Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Posts Tagged ‘Forest of Dean’

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.

MODERN TIMES: The Dinosaur Column

In Dinosaur on March 9, 2016 at 1:31 pm

The dwindling world of local newspapers

dinosaurWhat’s been happening in the world of local newspapers? Once they were the lifeblood of their communities. The means whereby folk found out what was going on, or kept in touch. They were the local heartbeat.

But sadly no more. Over the past few years they have been going down like ninepins. Many long established papers have folded, others have been sold on. Some local dailies have even found themselves relegated to weekly publication.

There’s one simple reason. They’re no longer as profitable as they used to be. Once they could be a licence to print money. Advertising poured into their columns. But no more. That precious revenue is going elsewhere – and some like the Daily Mail group (which owned amongst many other titles, the Gloucester Citizen), started to cut back. There were rumours that the Citizen was to be put up for sale. But then finally three years ago it passed to consortium called “Local World”, in which the Daily Mail still kept an interest.

 

But cutbacks have been made. Local news coverage has been pruned, to the point that the Forest now only has a couple or so pages of coverage once a week. Local columnists have all but disappeared.

In more confident times, the Citizen had taken over our own local weekly, the Forester – once a broadsheet owned by the Bright family. Later, as profits started to shrink, it was sold on, to the Tindle group (which owns our weekly freebie, the Review).

Now, though, more change seems to be afoot in the consortium that controls Local World. As we on the Clarion slowly go to press the news is that the Trinity Mirror group is to buy (possibly) a controlling interest in the Local World group.

Well, at least it isn’t Rupert Murdoch.

A special prize for dictators?

Who’d have thought it? A small news item caught my eye which stated that this year’s “Confucius Prize” (described as China’s equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize) has been awarded to… wait for it … Robert Mugabe.

I just wondered what the qualifications were to win what I presume is regarded as such a prestigious award? Longevity, perhaps? I’m sure Confucius would have had something pithy to say about it.

Tough being rich:

What is it with money for some people? That inner drive to accumulate more and more millions despite the fact that you end up with far more than you could ever spend in one lifetime?

Something like one per cent of the population now have more dosh than most of the rest of us put together. Yes, I know, most of us would like a bit more cash to ensure the security of a decent home, enough to spend on food, clothing, and what I believe are called utilities. With, of course, some extra for such things as holidays or leisure activities. But most of us don’t really hanker after the millions that pour into the coffers of the uber-rich. Do we?

But it seems that even these multi-millionaires have their problems. Call it conscience, if you like. Many have become aware of their privileged position and have become troubled by it.

Well, fear not. There are now psychologists who are only too happy to offer therapy, counselling, and the whole package, to help such people get over their guilt. (Or as it’s now labelled, “wealth fatigue syndrome”). At a price naturally.

Of course there’s one simple solution to the problem. Give all your surplus millions away. Try indulging in a bit of wealth re-distribution. I expect there are plenty of accountants willing to help out, and I’m sure the wealthy can afford the fees.

Meanwhile I can rest assured knowing that whatever problems I may have, at least I don’t suffer from “wealth fatigue syndrome”. If only.

Dinosaur

Education Matters: TROUBLE AT DEAN ACADEMY

In R.Richardson on March 9, 2016 at 1:28 pm

It was back in March that we reported on the troubles facing the Dean Academy in Lydney. Originally it had been Whitecross School, and its transfer to academy status in 2012 had been marked by controversy. It seemed that few parents wanted the change (either of name or status).

Back then the sponsor of the new academy was a group called the Prospects Academy Trust. But then Prospects was required to shed six schools from its “portfolio”, because of the inadequate provision of services.

CHANGE AT THE TOP:

The Dean Academy was one of those that were offloaded. It lost its sponsorship in July 2014, and consequently was left without a sponsor for ten months. But earlier this year, the school acquired its new sponsor, the Athelstan Trust – and its Head, David Gaston, was able to put a very positive spin on future prospects for staff and pupils alike.

SPECIAL MEASURES?

