Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Posts Tagged ‘Europe’

Clarion Comment: BEWARE THE IDES OF MAY

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

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

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

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

BAD JUDGEMENT:

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

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

REVIVING THE DODO?

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

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

A MATTER OF EXPENSES:

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

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

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

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

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

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


The brutal Indifference of Deportation

And it’s happening on May’s watch

from a Clarion correspondent

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

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

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

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

DETAINED AT YARL’S WOOD:

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

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

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

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

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

 

MODERN TIMES: The Dinosaur Column

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

So, what’s a “clean break”?

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

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

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

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

Scots wha-hey?

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

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

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

Crossing the river:

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

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

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

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

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

Dinosaur

CLARION COMMENT: The Cameron Legacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

“COMPASSIONATE…?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

CAMERON AND BREXIT:

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

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

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

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

MODERN TIMES: the Dinosaur column

In Dinosaur, Uncategorized on October 4, 2016 at 12:16 pm
dinosaurBecoming a Corbynista
It doesn’t take much to transform a plodding old dinosaur into a raving “Corbynista”.  An attempted Parliamentary coup is just the ticket. For that was what the vote of “no confidence” in Jeremy effectively was.
After all, you don’t suddenly decide to take a vote on the spur of the moment. No siree. This was a case of secret meetings in Parliamentary committee rooms (though no longer smoke filled these days). How many were involved in setting it all up is difficult to say – but once the plot was hatched, it was time to get the bandwagon rolling.
Why this time was chosen I haven’t the faintest idea. Or whether any thought was given to such folk as the the Party members out in the sticks, and their reaction. But then if you live in a Westminster bubble, cocooned  from your membership back at constituency level then maybe you don’t.
As this is being written, the matter is far from resolved. It will probably have moved on apace by the time this issue of the Clarion appears in print.  In which case all these words should be regarded as a merely an initial reaction. Watch this space, as they say!
Challenging times, post-brexit:
It seems to be all change, following the result of the EU referendum. Cameron has taken his bat home – and, incredible though it may seem, so has Nigel Farage. One might think that he’d be happy basking in his achievement of being on the winning side when it came to the vote. But no.
Farage claims he wants to relax, and get his life back. Take a holiday, perhaps. Prop up a few bars with the odd pint in his hand. According to the Daily Express though, one factor in his resignation was the death threats that he’d received during the campaign.
Death threats, I’m sure, can be scary. At the very least they’re unsettling and unpleasant.  But in the longer term, it’ll be interesting to see what impact his resignation will have on Ukip nationally. Will any contest for the leadership lead to fall out?  Will the Ukip momentum stutter and grind to a halt?  Or even slip into reverse gear?  Already one  councillor here in the Forest has resigned from Ukip, prophesying that more will follow.
Ukip has had a chequered  history since it was founded several decades ago. After all, the one point that united its disparate membership was opposition to the EU. In its early years, it faced competition from the better-funded “Referendum Party” set up by James Goldsmith.  Later, just when it was getting going,  it suffered a split  in its ranks. Those were the Robert Kilroy-Silk years – when he failed to get his own way he walked out, forming a new party called “Veritas”, taking some of Ukip’s membership with him.
Now, without Farage at the helm, where will it be going next?  Mind you, it isn’t the first time he’s resigned – but I assume  that this time he means it.!
Threat to our buses:
The Forest’s doughty bus campaigner, Sue Dubois, is continuing her campaign to save the Dean’s network of bus services from being decimated.
One of the problems, of course, is that the bulk of them are run by that monolithic company Stagecoach – whose watch word is profit, and more of it. But the planned cuts in this case actually come from the County Council, that dishes out the odd subsidy.
Councillors (all no doubt with cars at their disposal) have come up with proposals to axe evening and weekend services in our neck of the woods. Under threat is the number 23, Gloucester, Lydney, Coleford route, the number 30, Gloucester, Cinderford, Coleford, and the 24, Gloucester, Mitcheldean to Joys Green bus. Other local shopping services are under threat.
Bus users are being given a number of options, all of which come under the general heading of “which cuts do you prefer?” In other words, leaving the council to decide who’re really going to be the losers when it comes to dishing out the subsidies.
Dinosaur 

The EU – in or out? NOT FOR CAMERON, BUT DESPITE HIM!

