Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Archive for the ‘Editorial’ Category

CLARION COMMENT:

In Editorial on May 3, 2016 at 4:21 pm

EDITORIAL: “When the Common Market comes to Stanton Drew”

A lot of water has flowed under many bridges since the Wurzels recorded their hit song “When the Common Market comes to Stanton Drew.” But over the years Britain has continued to have what might be called a problematic relationship with the rest of Europe.

For starters, initially we didn’t seem to know whether we wanted to be in or out. Early negotiations to join the EEC (as it was then known) were vetoed by French President, Charles De Gaulle. When we were finally given the go-ahead to apply for membership there were decidedly mixed feelings over whether we should join up or opt out – resulting in a referendum in the UK. At that point we did have alternatives. There was the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), a rather looser collection of European countries, which at the time included Britain. Another option favoured by some politicians was to attempt to bolster trade with Commonwealth countries, which had at one time been significant but was by then shrinking significantly.

Harold Wilson allowed Labour colleagues a free rein on whether to back membership or to turn our backs on the EEC. The result of the referendum was clear cut. A majority of those taking part voted for UK membership of the European Economic Community (which later morphed into the European Union).

One important factor that made such membership different from other alliances or treaties that had bound us before was the fact that the EEC/EU wasn’t merely a trading bloc. It had aspirations towards nationhood, with its own parliament and civil service, which was responsible for a far wider remit than just trade. Important, too, was the European Court of Justice, and the European Central Bank. A common currency followed – the Euro. It even has its own flag. It seems bizarre that any nation state should choose to affiliate to a body such as the EU and at the same time follow a “pick and mix” attitude towards its rules and conditions.

But meanwhile a further development that was to have a profound impact on the European Union was the collapse of Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe. Countries behind the “iron curtain” were bound together by their own trading partnership, the Warsaw Pact. Now this had collapsed, resulting in a flood of new applications for membership of the EU from the east, many with very different aspirations and expectations. These had to be accommodated though not always without a degree of friction.

The latest test for the European Union has been the refugee crisis. With hundreds of thousands seeking entry to Europe annually, the notion of a Europe without borders (contained in the Schengen Agreement) has effectively broken down. European partners are breaking ranks and reverting to acts based on their perceived “national interests”. Razor wire fences and border posts are replacing the concept of free passage.

Maybe it’s inevitable that Cameron should exploit these troubled times to seek a “re-negotiation” of the terms of our membership of the European Union. After all, he’s always been a politician with an eye to the main change. His claim to have won a “better deal for Britain” has been hotly disputed. The question we would ask is “whose Britain?” That of UK business interests maybe, but it has done nothing to ease the lot of ordinary people in Britain. Cameron’s deal further threatens human rights whilst doing its best to aid big business interests. Meanwhile publicity over his shabby deal has succeeded in shoving the likes of UKIP back into the spotlight.

REFERENDUM:

Which brings us to June’s referendum. Once again we’ll be voting either to stay in or to get out. And a new word has been coined for it – “brexit”. Already the debate on it has divided the Tories, with leading figures such as Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Ian Duncan Smith lining up with the “out” campaign.

There are of course also divisions on the left, though these have been less high profile and certainly less vocal. And as far as the Labour Party leadership is concerned, its views have been so low profile as to be practically inaudible. Maybe it’s time for Labour to speak out on Europe.

There remains a powerful argument for remaining part of the EU and taking part collectively in its debates and decision-making. That’s the way to influence its agenda. The EU certainly has its problems and imperfections, but the Cameron approach will do nothing to overcome these.

No doubt we’ll be able to return to the debate in our next issue – either in our print edition or on line.

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EDITORIAL: Poverty Knocks

In A.Graham, Editorial on March 9, 2016 at 1:15 pm

Clarion Comment: What’s all this about a “living wage”?

“The poor are always with us” is one of those platitudes that was once popular amongst those who had plenty of money. Nowadays, of course, they don’t bother. Far too many have swept the whole topic of poverty under the carpet. And far too many of them are in the present Government.

But there are means to, at least, ameliorate the impact of income differentials on families and allow them to lead a more acceptable life. First, we need to ensure that all those in work are paid a decent wage. And second, to maintain an adequate welfare system to look after all those in society – regardless of age, income or social position.

WORK AND WELFARE:

Britain’s welfare state was, when it was first implemented following the Beveridge Report, a great social leveller. Not only did it provide comprehensive health care but also ensured homes for all and relatively full employment. Of course it didn’t happen overnight. And neither was it perfect. But when we see the callous way in which it’s been dismantled we can also see how fundamentally necessary it all was. Today it no longer provides even a sufficient safety net.

The second point is of course to try to ensure that all families receive at least an adequate income, and prevent them being prey to the vagaries of a capitalist market place. It was to deal with this point that Gordon Brown (under a Labour Government) first introduced the “minimum wage”.

Since then, of course, the notion that the minimum wage comes anywhere near meeting basic requirements has been torn to shreds. Work patterns have changed (usually for the worse), the welfare state no longer provides the kind of succour it once did – and poverty has risen steadily, in tandem with the increase in wealth enjoyed by those at the top.

TALKING OF A LIVING WAGE:

That’s why politicians have been bringing up a new concept of a living wage. One that would take families beyond that of the basic minimum wage.   At the beginning of November, a new group calling itself the People’s Movement was launched to campaign for a real living wage. It was a response to George Osborne’s announcement that he was to introduce a new “national living wage”. But this isn’t due to come into force until next April

For many campaigners the levels he announced simply weren’t considered enough. There are claims that it’s merely the existing “minimum wage” dressed up in new clothing. Not only that but his new “living wage” doesn’t stretch to those under the age of 25, and it will also depend on how the Low Pay Commission estimates “what the market can bear” (the Observer, 1st November).

One can appreciate that many campaigners feel that this just isn’t good enough. Some would go further and suggest that it’s all smoke and mirrors. In reality this Tory Government isn’t interested in dealing with the problem of starvation wages – where an increasing number of working people are paid less than the living wage being promoted by the People’s Movement (23 per cent at the last count). The Government is more concerned with maintaining profit levels for the rich whilst massaging figures on pay.

