Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Posts Tagged ‘Environment’

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

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DANGER: NUCLEAR WASTE STORAGE

In A.Graham on April 24, 2017 at 11:51 am

According to the latest newsletter from “STAND” (Severnside Together Against Nuclear Development) the threat from nuclear waste being stored at the old Berkeley Nuclear plant is increasing ominously.

After the plant ceased producing power it remained operational as a nuclear waste storage facility. The original planning application was for a “Low Level” waste store, confined simply to waste from the Berkeley plant itself. But now, according to STAND, it holds the far more dangerous “intermediate level” waste from such nuclear power plants as Oldbury, Sizewell and Dungeness – as well as Berkeley itself.

This is despite the fact that those who live in the vicinity were assured that it would never happen!

2007_fire at Oldbury nuke power station

Across the Severn – and on fire.

 

Initially the nuclear waste was stored using ductile cast iron containers – but these are now to be replaced by concrete, on the grounds of cost. How safe this will be in the long term remains to be seen. Concrete, of course, does corrode over time (as of course does cast iron).

All this is at present “work in progress” and may not be complete until well into 2018. Meanwhile, Coun. James Greenwood has been asking whether there would be any public consultation on the plans.  He was told that there was “no need” (after all, it would only frighten the natives!).

THREATS:

It might be that local inhabitants have good reason to be apprehensive.  Back in 2005 the Government’s own nuclear watchdog, Nirex, produced an official report which stated that the Berkeley site was unsuitable for nuclear waste storage. The dangers posed by this site on the Severn included tidal flooding and the threat of storm surges.

Meanwhile it has taken five years to remove waste from the bottom of the chambers on the site. We’re talking about highly radioactive sludge here.

The danger of accidents at nuclear power plants is of course an ever-present threat. It may not seem many, but there have been four critical disasters since the nuclear age began – and that’s four too many. The problem of storing radioactive nuclear waste is more of a long-term threat. It’s like a ticking time bomb.

WHAT ABOUT OLDBURY?

Meanwhile, what’s happening on the Oldbury site?  There has been no news from the developers, Horizon, for some time, despite attempts by STAND to contact them.

According to the latest STAND newsletter, the questions that need answering include:  How many cooling towers will be included in the plans?  Do they still intend to build up a base seven metres above the river level before they begin work on the plant?  How will they bring all the concrete in before the work starts?

And, last but not least, when do they expect to start producing electricity?

To date there has been no response to these questions. Meanwhile for further details, go to STAND’s website: www.standagainstoldbury.org


NUCLEAR ENDPIECE: MAY’S TRIDENT COVER UP

Towards the end of January (as this issue of the Clarion was being prepared), the media dropped a bombshell. In the summer of 2016, just before the crucial vote of whether to renew our Trident system, a missile had gone off course and ended up off the Florida coast.

Theresa May chose to bury the news. She said nothing about it during that heated debate in the Commons. The Labour Party split on the vote to renew our fleet of Trident nuclear submarines and the decision to renew the fleet was passed overwhelmingly.

If it had been known then that a test missile had been fired and gone careering  off in the wrong direction, ending up near the coast of the USA, maybe, just maybe, the result of the vote might have been different. But that, of course, is now water under the bridge.

Incidentally, the Trident nuclear warheads are supplied by the USA and are effectively under American control. The missile that went astray was not actually armed with a nuclear warhead – but it does say something about the fallibility of the missile delivery system.

BURYING BAD NEWS:

More important was the cover-up that followed the vote in the Commons. News of the rogue missile was only revealed in January. The source was the Sunday Times, backed up shortly afterwards by American television.  But even then May’s cover-up continued.

When she appeared on the BBC Andrew Marr show, she was asked no less than four times whether she’d known about the stray missile. Four times she failed to answer.

CND general secretary Kate Hudson described the incident as “a very serious failure,” and added, “why has the Government knowingly committed us to spending £205 billion on this demonstrably unreliable technology?”

A Government spokesman, however said, “we have absolute confidence in our independent (sic) nuclear deterrent.”

bomb_tree

THE TRASHING OF YORKLEY COURT FARM

In A.Graham on May 3, 2016 at 4:33 pm

On March 10th bailiffs and security guards, acting on behalf of local developer, Brian Bennett stormed Yorkley Court Farm. They were there to stage a forcible eviction of the “eco-gardeners” who’d been in occupation of the site for some years.

This was the second attempt by Bennett to evict the occupants – and this time it was in earnest. Farm buildings were trashed, and the iconic tower that stood at the farm entrance was demolished.