In Guest Feature on June 23, 2016 at 12:17 pm

by GLYN FORD

On June 23rd, Clarion readers will have the opportunity to have their say on Europe. Tory PM David Cameron went off both to Brussels and on a parallel peregrination around Europe to negotiate a series of “reforms” that would enable him to recommend that Britain votes to remain in the European Union (EU). Now he’s telling us all that if we don’t vote to “Remain” Britain will be bankrupt, friendless and impotent with the world facing a new world war. One wonders when someone will point out to him that he was solely responsible for getting the UK into this mess, when as part of a squalid deal with Tory fundamentalists he gambled the country’s future for the rabid right’s votes for the Tory leadership.

BAD NEWS, GOOD NEWS:

There is bad news and good news for those on the left. The bad news is that Cameron was asking for the wrong (and reactionary) reforms. But the good news is that most of what he got was window dressing, not worth the paper it wasn’t written on – although the few real things he did get are dangerous. The Tories got a totally meaningless opt-out on an “ever closer union” as an EU objective and a verbal promise that the other 27 member states would turn a blind eye to discrimination against their citizens as regards to in and out of work benefits when living in the UK. A provision that he knows all too well will be promptly and rightly ruled illegal and overturned as soon as the first case taken by an aggrieved EU citizen reaches the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. Nevertheless it’s a convenient fiction until well after the votes in the referendum are cast and counted.

WEASEL WORDS:

However, Cameron did get a promise on “better regulation” at EU level. One does wonder who was supposedly in favour of “worse regulation”? It rather depends on what you mean – for Cameron and the Tory Government “better regulation” are in reality weasel words for less regulation protecting workers and consumers from the gentle ministrations of capital determined to maximise profit and minimise costs. It’s less regulation controlling the bankers and Hedge Funds as they continue to grow like a cancer at the heart of the British economy, and in reward throw their millions in small change into Tory Party coffers. It’s less regulation of Britain’s tax havens as canny millionaire fathers squirrel away the money for Eton education at the expense of public services for the poor and needy. All hardly designed to drive voters out in their droves to support “Remain”, even if “Leave” would in contrast put Dracula in charge of the blood bank with all the EU restraint on their savaging of public services and the poor removed.

NOT FOR CAMERON:

But that’s the wrong answer to the wrong question. The Left and Labour’s argument for voting to “remain” is not because of Cameron but despite him. Our argument is not the “red Tory” one of the Scottish Referendum when Labour was suckered into endorsing the Tory case for Union. In an increasingly global economy the future lies together not separately. The EU is currently bigger and richer than the US. The EU can set global standards – whether social or political – on trade and on the environment, human rights and equality, in a way no medium sized nation state could ever contemplate. We want to stay in Europe to change it, but in entirely the opposite direction from where Cameron wants to take us.

NEEDS:

We need a European Economic Strategy that rejects the neo-liberal austerity programme, a commitment to fighting climate change and a rapid drive towards a “green economy”, a trade policy that puts people first, paralleled by a foreign policy underpinned by multilateralism, human rights and democracy accompanied by security and defence policy that has the EU prepared to tackle today’s – and tomorrow’s – threats rather than yesterday’s.

Today’s Europe wears its social democratic cloth all too lightly, all progressives would agree. Yet while it would be wonderful if we could build Socialism in one country, if it was ever possible it isn’t any more. What miracle of English exceptionalism, what fantasy, allows us to think we can go it alone when our Socialist sister parties across Europe whether in Italy or Germany or France, all believe their future is inside the Union? The Greek Left, despite all the harsh indignities visited upon it by the World and Europe’s Bankers know that their best future is in Europe – and the Euro – not outside.

The Marx and Spencer of the “Leave” campaign – Groucho and Frank that is Boris and Farage – offer nothing that we want. These “Dell Boys” of politics are selling xenophobic right-wing populism wrapped up in a flag of St. George and a nostalgia for a past that never was for Britain’s poor and needy. Another Europe is possible but the only way to get there is to vote to “remain” on June 23rd – despite Cameron not because of him – and go on from there.

by GLYN FORD

Glyn is the editor (with Julian Priestley) of a collection of essays, “Our Europe, Not Theirs”; a second edition of which has been published by Lawrence and Wishart.

DEBATE: A view on how to vote in the EU referendum

In M. Davies on May 5, 2016 at 12:41 pm

A viewpoint piece by Mat Davies.

There are many reasons to stay in or to leave the European Union. Economic arguments from both camps provide valid and inconclusive evidence. The truth is that either outcome is a gamble. It is equally true that migration could be more carefully regulated. However, there is evidence that suggests that migration adds to our tax intake. The same contradictions permeate most policy areas from health and safety, to security. Nonetheless, I have been engaged in EU politics since my teens. The core concerns of the “leave” campaigners is old hat.

