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CLARION REVIEW: THE PM WHO TRANSFORMED BRITAIN

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

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

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

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

THE WELFARE STATE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

“FROM THE CRADLE TO THE GRAVE”:

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

“THE COLD WAR”:

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

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

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

DISILLUSION AMONGST THE MIDDLE CLASSES:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JOHN WILMOT.

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LOOKING BACK: Beveridge and the Birth of the NHS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


CLOSURE OF FOREST  HOSPITALS CONFIRMED

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

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

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

QUESTIONS:

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

“CONSULTATION”:

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

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

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

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

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

MODERN TIMES: The Dinosaur Column

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

dinosaurNHS? Not Out of Our Pocket!

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

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

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

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

Adverts on the box

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

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

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

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

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

Footnote:

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

Dinosaur. Grrrr.

EDUCATION MATTERS: Academies in the news – again

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

by Ruth Richardson

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

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

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

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

IN LYDNEY:

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

SCHOOLS IN ALL BUT NAME:

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

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

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

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


REGIME CHANGE:

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

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

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

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

LOOKING BACK: THE BIRTH OF THE TRIPARTITE SYSTEM

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

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

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

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

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

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

RUTH RICHARDSON

FOUR MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT

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

by Rowan McKeever

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

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

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

RETALIATION:

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

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

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

PROTEST….

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

AND SURVIVE:

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

WHERE THE PARTIES STAND:

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

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

“DON’T YOU HEAR THE H-BOMBS THUNDER…”

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

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

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

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

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

bomb_tree

100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution

In C.Spiby, Guest Feature, Readers, Uncategorized on January 8, 2018 at 2:03 pm

To mark the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, your Clarion is pleased to have obtained permission to print the following speech – in full – given by Communist Party of Britain general secretary, Robert Griffiths, at the 19th International Meeting of Communist and Workers Parties Leningrad-St Petersburg, 2 November 2017. 

“Comrades,

When we Communists urge people to overthrow capitalism because it is unfair, unstable, wasteful, belligerent, exploitative and oppressive, many agree with us that capitalism is indeed most—if not all—of these things.

But what do we propose to put in its place?

Before the Great October Socialist Revolution, we could only offer people a set of values—liberty, equality, cooperation, comradeship, freedom—and the hope that a new type of society could be created in which these would be the ruling values.

Marx did not provide any model for the future communist society, although he pointed to the Paris Commune as an example of how power can be exercised by the mass of people through a system of direct democracy.

But he was reluctant to provide a blueprint because, as the very first rule of the International Working Men’s Association put it, the emancipation of the working classes must be achieved by the working classes themselves’.

After 1917, Communists could point to the achievements of the Soviet Union in the teeth of civil war, imperialist intervention, sabotage and fascist invasion. It transformed the lives of hundreds of millions of workers and their families for the better. It played the leading role in rescuing Europe from Nazi-fascist barbarism. It proclaimed the equality of women, all races and nationalities and assisted the struggle for peace, progress, socialism and national liberation across the world.

Yet there were weaknesses, failures and severe violations of socialist democracy that eroded popular support for the Soviet Union, outside and within.

This does not mean that Communists should cease defending and promoting all that was liberating and transformational about the October Revolution and its outcome.

But how can we inspire workers and the mass of people today with the ideals of socialism and communism?

As the general crisis of capitalism—economically, ecologically, socially, culturally, politically—reasserts itself, we need to show how our communist values would shape a modern, humane and democratic society which can meet the needs and aspirations of the mass of people.

Our vision of socialism—the lower stage of communism—has to explain how the economy and society might be reorganised on a new basis for the benefit of all.

Challenging the economic and political power of the capitalist monopolies must be an essential part of the communist solution. Public ownership and economic planning—enhanced by the application of modern information and communications technology—are the antidotes to market anarchy, plunder and waste.

We need to provide modern, concrete examples of how capitalist relations of production obstruct the full and beneficial development of society’s productive forces. For example, capitalist ownership ensures that medical technology, robotics and automation are not developed and applied in order to benefit the mass of humanity.

How will socialism secure the future of the planet’s eco-system, bearing in mind that—as the most recent IMF World Economic Outlook report confirms—the chief victims of global warming and climate change are the poorest layers of the working class in the tropical Third World?

How will socialism usher in an epoch of peace and international solidarity?

The Communist response must include a relentless struggle against imperialist super-exploitation, the military-industrial complex and wars of aggression. Social progress is impossible in times of war. Communist and workers’ parties everywhere need to strengthen and project the World Peace Council and its national affiliated organisations.