As for the People’s Movement, it is a commendable campaign. But it would seem to rely on trying to persuade employers to “do the decent thing” and pay their workforce appropriate wage rates. Admittedly, as a pressure group, its role is limited – but in the present climate, is this sufficient?

UNEMPLOYMENT:

Meanwhile unemployment rates are also massaged to present the kind of statistics the Government wants. From our viewpoint they remain disturbingly high, but according to Government figures they’re falling – which should be good news if we could take them at face value.

However, such broad statistics don’t take into account part-time work (particularly those on zero hours contracts), or those who’ve been forced off the unemployment register by harsh, bullying conditions or the negativity of those who now work at Job Centres throughout the country. There are many who are prevented from taking up jobs because the infrastructure that would allow them to do so just isn’t there. Others simply drop below the radar and are no longer part of the Government’s statistics.

LOW WAGE ECONOMY:

Maintaining a low wage, poverty-fuelled economy is not good for society. It does none of us any good. But that is what the present Tory Government is doing. Whilst it remains in power we will continue to see people forced to sleep on the streets. Food Banks will stay in business, as a necessary (but hardly adequate) prop for those who no longer have the means to feed themselves.

Is that really what we want?

ENDNOTES: Testing Times for Jeremy

It’s been a challenging couple of months for Jeremy Corbyn. Not only has the Tory press (led, naturally, by the Mail and the Murdoch minions) been stepping up its attacks on the Labour leader but also there’s been the rising surge of public expressed dissent from certain Labour MPs, plaintively calling for a “change in direction”.

Considering this scenario, it’s not surprising that Labour slipped somewhat in the opinion polls. Indeed, everything considered, Labour’s by-election victory in Michael Meacher’s old constituency in Oldham came as a morale booster for all of us.

The poison that’s been coming from the right-wing press is to be expected (though surely it went too far when a commentator on Sky News referred to Corbyn as “Jihadi Jez!), though its corrosive influence should not be under-estimated. The atmosphere created by the horrifying ISIS attacks in Paris has been bound to have an impact, and here, Jeremy’s position was grossly misrepresented. To give an example, unless we believe in a policy of lynch law, surely it’s better, where possible, to arrest terrorists and try them in a court of law rather than just gunning them down?

But what’s even more dispiriting are the activities of those in the ranks of the Labour Party who have chosen to attack him – and to hint that the Party needs a change of leadership. With friends like these, where do we think we’re going? Whatever happened to that old Socialist slogan, “Solidarity forever”?

Of course events in Paris plus the ongoing refugee crisis in the Middle East had tended to overshadow those domestic policies where Labour should have been able to hit the Government hard, as it did with Osborne’s budget attack on tax relief for the low paid. We also need to go on the offensive against the continuing privatisation of what’s left of the public sector, and the treatment by Jeremy Hunt of junior doctors within the NHS, not to mention the disintegration of the Health Service as a whole – to give a couple of examples. But there have been a host of examples where Corbyn’s leadership has been frustrated by the antics of right-wing Labour MPs whose notions of solidarity seemed sadly lacking. They seem more concerned with infighting than facing up to the real enemy.

What’s necessary within the Parliamentary Labour Party is unity – unity in the face of a vicious, uncaring Tory government that has no scruples when it comes to deepening the divisions in our society. “New Labour” is dead in the water. It has been for some time. Now’s the time to give Corbyn the Party’s backing, to fight the real enemy – the Cameron/Osborne Government.

EDITORIAL: JUNE 20th – A BLACK DAY FOR LABOUR

In A.Graham, Editorial on September 2, 2015 at 4:24 pm

Last month a cartoon message started doing the rounds on the social media. It featured some graffiti spelling out the words, “WORKERS OF THE WORLD ABSTAIN!”

A slogan, of course, as ridiculous as the action of the Labour Party leadership in the Commons on June 20th.  Which is how it makes its point. After all, the task of a Parliamentary opposition (according to tradition) is to oppose – as effectively and eloquently as possible – in order to instil some impact into any parliamentary debate. This is particularly true if we’re looking at the introduction of any far reaching legislation.

So what, then, do we make of the mass abstention by members of the Labour leadership in the vote on Tory plans for “welfare reform” in the opening debate on the Bill?
The Bill received its first reading in the Commons on July 20 – which emerged as a black day for the interim Labour leadership. Harriet Harman, who is currently standing in as Labour leader until a new one is chosen, seemed to see abstention as a “responsible” response which would allow the party to “listen to the views of the voters”.  Does that mean that the current Labour leadership has no views of its own on welfare provision? Something that lies at the very heart of the party since the days of Clement Attlee?

The best that can be said is that it’s a cop-out that avoided making a principled stand which ended up  making the Cameron/Osborne duo look even smugger than usual.  But could it be that this tactic also took into account that those hardest hit by Tory cuts on welfare spending are the poor and the vulnerable – who are least likely to vote , or (in the case of the homeless) are least able to?

DEMONISED:
These are the people who have been demonised in the media. They are described as “skivers”, “disability cheats”, not to mention being feckless and lazy – those who can’t be bothered to get up and do a decent week’s work. This is the image instilled through the steady drip of poison from such papers as the Sun and the Mail.

As for the fate of those families who’ll be hit by changes to the child allowance, this, too, is based on media stereotyping.   According to this particular claim, some women have more and more children even if they can’t afford to bring them up – and they shouldn’t be subsidised by the state to allow them to do so.

Can it be that Harman is willing to listen to the views of those voters who’ve fallen for such stereotypes?  It’s saddening that, according to a TUC poll undertaken in 2013, hostile attitudes to welfare have become widespread. There’s now a common believe that too much welfare has created a culture of both dependency and dishonesty. People believe what they read in the papers rather than what’s happening around them. Maybe, by way of a reality check, some might try relying on Ian Duncan Smith’s department to try to make ends meet!
Abstention in the face of reality is wrong. And a principled Labour opposition should stand up and declare that further benefit cuts is totally wrong.  It should work to counter the stereotypical lies and distortions spewed out by a right-wing media. But once a tactical withdrawal from the moral high ground has been made, it’s difficult to say the least, to recover the principles that have been so wantonly abandoned.