ISN’T THE EU UNDEMOCRATIC?

“If we leave the EU won’t we be able to make our own laws” ? Not really. Yet that is the overwhelming argument sprinkled with words like “sovereignty”. Externally, we will still be bound by the trade regulations decided at the World Trade Organisation, and our banking standards will be set through the Bank of International Settlements. There are scores of institutions and treaties that limit our “sovereignty” including laws regarding torture, safeguarding refugees, and engaging in military action. The “out” campaign effectively argues against them all.

Moreover, the limits to the “state” of the UK are internal and external. There are three relatively recently devolved nations that have law-making powers. Plaid Cymru in Wales and SNP in Scotland, among local governments, all point to the negative outcomes of centralised power in Westminster. Supra-nationality and devolution has clearly undermined the role of a “centralised state”. Indeed, governance, rather than governing has become the norm, not the exception.

WHAT IS ALL THE FUSS ABOUT?

The European Union has enshrined democratic principles into the Treaty of Lisbon, and more power has been granted to national parliaments. Moreover, subsidiarity is solidified through the Committee of the Regions that responds to regional interests within member states. Power is fragmented across across political and legal institutions in a federal manner. What is all the fuss about?

It is true that the EU is obscure, complicated, and requires education at all levels. Instead, many politicians have outsourced policy failure and invoked innate nationalism during many domestic hurdles. The only news programme on the BBC that shared what happens in Strasbourg and Brussels was cancelled a few years ago. Nonetheless, negative stories have tended to make the headlines, and the lack of EU information has added to EU misunderstanding and scepticism.

Furthermore, a broad turn towards nationalism is a partial consequence of the undermining of international law, noticeably during the Bush/Blair administrations. That was extremely harmful policy hypocrisy. For example regarding torture and environmental agreements. The post-war consensus effectively lost its legitimacy in the eyes of many . Internationalism appeared as a tool to colonise by exporting policies that benefited the US and UK.

IS HISTORY REPEATING ITSELF?

At the precipice of the referendum, we should reflect on the following. The undermining of the Concert of Europe ushered in World War 1. The dissolution of the League of Nations witnessed the rise of fascism and World War 2. The arguments presented by the “leave” campaign, although often valid, fail to present a vision for the future. I believe that even with its shortcomings, we are better in the EU . History has proved internationalism as wise and nationalism vile.

Mat Davies.


TIME LINE: THE BIRTH AND GROWTH OF THE “COMMON MARKET”

1951: France and West Germany formed the European Coal and Steel Community.

MARCH 1957: France, West Germany, Italy,Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg sign the Treaty of Rome setting up the European Economic Community (EEC). The EEC formally came into being in January 1958.

JANUARY 1973: Britain, Ireland and Denmark joined the European Community.

1993: The European Community (EC) becomes the European Union (EU).

By 2007 there were 27 member states in the European Union.


 

‘City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp’ by B. Rawlence

In R.Richardson, Reviews on May 3, 2016 at 4:51 pm

LIFE IN THE CAMPS:

‘City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp’ by Ben Rawlence. Published by Portobello Books.

 

Ben Rawlence, the author of this remarkable book, is a human rights watch observer. Over the course of four years he was a first-hand witness of life in Dadaab, Kenya, home to half a million refugees. Dadaab is deep in the desert where only thorn bushes grow, hundreds of miles from any other settlement. Aid is provided by the UN and channeled through an army of charities and aid workers, and the city runs on a grey economy.

Most of the refugees are Somali fleeing from the consequences of the civil war of 2008, when control of most of the country was seized by al-Shabaab, an al-Qaida-linked organisation. Others are from Sudan, Ethiopia, or Darfur. Many of them walked for days, often in family groups, to reach the comparative safety of the camp.

cityofthorns

NINE STORIES:

Rawlence interleaves the stories of nine individuals – and touches on many more – into his account of life in the camp. There is Guled, taken as a child soldier, who manages to escape and hitch a lift to Dabaab.  Through his story we learn the hugely protracted process of registering in the camp for aid.

Other characters include Kheyro, a dedicated student pinning her hopes on escaping the camp by means of one of the very few available scholarships. There is Tawane, a youth leader, who organises distribution for the newcomers to the camp and does his best to stay out of trouble.

With so many different nationalities in such an environment, unsurprisingly conflicts arise. And there’s always the risk of infiltration by al-Shabaab.  Indeed, terrorist activity erupts more than once, resulting in the temporary withdrawal of aid workers, so that refugees like Tawane with a measure of responsibility have to ensure that basic services keep running.