Since Mr Bennett mounted his first attempt to take over the farm from the occupants the “eco-gardeners” have gained quite a lot of sympathy from those in the area – many of whom saw the re-vitalisation of the once derelict farm as both a credit to those who’d been working it and an asset to the wider community. Harassment by hired security guards hadn’t helped Mr Bennett’s cause.

SUPPORT:

Indeed, after the eviction was mounted a walk along a right-of-way through the farm’s fields was hastily organised in sympathy with the “eco-gardeners”. The right-of-way had long been used as a route for local folk to take a stroll or to exercise their dogs. But there’s been a number of complaints of threatening behaviour by security guards towards those engaged in such harmless pursuit.

This support was reflected in the columns of the local press. On the letters page of the Forester, for example, Coun. Andrew Gardner (Lydbrook and Ruardean) reminded readers that the occupants at Yorkley Court had been in residence for six years, “growing organic food and following an environmentally friendly lifestyle”.

yorkleyCourtHe reminded us that the previous owners of the farm had died intestate, but that “relatives gave permission for the community to reside in the grounds”. He went on to suggest that a public inquiry into the whole affair “must urgently be implemented”.

Another letter suggested that scenes surrounding the eviction would lead onlookers to think that it was Al-Qaeda in occupation of Yorkley Court.

Over 70 police officers were counted at one point, some in riot gear. A helicopter flew overhead for the best part of two days. A police presence may well have been justified (if only to keep an eye on Bennett’s security guards), but in this case it looked as though the numbers were there to intimidate.

Letters of support for the eco-warriors continued in the following week’s issue of the Forester – with an added news item pointing out that a footpath adjoining the farm had been closed without notice, “at the request of the police” – in order, it said, to help in the eviction of the occupants.

WHAT NEXT?

At the time of writing, the eco-gardeners have left Yorkley Court farm with the defiant message, “our homes are gone but our community will live on.” 16 arrests were made and the homes of the occupants were demolished.


WHO’S BRIAN BENNETT?

BRIAN BENNETT, the man behind the eviction of the occupants of Yorkley Court Farm, is a developer. His major achievement was the transformation of Vantage Point near Mitcheldean into a busy industrial park after the closure of the Xerox works on the site (Xerox, incidentally, once employed over a thousand at its works there. By the time it closed it was down to about 80).

BENNETT INTERESTS:

Over the years Mr Bennett has accrued a wide range of interests to add to Vantage Point. The number of companies he has registered are too numerous to mention here. Some indeed may at present be dormant. But they include the following:

  • Allaston Developments Ltd.
  • “Bee Green Energy Ltd., which was set up to develop wind farms.
  • Whitecroft Properties Ltd, registered in May 2003
  • And, last but by no means least, Yorkley Court Farm Ltd. which was registered on 27th April 2014.

Incidentally, it was on the 29th June 2014 (the same year) that bailiffs and security guards first entered Yorkley Court Farm to try to evict the occupants. On this occasion the confrontation ended in a stand-off, and the security guards were withdrawn. Mr. Bennett, it would seem, has collected a range of irons in his fire.

A NEW VOICE FOR MONMOUTH: An Interview with Labour Candidate Catherine Fookes

In T. Chinnick on February 12, 2016 at 1:56 pm

Catherine-Fookes-head-and-shoulders

Labour AM Candidate for the Monmouth Constituency Catherine Fookes.

In September of last year Monmouth Constituency Labour Party selected Catherine Fookes to fight the seat in the Welsh Assembly elections next year.

Born in Dorset in a small village near Blandford, Catherine grew up on a farm before moving to London and then Bristol. But it was only after marrying her Catalan husband 15 years ago that they decided to move to the countryside and raise a family. “We craved space and a great environment for our kids to grow up in.” She says and so they decided on Monmouthshire.

She currently works as a freelance food campaigner for the Organic Trade Board and ‘Sustain’, promoting organic food. She previously worked for the Soil Association campaigning against GM and with the Pesticides Action Network to raise awareness about the hazards of pesticide residues on food. Her work in this area has lead to changes in Government policy.

I spoke to Catherine about her life, politics and issues of concern to Clarion readers.

When and why did you join the Labour party?

“I joined two years ago as until that point I was pretty disillusioned with politics in general. I also used to sit on a Government Committee and political party membership at that time was not permitted.

