Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

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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.

 

MODERN TIMES: the Dinosaur column

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

Saving our Forest way of life:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Harper has his say:

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

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

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

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

hoof_signs_victory

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

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

 

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

Clarionposter

The Good Life? Or not so good.

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

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

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

Dinosaur

obituary: Fidel Castro: 1926-2016

In Obiturary, S. Richardson, Uncategorized on April 24, 2017 at 12:15 pm

“HISTORY WILL ABSOLVE ME”
by Sarah Richardson

Fidel Castro’s death in November last year was an event which made me remember and reflect on my time in Cuba. I have been interested in Castro, and the Cuban Revolution, since 1986 when I went on a brigade there with the Cuba Solidarity Campaign. The experience impressed me deeply and helped to shape my outlook on life.

Castro was born into a wealthy farming family in Oriente Cuba in 1926. He grew up to become a young idealistic lawyer, much like Nelson Mandela whom he later much admired.  However, after several setbacks and a clampdown by the authorities he came to believe, like Mandela, that change would only come through armed struggle.

In 1952 a right-wing army general, Fulgenico Batista staged a military coup in Cuba. The country had become a playground for rich Americans with casinos, prostitution, bars and drugs.  Money was siphoned off overseas and little profit went to ordinary Cubans.  Castro recruited a group of revolutionaries to storm the Moncada Barracks on July 26 1953. The attempted coup failed and the leaders, including Castro, were imprisoned.

After his release in 1954 he travelled to Mexico and formed the 26th July movement with his younger brother Raul and Ernesto “Che” Guevara. They landed their boat, the “Granma” with around 80 revolutionaries  on the coast of Cuba in 1956. After three years of fighting from their base in the Sierra Maestra mountains, the rebels won and Fidel Castro was proclaimed President in 1959.

AMERICAN HOSTILITY:
Although initially non-aligned, Castro was rebuffed by the US when private property was nationalised in Cuba and Marxist-Leninists appointed to the Government, notably Che Guevara. Then in 1961, the CIA backed an invasion of Cuba by Cuban dissidents and exiles at the Bay of Pigs. It failed.  But probably the biggest test for Castro’s leadership was the 1963 Cuban missile crisis. By then, Castro had made trade deals with the Soviet Union, notably that the Russians should take most of the island’s sugar harvest in the wake of the US embargo.  In return Kruschev wanted to site nuclear missiles on Cuba, 90 miles from the coast of Florida.

This sparked a major diplomatic incident between America and the USSR. Those who lived through this time remember thinking that it could mean the end of the world. Fortunately a peace deal was brokered and agreed, the weapons were removed from Cuba and an uneasy truce began. The CIA continued to mount attacks on Castro’s life throughout his time in office – which were eventually turned into a book and a film, “634 ways to kill Castro.”

POSITIVE REFORMS:
Domestically, during the 1960s and ‘70s, Castro established the positive reforms which improved living conditions for ordinary Cubans and made the Cuban model desirable internationally, particularly among countries in Africa and Latin America. Universal free health care and education were established as well as subsidised housing.

As well as strengthening relations with the Soviet Union, Cuba supported many leftist and democratic movements worldwide. Sadly, Che Guevara was murdered by the CIA in Bolivia in 1967 when he was supporting the struggle there.  Castro was a leading figure in the non-aligned movement and sent 40,000 troops and medical staff to Angola in the 1960s which helped the country gain independence. In Latin America, Cuba supported the revolution in Nicaragua and the war against the Contras (who were also CIA backed) from 1979 to 1990. It’s unfortunate that, like Cuba, Angola and Nicaragua have retained the same presidents for several decades – Dos Santos in Angola  and Ortega in Nicaragua.  Perhaps less controversially, Castro supported the leftist governments of Evo Morales in Bolivia, Hugo Chavez in Venezuala and Rafael Correa in Ecuador. As one young Cuban remarked, “when Fidel came to power we were a pebble in the ocean. Now everyone knows about us.”

BREAK UP OF SOVIET UNION:
In 1989, Gorbachev began reforms  which would lead to the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the end of  the special relationship with Cuba by the end of the 1990s. Castro stepped down as President in 2008 due to ill health, and his brother Raul has led Cuba through some cautious changes, notably the reopening of of the US Embassy in Havana in 2015, Obama’s visit to Cuba in 2016 and the beginning again of direct flights between the US and Cuba.