Having said that, many Labour MPs did ignore the edits issued by the leadership. A total of 48 Labour members voted against the Bill, including Jeremy Corbyn, and Diane Abbot who declared that she didn’t become an MP in order to abstain.

Their stand is to be applauded. Meanwhile, it’s ironical that the new leader of the Liberal Democrat rump in the Commons now appears to be more left wing than the Labour leadership. Tim Farron has described the Tory welfare cuts as “unfair, unwise and inhuman”, and has called on Labour to join with the LibDems in voting against future readings of the Welfare Bill.

END


OPINION: THE BATTLE FOR LABOUR’S SOUL

From our Editor-in-Chief, Alistair Graham

Since Jeremy Corbyn threw his hat into the ring, the contest for Labour’s leadership has become much more interesting. With other contenders for the position staking out their positions to the right of centre (even Andy Burnham, sadly, it would seem), we now have a genuine left-wing candidate.

For most of us on the Clarion, Corbyn seems to tick the right boxes. For the record, he’s been MP for Islington North since 1983, winning two thirds of the total vote in the last election. He’s a member of the Socialist Campaign Group and is an active supporter of CND.  He also supports animal rights, and was a tireless anti-apartheid campaigner. He’s been an active trade unionist – and in his favour, too, is the fact that he’s submitted the lowest expenses claim of any MP.

CAN’T WIN, WON’T WIN?
So, what’s not to support? Well, there was that hoary old chestnut, the argument that he couldn’t win the leadership, so why waste our support? Current trends though now seem to suggest otherwise.  He’s certainly built up a momentum that left other candidates trailing. Another claim was that if he did win it would make Labour “unelectable”.  The Socialist message, we’re told, does not attract the electorate, and so we have to compromise and “play it safe”.  As Neil Kinnock did, of course, against Major. There are also those on the left, but not in the Labour Party, who might argue that it’s all irrelevant anyway. They declare the need for a broad-based, anti-austerity, anti-Tory coalition to build the opposition to oppose the atrocities committed by the Cameron-Osborne Government.

CAMPAIGNING ACROSS THE BOARD:
Of course we need such a campaign, and no doubt the Clarion would be part of it. But it would surely have greater impact if it was also backed by the Labour Party and its leader. After all, at the end of the day if we’re to defeat the Tories it will be at the ballot box. And the only alternative government under our present voting system would be a Labour one.  Surely we need a government that can phase out “austerity”, rebuild the fractured NHS, give us the kind of education that our children (and their parents) deserve – as well as boosting welfare to levels where it can serve society adequately. If so, we need a Labour government that can act with conviction.

A final thought. Those who see themselves on the left wing of the Labour Party should back their convictions. A sizeable vote for Corbyn would send a message through the Party that the membership wants change. And if Labour is to restore its sense of identity and have a future in serving the people, such change may well not just be necessary but vital.

AG

CLARION ONLINE SPECIAL – LABOUR LEADERSHIP: the Corbyn Question

In A.Graham, C. Mickleson, C.Spiby, Editorial, O. Adams, T. Chinnick on June 25, 2015 at 1:06 pm

The appearance of left-winger Jeremy Corbyn on the ballot paper for the Leadership of the Labour Party has caused quite a stir. Even our own Editorial Committee at the Clarion cannot agree on a single line of support. But Corbyn presents a unique opportunity at a unique juncture in the history of the modern Labour Party.

Alistair Graham, Editor-in-Chief at the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley Clarion offered the opening shot with his report:

“Suddenly, the contest for the Labour leadership has become more interesting.  With other contenders for the position staking out their positions to the right of centre (even Andy Burnham, it would seem!), we now have a genuine left-wing candidate for leadership. Jeremy Corbyn.

For most of us on the Clarion, Corbyn seems to tick the right boxes. For the record, he’s been MP for Islington North since 1983. He’s a member of the Socialist Campaign Group, and is an active supporter of CND. He also supports animal rights and was a tireless anti-apartheid campaigner. He’s been an active trade unionist – and in his favour, too, is the fact that he’s got the record for submitting the lowest expenses of any MP.

So, what’s not to support?  Well, there’s that hoary old chestnut, the argument that he can’t win the leadership anyway.  A vote for Corbyn would be a wasted vote. Another argument claims that if he did win, it would make Labour “unelectable”. The Socialist message, it seems, does not attract the electorate.  So we have to compromise our own commitments and “play it safe”.  There are also those on the left, but not in the Labour Party, who might argue that it’s all irrelevant anyway.  We need a broad-based, anti-austerity, anti-Tory, coalition to build a campaign to oppose the atrocities committed by the Cameron-Osborne government.

Certainly we need such a campaign, and hopefully the Clarion would be part of it. But wouldn’t it have more impact if it was also backed by the Labour Party and its leader? After all, at the end of the day, if we’re to defeat the Tories it will be at the ballot box. And the only alternative Government under our present voting system would be Labour. Surely we need a government that can phase out “austerity”, re-build the fractured NHS, give us the kind of education that our children (and their parents) deserve, as well as boosting welfare to the levels where it can serve society adequately. If so, we need a Labour government that can act with conviction.

A final thought – those who see themselves as on the left wing of Labour should back their convictions. A sizeable vote for Corbyn would send a message through the Party that the membership wants change. And if Labour has a future in serving the people, change may well be necessary.”

But Forest Anarchist and HOOF secretary, Owen Adams disagrees:

“…while Corbyn might be the nicest, soundest person in the world, he is a lone voice in a party that as a machine supports neoliberalism, refuses to acknowledge or apologise for unleashing massive instability and mass murder on the world from its Iraq misadventure, and is ultimately concerned with “winning” in a rigged parliamentary system no matter what it has to do. I’ve already heard people saying “Oh Corbyn would make Labour unelectable” – which to me sums up why Labour is redundant as a force for positive social change and anything approaching socialism.

All this is a major diversion for what should be going on – mass direct action using whatever means necessary against this massive theft of our public resources by the ruling class. We’re wasting far too much energy looking for a figurehead and flogging the dead horse that is Labour and parliamentary (so-called but not) democracy.