I felt following the recession that instead of those who caused the crisis – the bankers and financial institutions – being punished those on low incomes were being punished instead. It made me incredibly angry and once I realised that debating on twitter, writing letters to the papers and shouting at the TV wasn’t making a difference I felt it was time to get active in my local Labour party.”

What had been your political engagement prior to that?

“Part of my work in the 90’s was lobbying parliament on environmental and food issues including getting better support for organic producers. I also went on the Stop the War demonstrations. That’s another reason I didn’t join the Labour party earlier. I have also been a school Governor and active in the community – for example setting up a food co-op. I view those things as political with a small “p.” I’ve always been active – when I see a problem I try to solve it.”

It’s fair to say that Catherine didn’t expect to win. Standing against Monmouth’s three time former MP Huw Edwards her success can largely be attributed to the energy and determination with which she campaigned

“I worked very hard to win and I called up every single Labour Party member who had a telephone number and wrote to those that didn’t. However I knew I was up against a person who has a lot more experience than me and has a proven political track record, so I have to say I was surprised I won. I think what people like is I have new ideas, new energy and I’m not steeped in politics so I can relate to ordinary people.”

This energy and dedication is in sharp contrast to her Conservative opponent Nick Ramsay who, amongst other things has fallen asleep in public meetings and claimed for a flat in Cardiff despite only living 40 minutes away. Monmouth is blighted by being represented by two Conservatives: Ramsay in Cardiff Bay and David Davies in Westminster. (Not to mention a Conservative County Council). But whereas Davies is never shy about his views, some of which are very extreme, what exactly does Ramsay stand for?

“I am not sure what Nick Ramsay stands for as we don’t hear about his political beliefs in the way we do with Davies. With David Davies we know he’s anti–EU, anti-immigration and you could say anti-environment with his views on climate change, but Nick Ramsay keeps his views close to his chest which is strange for an Assembly Member.”

But not being as outspoken as Davies doesn’t mean he isn’t a conscientious AM – what’s he done for the Monmouth Constituency?

“Apart from writing letters to Ministers I am not entirely sure what he’s done for the constituency – I’ve asked many local groups and charities and have not heard of a single campaign he’s championed. I believe he’s become complacent and he does nothing of any consequence for the constituency. We deserve better.”

But for all her evident qualities Catherine faces an uphill struggle to get elected. Monmouth Labour has never won an Assembly election before, in a Conservative leaning constituency and with an incumbent Welsh Labour Government what chance is there that they will this time around?

“I think people are fed up with the Conservatives locally so we have a great chance. The Tory led council has resulted in our education system in Monmouthshire being in Special Measures*; our Tory AM is invisible and our Tory MP really shocked people this summer with his nasty comments on refugees. So I think we have a great chance.”

You mention the fact that Monmouthshire is in special measures, how will you make sure it improves?*

“As I’m a school governor** and also a Mum I can see at first hand the effects of our Tory Led councils cuts on education. Head Teachers and staff are facing real challenges keeping their schools going. I want to work with them to ensure they have the resources they need.

None of our secondary schools are designated ‘green’ by Ofsted and given the prosperity of the region they really should be. Local schools were also found to be failing children on free school meals. There is a huge gap between them and other children. The County Council (MCC) have been complacent and haven’t really pushed schools enough. I would put pressure on the MCC to get the standards up.”

Jeremy Corbyn (JC) has talked about wanting to narrow the “red water” between Westminster and Cardiff Bay. What could he and English Labour learn from the Government in Wales?

“We’re not just slashing and burning like the Tories, we’re targeting investment. What JC and English Labour could learn from us is how to target effectively like in Jobs Growth Wales which has created 15,000 jobs – so while we’ve got less money we’re still investing in our economy.

Our school system is better because it’s non-selective and we’re not creating academies, which is creating a two-tier system in England.

We’ve also reduced tuition fees for Welsh students regardless of where they’re studying, introduced the Domestic Violence Act, not to mention introducing free school breakfasts, prescriptions and bus passes. So we have achieved so much but we need to get the message across.”

Nick Ramsay, David Davies, Mark Harper and the Prime Minister have all attacked the Welsh NHS. Ambulance response times, cancer care and waiting times in A&E are all worse than in England – are Tory criticisms justified or is it just cynical fear-mongering?

“Comparing England and Wales directly is an over-simplification. Our population is far more dispersed and we’re a poorer country. Part of it is scare-mongering – some of our waiting times are too long, doctors and the health board are desperately trying to get them down but using the NHS as a political football isn’t helpful. But we’ve protected the NHS by having fewer PFI contracts and increased funding – we spend £120 more per head on health and social care than in England.