LIVING IN LIMBO:

The inhabitants of Dadaab are in limbo. No-one wants to acknowledge that it has become permanent, but some have been there for over twenty years.  A few decide to return to their homes and are given a resettlement package, though war in Somalia is by no means over.  A very few are given papers  for a new life in the western world. And some decide to strike out on the long and dangerous journey to Europe by way of the Mediterranean or Turkey.

THE REFUGEE CAMP MYTHS:

City of Thorns came to my notice through an article by Ian Birrell in the “i” newspaper, entitled “Exposing the refugee camp myths”. Clearly, says Birrell,  these camps are not a humanitarian answer, though it is a convenient one for politicians.

Sir Alan Duncan, then Minister of State for International Development,  said in 2014: “You know where they are  when they are in camps.”  Birrell writes, “What human being wants life trapped in limbo dependent on others for everything?”  What they need, says Birrell, is the right to work legitimately so they can build a fresh start.

“PROPER RESETTLEMENT PLAN”:

There needs to be a proper resettlement plan in which all first-world countries play their part. At present the West is considering a deal with Turkey to contain up to two million refugees within their borders, housed in huge UN funded camps. Anyone who thinks that this is an acceptable solution should read ‘City of Thorns’.  We need investigative journalists like Ben Rawlence to tell it like it is.

Reviewed by RUTH RICHARDSON

CLARION COMMENT:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REFERENDUM:

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

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

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

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

JOURNEY TO SADNESS: looking for the GDR in 2015

In C.Spiby on December 22, 2015 at 4:41 pm

Where Conrad journeyed into a Heart of Darkness, in September a friend and I took an excursion into sadness. Together we embarked on a foray into what might have been and what was betrayed: we went looking for the GDR/DDR in modern Berlin.

The GDR could have been an example of socialism but became instead a state racked by paranoia, a state of 90,000 Stasi agents and 175,000 Inoffizielle Mitarbeiter (informers).

But I still believed in the possibility. That, at an everyday level there were elements of East German socialism which hinted at socialism as it might have been. After all, it is a fine line between Ostalgie (nostalgia for the East) and gawping at the worst of Totalitarianism. Was the GDR a workers paradise or a Stasi Hell?

Like many such binary questions, the answer is probably somewhere in between, a plurality of truths and realities. And that certainly was my experience. Nowhere was this more apparent than standing on the platform of the Wall Documentation Centre on Bernauer Strasse.

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This free memorial gives an overview in words and pictures of the construction and division created by the Wall but, most strikingly, it allows you to climb to a platform to overlook a snapshot of the wall, death-strip and watch-tower exactly as it was. Un-touched, graffiti-free this living memorial is a stark symbol of the worst of the GDR’s predicament. A symbol of a state struggling with losing its workforce to the West, paranoid in its inability to keep control of its own citizens’ faith in socialism, all set against the best as in the background towers over all of Berlin the remarkable landmark of the East – the incredible Fernsehturm – or TV Tower as it is known in the West. Nearly all my guides placed the TV Tower as the most important thing to visit when in Berlin, but it is one of the very few symbols of the former East.

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Too bad then, that it is now little more than a London Eye-style novelty. Constructed in the mid-to-late 1960’s it was the beacon of socialist achievement. Its lift doors open at bar and restaurant level to look out along the avenue of in front of the Brandenburg Tor (gate) – the Strasse Des 17 Juni – the symbolic avenue from the West to the centre of Berlin. And there’s nothing in the Western skyline that comes even close to matching the achievement of the TV Tower: socialism reigns supreme. And yet as I drank a Berliner Wasse with the traditional cherry juice I felt this wasn’t the East Germany as the workers knew it. Moreover today, despite its setting in Alexanderplatz the TV Towers feels almost disconnected from the GDR. And what’s more, the tourists around me didn’t seem to care about its history – the old symbol was now just a spectacle.

We stayed in the OSTEL Das DDR Design Hostel just off Paris Commune Strasse in the old East, not far from the East-Side Gallery (a long strip of the wall given over to graffiti art). SS851926

No TV, no mod-cons, just a basic 1970’s-era recreation of the GDR in each room. A portrait of Cabinet Minister Horst Sindermann keeps a watchful eye as you check-in at reception, complete with a TV playing a loop of GDR speeches and news. SS851974 SS851823The furnishings and wall-papering of each room are GDR-era and it lends a space for contemplative reflection, of simplicity and scarcity, of sacrifice and suppression, of hope and ideals. The rooms are cheap and the place unique, friendly, spare but touching if you like your travel with a sense of history and place. On the day we drove out into the country in our hired Trabant, the OSTEL provided a brown paper bag lunch at only €5 adorned with their own ‘Guten Appetit!’ label.