Some people in Cheltenham and Gloucester have formed a non-politically affiliated group called Anti-Austerity Gloucestershire and we’re trying to get off the ground a fighting fund so we can print leaflets – the leaflets will include a hotline number for anyone immediately facing eviction, and the idea is that there is also a telephone tree for people to turn up to block bailiffs. That’s the kind of activity that I would rather focus my energy on, not pursue a long-faded dream of a party that cares a jot about the working class. Of course, I hope Corbynites will also participate!”

Labour member and activist from Monmouth, Tyler Chinnick argues…

“My view is the one derided and mischaracterised by Owen.  I won’t bother refuting the nonsense about Iraq or neo-liberalism but I will say that our ideals are worth absolutely nothing if we are not in a position to implement policy.  For that reason I do not support Jeremy Corbyn because although he is closest to my own views he has no chance of winning.  Labour is redundant as a force for ‘positive social change’ if it is not in power.  Winning elections and becoming the government is what political parties are for.  (According to Owen the very raison d’etre of all political parties makes them illegitimate.)  Also the fact that we have an electoral system Owen disproves of does not make it ‘rigged’.  Our best option in terms of parliamentary politics is to support a candidate who combines left values with the level of pragmatism necessary to win.  So far the candidate who best fulfils this brief is Andy Burnham.

It makes sense that The Clarion should back Corbyn since his politics are closest to our mission statement.  It’s clear though that mine and Owen’s positions are irreconcilable so perhaps the editorial line should reflect the fact that we all share his politics, feel kindly disposed towards him personally and are glad he is on the ballot but that we differ on whether he should be supported or not.”

Clarion Left Inside columnist and the Agent for the Forest’s own Parliamentary candidate for Labour (Steve Parry-Hearn), Carl Spiby added:

“Clarion readers will have read in my column previously that I was of the opinion that Labour had more chance under Andy Burnham than Ed Miliband. But now, since our defeat, Burnham has wandered rightwards chasing votes for the win whatever the cost to Labour principles. I will vote for Corbyn as he is the articulation of everything the Clarion has stood for; of everything we tried to achieve in Steve Parry-Hearn’s campaign; and he stands for what most of the Labour members I know joined Labour for.

But I have also argued that compromise is important too. And it is. That view is still a valid one. And yet here is an opportunity to really see if socialism in our time can win in modern Britain. I doubt if we’ll get another chance – not for a generation at least.”

The Clarion welcomes your views, either via e-mail or on our Facebook page. We even still enjoy a good letter on paper.

OTHER REPORTAGE

HEALTH WATCH: OPEN ALL HOURS?

Cameron’s latest wheeze to try to persuade us that he really cares about the NHS is a scheme to get surgeries throughout England to provide a seven-day a week service for their patients.

Local surgeries are usually the first port of call for those suffering from health problems. They are in the front line, and it’s vital that they can function efficiently.

With surgeries already over-stretched and GPs over-worked, it’s difficult to see how Cameron’s plan can be achieved. It has all the signs of having been scribbled hurriedly on the back of an envelope. Or perhaps thought up in the shower? But Cameron thinks he has the answer. He’s going to recruit 5,000 new doctors to plug the gap.  Or so he claims.

PIE IN THE SKY:

But those in the profession believe that this is just pie in the sky. Dr Chaand Nagpaul is the GP committee chairman of the British Medical Association, and he’s pointed out that the number of doctors working in surgeries is about to plummet as GPs seek to retire – or even look for more congenial work overseas. According to a recent BMA survey, one in three general practitioners intend on leaving within the next five years.

He’s claimed that the Tories are likely to “fail dismally” to fulfil their pledge to recruit 5,000 new doctors – which would have to be over and above those planning to quit the NHS.  “It’s absolutely pointless promising five thousand extra GPs within this Parliament if we lose 10,000 retiring in the same period,” he declared.

Other critics of the Cameron plan have also pointed to the folly of trying to foist it on an NHS that’s been starved of staff and resources.

FRAGMENTATION:

Meanwhile, the carve-up of the NHS continues. There’s been the continuing privatisation of services, and the announcement that Greater Manchester would gain control of its own health budget, under the supervision of an elected mayor – a move described by campaigner John Lister as “the balkanisation of the Service”. There was, of course, no consultation with the public, or those working within the NHS in Manchester. And they’re not exactly happy about it.

Meanwhile, there are siren voices who’ve come up with even more crazy ideas. Francis Maude, for example, would like to see hospitals “opt out” of the NHS and go it alone. Even worse, the US boss of NHS England is a great fan  of the American-style health insurance scheme, which is cash limited – thus leaving the patient  to  top it  up out of his/her own pocket if the cost of the treatment is greater than the insurance cover allows for.

With friends like that in the wings, what chance would the NHS have?

AG

CLARION COMMENT: The Long Dark Night of the Soul

In Editorial on June 22, 2015 at 4:38 pm

We lost – and we’re now facing the reality of five years of Tory Government without even the Lib Dems to soften the rampant triumphalism of the rabid right wing who’re now in control. And any pretence that the Tories can in any way claim to be “the nice party” has been abandoned. As we go to press, things look bleak.

As for Labour’s performance, we don’t intend to join the blame game, though some analysis is in order.  The neo-Blairites, now circling like vultures, have of course their own agenda, and blaming Ed Miliband’s leadership is inevitably at its core. But there are plenty of factors involved in Labour’s defeat, including the re-alignment of the vote caused by the fracturing of old party loyalties. Few of these can be placed directly at Ed Miliband’s door – but then if a lie is repeated often enough it becomes a truth in people’s eyes.

The neo-Blairites have been vocal in their condemnation of Labour’s manifesto, claiming it had failed to speak to the “middle ground”. Completely untrue, as those who’d actually read the aforesaid manifesto should no doubt know. But what the critics didn’t like was the fact that it also addressed the plight of those stuck on poverty pay, the unemployed, or those on “zero hours” contracts. Not to mention the growing number of homeless and those hit by the bedroom tax.  In other words, all those who the Labour Party was set up to represent in the first place. But there are far too many who’d prefer to brush these victims of Tory policies under the carpet.

The main fault with Labour’s manifesto commitments lay in its attempts to “square the circle”. Many policy points showed distinct signs of muddled compromise. One glaring example was the proposal not to take our failing railway system back into public ownership, but instead to open up any future bids for rail franchises to public or community-based ventures. This, of course, left us with a neither-here-nor-there policy that did nothing to tackle the tangled mess of our rail system.  It is unlikely that we can blame Ed directly for this. It’s more the consequence of  attempts by the Labour leadership as a whole to reach some compromise between various forces and factions that exist within the party.