One of the things that my meeting with local health experts made clear to me is that we have a fixation on targets – but we can’t allow targets to become an end in themselves. We have an 8 minute response time target for ambulances. If someone breaks their leg it’s not important that an ambulance arrives in under 8 minutes but if someone suffers a heart attack then we need the ambulance to be there as soon as possible. It’s about prioritising.

We have a GP and nurse shortage in the Monmouth constituency – we’re recruiting nurses from overseas which is a real shame when we have unemployment in our area. We need to make sure careers advice includes what public service jobs are out there, especially in the Aneurin Bevan Health Board because there are probably brilliant school leavers who could fulfill some of these roles but they need to know the jobs are there.

Co-operation between public services and local schools is a very simple idea but it doesn’t seem to be happening at the moment.”

Do you oppose fracking in the Forest of Dean?

“I do. It’s just another sticking plaster, another investment in fossil fuels when we need to be moving toward renewables. And it’s another example of where the WLG has lead the way.” (The Welsh Government has introduced a moratorium on Fracking).

What can Forest Of Dean residents do to help your campaign?

“Write letters of support to the press, talk about why they support Labour to their friends. But most of all we need people to come and campaign with us!”

If you want to help get Catherine elected please contact Su McConnel on 07817076232 or at sumcchey@gmail.com

catherinefookes.com

monmouthlabour.org

*MCC has been taken out of special measures since this interview was conducted.
** The Governing Body of Cross Ash School of which Catherine is a member has recently won ‘the Quality Mark Bronze Award’.

90 YEARS OF THE WOODCRAFT FOLK

In Guest Feature on December 22, 2015 at 4:33 pm

by SARAH RICHARDSON

This year, the Woodcraft Folk are celebrating their 90th anniversary. Woodcraft was set up in 1925 by a 19-year-old called Leslie Paul, with a handful of boys in South London. It was a breakaway group from Kibbo Kift – which in turn had broken away from the Scouts after the First World War. These early leaders wanted to grow a youth movement which was not militaristic or monarchist. It would be co-educational and promote peace. It would also be run in an open and democratic way.

From the early days, the Woodcraft Folk has had strong links with the Co-operative movement. As early as summer 1925 there is a letter in the Woodcraft archive showing the Woolwich Co-op giving a grant of £5 in order that the first group could buy a tent.

Camping and the outdoor life was and still is an important part of the Woodcraft Folk This part of their philosophy is borrowed from the writer and naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton who was writing at the beginning of the 20th Century and set up a proto-scouting group in the USA called “Woodcraft Indians”. To show connection with the natural world, Woodcrafters then would have their own name and a “Folk” name. For example, the founder, Leslie Paul’s Folk name was “Little Otter”. From these humble beginnings, Woodcraft grew to a national organisation with links with similar Socialist and peace youth groups worldwide.

CELEBRATING NINETY YEARS:

There have been several strands going on this year to mark the 90th Anniversary. There has been a heritage officer appointed who is interviewing members of all ages to create an oral history of the organisation, together with the annual gathering in September at Wales by Scout Park in the Midlands where there were workshops and meetings.

In June this year, I enjoyed the London and South East Region pageant to mark the anniversary. There were several tents to mark the different decades that the Woodcraft Folk had grown through and crafts and activities in each of those tents. I was in the 1980s tent, and ran an activity with Richard, Shona and Rowan about Greenham Common. Families came and made peace symbols to tie to our fence as women had done at Greenham There were also co-operative games such as the “Tug of Peace” and a potato and spoon race to make it vegan friendly!

Jeremy Corbyn came to cut the anniversary cake with its Woodcraft symbol on. Jeremy told us that when his children were young they had been “Woodies” and it was good to remember that there were people in the world standing up for peace.

Woodcraft’s motto is “Span the world with friendship”, an aim which is as relevant today as it was following the Great War. Happy Woodcraft – and we look forward to celebrating the centenary!

LEFT INSIDE: welcome home. Time to leave.

In C.Spiby on October 6, 2015 at 2:03 pm

by Carl Spiby

After the defeat of Ed Miliband’s One Nation view of socialism under Labour, and despite a very progressive local manifesto (I should know, I lead the Manifesto Drafting Group who authored it, and it included all the things we so desperately need right now: a strong anti-fracking, anti-cuts and pro-public Forest stance), who would have thought that Labour would come back to its natural home?

