Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Posts Tagged ‘History’

CLARION REVIEW: THE PM WHO TRANSFORMED BRITAIN

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

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

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

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

THE WELFARE STATE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

“FROM THE CRADLE TO THE GRAVE”:

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

“THE COLD WAR”:

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

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

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

DISILLUSION AMONGST THE MIDDLE CLASSES:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JOHN WILMOT.

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LOOKING BACK: Beveridge and the Birth of the NHS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


CLOSURE OF FOREST  HOSPITALS CONFIRMED

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

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

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

QUESTIONS:

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

“CONSULTATION”:

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

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

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

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

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

FOUR MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT

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

by Rowan McKeever

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

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

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

RETALIATION:

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

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

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

PROTEST….

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

AND SURVIVE:

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

WHERE THE PARTIES STAND:

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

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

“DON’T YOU HEAR THE H-BOMBS THUNDER…”

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

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

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

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

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

bomb_tree

MODERN TIMES: The Dinosaur Column

In Dinosaur on May 5, 2018 at 8:51 pm

Votes for Women!

It seems that this year we’re celebrating the hundredth anniversary of women gaining the vote in parliamentary elections. There’s been a number of events to mark the occasion, including one I rather liked – a train excursion to Severn Beach by latter-day Suffragettes dressed in period costume and the suffragette colours. I hope they all had a good day out!

Of course it didn’t immediately mean that all women had the vote. First, they had to be over thirty (those still in their twenties had to wait awhile, until the 1920s, to gain the right to the ballot box (in the so-called “flapper election”).

Earlier, votes for women had been bitterly opposed by the Liberal Government under Asquith. He described women as “hopelessly ignorant of politics, credulous to the last degree and flickering with gusts of sentiment like a candle in the wind.” Wow!

Today there’s a misconception that all suffragettes were violent campaigners who specialised in smashing windows, setting fire to buildings- and even throwing themselves under race horses. In fact there were two bodies campaigning for votes for women. More effective than the Pankhursts were probably those who were labelled the “Suffragists” who attempted to win over the newly emerging Labour movement (then largely organised through the ILP). It might be significant here that in the “flapper election” the result was a significant rise in the Labour vote.

UKIP IN STALLING MODE

Why, I wonder, does UKIP get itself in such a twist over electing a new leader? Since Nigel Farage announced his retirement from the leadership of the party they’ve managed to get through three successors (one of whom lasted only a matter of days). Even before then there seemed to a succession of switches in the party’s leadership.

Now the latest incumbent, a gentleman called Henry Bolton, has had a vote of no confidence passed against him by the Party’s executive. It seems that it’ll be only a matter of time before he’s out of the door.

The fracas is over Mr Bolton’s lady friend who’s been making some very nasty online comments about Prince Harry’s new American fiancee. I can appreciate that this would cause outrage amongst the UKIP faithful (and, indeed, further afield). All I can say is that I don’t know what came over her. Suffice to say, Mr. Bolton has broken off the relationship.

But to write off UKIP completely may be a bit premature. During its very chequered history it has faced other crises – and then metaphorically risen from the grave. It has had other leadership conflicts, and at one point in its history lost out in a contester for the racist vote in the form of the BNP (not, I hasten to add, that I’m trying to suggest that there was any comparison in terms of the two parties’ policies. Only in the muddled views of those who’d want to vote for them).

No doubt we’ll see. UKIP may well stagger on, but not necessarily as the kind of force that it was during the referendum campaign.

Amazon has it: if this turns you on:

Do we really fancy a new style of shopping where there are no checkouts and all you need is a sort of swipe card?

Amazon has just opened one such store – but it’s all right, it’s over in Seattle. To start your shopping, you scan an Amazon “smartphone app” to get you through a turnstile. Then you start your shopping. Whenever you take an item from the shelves, your account is charged. It you put the item back, the charge is automatically removed.

Amazon has admitted to some flaws in the system (such as small children who remove items from shelves but don’t put them back where they should be). But what this Dinosaur wants to know is whether this is really how we want to shop? Who do we go to for help in finding what we want? Do we always know what we want?   And does Amazon really care?

DINOSAUR

CLARION REVIEW: HAROLD WILSON – Labour’s face of the ‘seventies.

In John Wilmot, Reviews on January 23, 2018 at 5:43 pm

wilsonbook“Harold Wilson” by Ben Pimlott, and published by Harper Collins – a review by John Wilmot for The Clarion.

Most of us (over a certain age of course) remember Harold Wilson. As Prime Minister, he helped to usher in a period of great change – before it was halted in its tracks by the arrival on the scene of Margaret Thatcher, of course.

This book by Ben Pimlott (a former warden of Goldsmiths College, London, and professor at Birkbeck College) is described as a “scholarly work”.  Which means in effect that it emerges as long and over- detailed. He spends one lengthy chapter on Wilson’s childhood, growing up near Huddersfield – and then carries on from there for over 700 pages.  But for those with staying power it’s well worth persisting.

A BRIEF OVERVIEW:

But, to put it into perspective, perhaps a brief overview of Wilson’s political career may be useful. He had studied at Oxford (first taking Modern History before transferring to Philosophy, Politics and Economics) and emerged with a first class honours degree.

He went on to enter Parliament in the 1945 General Election – a Labour landslide. He must have caught the eye of the new Prime Minister, Clement Atlee, as he was made President of the Board of Trade at the age of only 31 – to become the youngest member of the cabinet in the 20th Century.