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On the opposite side of our OSTEL’s citrus-fruit coloured building is the Volksammer (Das Design Restaurant), with the familiar GDR emblem emblazoned everywhere. A huge painting of Der Palast der Republik (my favourite building of the GDR – sadly now demolished) nestled alongside the TV tower and red flags adorns the length of one wall, and the menu is authentic GDR era cuisine. Much of which reminded me of school dinners or the food my mum made me as a boy in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Except for more fish, more pickled vegetables and, thankfully, more beer. The restaurant was a perfect partner for the OSTEL.

Another ‘Ostalgie Resturant’ is the Käsekönig just off Alexanderplatz (on Panoramastr.1), but the service here wasn’t quite as friendly and sitting outside on the street was a mistake as the weather turned. Neither could it boast the authentic furnishings and ornaments of the Volksammer, but the menu seemed more than appropriate. If you can’t stomach the food of 3 decades ago, don’t worry, one certainly won’t go hungry in Berlin – there’s an abundance of foreign restaurants.

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With so much to do and see, more to write about than we have space here, I offer my essential things to do in Berlin if, like me, you want to sense its history, all within walking distance of each other, especially when based at the OSTEL.

SS851866(FREE) Visit the memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe 2 minutes’ walk from the Brandenburg Gate, along Eberstrasse. Not only is this a moving experience (especially the poignancy of the Reichstag in view), but also it is an incredible piece of immersive sculpture. On the way you can also pay your respects to the homosexuals and gays murdered and persecuted by the Nazis (pretty much opposite), and nearer the Brandenburg Tor is the Memorial to the Sinti & Roma of Europe Murdered under the Nazi regime.SS851869SS851979

(FREE) Visit Berlin Wall Memorial and Documentation centre along Bernauer Strasse; the story of Bernauer Strasse deserves an article of its own, and you can easily spend half a day immersed into the tragedy of the Wall here (do this over a visit to the East Side Gallery as that just lacks a sense of the everyday division)

SS851953Visit the Stasi Museum in the former HQ just off Ruschestrasse – highly detailed and a place of history in itself

SS851879(FREE) Visit the excellent Topography of Terror exhibition which documents the Gestapo and SS main offices, along with another intact Wall section

Stay at the OSTEL DDR Design Hostel

Eat at the Volksammer (Stasse der Paris Kommune 18b)

SS851873(FREE) Spit on the ground at the spot where Hitler spent his final hours (about 2mins walk from the memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe) – his bunker will be under your feet (deservedly just a parking lot, a small green space where dogs fittingly defecate)

(FREE) Marvel at the scale of the Soviet War Memorial in the Tiergarten, and the two Soviet T34 tanks and consider their victory over Nazism

SS851859If you can afford it, book dinner (at least 2 months reservation necessary) with a window seat at the TV Tower, otherwise settle for the bar and try a Berliner Wasse

Hire a Trabant and drive into the countryside of the former East (good luck!)

But avoid the Western view of the Wall: Checkpoint Charlie. You couldn’t find a less authentic experience in Berlin if you tried.

There is so much history to be seen, and so much to consider. But mostly I left saddened by all the focus on failure. The persecution and loss of life all weighs so heavy. Saddening too was the fact that there was little room for the debate that socialism might offer much, even if we agree the price of totalitarianism is not one worth paying. Only the DDR Museum offered some sense of everyday life, some redemption and only then in part, balanced as it was with Stasi exhibits.

My view is that, in the end, the world lost more than the toll of its victims. It lost the chance of a possibility.

This wasn’t a holiday. It was reflection, a memorial. Just as one might travel to WW1 war graves. Perhaps we ought to make such journeys in order to remember the danger in the states we elect and therefore in our consent we all carry in us the possibility of darkness or failure. In that darkness I hoped to find hope. I think it’s there, but it flickered dimly and fleetingly, supressed by Totalitarianism.

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{this article formed part of a much larger research project, reflecting on the GDR}

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REVIEW: A MASTER CLASS IN ALTERNATIVE ECONOMICS

In John Wilmot, Reviews on December 22, 2015 at 4:30 pm

The Global Minotaur, by Yanis Varoufakis – with a foreword by Paul Mason. Published by Zed Books.