The success of Jeremy Corbyn shows, to me, just how out of touch the Parliamentary Labour Party was with its own grass-roots membership.

But, while supporting Tom Watson as Deputy, Forest of Dean CLP actually voted to back Andy Burnham for leader.  And now there are rumours afoot within the CLP that Corbyn’s success and the left is tearing the local branch apart. But they’re just rumours. What I’ve seen is a fractured bureaucratic CLP Exec concerned more with rules and in-fighting than changing lives and building socialism, whichever brand you support.

And that’s why this will be my last ‘Left Inside’ column for the Clarion.

The Executive Committee, in my experience, despite its aims and objectives turns out to be an inadvertent vehicle for losing members and quelling activism.

On social media I touted the idea of a Red Labour campaigning group, but there just isn’t the support for that locally. Nationally, however, new members joined in their thousands following Corbyn’s success, but locally they’ll be (rightly) directed to the CLP first. But our CLP is, to me, little more than an extension of the District Council Labour Group, not an independent campaigning and organising committee for the success of the next Labour MP in the Dean, working to win a socialist sitting in Parliament for the Dean among other socialists in a majority Labour government.

Besides, in the meantime, we need to build support for the Dean anti-fracking campaign. Then there’s TTIP. Instead our CLP is bent on a long-running internal investigation on the appropriate use of members’ e-mail lists. A process so painful that even the incumbent acting Secretary won’t be seeking re-election in that role, after only a matter of months in the post.

As Agent for Steve Parry-Hearn (your Labour candidate in the last General Election), I continue to meet with Steve and his Campaign Manager, the hard-working Roger Gilson. All three of us welcomed Corbyn’s success. But I for one don’t feel that our current CLP is the vehicle to locally show that support let alone build on it. I will vote and continue to support Corbyn’s Labour but I no longer feel I am the ‘left inside’ in the local LP. Hopefully there are others, new faces which will re-purpose the CLP Executive.

For me, for now, thanks for the ride.

C. Spiby is a member of Forest of Dean Constituency Labour Party and was on its Executive Committee. He was nominated the lead in the 2015 General Election FoD Labour Party manifesto drafting group for the District Council (which we also laid out our Parliamentary Candidate’s priorities) and was Social Media Officer for the CLP on the Executive, and finally the Electoral Agent for our Parliamentary Candidate. He remains a Labour party member but has resigned from the local CLP Executive and handed over Social Media duties for FoD CLP.

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MODERN TIMES: The Dinosaur Column

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

Gutted:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minor voices:

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

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

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

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

… and the Greens:

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

Dinosaur

What now for the Forest of Dean Left?

In O. Adams on May 29, 2015 at 12:36 pm
I DARESAY this is not every Clarion reader’s experience, but on May 7 I was in a real quandary: who to vote for – red or green?

My disenchantment with Labour’s tacit support for austerity and neoliberalism nationally and support for the progressive social policies of the Green Party had been steadily growing. (But at the same time I acknowledged that the Greens’ one sniff at power, on Brighton council, was blighted by the binmen going on strike over reduced pay and Caroline Lucas herself crossing their picket line, and also I could never ever agree to support some of Labour’s actions on Forest of Dean District Council, particularly the Cinderford Northern Quarter fiasco, and also many councillors’ tacit support for Brian Bennett and opposition to Yorkley Court Community Farm and apparent ignorance of the positive proposals of the food growers.)

On the one hand I wanted to be part of the ‘Green surge’, but on another I desperately wanted to get the Tories out. What made the decision harder was that both the Forest of Dean Labour and Green parliamentary candidates were men of integrity, who took the same positions on causes dear to my heart – our public Forest, nuclear developments, renewable energy, austerity and social justice.

So I was torn between James Greenwood and Steve Parry-Hearn. In the event I voted for the latter, based on that desire to get Harper out.

But in the grand scheme of our ‘first past the post’ so-called ‘representative democracy’ my vote counted for precisely zilch. I may as well have been one of the 29.1% in the Dean, and 34% nationally, who didn’t vote.

Ever since May 8, the mantra espoused in the media is that the Tories have been granted a solid mandate by scoring a comfortable majority. But only 24.4% of those eligible to vote have elected this Government. And even if you add UKIP’s 8.3% share of the entire vote, Nobody still emerges as the majority.

Another interesting UK-wide analysis shows that if we are to bracket Sinn Fein, Green, Plaid Cymru, the SDP and SDLP with Labour on the Left and the Tories with UKIP, the BNP and Ulster Unionist parties on the Right, the combined Left vote share has leapt in five years from 33.5% to 40.6%, while the Right has leapt from 42.4% to 50.4%. The Centre (represented by the Lib Dems) is the vote which has collapsed – from 23.5% in 2010 to 8% now.