FORCED ON THE DEFENSIVE:

For those who still hanker for that old 1920s slogan, “Socialism in our time”, we fear that it might once again have to be postponed a while. Following the Cameron-Osborne-led Tory victory we’ll have enough on our plates trying to defend what we still have whilst we still can.

Although it’s early days, there are clear indications of what the Tories have in store. We can expect the continued privatisation of NHS England until its original aspirations represent an empty shell. Education will be increasingly taken out of local authority control (thus making sure that teachers and parents become more and more marginalised) – and a mass increase in “free schools” is threatened. Trade union rights will be further undermined. And, above all, there will be massive cuts in public spending (some £12 billion according to Osborne) with benefits and welfare targeted particularly. Of course it goes without saying that bankers’ bonuses will continue to be paid and the rich will continue to enjoy the good life.

We could also mention moves to scrap the Human Rights Act (adding to the ongoing attack on our legal rights), and the threatened repeal of the ban on fox hunting. Indeed, it’s likely to be bleak time for all those with humane or “green” sentiments under the Tories!

BOLSTERING CAPITALISM:

Meanwhile, looming in the wings are the Infrastructure Act and TTIP (short for TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – a blatant device to enforce capitalist control and privatisation over the public sector throughout Europe). The Infrastructure Act, passed by the last government and opposed by bodies such as HOOF, will no doubt also be used to enforce privatisation of public assets. And it’s not just the public sector that could be threatened but also a range of community initiatives and projects too – if they’re deemed to stand in the way of capitalist developers out to make more profits.

FIGHTBACK:

First, we need to give our backing to such forces as the trade union movement, (including of course the teachers and health workers) plus those bodies set up to defend the homeless and those in poverty.  We must support and participate in those sections of the social media like “38 Degrees” and Avaaz – which have a potent influence in spreading the message at least.  Indeed, we should all participate in building an effective anti-Tory coalition.

No-one claims that it will be easy. And at the same time those of us who are in the Labour Party need to engage in the defence of the party and its principles, to help to build an effective opposition both in the constituencies and at Parliamentary level.

The fightback starts here!

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Clarion Comment: TOWARDS A PEOPLE’S MANIFESTO

In Editorial on March 5, 2015 at 7:26 pm
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Labour’s candidate for Parliament, Forest of Dean Labour’s Steve Parry-Hearn with Clarion Editorial Committee member Roger Drury at a vigil in Coleford to stop the destruction and killing of children and civillians in Syria in 2014.

The purpose of any manifesto produced by political parties at election time is to present to eager voters the range of policies that such parties pledge to carry out if they get elected. Any such manifesto is a sort of cross between a catalogue of promises and a showcase.

But of course political parties needn’t have a monopoly on manifestos. And, with this in mind, the Clarion is producing its own “wish list” that we would like to see in any manifesto put to the voters.

And we invite readers to join in. Our next Clarion will be out before the hustings in May, so let us know what policies are important to you.

Meanwhile, here’s some pointers towards the Clarion’s manifesto for the 2015 general election.

PUBLIC OWNERSHIP: We would campaign for a range of privatised services to be returned to public ownership and control. The private sector has failed us all (except for the shareholders!). Top of the list should surely be the railways (and other forms of public transport?), the energy industries, and of course the Royal Mail.

But we would press for forms of public ownership involving public participation by those who work in the industry or are involved in it – as appropriate. Public ownership should mean what it says!

CREATING A NON-NUCLEAR NATION: This means abandoning ALL nuclear weapons on British soil (including Trident of course), as well as nuclear energy – replacing this with “green” energy sources.

BRINGING OUR HEALTH SERVICE BACK INTO THE PUBLIC DOMAIN:  First, by reversing the privatisation of the NHS, and, second by re-creating such bodies as Community Health Councils to ensure local involvement in the Service.

HOMES FOR THE PEOPLE:  We desperately need to provide homes – and a return to a meaningful council house programme with full rent controls is a logical step. We need to turn away from a culture  of “moving up the housing ladder” to one based on ensuring homes for all who need them.

RESPECT FOR AND TOLERANCE TOWARDS IMMIGRANTS:  We reject prejudice, and it should go without saying that we oppose moves towards a “closed door” policy. We are, and have been for centuries, a nation of immigrants. It’s what enriches us as a people.

SHORTLIST:

This is, of course, merely a shortlist. It fails to cover a range of issues at this stage – including, importantly foreign affairs. Or, indeed, the need for an Alternative Economic Policy, based on public need rather than the strictures of austerity. And there’s also the need to bring sanity back to the education sector – for the sake of those growing up in an increasingly fractured culture.

As they have done in Greece, let’s work and vote for HOPE for a better future.

Clarionposter

NOT OUR MANIFESTO: We created and posted this image on our Clarion Facebook page; as at 5/3/15 it reached over 9,300 people, over 130 of which re-shared the image. Spread the word.

 

CLARION COMMENT: Taking bets on the General Election?

In Editorial on January 30, 2015 at 12:46 pm

Nearer and nearer draws the time when we’ll be back to our nearest polling booths to cast our votes. The next General Election is now a matter of months away – a thought that should be enough to focus the mind of anyone involved in politics.  It’s time to sort out our policies, to set out our stalls, and begin campaigning in earnest.

Not so long ago, Labour supporters in our midst might well have been fairly confident that victory was heading their way. It seemed to be almost inevitable. Labour had been consistently ahead in the polls, the Tories were becoming increasingly unpopular – and as for the Liberal Democrats, what can we say that’s printable?  Their ill-starred alliance with the Tories in the ConDem austerity Government has left them with plunging support. Optimistically,  they may be lucky to hang on to about half their present tally of seats.

But a couple of months in politics can be a long time – particularly if you’re a Labour supporter. Since the Scottish referendum there’s been an unexpected surge in support for the SNP which poses a real threat to Labour in its heartland north of the border. Indeed some of our gloomier poll pundits suggest that Labour seats in Scotland could go down like ninepins.