In the advanced bourgeois democratic countries, in particular, many people equate communism with dictatorship and the abolition of democratic rights.

More must be done to explain how and why socialism and communism will expand and transform democracy, drawing the mass of people into the self-government of their workplaces and communities, abolishing monopoly power and repressive legislation, opening up the mass media to social ownership and participation, and subordinating elected representatives to the needs and aspirations of those who elect them.

What will socialism mean for women, racial and religious minorities and young people?

The benefits to them of social ownership, public sector investment and economic planning have to be spelt out if we are not to appear irrelevant to wide sections of the working class and the people.

Inspired by the Great October Socialist Revolution, these are questions that Communists need to answer if the 21st century is to mark the final victory of socialism.

Long live the inspiration of the October Socialist Revolution!

cpb_flag


READERS’ LETTER:

To my fellow Clarion Readers

I am pleased to have assisted the Clarion is sourcing a fantastic speech by the CPB’s general secretary given this year at the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution (see page 3 {print edition issue #132-Ed.}). But I wanted to add a personal and separate afterword on the matter of 100 years of the Revolution in Russia.

Whilst I still think the Party’s programme, the British Road to Socialism, is a credible means of achieving socialism, the Party in both the UK and around the world still to distance itself from totalitarianism.

Clarion readers will doubtless agree that Stalinism was not what Marx and Engels had in mind when they set about formulating the Communist Manifesto. For that reason alone we must continue to fight for the rehabilitation of our reputation through the potency of our ideas and ideals.

It was Beat poet Allen Ginsberg who said it best, I believe, when he said Socialism was…

“…a universal failure wherever practiced by secret police.”

I keep a physical reminder of this with a East German people’s police armband next to a small bust of Lenin on my political bookshelf. So where there should be pride, there is sadness and the warning of betrayal of the revolution.

Thinking now of our 100 years, I find myself feeling that it is probably fitting that the revolution came to its end through the power of the powerless.

The end of history, as Fukuyama called it, was at once both incredibly sad and inspirational for socialists. Sad because of that betrayal of socialism that came with communist totalitarianism; inspirational because it was the people of East Germany, Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary and more who brought about the end of these one-party totalitarian states.

And yet, in the era of Trump, Putin and indeed Kim Jong-un, I cannot think of a more urgent time since the war against fascism in WW2 when the world has needed the values that drove the Russian people to build their new society than today.

Which brings me to another of my favourite quotes, this time by French poet/socialist Charley Peguy, when he said:

“The Social Revolution will be moral, or it will not be.”

With revolutionary socialism still regarded as the epitome of blood-drench immorality, it will take much to disassociate that view so that we might achieve the groundswell of support needed for 21st Century socialism. So, we move along that road in smaller steps. Starting with the election of Corbyn’s Labour government. That would be a perfect gift for the British worker. Happy Christmas.

Carl Spiby, St. Briavels
(former CPB member, former Labour Party member, but still a Labour voter)

CLARION COMMENT: THE BUDGET – Hammond style

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

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

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

HOUSING

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

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

HEALTH SERVICE:

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

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

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

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

Obituary: BART VENNER: “THE QUIET MAN”

In Obiturary, Uncategorized on November 7, 2017 at 6:41 am

The Crematorum, near Cinderford, was packed to capacity for the funeral of Bart Venner at the beginning of August. Indeed many of those who came to pay their respects to Bart were unable to get into the building.

Many of us knew Bart through the Labour Party, which he always served faithfully and well.  But there was more to Bart than this. Although not a Forester by birth, his dedication to the Dean gave him the right to regard himself as one.

He came here back in the ‘fifties to take up a training course at the old Parkend Forestry School. And he worked for the Forestry Commission all his working life.

A QUICK REPLANT:

One story told about his forestry work was of a visit to the Dean by the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh. They planted young oak trees in the plantation beyond Speech House. When they departed, the trees were promptly dug up and taken away as souvenirs. Forestry Commission workers, including Bart, were called out hastily to plant replacements… no names, no pack drill, of course.

Norway spruce were also planted, and, despite a bout of appalling weather in the early 1960s, they also survived as a testament to Bart and his fellow Forestry workers.

Another story from his young Forestry days dated back to the last war, when soldiers used trees for firing practice, peppering the trunks with lead. When the trees were felled for timber, merchants were advised to use metal detectors to check for “lead poisoning” before applying a chain saw to the felled tree trunks.   .