But the Forest of Dean constituency result is perhaps more worrying – Mark Harper trumped the non-voters, and the Tories have regained the balance of power on the district council (not that they ever really lost it, due to the cabinet system). A glance at the respective turnouts for council wards shows that turnout was far higher in the Tory heartland, seats such as Tibberton, than in Cinderford, which remains a Labour stronghold.

While Labour, the Greens and UKIP supporters all shouted from the rooftops their party espousal before election day, the Tory majority remained unseen. It was evident that Harper realised the Forest sell-off issue was important, and ensured in his propaganda a commitment against privatisation, while at the same time applauding the privatisation via leasehold of Christchurch campsite to Lloyds private equity.

But at the end of the day, aside from the few hundred people who followed the various hustings and looked at the HOOF election coverage and utterances made by candidates, thousands of voters (and especially those to the west, east and south of the Statutory Forest) stayed disengaged and went for “I’m alright Jack”. As long as austerity was directed at those in society’s gutters, they were happy with the programme. Many may have reasoned that, ok, the Government made a blip when it tried to sell the Forest in 2010/11, but Mr Harper had helped sort it all out.

Still, while nationally the “comfortable Tory majority” is an illusion and locally it is less so, those of us on the Left – whether Labour, Green or non-voting – must carry on regardless. We must resist Tory tyranny with all our might and not give in to this notion that they can do as they wish because they were elected.

My dearest wish is that we can do so beyond any party lines, and that democracy means so much more than the fruitless cross in the box every five years. In fact, in the vast majority of historical events, the rights of people have only been won through direct action and not the ballot box.

In the weeks after the election, we hear reliance on food banks in the Forest continues to soar, and it’s going to get a whole lot worse. And if the Tories succeed in doing away with human rights legislation, even the most peaceful protest could be rendered illegal.

I am just about old enough to remember the slogans of the 80s which accompanied successive Tory victories, such as Agitate, Educate, Organise. These remain as valid now.

But the big question is, is the Labour Party and indeed the entire Parliamentary system of embedded privilege, a judiciary created by and for the rich, any kind of solution? It seems to me the Party system is a dead end. The massive anti-austerity vote in Scotland should be a wake-up call to Labour, but already the big guns are calling for Labour to be more like the Tories to be “electable”. (While the far-right sirens will also see Labour politicians shamelessly play the anti-immigration charade).

One pundit from the Labour List had it right in my view:

“They didn’t buy what we were selling, how we sold it or who was selling it. In fact, all too many didn’t know what we were selling at all.“A party too isolated in terms of geography, mindset and pure human contact from the British people can never hope to prevail against a surprisingly resilient and resurgent Tory party – and a tidal wave of nationalism. If we stay trapped where we are right now, we’ll lose again.”

I suspect Labour loyalists will now seek to rebuild their party and fight for its buried socialist soul, just as they have been doing and failing to do since the death of John Smith. In the process they will be prepared to defend the next Party leadership no matter how similar to the Tories they become, and oppose the Greens, anarchists or any other Left entities, all for the sake of their Party and a hope that in 2020 some sort of compromised red team will have some power.

I find the words of blogger Johnny Void, referring to the power elite, more inspiring and real-world:

“So cossetted and pampered have their lives been so far that they think we will continue to accept any indignity. That we will work for peanuts, or nothing at all, and let them sack us on a whim and jail us if we strike. That we will continue to pay them huge rents to live in hovels and willingly accept being socially cleansed from our homes and communities. That the champagne will flow forever and their lives remain undisturbed as they steal the very world from beneath our feet.

“Only a few of the pampered elite have looked to history and realised that this situation cannot last. That the rage of the working class has conquered dynasties and empires centuries old in the past. That no army, or fucking copper will save them when they finally push too far. And they will only have themselves to blame when the pitchforks eventually come.”

Party or no party, comrades, we must and will keep up the dissent. Whoever they vote for, we must ensure we are ungovernable.

HOW TO DEFEAT THE TORIES

In C.Spiby on May 5, 2015 at 8:12 pm

THE LEFT INSIDE COLUMN by Forest of Dean Labour member Carl Spiby

There are many reasons to vote Labour come the General Election. Some might argue there is also reason not to.