When Castro died, everyone agreed that he had made a mark on history – his detractors that he repressed opposition and free speech, supporters that his struggle for an egalitarian society in Cuba superseded this. When I visited in 1986, the links with the Soviet Union were still in place. I was staying in an international camp with those from other European countries as well as young Cubans.   In our brigade there was a young miner and a miner’s wife. The Miners’ Strike had finished the year before. We had many conversations with Cubans, and their understanding of international issues, despite never leaving the island, was deep and reflective.  I was impressed by their knowledge and understanding of the Broadwater Farm Riots, which had recently taken place in London.

We visited the prison where Castro had been placed after the failed Moncada coup. The island where the prison was had been re-named “Isle of Youth” and it welcomed students from around the world, including Angola and Mozambique. We sang and danced with some of these students . We helped to build homes on a building site and in the evenings listened to political talks and sang “The Internationale” together, each in his or her  own language.

There was very limited choice of products in the shops and Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (CDRs) were flourishing. These encouraged people to spy on their neighbours and report “un-revolutionary” behaviour. I am more critical of Castro’s Cuba now than as an idealistic 25 year old. However, I would agree with the final line in Simon Tisdall’s obituary on Fidel  (Observer, 27 November 2016): “For the most part, Castro, iconic figure of the left, was on the right side of history”

SARAH RICHARDSON

 

MODERN TIMES: The Dinosaur Column

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

So, what’s a “clean break”?

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

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

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

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

Scots wha-hey?

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

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

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

Crossing the river:

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

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

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

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

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

Dinosaur

EDUCATION MATTERS roundup

In R.Richardson, Uncategorized on April 21, 2017 at 12:45 pm

2 issues worth compiled by RUTH  RICHARDSON

HIDDEN AGENDA?:

Education news recently revealed is hardly positive. Statistics published at the end of last year indicated that only 53 per cent of primary schools reached the standard in reading, writing and arithmetic demanded by the new rigorous tests for ten and eleven year-olds.  Heads and teachers complained that the tests were set at too high a level, whilst parents reported their children being extremely stressed.

The previous year eighty per cent of primary schools reached the required target, and some fear that there is a hidden behind the setting up of the new tough tests. Schools who fail could face being forced into academisation, which is of course the model that the Department of Education favours.

WARNING OF CUTS TO COME:

We have reported previously on the cuts imminent in education in the years 2017-18.  Russell Hobby, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, has warned of “bigger classes, fewer subjects and staff being let go. Parents … will see the person looking after special educational needs go and all those other additional services disappear. ”

Schools have already used up any accumulated reserves. For example one playing field has been sold off every two weeks since the London 2012 Olympics – this at a time of growing concern over childhood obesity rates.

WHO’LL SUFFER?

A recent article in the “i” newspaper reports that changes to the way that funding is allocated will mean that schools in Labour areas will suffer proportionately more.

The article compares funding in, for example, poorer London constituencies such as Bermondsey with more affluent  Conservative seats such as Derby North.  It finds that the poorest constituencies suffer cuts of £800-£1,000, whilst the richer ones face cuts of £80-£150 per pupil per year. These figures have been published by six education unions.

The Department for Education claimed that the analysis was “fundamentally misleading.”

EXIT TRISTRAM:

Last month the shadow Education Secretary, Tristram Hunt left his job as an MP to become director of the Victoria & Albert Museum, a move that will almost double his salary.

Many of us on the left will feel that he is no great loss – the New Statesman in 1915 labelled him “Britain’s least popular MP”,

An avowed Blairite, Hunt backed the setting up of academies and free schools, and advocated performance related pay for teachers.

Hunt has been reported as supporting entry charges to the big London museums, charges which in 2011 were abolished. We hope that the V& A does not live to regret its new appointee.

STANDING UP FOR EDUCATION

During the past year the National Union of Teachers (NUT) has been running a campaign entitled “Stand Up for Education”, to fight for better policies – a fairer system with a wider vision which values every child.

A recent pamphlet, Reclaiming Our Schools*,  sets out ten objectives of the campaign, which include giving more time to teaching rather than tests, ensuring a 100 per cent qualified teaching profession and an assurance that education  will never be run for profit.

THOUGHT PROVOKING:

The pamphlet is a compendium of thirteen essays from leading educationalists. All are thought-provoking and range from a historical analysis of our current situation to the ending of child poverty.  One essay in particular interested me. It argued for “an empowered democratised and properly resourced local school system.” The authors are Professor Richard Hatcher of Birmingham University and Ken Jones, formerly Professor of Education at Goldsmiths College and now working for the NUT.

SILENCE FROM LABOUR?