A LABOUR STALWART:

Bart’s allegiance to the Labour Party was engrained in him, like the lettering in a stick of rock.  He held a number of offices within the  Party, including as councillor on the District Council   It’s worth noting, as well, that he was always a  good friend to the Clarion, taking a quiet interest in our paper, and even contributing to its columns.

PEDALLING AWAY:

Bart’s other interest was reflected in his membership of the Forest’s cycling club, and his fellow members were well represented at his funeral. Bart had asked that mourners should attend the event dressed in “something colourful”, and his fellow cyclists came along dressed suitably in their lycra cycling gear.

Those who knew Bart always had a sense of affectionate respect for him. Tributes included the fact that he “was a thoroughly nice chap” and “a true gentleman.” He will be particularly missed by his family.


MEDIA WATCH: STOP PRESS: THE “CITIZEN” BECOMES A WEEKLY

by a Clarion correspondent

So our long-established local evening paper, the Citizen, is ceasing to publish on a daily basis and now will be coming to us on a weekly basis instead.

This should come as no surprise to its readers. It’s happened before in towns and cities across the country as our local press has been cut back, to meet falling sales, and (more important to publishers) cuts in advertising revenue. A number of cities have suffered as their local daily papers have become weekly papers. In many places even local weekly papers have been axed, in a cull of the local press across the UK.

CHANGE IN OWNERSHIP:

For many decades the Citizen and its sister paper, the Cheltenham-based Echo, were owned by the Daily Mail group, which also controlled other local papers throughout the country. The Citizen tended to reflect the business-orientated views and coverage of the Mail group in its pages. But then, a few years back, the Mail decided to sell off all of its interests in the local press – and the Citizen and Echo both passed into the hands of the Mirror group.

A change in the tone of the papers was soon apparent. But, it seems, economies still had to be made. The first, took place when publication of the Citizen was moved out of Gloucester altogether – to the Echo offices in Cheltenham.

Shared facilities didn’t stretch as far as combining the two titles into one paper, however. Perhaps the new owners decided that was a step too far! But it was a far cry from the days when our Citizen managed to produce local editions for the diverse areas in its catchment area – such as the city of Gloucester, the Stroud Valleys – and, of course, the Forest of Dean.

“HEART THROB OF THE COMMUNITY”:

Once upon a time local newspapers represented the heart throb of the local communities where they were published. They were bought eagerly when they appeared on the streets or in the newsagents. Some older folk may remember when daily papers (local and national) would include a “Stop Press” column to be filled with any “breaking news”, as we call it today, just as the paper was about to be roll on to the presses. Others would run to two or more editions.

Those days have, of course, long since gone. And newspapers have had to move with the times. They are no longer just in competition with each other but also with other, more immediate, sources of news such as television or on line, on the ‘web.

But our local press still, or should, perform a function. It keeps members of local communities in touch with each other. It can ferret out the minutiae of local life or provide a platform for local issues and debate.

In the Dean, we still have the Forester, not to mention the “freebie”, the Review (both, incidentally, now owned by the Tindle group), both of which appear weekly and are published in the Forest. And both still maintain a reasonable coverage of local affairs.

WHAT ABOUT THE CITIZEN?

So, what of the Citizen? In September, the paper announced its decision to go weekly. In explanation of the move, it declared: “We still have a loyal print audience but the majority of the people who read the Citizen and the Echo do so just once a week.

“Daily readership is coming more and more from our website Gloucestershire Life and our digital audience – not just on the site but across social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter – is showing amazing year-on-year growth. And our digital advertising revenues are growing at the same rate.

“In making this change, we’re acknowledging and reacting to how our readers behave.”

Thus says the Citizen spokesperson. She doesn’t explain, though, why the Citizen plus Echo couldn’t use these rising profits from its online activities to cross-fertilise a daily print edition of its papers. Neither does it give any figures on possible loss of jobs involved in the switch from a six-day a week publication to a weekly.

Of course more and more newspapers are adding “on line” editions to their print versions. The Daily Mail on line edition is particularly successful. But it should not be at the expense of print editions.

When Caxton developed the printing press in the Middle Ages he revolutionised communication. It allowed the emergence of newspapers from the 17th Century onwards. Not immediately, maybe, but over time they became the major source of communicating news, opinion, debate, and so much more.

It would be a pity if yet more printed newspapers are superseded by the more ephemeral on line alternative when it comes to communication.

