoods Tory right that is now dominant will be urging us to turn the clock back to the 1930s drop the NHS principles and adopt some combination of charging for treatment and private health insurance.”

“Let’s fund the NHS properly from general taxation. It’s already under-funded compared to almost any comparable country, with fewer staff, fewer beds and less modern equipment than almost any developed economy.”

 

 

 

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

CLARION COMMENT: The Cameron Legacy

In Editorial, Uncategorized on November 18, 2016 at 1:54 pm

So, with the Brexit vote over, Cameron decided to fall on his sword and abruptly resign from his post as Prime Minister (and of course as leader of the Conservative Party) – Indeed, he went further. He stood down as an MP.  For us, the electorate, whether we like it or not, it’s now welcome to Theresa May’s new regime!

How quickly he’s become yesterday’s man. Yet Cameron’s going was typical of him. After declaring that he would remain as a backbencher he then resigns his Parliamentary seat of Witney (in the lush, true blue pastures of the Cotswolds) and walks off into the proverbial sunset.

It’s difficult to assess how he’ll be remembered. There was always a certain chameleon quality about him. Certainly, despite his early promises, his legacy will be, to say the least, controversial. His years at number 10 were marked by austerity (cuts in welfare and in job security for ordinary families), and even his forays into foreign policy were less than auspicious. His downfall was of course the European Union.

Whether it’s helpful to look back at his background when considering the Cameron legacy is difficult to say. He was born into a wealthy stockbroking family, attended an elite independent school, moving on to Eton before ending up at Brasenose College, Oxford. Here, it’s been noted, he joined the “Bullingdon Club”.  This outfit was noted for grand banquets and such boisterous activities as trashing restaurants and college rooms (they always paid for the damage, incidentally). Fellow club members included George Osborne and Boris Johnson.

After taking a year out, Cameron went on to work amidst the tangled web of Tory internal politics at the Conservative Research Department. But by this time he was developing Parliamentary ambitions. And in 2000 he was chosen as Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Witney. From here he worked his way up through the ranks of the Parliamentary Party – though he did succeed in making enemies on the way. He was branded by one fellow MP as “superficial, unreliable and with an apparent lack of convictions”, whilst Guardian columnist, Charlie Brooker, described him as a “boiled egg with no sweets inside”.

“COMPASSIONATE…?”

By this time Cameron had re-branded himself as a “modern compassionate Conservative”. He promoted green politics, announced the launch of “the Big Society” and then came out with a speech which became encapsulated by the media as a declaration that we should all “hug a hoody”.  It was no wonder that some of his fellow Tories accused him of betraying Thatcher’s legacy!

When Cameron became Prime Minister in 2010, the reality was to be something very different.  Lacking an overall majority he was forced into coalition with Clegg’s Liberal Democrats, pledging that together they would “work hard for the common good and the national interest.”  And then came the spending cuts. The age of austerity had begun.

The cuts started with a vengeance in June 2010, masterminded by Cameron’s old Bullingdon Club mate, George Osborne.  Welfare was sliced, pensions were diced – and there were cuts in spending, too. Cameron even claimed that “we were all in it together,” whilst the banks and the City continued to play fast and loose with the economy as if there’d been no yesterday.

Despite slashing cuts the Tories failed in their objective to balance the books.  Instead they gave us the “bedroom tax” whilst growing poverty in our society created the need for food banks.

Yet, on a completely different policy front, he promoted the legalisation of gay marriage. Few surely could fault him on that.

On so many fronts, Cameron has been inconsistent. And his treatment of his former Liberal Democrat partners at the last election was ruthless (though it could be said that through their co-operation with so many of the Tories’ policies, they deserved it). But it was Cameron’s gamble over membership of the European Union that was to be his downfall.

CAMERON AND BREXIT:

Cameron had decided to re-negotiate our terms of membership of the EU, and then claim any deal as a great victory for the UK. It was obvious that any such deal was to be limited. After all, there has to be some consistency in the rules that govern the EU, otherwise the whole concept on which the Union is based breaks down.

And then, after claiming a spurious victory, Cameron launched us all into a referendum on whether we should stay in the EU or leave.

After the result was announced of course Cameron’s downfall was inevitable. He has left us with the uncertainties of life outside the EU, and arguably with rather fewer friends than we had before he entered Downing Street.