However, following a recent Ofsted inspection, it now seems that the school is likely to go into “special measures” – an Ofsted term which basically means there is cause for grave concern. This will be the second time in four years that the Dean Academy has been placed in special measures. The head, David Gaston, who sounded so upbeat only a few months ago, has now left and there is an acting head.

Councillors have called for a definitive statement from the school, but at this stage nothing has been forthcoming. The school’s website is bland and says all the right things, but there is no way to access the results of any Ofsted inspections. We hope to be able to report more at a future date.

Meanwhile, a recent report in the Forester struck a more positive note. A new “Learning Resources and Literacy Centre” was opened by Mark Harper MP in November. It is, in fact, the re-modelled library and it cost £195,000. It’s true that no additional books appear to have been purchased, but never mind, there are extra laptops, rolling news on screens and under floor heating. Wow! Surely that will boost performance?

PRIVATISATION ACROSS THE WORLD:

An interesting article in the Morning Star caught my eye recently. It concerned the creeping global privatisation of education.

There has always been a small elite who send their children to private schools and pay high fees. But now private schools that target the middle class are emerging in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil.

Pearson, the world’s largest education company, has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in establishing chains of schools in these countries. Such schools attract children already in government schools whose parents can afford modest fees.

UNDERMINING OPPORTUNITY

But they do nothing to extend access to education for the 58 million children who are out of school worldwide.

Moreover, they undermine government schools, as funding is often based on the number of pupils. One commercial education chain is Bridge International, expanding in Africa at the rate of one new school every three days. It’s funded by hedge fund speculators.

Three recent reports indicate that the Department for International Development is increasingly channeling its public funding towards supporting the privatisation of education around the world.

RUTH RICHARDSON

OBITUARIES: TANIA ROSE

In Obiturary on March 9, 2016 at 1:25 pm

tania_roseA friend of the Clarion

Tania Rose, daughter of Morgan Philips Price, has died at the age of 95. She had a long life, and a fulfilling one. She was married to artist Walter Rose and outside her attachment to politics and the lengthy parliamentary career of her father she developed other interests that took her on parallel paths.

She was born in Germany during those turbulent pre-Hitler years of the Weimar republic. Morgan Philips Price was there as a reporter on events for the Daily Herald (then edited by George Lansbury). He’d married Lisa Balster, secretary to Rosa Luxemberg, and Tania was born amidst the political chaos that marked the rise of Nazism.

Later she was to edit her father’s reports, which were published by Pluto Press in 1996 under the title ‘Despatches from the Weimar Republic’ (And later reviewed in the Clarion).

RETURN TO BRITAIN:

With the rapid rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party, the family returned to England. Philips Price re-engaged himself in politics, and finally became MP for the Forest of Dean constituency in the 1930s (defeating the incumbent, a member of Ramsey MacDonald’s “National Labour Party”).

Philips Price was to remain the MP for the Forest right through to the mid-1950s – the longest serving member for the constituency. As for Tania, in 1943 she married William Rose, an American who’d joined the Canadian Black Watch regiment to fight the Nazis during the war. After the war ended Rose settled in Britain with his new wife – and it was then that Tania found herself embarking on a new career.

NEW DIRECTIONS:

With her husband she co-scripted a number of films, including Genevieve, the Ladykillers and It’s a Mad Mad World. Probably her best known collaboration though was Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, released in 1967, and starring Katherine Hepburn, Sidney Poitier and Spencer Tracy – in its day, a ground-breaking and timely production.

Sadly, perhaps, this film script collaboration ended when she and her husband divorced. But Tania remained active, serving on the Race Relations Board and then the Commission for Racial Equality. She finally retired in 1980, but carried on writing – including a couple of pieces for the Forest Clarion in 1996. She also wrote a biography (Twas Brillig) – and edited her father’s reports from Germany.

As her health deteriorated, she was given what she described as a “grace and favour” apartment in Tibberton Court. She continued to support the Clarion though her contacts lessened as her health waned.

Her funeral took place at the Forest Crematorium on October 22nd.