This is an updated edition (brought out, I suspect with the Greek financial crisis in mind) of a book first published in 2011. The author is an economist of world repute. He has taught in numerous universities in the UK and became an MP for the Syriza party in Greece. On its rise to power he was appointed Minister of Finance.
When the crisis occurred, and the Government finally bowed to pressure from the IMF, Varoufakis parted company with his party – and the deal that was imposed over his head.
Now, any book on economics poses difficulties for the lay reader – and I’m no exception. There’s the terminology used by economists for a start. And this volume, by necessity, is quite dense.
But Yanis Varoufakis writes well, and has a lively turn of phrase which helps the reader over the difficult bits. He has been described as an “opponent of austerity”, which is true – but he’s more than this. He can also be described as a critic of capitalism, noting its lurches from boom to slump – a pattern that can be traced back to its birth when it replaced the old feudal order.
Some slumps, he suggests, are major, like those of 1929 and more recently that of 2008 – capable of turning the established order on its head. But he mentions other lesser slumps – such as that of 1847 in Britain. It ended the railway boom abruptly with  stocks and shares going into a nosedive, and a consequential collapse in a number of banks.
In 1873 there was a similar crisis in the USA, again caused by a stock market collapse in railway shares. This led to a six year depression.
THE WALL STREET CRASH:
Fast forward to the roaring ‘twenties and we see the great crash of 1929. By the end of the year, 40 billion dollars had been wiped out on Wall Street, and banks went to the wall. In America 2,293 of them closed permanently. The crisis went global, reaching Europe like a financial plague, affecting heavy industry and the financial markets alike. The “Gold Standard”, which was meant to regulate commerce and the relationship between currencies, collapsed. Despite the good intentions of the “New Deal” in the USA, it took the Second World War to lift the economy out of slump.
At the end of  the war came the Bretton Woods talks, with the USA now the dominant economic power. With the Gold Standard now dead in the water, American economists brought in a new plan to replace it with the US dollar. The “yankee dollar” was to become the currency on which the capitalist world relied. And so it was to remain until the economic collapse of 1971.
2008:
We remember the crash of 2008, of course. Much of the population of Europe and the USA are still feeling the effects. This was another collapse caused by bankers’ greed and lack of foresight. According to Varoufakis, it saw the banking industry go into damage control mode, “desperately trying to stem the popular demand for stringent regulation of their institutions.”
Their argument was that too much regulation would “stifle financial innovation”. As if this “innovation” hadn’t already caused enough damage!  Of course we’re all aware of who’s been responsible for the crash seven years ago. In popular parlance it was the “greedy bankers”, paying themselves massive bonuses regardless of whether the economy or their own part in it warranted these pay-outs.
In Britain of course the “damage control” (sic) worked. Banks continued to operate without the regulation needed to keep them in line, and the champagne continued to flow. A few heads rolled and then it was back to business as usual. Big bonuses are still paid out regardless. And the rest of us still have to put up with conditions of austerity introduced in order (ostensibly) to deal with a crash that we were in no way responsible for.
In his final chapter (“A world without the Minotaur”), the author decides to re-evaluate his position in order to put it to the test. This chapter is an addition to the first edition of the book, published a few years earlier. And here his analysis becomes complicated!
But just to summarise a few points:  the slump of 2008 resulted in a break in America’s pattern of trade deficits, which had relied on the USA absorbing the surplus production and capital from Europe and elsewhere. To put it simply, after 2008 this inflow of capital and goods slumped. Without this global flow of capital etc., profits could no longer be maintained. Once again it was the banks and financial institutions that went down like ninepins.
As for solutions to the problem, Varoufakis comes up with no simple formula. But he does suggest that neither of the responses put into place in Europe and the USA would work.  European countries opted for austerity – or in some cases had it forced upon them. America tried “quantitative easing”, which he says failed to have any positive effect (though, as I see it,  it had less damaging impact on people’s lives than “austerity”).
LACK OF SELF RESTRAINT:
In conclusion, he suggests that both governments and private capital had been guilty of a lack of self restraint in their dealings in the decade leading up to 2008.
Governments had failed to regulate financial institutions, whilst the banking and financial world had thrown caution (and sanity?) to the winds in its greed to make bigger and bigger profits.
But, as I see it, that is what it will always do unless it’s held in check. Meanwhile this book by Yanis Varoufakis is an interesting guide to both the development of a volatile capitalist system and the roots of its crises in the last century.
JOHN WILMOT