What Theresa May has to offer of course still remains to be seen – though her opening gambits haven’t been promising. Apart from her decision to re-introduce grammar schools, plus her “stop go” stance on nuclear power we have had very little to go on – yet.  No doubt we’ll have plenty more to say on that over the coming months.

CLARION COMMENT: The World Turned Upside Down

In Editorial, Uncategorized on August 22, 2016 at 12:21 pm

The phrase used as our headline came originally out of the Civil War, and is associated with the tumult surrounding attempts by the Levellers to ensure that  the Roundhead’s victory was accompanied by real root and branch radical change.

They were heady times, and their programme of reform attracted wide public support – but was opposed by the Cromwellian old guard. One of the leaders of the Levellers, Thomas Rainsborough, an MP, was killed on October 30 1648, and his funeral turned into a mass demonstration in support of the movement.  But the Levellers were effectively crushed, there was little political change, and shortly after the death of Cromwell, Britain returned to being a monarchy. So nothing much was achieved there, then.

It would of course be invidious to compare Jeremy Corbyn with Thomas Rainsborough. Vague comparisons can be carried too far!  And today the use of the phrase “the world turned upside down” has been taken up by many in the media to describe the political (and economic?)  impact of the “Leave” victory in the EU referendum,  and the effect that it’s had on what once seemed to be so many political certainties. For us. fhis includes the impact it has had on the Labour Party in Parliament.

LET’S TALK ABOUT SOCIALISM:

corbyn_yourChoiceJeremy Corbyn promised a clear left wing agenda when he stood for the Labour leadership. It was an agenda that was supported by a clear majority of the party membership – though not of course by the majority of the party’s MPs. The bulk of them. though, however grudgingly, worked with him (apart from what might be termed a hard core of Blairites), and a functioning shadow cabinet was formed.  And during the last nine months or so Labour continued to do reasonably well electorally, including holding Michael Meacher’s old seat in Oldham. Admittedly there were no major electoral breakthroughs, but Labour held its own – and gained seats in such mayoral contests as London and Bristol.

So why on earth did those in the Parliamentary Party suddenly decide to mount a coup, via a vote of no confidence in Corbyn?  Why on earth did they choose such a time, when the Tories were in the midst of their own session  of infighting?  And were they completely oblivious to the impact on the party as a whole?  Was it some form of mass hysteria?  Was there something in the water in the House of Commons?  Or did living and working in the Westminster bubble produce a distorted vision?

The stated charge against Corbyn was that he had failed to mount a strong enough campaign in favour of staying in the EU. He had allegedly failed to persuade enough Labour voters to back the “Remain” vote when it came to polling day. In other words, Jeremy was to carry the can for the result of the referendum. There is of course no evidence to back up this charge.

So was this merely a pretext? An opportunity for the right wing to “save the Labour Party from itself”?   There certainly seemed to be elements of a coup involved. And certainly Angela Eagle (in the Daily Mirror) was on hand to declare that her leadership bid was being mounted in order to “save the Labour Party”!  From what? It had been the plotters who’d created a situation that was bound to cause  seismic shockwaves throughout the party.

As we see it, in any democratic political party , the public representatives of that party must be answerable to the membership. Members vote on who will represent them on local authorities  or in Parliament (with of course the electorate making the final decision between the competing parties). Sometimes there may be an uneasy relationship between the membership and those who represent them. That’s part of the dynamics of democracy. But to create a situation where MPs set themselves on a collision course with their members in the constituencies seems to be both irrational and foolhardy.


NB. just like in the Labour Party, not all Clarion Editorial members agreed. Tyler Chinnick of Monmouth CLP, wrote a counter-piece to our otherwise unanimously-endorsed editorial. Let’s remember The Clarion is a debating space: except here we do it politely and with argument rather than vitriol and accusation.

Counter Comment by Tyler Chinnick (Monmouth CLP)

One of the main problems facing the Labour party at the moment is the belief, widely held amongst the membership that MP’s are answerable solely to them.  That is not and has never been the case in ours or any other major party.  MP’s primary responsibility is to their constituents; only secondarily to the membership.  We are not a Leninist, democratically centrist party answerable only to party members but a representative, parliamentary party.  MP’s are and have always been representatives not delegates.  They owe us their judgement not their obedience.