I’ve written before in the Clarion about compromise, but some still feel a vote for the Greens is still the best way to deliver a left-wing agenda in Parliament.

The Greens offer much, but what can they actually deliver? The stark answer to this question is: very little without any MP’s – even Caroline Lucas will struggle to retain the Green’s only seat in Parliament. Recently though, the Greens do offer a leader to rival Labour’s own in terms of unpopularity – but that’s shallow thinking. The kind of which the media is so obsessed with.

Locally, James Greenwood – a prominent organiser for S.T.A.N.D. (Severnside Together Against Nuclear Development) – is a passionate and skilled public speaker and a good Green candidate, but his party’s support is, as our own Clarion Comment editorial states in this issue, starting from virtually square one.

So we turn to Labour’s Steve Parry-Hearn. How might he fare?

On core local Green Party issues he pretty much cleans up. Steve’s pledge card lays it down clearly: Parry-Hearn is against new nuclear power at Oldbury, against fracking in the Dean and against Trident renewal. All these policies are cornerstone reasons to vote Green. But you can get them locally and for real by voting Labour.

Furthermore, Steve Parry-Hearn is also a strong supporter of the NHS, apprenticeships and green industry but is equally passionate about scrapping the bedroom tax. The difference is, Labour can win here – the Greens will not.

Voting Green means the Tory will retain the seat (or possibly worse, what with UKIP having made the Forest a target seat). Either way, anything but a Labour win will mean your next MP will support Trident renewal, support back-door privatisation of the NHS and will be pro-nuclear.

Meanwhile Labour’s Parry-Hearn takes a risk with his position on these topics of nuclear power, fracking and nuclear weapons as Steve is running contrary to current party policy on all three issues. That’s good news for Clarion readers as it finally means we’ve got a candidate who is a strong independent voice in Labour. A man of conviction built from a bedrock of core Labour principles. What Clarion readers might recognise as one of their own.

But many will call this tactical voting. I call it pragmatic voting. It is all very well having a strong view on an issue, but to trade that passion for an unwillingness to compromise is a self-defeating way to hand victory to those supporting the exact opposite of one’s own view.

When I started writing for the Clarion many years ago I was politically adrift. Back then in 2003 I was secretary of our local Stop the War movement but I belonged to no Party. I had left the Communist Party of Britain because it could never win an MP in my lifetime. At that time I couldn’t join Labour because New Labour supported Bush’s war. So the Lib Dems temporarily won my vote but like many I was let down.

Now I support Labour which is post-New Labour. I do so firstly because of my desire to retain the NHS as Labour built it; but I am also in the Labour Party because Ed Miliband was the choice of the trades union movement – the voice of the working class; and I am proud to support Forest Labour’s Steve Parry-Hearn precisely because of his position on the topics mentioned above. All this would be for nought if a Labour victory didn’t represent the only realistic opportunity of keeping the right out of power in the Dean and in our Parliament.

Please join me in defeating the Tories.

HOOF AND THE ELECTION

In O. Adams on March 26, 2015 at 1:46 pm

un-edited preview from the next edition of the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley Clarion
Guest feature by Owen Adams

AT the time of writing I have so far received two pieces of election propaganda – from the Conservatives and UKIP. Both pledge they will prevent the Forest of Dean from being privatised.

Both parties know this is a vote-winner, as I’m sure all other candidates standing will know as well. But it’s all very well saying it – how will they do it?

As regular Clarion readers will know, I have my own political views – I agree fully with the Clarion principles and my aspiration is for full communism (not the Leninist kind, but the sort advocated by Kropotkin, Emma Goldman, Bakunin etc). Realistically though I doubt whether this is around the corner! I am also the secretary of the Hands Off Our Forest campaign, which aims to represent everyone regardless of their political views or voting intentions.

HOOF has resolutely avoided being aligned with any political party and we will continue to remain independent, yet lobbying all parties. We have an unwavering champion in the House of Lords – Jan Royall, who helped found HOOF back in October 2010 – and our Green MEP, Molly Scott-Cato is also working with us in Brussels. What we really need though is a champion in the House of Commons and a district council also on our side.

To this end, we are writing to every council and parliamentary candidate asking if they will back three pledges: to back us when we call for adequate resources for the English Public Forest Estate; to support us in our bid to secure community representation in the future management of our Forest (and others); and for a special status for the Forest of Dean to protect its unique customs.