They quote a policy document put out by the Labour Party which states that “we will put an end to the fragmented, divisive school system created by this government “.   But this document, say the authors, remains silent on the subject of free schools, academies and grammar schools, all of which have contributed to the very fragmentation which the Labour Party seeks to condemn. This essay points out that research shows that academisation does not raise standards, as has been claimed, and their lack of accountability is unacceptable.

A first step would be the “re-creation of fully inclusive local systems of schools.”

Legal expert, David Wolfe, has shown that funding agreements can be rescinded, including those with private sponsor chains. No state-funded school should be controlled by a private organisation – it’s a form of privatisation.

LOCAL AUTHORITY’S ROLE:

The role of the local authority being re-established, they should control admissions policy and identify schools which need additional support.  Schools would work co-operatively instead of competitively. The local Authority would be acting in the interests of the whole community they are elected to represent.

Professors Hatcher and Jones (the authors) were at pains to point out how important it would be to have proper structures and procedures in place, to enable local communities to effectively participate in decision making.  They argue for the idea of a local education panel to include governors, teachers, school students and community representatives. Such wide-reaching participation would not mean intervening in issues which are properly matters of professional judgement. But there would be a movement towards “deliberation and negotiation between public professionals and local authorities and the mobilisation of collective support for progressive policies.

BIAS AGAINST LABOUR AREAS:

A recent report in the Morning Star revealed that school funding costs would adversely affect more Labour constituencies than Tory ones. Teachers ‘unions published a list of one hundred MPs whose constituencies were most likely to be affected, and of these 86 are Labour and 14 Tory.

Kevin Courtney, NUT general secretary, said: “Budgets have already been cut to the bone and all the sacrifices and compromises have been made. Schools simply cannot take another blow to already precarious finances.”  There was a rally of teachers in Whitehall on November 17th in protest at the proposed cuts.

FOOTNOTE:

The King Edward V1 Grammar School in Louth, Lincolnshire, sent out postal results of their entrance examination. Those children who had passed received their results in gold envelopes, whilst the rest were in plain envelopes.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said that this “told you all you needed to know about selective education.

The school declined to comment. 

RUTH RICHARDSON

*See  http://www.reclaimingschools.org

Modern Times: The Dinosaur Column

In Uncategorized on March 1, 2017 at 1:35 pm

dinosaur Trump’s northern neighbours:

It seems that since the results of the US presidential election were confirmed, Canada has been overwhelmed by Americans applying for entry permits. There’s been quite a back log building up. Like wild geese in the Spring time, they want to head north. But in their case they want to do it permanently.

I can’t say that I blame them. As one dinosaur who’s managed to make many visits to the land of the maple leaf, I can confirm that Canadians are (on the whole) affable, helpful and hospitable.  After a somewhat mixed history, the country has blended in to a homogeneous whole, where many different cultures and indigenous languages rub shoulders in mutual tolerance.

Another approach that’s currently being suggested by some Canadians on social media is that US states that voted against Trump (such as California, Oregon and Washington) should secede from the union and become Canadian provinces.  Well, it’s a thought to play with!

Corbyn…  “dragged off the street”??

In case any readers fancied having a love-in with any member of the Clinton family, it’s worth noting the remarks made recently by former president (and Hillary’s husband) Bill Clinton.

He was talking about the left wing surge we witnessed in Bernie Sanders’ campaign for  the US presidency, plus the election of a left-wing party in Greece. Turning to Britain, he declared that Labour had just “got a guy off the street” to run the party.

“When people feel they’ve been shafted, they just want the maddest person in the room to represent them,” he concluded.

As they say, no comment.

Making money on the after dinner speeches circuit:

In case any readers were wondering what had happened to David Cameron since he packed his bags and left Downing Street, it’s now been revealed.

It wasn’t that he had nowhere to go – or indeed needed a little extra cash.  But it seems he’s topping up his financial reserves with a spot of public speaking  – and those who come along to listen to our former PM pay through the nose for the privilege.

Anyone who’d like to hear about his experiences as PM, or alternatively his views on Brexit, may find that he’s charging up to £120,000 for an hour’s speech.  It works out at roughly two thousand quid a minute.

He’s not the only ex-politician to go in for this kind of thing, of course. The best known to do the circuits was Tony Blair. Along with his so-called consultancy and advisory work he’s managed to build up a nice little nest egg of several million.

Have you got your passport?

I spotted a headline in the Daily Mail the other day, quoting a “mandarin” who was proposing that in future all patients seeking hospital treatment should have to present their passports before being allowed entry (let alone treatment).