THE UKIP FACTOR:

There’s also been the rise in support for UKIP, resulting in that party gaining its first toehold in Parliament.  Whilst theoretically UKIP’s surge in the polls  should be damaging the Tories most, results so far suggest that the “kippers” are capable of eating into Labour’s support as well.  These latter-day Poujardists* are basically populists whose policies are little more than (often inconsistent) slogans. And for many voters, there is sadly a gut appeal to the anti-immigrant, anti-Europe message.

AND WHAT OF THE GREENS?

It’s not just UKIP that’s been enjoying increasing support. The Green Party is now level-pegging with the Liberal Democrats in the opinion polls. Indeed, if the Greens fail to win more seats it will only be because of the distortions produced by our electoral system.  Here we have a party that could be considered to the left of Labour on many of its policies.  It’s not just on its basic “green” appeal, though such issues must be considered important. On a wider platform, the party opposes the austerity packages endorsed by the three main parties. And it does believe in public ownership where appropriate (such as the railways, for example).

This increase in support for what were once considered to be “fringe” parties suggests that old political loyalties are breaking down.  We can’t make the same assumptions about the way the electorate might vote. Or, indeed, which party is most likely to be in a position to form the next government. Which raises the question,  are we likely to see another coalition in power after the election (though, hopefully, one of a different hue)?

Finally, it’s difficult to predict at this stage how far the controversy over the performance of Labour’s leader might affect the party’s showing in the polls. The issues involved are covered elsewhere in this issue – but, to put it briefly, in November the media was highlighting the suggestion that dissatisfaction with Ed Miliband’s leadership was provoking moves within the party to replace him with a new pair of hands. How far this was based on mere media speculation is still hard to tell.

But as we said earlier, a couple of months in politics is a long time. And it’s rather longer than that before we go to the polls in May.  As for those of us in the Forest, most of us surely will be campaigning to replace Mark Harper with an MP who will stand up for our interests and those of the community in which we live.  And for many of us, the choice will have to be Steve Parry– Hearn, our Labour candidate.

* Postscript: “Poujardist” was the term coined to describe supporters of French politician, Pierre Poujard, who, in the 1950s, founded an “anti tax” party, which had particular appeal amongst small shopkeepers, merchants and farmers. In 1956 it gained 51 seats in the French Assembly. It went on to become increasingly xenophobic, appealing particularly to voters who had a nostalgic view of what they saw as “the good old days”.

By the mid ‘sixties the “Poujardists” as an organised force had faded. But one young member who’d been elected to the French Assembly on the Poujard ticket was Le Pen – who went on to found the right-wing Front National.

CLARION COMMENT: That referendum – how it could affect us

In Editorial on November 11, 2014 at 11:55 am

The Scottish referendum debate dominated the news coverage over the first few weeks in September. Arguments, analysis and the ubiquitous opinion polls swayed back backwards and forwards right up until polling day on Thursday, 18th September.

It may possibly be that there are some folk in the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley who weren’t much interested. Or perhaps wondered whether it was any concern to those of us living in our neck of the woods. After all, Scotland’s a long way away – so what’s it got to do with us? Now, if it had been Wales seeking independence, that would have been a different matter. Whichever side of the border we lived, we’d have been caught in the thick of it. But that’s not on the cards, is it?

But the Scottish referendum, and its results did, at least implicitly, affect us here.  It’s not just the state of the union and its possible impact  – though this might well have been of concern to some (particularly if your name was David Cameron). But it’s the kind of way that we, in the remoter regions of England, are governed.  Who pulls the strings? What kind of control (if any) do we who live between the Severn and the Wye have over our lives?  What kind of political decisions can we make?

Less and less, it would seem. Power, both political and financial, is being increasingly centralised, with decisions made in London dominating, possibly even suffocating, all of us.

Local government is increasingly emasculated as its powers to act meaningfully are stripped away – or privatised. It was of course a process that began during the reign of Margaret Thatcher, but it has accelerated under the present Lib Dem government. So in these circumstances, is there a case for establishing a structure of regional (even provincial?) government to reassert a level of more localised participation and, more importantly, control?

Stimulated particularly by the debate in Scotland, such a possibility is already being discussed in many parts of England.  In Yorkshire, for example, there have been meetings to discuss the feasibility of regional government in the north east of England. One spokesman declared that there was a “need to say it loud and clear – devolution to the north must be on (the) same basis as Wales and Scotland (and the Greater London Assembly) – not unaccountable combined authorities run by the same old faces. Regional assemblies elected by PR working with strong, community-focused local government” (Paul Salveson, from Huddersfield).

Some (though by no means all) of the arguments used during the Scottish referendum debate have a resonance here. Particularly those concerned with the ability to control, or at least influence, social and economic decisions at a more local level, or to fit the needs of the regions concerned.  And the campaign overall generated a sense of involvement and enthusiasm that hasn’t been seen on the political scene for nearly seventy years.

As for regionalism as a concept, it might be that it’s an issue that divides opinion. But it’s interesting that even those on the right (ie, amongst the Tories) are now talking about it. And the Lib Dems have suddenly claimed that it’s a concept that they’ve always believed in.  But we suspect that in practice it might be somewhat different from the ideas put forward by those on the left.

SCOTLAND’S REFERENDUM:

In Scotland, the referendum campaign is now over – and the call for full independence has been rejected by a fairly narrow margin (some 46 per cent of the electorate voted Yes, against over 50 per cent who plumped for a No vote).

But what was significant was the size of the vote. It averaged out at over 80 per cent of those on the electoral register, rising to over 90 per cent in some districts.  These were percentages that many politicians this side of the border could only dream of!

The second point is that it was a campaign that engaged so many of the electorate, with a passion that’s usually lacking in elections. The “No” campaign, after a lacklustre start characterised by negative campaigning and doom-laden threats, finally managed to galvanise itself  – thanks interestingly to the intervention of a re-vitalised Gordon Brown.

It’s perhaps only natural that defending the status quo would be difficult (particularly the unedifying sight of Labour leaders on the campaign trail shoulder to shoulder with Tory counterparts like Cameron) .