 

EDUCATION MATTERS & HEALTH WATCH

In O. Adams, R.Richardson, Uncategorized on November 7, 2017 at 6:26 am

COMING TOGETHER:

Earlier this year we heralded the amalgamation of two large teachers’ unions – the NUT and the ATL. Now it has happened, and the result is a union half a million strong – the fourth biggest affiliate to the TUC. Its title is the National Education Union (NEU).

The NEU will have its work cut out. De-regulation and marketisation has seen local authorities undermined and support services cut.  A prescribed narrowed down curriculum is dominated by assessment and testing and teachers’ workloads are unacceptable.    The new union, says the Morning Star, “promotes an opportunity for an organised fight-back against the dominant ideas that have done so much damage in education.”

SATS SCRAPPED FOR 7 YEAR-OLDS:

Infants’ teachers throughout England have no doubt seized with delight on the news that SATS (Standard Assessment Tests) for seven-year-olds are to be scrapped – but not until 2023.  If it has at last been recognised that these tests are, as teachers have long argued, harmful, why wait six years to abolish them? A new “baseline” check will be introduced in the reception class, presumably to help assess progress made – yet it’s something else to fit in to the busy infants’ teacher’s day.

CUTS IN FUNDING:

School funding was one of the key issues in June’s General Election. Here in the Forest leaflets were distributed outlining what the proposed cuts would mean to individual schools. Many Conservative MPs pointed to the cuts as being a decisive factor behind the Tories losing their majority, and several in the worst affected areas lost their seats after sustained anti-cuts campaigns. Justine Greening, the Education Secretary, under significant pressure from her own MPs, was forced finally to find an extra £1.3 billion to ensure that no school was left worse off after the reforms. But heads complain that inflationary cost pressures have not been addressed, and that schools are still losing out in real terms.

TROUBLE UP NORTH:

We have long been concerned at the lack of accountability of academies. Now the Wakefield City Academies Trust has admitted that it is unable to improve its schools quickly enough, and is asking the Department of Education to seek new sponsors for its 21 schools.

Only two years ago this trust was earmarked by the Government as one of the best-performing sponsors in the North. It was handed a share of a £5 million pot to take on more schools.  Since then, however, it has come to light that the trust paid £440,000 to companies owned by the CEO, Mike Ramsay and his daughter.

A report some months ago in the Independent said that the trust had been put in an “extremely vulnerable position as a result of inadequate governance, leadership and overall financial management.”

SCHOOLING IN FINLAND:

Robin Head, an educationalist writing in the Morning Star, produced an interesting article on education in Finland. It is a country, says Head, whose standards are universally admired and which does very well in the international “Pisa” league tables.

In Finland young children up to the age of seven learn mainly through play, develop at their own pace and are not crammed with inappropriate rules of grammar or mathematical theory.

When more formal teaching is introduced classes are of mixed ability and are kept below 24 pupils in size. Pupils have free transport to their nearest school and free school meals. There are no league tables and no national inspection system – the teaching profession is trusted to regulate itself.

Such a regime, says Robin Head, improves life chances and opportunities for all.

He goes on, “Theresa May and Justine Greenwood would do well to heed the lesson of the Finnish experience.”

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HEALTH WATCH: OPPOSITION TO FOREST HOSPITAL PLANS

When the authorities produced their new plans for hospital provision in the Forest of Dean they might have thought that it was all a matter of working out the details.

It was about replacing the Dean’s two existing hospitals with one single facility (referred to as “the hub” in technical jargon).  It was, they thought, just a matter of deciding where this new “hub” would be sited – and perhaps a bit of tweaking of the facilities to be offered.

Although the concept had been on the cards for some time, it only became public in mid-September – and immediately controversy came bubbling to the surface.

It wasn’t simply a parochial reaction to the (still) rather sketchy plans – though there was a certain amount of that in where, out of the three Forest towns, would the new facilities be based. It was more concern about what this new “hub” would offer.

SOME ANSWERS?

The Forest Review gave us some information. First it would be paid for by the NHS. No threat of private capital, then.  The new hospital would contain a “minimum” of 24 beds. This compares with the combined number of 47 in the Dilke and Lydney at present. Readers can, of course, do their own maths.

Meanwhile, we’re told, that the new “hub” would contain a “wider range of services” possibly including an endoscopy suite. What it wouldn’t have, though is a maternity unit, or a full operating theatre.  For such facilities patients are expected to take themselves out of the Forest to such places as Gloucester or even further afield.

The new hospital is planned to open by 2021 – though given the consultation needed plus the decision making involved before work actually begins, such a planned opening date must be speculative to say the least.