This, we’re told, would cut down on “health tourism” from all the Johnny Foreigners who’re flocking to the UK to make use of our National Health Service.

It’s of course a typical Daily Mail story. And like many others from that august source it does beg a number of questions. First, what would happen if you didn’t have a passport? Not everyone in our neck of the woods has one tucked away. And, secondly, why would all these “foreigners” want to flock to Britain to use our hospitals?  Since 2010 the NHS has been facing a steady drain on its resources, which have resulted in a devastating impact on hospital front line services. Many overseas visitors would benefit from better treatment back in their own countries (despite the hard work and dedication of hospital doctors and nurses in Britain).

And, lastly, where’s the milk of human kindness in all this? Don’t we have a duty to help others in their hour of medical need?

Dinosaur

Co-op In The Forest Under Attack

In A.Graham, Uncategorized on February 23, 2017 at 1:31 pm

According to its critics, the Co-op in the Forest of Dean has been stifling competition, and forcing shoppers to travel out of the area to get a decent deal.

The brunt of the attack on the Co-op centres on plans for a new supermarket on the Steam Mills quarter of Cinderford.  This would of course pose a threat to the Co-op store in the town – as well as the many smaller shops in Cinderford.

The site was once earmarked by Tesco, as part of its expansion into the Forest – but after a long fight (led initially by Somerfield) planning permission was finally rejected at government level.  Later Asda submitted plans for an out of town store at Steam Mills – but then withdrew.

The current application appears to be developer-led. At present no particular supermarket chain has expressed specific interest, but the developers (Trilogy Development)  believe that Asda could be tempted back.

ACCUSATIONS:
At the time of writing there has been no challenge to what looks like a speculative venture.  But one (Labour) councillor from Cinderford has declared his belief that the Midcounties Co-op would mount a legal challenge.  He went on to say “All people want is choice and I believe the Co-op in Cinderford should be penalised for stifling trade.”

Such accusations seem at this stage to be somewhat gratuitous, and it might well be that it wouldn’t only be the Co-op that would suffer in the town.  It would be all retail trade in the town centre, the small shops, convenience stores, and all the outlets that have offered choice.  It could also affect other such alternative food sources as the“Forest Hub”.  Their future is bleak if more of the big supermarket chains are foisted on the Forest.

It should further be noted that Cinderford had already gained another supermarket. There is also a Lidl in the town, and it’s been trading there for some years.

But the attacks on the Co-op continue.  Another angle is that because of its obstructionist approach it’s forcing shoppers to travel out of town (to Ross-on-Wye for example) in order to do the “shopping of their choice”.  The aforementioned Labour Councillor was quoted in the Forester as saying: “anybody who goes to Morrisons in Ross on any Friday or Saturday afternoon will see more Cinderford people there than on Cinderford High Street.”

This comment is speculative to say the least. As far as I know, there’s been no scientific survey on the weekend shopping habits of Cinderford folk ~ though of course it may be that such shoppers are happy to take a day out in a town like Ross, regardless of such an ambiguous concept as “choice”!

COMPETITION INCREASING
The Co-op is of course deeply rooted in the Forest of Dean. These roots go back to the late 19th Century.  Even today it has four supermarkets in the Dean council area, as well as a number of convenience stores.

But it’s only natural that competition should be increasing. In Lydney there are two other supermarkets apart from the Co-op. In Coleford there’s also a Nisa, and a smaller convenience store – Tesco – in competition with the Co-op.  And much the same pattern is seen in Cinderford.
But still, it seems, some folk want even more supermarkets, and to blazes with the consequences.

First, there’s only so much “competition” that our Forest communities can absorb before retail outlets start to go to the wall. The first will be the smaller specialist shops, such as butchers. bakers, clothes shops, and the smaller retail “general” stores. Then the weaker supermarket stores will suffer – and only the more voracious giants will survive.

It’s not up to me to speculate on the fate of the proposed Steam Mills development.  But a retail economy based solely on supermarket shopping is not a happy trend – particularly when we consider the next trend – one in which all shopping is done “online”,  goods are just shipped from the relevant warehouse to the customer, and we never have to go near a shop or supermarket again.

Then, of course, all diversity will have vanished, and the finger-pointing as to who did what to whom will vanish with it.  And you won’t be able to blame the Co-op!

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

DINOSAUR: Grammar Schools? Back to the past!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bang to rights!

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

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

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

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

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

Just curious:

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

Just wondering, you understand

Dinosaur

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.