But the campaign certainly galvanised the Scots. There may well be a sense of temporary demoralisation amongst “Yes” campaigners, but in the longer term it’s an issue that won’t go away. And if the extra powers belatedly promised to the Scottish Parliament are actually delivered, then a victory of sorts will still have been achieved.

Which brings us back to the notion of devolution for us in England. Worth campaigning for, or not?

BRING THE RAILWAYS BACK UNDER PUBLIC CONTROL!

In a powerfully presented article in a recent issue of The Observer Will Hutton argues that the present system of privatisation on the railways, with a short-term franchise system at its heart, offers passengers and the public the worst possible deal.

Fare levels are now the highest in Europe, as rail companies fleece passengers in order to maintain profit levels. Fares have risen by almost a quarter since 2010 – and are likely to rise by another 24 per cent over the next four years. This is “a poll tax on wheels”, declares Will Hutton. Even buying the right ticket is a minefield (as some Clarion readers will testify!).

He also makes the point that dividing up the network into a multitude of franchises was absurd. It was from the first, “a conceptual disaster”.

First, the railways are a natural monopoly. And second, the system of franchises encourages short-term thinking – making as much profit as possible whilst the franchise lasts, at minimal cost and investment.

Lastly, it was “crazy” to believe that running a public service, as the railways in effect are, could be achieved without any public subsidy.

EAST COAST MAINLINE:

Will Hutton cites East Coast Mainline as a success story, since it was brought back under public control. “Five years of public ownership and it is now the best run and most efficient operator, making a net surplus of £16 million for the taxpayer.”

And it’s reward? It’s to be sold off to a private company early next year.  So where do their profits go? Into overseas tax havens, suggests Will Hutton.

For example, “the ultimate owner of Virgin trains are Branson’s family trusts in the Virgin Islands. Operating in a tax haven allows him to move from business to business without massive tax liabilities.”

Hutton concludes that public services such as the railways are natural monopolies… and other countries respect that truth. Britain’s attempts to escape such a truth have been a costly debacle.

Incidentally, it’s ironic that one franchised company that operates locally, Arriva Trains, is actually owned by Deutsche Bahn – Germany’s state-owned railway system. Who says the Germans don’t have a sense of humour?

CLARION COMMENT: Parties set out their wares for the coming General Election

In Editorial on September 3, 2014 at 8:48 pm

The lifetime of the present Government is slowly grinding to a halt. And already the two main parties are preparing  for next year’s election battle.

As we go to press, the Tories are yet to hold their annual conference, and any comment will have to wait until our next issue. But we can see at least a whiff of the hustings in Cameron’s Cabinet re-shuffle that took place in July. This clearing of the decks was clearly focused on the General Election. 

Many members of his Cabinet just had to go. They had become just too unpopular. Michael Gove, of course, is a case in point. So, too, was Owen Patterson, the former Environment Secretary. Here was a man who’d never had time for Green issues and policies, and he succeeded in botching up the Government’s response to the floods that ravaged much of the West earlier this year.  He had to go (as did his predecessor, Caroline Spellman, when she botched the Tories’ attempt to sell off the forests in 2011). Others in and around the Cabinet went before they were pushed.

But there were some surprising omissions. Osborne, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, may be untouchable at present, but what about Ian Duncan Smith?  Here’s a hatchet man who’s become deeply unpopular in certain circles through his sustained attacks on the poor and underprivileged in our society. Surely he should have faced the axe? 

Or maybe not.  After all, attacking the poor is part and parcel of Tory policy. It’s dirty work, but someone’s got to do it. It may be unpopular with those who have a social conscience or are part of the anti-poverty lobby but they’re not likely to vote Tory, anyway. And it all goes down very well amongst readers of the Murdoch press, the Daily Mail or the Express. In other words, those who believe in the myth of those “skivers” who just want to “live off the Welfare State” (or what’s left of it). 

Of course we’re likely to get more details the Tories’ actual election policy later this year – and as the campaign mounts as we go into 2015. We don’t see much change in its general thrust, but there maybe some re-phrasing or a few tweaks here and there.

LABOUR IN CONFERENCE: 

But what of Labour?  What kind of counter-attack to the repugnant face of latter day Toryism are we likely to see from the Labour leadership?  

If the headlines from the party’s policy deliberations are anything to go by, the answer’s not a lot. “Austerity” (as defined by the ConDem Government) is likely to continue. Ed Miliband made that clear with his declaration that “we can’t spend our way out of recession”.  It’s a statement that needs questioning – or, at least, clarifying.

We could spend our way out of recession if we were prepared to apply some re-focused Keynesian policies.  Or, as the Labour Government did between 1945 and 1950, concentrate on the priorities needed to re-build a broken Britain. 

Britain remains a wealthy nation – yet that wealth is hardly evenly distributed.  And, in too many ways, the present Government has created a broken Britain that badly needs fixing. And it should be emphasised that austerity was applied during those post-war years.  It was a case of spending what money was available on the needs of the people.

In the last issue of the Clarion, we suggested in our Comment column that there was a division within the Parliamentary Labour Party between those who favour a “cautious” electoral strategy “(in other words, one that doesn’t promise too much) and those who advocate one based on radical change”. 

We suggested that a radical change IS badly needed. If not, what is the Party offering the electorate that’s different? What many of the voters want is a sense of hope – hope for a better future, and a better society. But if Labour’s recent meeting of its national policy forum is anything to go by, it seems that the advocates of caution have won out. 

OFF THE RAILS: 

Even promised action on our railways sounded like a botched compromise. It seemed that rather than taking back our railways, to be run in the interests of those who use them, a Labour government would merely tender for franchises when they arose. 

This badly needs clarification, but on the face of it, it sounds as though the result could at best be a patchwork of lines under different forms of ownership.  There seemed to be no pledge to end the franchising system completely, as and when each particular franchise ran out – despite the fact that in successive opinion polls, an overwhelming majority want a return to British Rail. 

Which is a shame – as “Labour sources” emphasised that its policy would not include a “return to British Rail”. Why not?  It’s true that following the Beeching cuts (and particularly after Thatcher came to power) British Rail was under-capitalised, but it still managed to run services cohesively and reasonably efficiently without the massive subsidies that the private rail companies receive today.