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.

foof

Education Matters: “LES GRANDES VACANCES”

In R.Richardson on September 2, 2015 at 4:15 pm

School’s out! Six glorious weeks for the kids to do nothing much but “hang out”, apart from a family holiday holiday break involving sun, sand and too much ice cream

At least it used to be like that, but – as Rosie Millard in the “i” newspaper points out, life for today’s school children isn’t as carefree as it used to be. Her youngest’s teachers recommended 15 to 30 minutes a day on “on line” platforms (?), to ensure that he doesn’t fall behind.  For older children there’s the summer reading course – a book a week to be ticked off and a German text-book to work through.

“Les Grandes Vacances” are no longer what they used to be for kids – and let’s not even start on how it’s changed for teachers!

DRIVING THROUGH THE EDUCATION BILL:
Laura McInerny of the Guardian believes that the first hundred days of a new Parliament is the time for pushing through radical new policies.  The Education Bill certainly carried further policies already outlined – in particular the drive to ensure that all schools become academies (readers are reminded that all secondary schools in Gloucestershire except one are now academies).  Now “coasting” schools, as identified by Ofsted, will be marked down for intervention.

JUST COASTING ALONG:
Education Minister, Nicky Morgan, was pushed in Parliamentary Question Time to define a “coasting school”, and floundered. But since then a fairly loose definition has been arrived at. A school will be judged on its performance over a period of three years  as to whether or not its pupils have achieved their potential based on their starting point (we reported in the last issue on base line testing for four year olds to be introduced as a pilot in September). The brightest should be stretched and the less able supported.  If these criteria are not met, the governors will be required to begin the conversion to academy process.  Most worrying, consultation before the academisation process begins is to be scrapped.

DISAPPOINTING QUESTIONS:
Labour tabled some amendments to the second reading of the Bill, mostly concerned with the professionalism of the academy chains who sponsor schools , requiring them to be Ofsted inspected as are local authorities. But I was disappointed to realise that if these amendments were adopted, then Labour seemed to be happy to go along with the increasing spread of academies countrywide, and the consequent erosion of local authority powers.

PROMOTING MILITARISM:
Browsing through the informative website , “Schools Week”, I came across the surprising news that cadet units in state schools are to be increased five-fold  by 2020 at a cost of £50 million. At present out of 275 cadet units nationwide, only one hundred are in state schools.
The Combined Cadet Force which runs half of these says that this expansion is “part of the Government’s aim to promote military ethos in schools  and to instil  values in young people that will help them get the most out of their lives.”
Forces Watch, which is a campaign group looking at army recruitment, is of the view that £50 million is a huge amount of money to fund more military activities in schools at the expense of universal provision across the curriculum.

IN THE FOREST:
There are now three schools in Cinderford which are judged to be inadequate. We’ve reported before on the former Heywood Community School, which lost its sponsor, E-act, some months ago. It was renamed Forest High School, and is now run by sponsor South Gloucestershire Schools Academy. The recently appointed head says that they have “already taken positive steps to turn the school around.”

The two primary schools in special measures are St. White’s Primary and St. Anthony’s – a free school.

Both schools issued positive statements from their heads, but Graham Morgan, district and county councillor, said that “education was ruined when it was taken out of local authority control. That’s the crux of it, it’s semi-privatisation …  the sooner it is put right the better for everybody.”

We whole-heartedly agree with you, Graham – but sadly we don’t think it will be put right any time soon!

RUTH RICHARDSON

CLARION ONLINE SPECIAL – LABOUR LEADERSHIP: the Corbyn Question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Forest Anarchist and HOOF secretary, Owen Adams disagrees:

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

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

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

Labour member and activist from Monmouth, Tyler Chinnick argues…

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

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

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

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

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

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

OTHER REPORTAGE

HEALTH WATCH: OPEN ALL HOURS?

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

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

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

PIE IN THE SKY:

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

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

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

FRAGMENTATION:

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

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

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

AG

CLARION COMMENT: The Long Dark Night of the Soul

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

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

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

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

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

FORCED ON THE DEFENSIVE:

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

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

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

BOLSTERING CAPITALISM:

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

FIGHTBACK:

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

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

The fightback starts here!

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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.