The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) was on a collision course with the membership as soon as Jeremy Corbyn was nominated “for the sake of debate”.  The whole reason why MP’s must secure a certain number of nominations to get on the leadership ballot is to demonstrate support in the PLP – that provision exists specifically to prevent this kind of crisis.  Our MP’s ignored it because they didn’t think Corbyn had the proverbial snowball’s chance and now they (and we) are reaping the rewards.

I don’t subscribe to the lazy, cynical view that MP’s live in a “Westminster bubble”.  They go back to their constituencies, they meet with voters, they hold surgeries, they knock on doors.  They know that Corbyn is very unpopular.  The most recent polling revealed he had the lowest approval rating of any opposition leader in history at -41%.  The polls may be wrong but they’re not wrong by 41 percent.

The Brexit vote and the fact that we have a new Prime Minister makes an election some time in the next 10 months highly likely, so the electability of the leader has been brought into sharper focus.  The PLP fear electoral oblivion should Corbyn stay.  Possibly the end of the party itself as UKIP eat into the heartlands, the Lib-Dems and Greens make gains in metropolitan areas, the Tories wipe us out in marginals and with no recovery in Scotland imminent.  You may disagree with their assessment but it’s unfair to assume they are acting in bad faith.

One of the reasons I opposed Jeremy in the leadership election last year was because it was always obvious to me that the most rebellious MP in parliament, the man who had rebelled against every single leader he had served under (regardless of their mandate – some of which were much larger than his), the man who had previously supported coup attempts and a perpetual member of the ‘awkward squad’ would always be incapable of commanding the loyalty of his MP’s.  This was always going to be a fatal flaw and so it has proved.

The people who have now lost faith in Corbyn can’t be easily dismissed as ‘Blairites’, ‘bitterites’, ‘traitors’ or any of the other charmless insults we’ve heard all too frequently in recent weeks.  They include soft-left members of his own shadow cabinet like Lisa Nandy and Heidi Alexander, prominent Corbyn supporting commentators like Owen Jones and Zoe Williams, seasoned Bennites and old comrades like Chris Mullin and his own economic advisory forum.

Richard Murphy, the architect of what became known as “Corbynomics” and Danny Blanchflower the bulldog of anti-austerity economics have both lost faith in JC to even develop these ideas into policies let alone implement them.  If your closest supporters don’t have confidence in your ability to lead a party or even develop policy then voters aren’t going to trust you to organise a children’s birthday party let alone run the country.

John McDonnel has now taken to re-announcing ‘policies’ that were mooted in the last leadership election but have since been abandoned.  Some fear that should we ditch Corbyn the party will revert to the same people who voters found so uninspiring last year.  Owen Smith’s pitch is clearly to take the best ideas JC has highlighted but left unexplored and run with them.  I sincerely hope that he has the vision and strength of character to do that but one thing is absolutely clear, JC and JMcD do not.

The warning signs are 60 foot high and flashing, they spell electoral doom should we continue down this path and Corbyn’s only answer is “I have a mandate”. Well that isn’t good enough.

We now have a leadership election.  Nominally on the ballot paper are Owen Smith and Jeremy Corbyn.  But the real choice facing Labour members is between the continuation or the destruction of the Labour party.  I vote for it to continue.

 


THE STRUGGLE AHEAD

In Editorial on July 30, 2016 at 8:21 pm

We would hope that by now the Labour Party in Parliament would have been able to sort itself out, and become a united, coherent force capable of taking on the Tories and acting as an effective opposition.

And, to a certain extent it has. We wouldn’t want to belittle its achievements since a new leadership with a new sense of commitment took over. But – and it’s a big but – it still lacks the kind of unity at Parliamentary level that it needs in order to function as ably as it should.  This is by no means a criticism of Corbyn and his team. They have scored a number of worthwhile victories against a rabid Tory Government.  But let’s face it, there are still those Labour MPs, and others in the Party, who seem to see their role as being critics of the leadership. Those who would rather see Corbyn back on the back benches, with “one of their own” shoe-horned in as leader instead. Then they can all relax on the opposition benches and wait for the Tory Government to self-destruct (always assuming it does, that is).