NEED FOR CAMPAIGN:

There is, of course, concern about these plans, with some critics feeling the need for a campaign of opposition on the scale of the “SOS” campaign in a previous decade, when a (“New Labour”) government put forward plans to close both the Forest’s hospitals.. That campaign was successful.

According to one critical Facebook page, “this consultation is asking us to sign up to plans without scrutiny of them.  All we know is there will be half the number of beds there currently is.”

A PERSONAL VIEWPOINT:

Meanwhile, Owen Adams writes:

“… do you worry about the lack of any detail except the new hospital will be ‘state of the art’ , have better X-ray facilities and endoscopy  if we’re really lucky (but no maternity ward and half the number of beds – and no guaranteed minor injuries unit either… )

“Are you concerned that our attachment to the two hospitals is patronisingly classed by professionals as “emotional” or “affectionate” – never mind that the Dilke was built by mostly local subscription, is public land in the heart of the Forest (private developers must already be dreaming of the pounds) and has a covenant for the site to be always used for a facility to treat the poor and the sick?”

“Are you convinced this project has nothing to do with asset-stripping; the Naylor Report (now Government policy) to help make £220m of NHS cuts (otherwise known as ‘savings’) or to help private contractors rake in one billion pounds in contracts?

“Maybe it’s just me but I feel we’re being ripped off … and a great many of our elected and unelected representatives have fallen for the con (and that goes for people of all political persuasions). Anyone with a vanity development project they want fulfilled?”

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MODERN TIMES: the Dinosaur column

In Dinosaur, Uncategorized on November 7, 2017 at 6:06 am

dinosaurThe Rees-Mogg view on Foodbanks

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the old Etonian MP for North East Somerset, recently voiced his views on Food Banks,

His opinion wasn’t exactly the kind of outright denunciation that we’ve heard from other Tory leaders in the past. Indeedy, he found that the growing use of Food was “rather uplifting”.  After all, he mused, they showed what a “good, compassionate society we are”.

After all, said Rees-Mogg in a radio interview, “I don’t think the state can do everything that it tries.”

Well, it might if it tried. But a Tory-run state doesn’t even try.  It may be quite ruthless in making cuts, but it doesn’t even try to make provision for the growing number of people stuck on or below the poverty level. Under the Tory Government poverty has increased steadily.

But Rees-Mogg denies that. He declares that the increase in the use of food banks has come about because more people in need now know that they’re there. Before Labour “had refused to tell them”.

Eh?  What kind of blinkered world does Rees-Mogg live in?  No wonder he’s the favourite amongst Tory Party members to be the next Party leader.

What me? Party leader?

Another MP who may be touted (or not) as next Tory Party leader is our own Mark Harper.  When asked by the Citizen whether he might throw his hat into the ring, he denied any such thought.

It seems that his name was included in a list of possible contenders published in the Sun newspaper.  But Harper declared in the Citizen that he was focusing on supporting the Prime Minister in “delivering a successful Brexit and making improvements here at home” (sic).

That’s a good boy, Mark. I wouldn’t get ideas above your station if I were you.

Ours not to reason why:

I’m indebted to Terry Haines, Co-op Party member and one-time mayor of Gloucester, for this letter which appeared in a recent issue of The Forester.

“Meeting a respected community leader, who had canvassed with me for a “Remain” vote, I asked: “Voted yet?”

“Yes, OUT, the council didn’t collect my bin last week”.

Another pensioner colleague voted “Out”, annoyed her surgery had re-arranged an appointment.

Earlier I was vehemently told by a “Leave” voter, proudly polishing his new BMW in a street where 40 per cent of the cars were German: “listen mate, the Germans will always want our cars.”

I canvassed many old and poor people epitomised by the “Alf Garnett “diatribe: “I’ve lived under 19 different prime ministers and been poor under every single one.”

This solid “Leave” vote was surprised to find we were in the EU the next week. They were suffering from the 15 per cent rise in retail prices and the losses in the emigrant services they need from their NHS and caring services. Many thought we would be back to the Empire and its imported riches.

Should our country be subjected to such fickleness?”

Indeed, Terry. Indeed.

Cost of Yorkley Court:

It was revealed last month that the cost of evicting those who occupied Yorkley Court amounted to a staggering £150,000.  So now we know where the money went in this whole shoddy business.  The biggest amount was the cost of the overblown police presence at the site, with legal costs also adding to the total sum.

And what was gained by this eviction?  As I see it, nothing at all. But in my opinion. We lost a praise-worthy initiative from a group of eco-farmers (following in the footsteps of the 17th Century “diggers”)

Dinosaur