We are also staging a hustings event at the Forest Theatre, Five Acres, from 6.30pm on April 22 – a Question Time-style event titled Our Forest My Vote, to which we are inviting every parliamentary candidate to take part on a panel alongside HOOF chairman Rich Daniels and chaired by the retired Bishop of Liverpool, who also headed the Independent Panel on Forestry which recommended community overseers, or guardians, to be given seats at the top table of management.

Our call for guardians is at odds, however, with the Forestry Commission Trade Unions (perhaps the only difference of opinion we really have), who want things kept as they are, with civil servants and politicians alone able to call the shots. It has also been called into question by both our sitting MP, Mark Harper, and by the Shadow Forestry Minister, Barry Gardiner – who visited us in February. They ask “who will guard the guardians?” We respond: “A parliamentary charter.” Neither the Conservatives or Labour want any power over the future of our Forests relinquished by politicians or senior civil servants.

Also of concern is both parties’ refusal to commit to properly funding the ongoing management of our Forest by the Forestry Commission. Establishing a new economic model based on “natural capital” (as both parties seem intent on doing) is all very well, but in the meantime our Forest is falling to rack and ruin, or being over-harvested, and staffing is at a skeleton level while private contractors ride roughshod over public access and fail to clean up after themselves. As for training a new generation of forestry workers, this is scarcely happening.

Yet the need for a community voice which can have a veto is vividly illustrated by the case of Forest Holidays. In 2012, behind closed doors and without any consultation or even competitive tendering, 80 per cent of the campsites operation was handed over to venture capitalists from Lloyds Banking Group. This, granted, has less repercussions in our own Forest – the sites at Christchurch and adjoining Woodlands have long been used by holiday-makers rather than residents, so swapping hundreds of camping and caravanning pitches with exclusive £800-a-weekend log cabins had little effect on our public access to the woods. But in other public woods, such as Fineshade in Northamptonshire, Houghton in Sussex and Delamere in Cheshire, people faced losing their access to woods entirely. So far councillors in these areas have thrown out these plans; in the Dean, the only councillor (Bill Evans) to raise concerns about the exclusivity of the Christchurch site at planning last year was ignored and the application sailed through without comment.

Jan Royall was contacted by forest campaigners in East Anglia and Sussex and on March 17, she raised the issue in the Lords (this went unreported, sadly) and the Government confirmed that, yes, the venture capitalists could sell on the sites – which have been granted 125-year leases by the Forestry Commission – to anyone. And so, nibble by nibble, the backdoor privatisation of our Forests is continuing regardless of public opinion. Indeed, even the Lib Dem Lord Greaves, who sits on the Defra committee, was unaware of what had transpired, as it seems a single Forestry Commissioner (conveniently retired in late February) was privy to this privatisation. This underlines the need for community representation at the top level of management.

It should also be noted that, while 12 out of 14 parish and town councils visited by HOOF last year gave their full and unequivocal backing to HOOF, Forest of Dean district councillors – acting as if they one big homogenous corporate board of directors – refused to even discuss whether they would back us against proposals to transfer land to the Homes & Communities Agency in the Infrastructure Bill. No thanks to these councillors (but thanks to Jan Royall) we managed to get an exemption for the Public Forest Estate.

To use another example, Mr Cameron has stressed time and time again the Tories are not privatising the NHS – the institution as a whole may remain public, but the components of it are going into private hands. The same, I fear, is what is and will happen to our forests, unless we get a say in it.

Mr Harper and all other candidates will be given the opportunity to explain how they intend to fulfil their promises to protect our Forest from privatisation at the event Our Forest My Vote, Forest Theatre, Five Acres, from 6.30pm. At the time of writing, Labour, Lib Dem, Green and UKIP candidates have confirmed their attendance – we are still waiting on the Conservative candidate. Also as I write we have yet to email all council and parliamentary candidates with the HOOF pledges document.

I hope we get more response than we did when we called on councillors to support HOOF against the Infrastructure Bill last November. The collective near-silence of councillors (you could count on one hand those who responded) was appalling and shameful. Now the sitting councillors standing for re-election have a chance to redeem themselves and commit to supporting the aims of HOOF, a campaign which enjoys – as our extensive consultations have confirmed – massive and widespread support from the Forest population. Unless they sign up to be HOOF champions, and keep their pledges (we will hold them to it), their election promises will be treated with the cynicism they deserve.

And so in conclusion, politicians can say whatever they like about saving the Forest – unless they give communities a right of veto on the sales, leasings and disposals of land and facilities and an overseeing role, and ensure the Forestry Commission can do its job properly without hiving facilities and land to the private sector to balance the books, their promises mean nothing.