There are, of course, Labour members who didn’t vote for Jeremy Corbyn and for a number of reasons still have their doubts.  But a good proportion have accepted his leadership and, for the good of the Party, want it to work.  But it’s those who haven’t come to terms with the new leadership that cause concern.  Whether such elements are really capable of mounting an effective challenge at this stage, though, is difficult to say. But they remain a distraction. Many of these dissidents forecast heavy losses for Labour in the local and mayoral elections at the beginning of May. Such losses never happened. Although Labour failed to make gains in the local elections, its losses were minimal. And its victories in the London and Bristol mayoral elections should have been seen as a major moral boost.

REACTION:

So how did the dissidents (if we can call them that) react to the results? With relief, maybe? Or with a bit of polite applause? No, they raised the barrier. Their response was to suggest that we’d all have done better if we’d had a different leadership. For Labour just to break even in the local elections just wasn’t good enough. We of course would agree. Before the next General Election, Labour will have to raise the stakes – and here a party united is essential.  But simply to switch arguments when it suited them could be considered at the very least to be pathetic.

Indeed, the reaction of many of the dissidents seemed to suggest that they didn’t really want Labour to win at all – well, not without changes in the Party’s leadership. And the constant criticisms of the Labour Party leadership continues to be made public, aided and abetted by the media which has been only too happy to help. It’s been suggested, for example, that on BBC current affairs programmes, any pro-Corbyn speaker is “balanced” by an anti-Corbyn counterpart.  But if the speaker in question just happens to be anti-Corbyn, then there isn’t the same pro-Corbyn counterpart  to provide any semblance of “balance”.  As for the Tory press (and there’s plenty of that about) it’s all too happy to attack Corbyn on any pretext  whatsoever – when it’s not too busy shouting about the tide of migrants allegedly flooding our shores, or the EU referendum, that is.

Even the left of centre press – or what remains of it – seems happy to criticise the Corbyn leadership, sometimes through its columnists and sometimes through one or other of Labour’s dissidents.

For example, there was a recent article in the Observer by Tristram Hunt suggesting that Labour had abandoned its working class roots and instead is too busy chasing middle class voters. These working class models seem to be identified as young, Union Jack waving – and with presumably secure jobs. They don’t appear to have any connection with those struggling to make ends meet, the homeless or the dispossessed.

Corbynism isn’t mentioned by name, and whilst Hunt’s arguments may be considered legitimate, the inferences are there. A powerful counter-argument could be presented but that might have to wait until some other time.

Meanwhile, what are we to make of the charges of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party? The impression given is that the party is riddled with it. At this stage this seems to be based on somewhat flimsy evidence, and Labour’s leadership has acted swiftly to deal with it. As an inquiry has been set up, it would probably be wise not to comment further on the topic.

DEBATE:

When it comes to Labour’s future, one might be tempted to say “put up or shut up”. But that wouldn’t resolve the situation. The solution must lie in debate, rather than in accusation and counter-accusation. Those of us who are in the Labour Party (and many of our readers are not, but will have opinions nevertheless) must decide what kind of Party we want. Or, indeed, what kind of society we want – and that’s certainly not the kind we’re faced with in Tory Britain.  But as the Clarion says in its aims and objectives, “we believe that change is only possible through open debate and exchange of ideas, in which all who share a common sense of purpose can take part.”

So let’s start the debate!


NOTE: this article was originally published in the print edition of the Forest & Wye Valley Clarion magazine; since then the Labour inquiry into anti-Semitism has been completed by the eminent and well-respected human rights barrister Shami Chakrabarti, which concluded Labour is not overrun with anti-Semitic racists. In a BBC report (30th June 2016) Jeremy Corbyn commented on the conclusion of the inquiry:

“Under my leadership the Labour Party will not allow hateful language or debate in person, online, or anywhere else.

“We will aim to set the gold standard, not just for anti-racism, but for a genuinely welcoming environment for all communities and for the right to disagree as well.

“Racism is racism is racism. There is no hierarchy, no acceptable form of it.”

He called for an end to Hitler and Nazi metaphors and comparisons between different human rights atrocities.

“Diluting degrees of evil does no good,” he said.

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-36672022