It all seems symptomatic of a fear of public ownership and control by the current Labour leadership.  Maybe it goes further than that. Maybe there’s a fear of offering the electorate hope in the face of a hostile media and a society that seems to be losing trust in the political process altogether.

Labour needs to grasp the nettle, and at the very least offer voters something different.  

But maybe we’re just being too pessimistic. After all, when it comes to deciding who’s going to form the Government next year, there are really only two options. Either we endure another five years of Tory rule (This time without the Lib Dems) or we’ll have a Labour Government – warts and all. 

THE CURATE’S EGG:

The experience may well be rather like the curate’s egg – good and bad in parts. Miliband and his party have promised to repeal the appalling legislation that is undermining the NHS. He’s also pledged to do away with the iniquitous “bedroom tax” – probably one of the nastiest measures introduced by any government in recent times. And the promise to introduce a living wage for all should make a dent in our scandalous low wage economy. 

Hopefully, Labour would apply its social welfare policies without the vindictive zeal of current Tory politicians, and provide some level of relief for the poorer  families in our society. 

Periods of Tory government – such as those of Thatcher and now Cameron – quite often force those who believe in a far better, more egalitarian, society to lower our sights.  We may still aspire to our Socialist principles, but the situation we live with today forces us to face up to a new, and nasty reality.

Labour may well not Socialism today – or even tomorrow.  But hopefully it’s a player that has a greater grasp of social realities than those who make up the present Government – and a degree of sympathy towards those who suffer the most. And however we look at it, our people and our society just can’t afford another five years of Tory rule.

TIME FOR A CHANGE OF GOVERNMENT – AND A CHANGE IN DIRECTION!

In Editorial on July 7, 2014 at 8:22 pm

CLARION EDITORIAL COMMENT

We now have “fixed term” parliaments – a wheeze introduced by Cameron and co. after the last election. Which means that we’ll all be going to the polls to elect a new government  in less than a year’s time. If that doesn’t concentrate the minds of Clarion readers then surely nothing will.

The vast majority of our readers will surely be hoping that the Tories (and their sidekicks in the Liberal Democrats) will tumble to defeat. Those who read The Clarion embrace a range of left-wing views – and that’s how it should be.  But many accept that when it comes to the polls, the only practical alternative is a Labour government  – and a number will be working to try to ensure that Labour wins – not just in the Forest of Dean or in neighbouring constituencies across the Wye Valley, but  throughout the country.

QUESTION:

But we also need to ask the question, what kind of policies will Labour be putting to the voters when the election campaign really gets under way?  Is the electorate going to be faced  with an  election manifesto for change – or will we have to accept a watered down compromise that’s prepared to accept the basic tenets of the ConDem approach whilst merely tweaking it here and there to make it more palatable?

If so, we’ve been here before – when “New  Labour” was elected back in 1997. Those of us who met in the Miners’ Hall to hear the results cheered as Tory seats tumbled – and in the early hours  of the morning the news came through that Diana Organ had won the Forest of Dean for Labour.  It was a heady moment – only tempered by the gradual realisation that when it came down to the basics, the underlying philosophy of Thatcherism would remain in place. Under Blair the erosion of the role of the public sector continued. Changes to the structure of the NHS paved the way for Cameron’s Health and Social Care Act. Many former gains  in education were put into reverse (making it easier for the likes of  Michael Gove to ride roughshod over our children’s future).

FINAL BETRAYAL:

All this of course took place long before Blair’s final betrayal, when he chose to back Bush over the invasion of Iraq. This, more than anything, tarnished his reputation in the eyes of Labour loyalists. Today there’s a knee-jerk reaction within the party to Blair and all that he was associated with. That’s not surprising, but this alone is not enough. What is needed is a bold break with everything that “New Labour” stood for; and a return to the kind of values that once typified Labour, and ensured that its roots were strong and well nourished.

The trouble is that within the Parliamentary Labour Party at least, “New Labour” hasn’t gone away.  There are still those who adhere stubbornly to the kind of policies and approach practised under Blair during those frustrating years between 1997 and 2009.  The election of Ed Miliband as leader of the Labour Party did promise a change in direction. Indeed, there was a change in the rhetoric from the leadership – and of course we should welcome such promises as those to repeal the iniquitous “bedroom tax” and the Health and Social Care Act – as well as bringing education back under local authority control and the promise of a living wage for all.

But in other policy areas we’ve had to put up with either slogans (“One Nation Labour” sounds good, but in itself it doesn’t mean a lot) or vague statements that may be aspirational but at the very least need clarifying.  There has as yet been no document that spells out Labour’s electoral policies, so we can’t even pick over the bones of that.

CAUTION – OR CHANGE?

We’re told that within the Parliamentary Labour Party there are divisions between those who favour a “cautious” electoral strategy (in other words, one that doesn’t promise too much) and those who advocate one based on radical change – though even here, there may be differences over what we’re being radical about.

Certainly a timidity of approach won’t get Labour very far.  A point which seems to have been reflected in the patchy results for Labour in the local elections. True, gains were made but by no means on the scale one might expect.  There needs to be a firm declaration that Labour will reverse the run down of the public sector. A pledge to re-create a National Health Service that’s fit for the needs of ordinary people – and an education policy based on creating a structure in which our children can be happy, confident, and can grow into the kind of citizens of tomorrow that our society needs. And above all, Labour should be prepared to support those on the bottom rungs of the social ladder, rather than insulting and deriding them.

SAY NO TO RACISM:

As well as that, Labour should refuse to pander to the racist under-belly of those who support the likes of UKIP and those on the right wing of the Tory Party.  Indeed, we need a sustained attack on the bigotry of those who peddle such views is needed. Racism has never been part of the labour movement.

The Clarion is realistic enough to acknowledge that we may not be able to recreate the “spirit of 1945” at this stage. Certainly not in its entirety, more’s the pity. Too much has changed, including society’s priorities.  But Labour should, now more than ever, be in business to break the underlying philosophy of Thatcherism which for too long has ruled politics. “New Labour” was a child of Thatcher, whether we like it or not – just as Cameron and his cronies are the grandchildren.

It’s no wonder that so many voters believe that the mainstream political parties are “all the same”.  We may well argue that this belief is wrong – but a political consensus certainly exists. Isn’t it time that it was broken?