Atlee’s pioneering government came and went, and Wilson finally rose to become leader of the Labour Party (following the death of Hugh Gaitskell) and from there went on to be Prime Minister on four separate occasions before bowing out of politics.

“MODERNISATION”:

His focus was on “modernisation”, coining the term, “the white heat of technological revolution”. He also did much to liberalise the law (still stuck largely in a pre-war mould) on censorship, divorce, abortion and homosexuality. He also legislated on discrimination against women and ethnic minorities – though it could be argued these days with less success. And he also created the Open University.

Other more controversial aspects of his Government(s) included the Vietnam War, in which Wilson attempted to walk a difficult tightrope. He did his best to maintain good relations with the USA whilst at the same time keeping Britain out of the conflict. He succeeded, but that did not prevent those of us who went on the march in protest against the war from chanting, “Where has Harold Wilson gone? Crawling to the Pentagon!”

STERLING CRISIS:

Another blip in Wilson’s premiership was the so-called “sterling crisis”, when an over-heated economy forced him to de-value the pound in November 1967. He also started Britain’s withdrawal from “east of Suez”, confirming the end of our role as an imperial power. He also applied to join the EEC (the European Economic Council – the predecessor to the EU), but Britain’s application on that occasion was unsuccessful.

In 1970, Wilson lost to Edward Heath, but made a return to power as head of a minority government in 1974. He managed to gain a slim majority (of 3) in the same year – which in a later election rose to 83.

What followed were the final years of Wilson’s premiership. In March 1976, at the age of just 60, he abruptly resigned to be succeeded by James Callaghan.

LAST YEARS:

So why did Wilson resign so suddenly?  According to Ben Pimlott, by 1974 he was ageing rapidly. “He no longer had the same energy… he took less exercise, drank more brandy, spoke at greater length… he looked older than his years.”

There seemed to be good reason to retire at sixty. Indeed, wrote Pimlott, his plan had been to retire at 56, four years earlier.  But it seemed the desire to beat Edward Heath in one last election made him postpone the decision.

Mary (his wife) it seemed was an important influence. “She wanted her husband out of politics. But it was Heath’s victory that stalled that. Wilson decided to put off his decision by a few years.

They talked it over during one of their holidays on the Scilly isles, and agreed on four more years.  Wilson was successful in beating Heath at the ensuing election, before handing the reins over to James Callaghan.

JOHN WILMOT.

Profile: THE MAN WHO TRIED TO TURN THE TIDE: Ian Smith

In A.Graham on January 23, 2018 at 5:35 pm

There’s been much publicity given by the media to Mugabe’s attempts to cling to power in Zimbabwe as he became increasingly isolated.

But there’s been hardly any coverage given to the man who preceded him – Ian Smith.  Smith was the last white Prime Minister of what was then called Rhodesia. It was a self-governing colony in which the black majority had no say in the government of their own country.

Ian Smith was a second generation Rhodesian settler, one of the white minority who ruled the country (they numbered no more than 120,000 at their peak). Smith became Prime Minister in 1960, and was to occupy that post (increasingly precariously) until 1979).

FIGHTER PILOT:

Before taking up politics, Smith had had an interesting role in the Second World War. He volunteered for the RAF, and became a fighter pilot in a Spitfire squadron. After being shot down over Corsica he fought alongside Italian partisans behind German lines.

After the end of the war, he was de-mobbed and returned to Rhodesia, where he entered the colony’s political circle (restricted, of course, to the White population).  Here, he went on to become a Minister, and from there rose to be Prime Minister,

WINDS OF CHANGE:

But Rhodesia was facing the winds of change. “Colonisation” was going out of fashion, and Smith and his government came under increasing pressure to allow the black majority to vote in future elections.

Smith declared that there would be no black rule – ever – but he was becoming increasingly isolated in a changing world.  According to one joke that circulated at the time, white Rhodesia had become “a Surrey with the lunatic fringe on top” (you have to remember the song to appreciate the pun).

With a Labour government now in power, pressure was increasingly brought to bear on Smith to move towards black majority rule. In 1965, in response, Rhodesia declared UDI, declaring that the move was “striking a blow for the preservation of justice, civilisation and Christianity” (sic).

Of course this was unacceptable as far as Britain was concerned. But Harold Wilson, the PM, was reluctant to use force to impose a settlement.  Instead he imposed sanctions which he believed would be sufficient to reach a deal for the introduction of black rule.

Meanwhile, Rhodesia’s external support was eroding.. Portugal’s African colonies of Angola and Mozambique gained their independence, and the backing of South Africa (the last African bastion of white rule) was becoming less certain.

In Britain’s election of 1971, Labour lost and the Tories returned to power under Alec Douglas Home (remember him?) A deal was struck with Smith to legalise his declaration of independence, with an eventual (bur remote) movement towards black majority rule.

CIVIL WAR:

Such a formula was, of course, unworkable and Rhodesia descended into civil war. The tide was now turning against Smith and finally he was forced to hold talks.

Interestingly his first meeting with Mugabe was quite cordial. Smith declared that he was someone who “behaved like a balanced, civilised westerner”.  He was soon to revise his opinion!

Finally, however, Mugabe took over the reins of power. And Rhodesia was confined to the history books, becoming the independent country of  Zimbabwe – with Mugabe as its president.

As for Ian Smith, he left politics, to devote his time to his 5,000 acre farm – but he continued to denounce the Mugabe Government to an ever-decreasing audience.

He finally died in Capetown in 2007 – by that time an almost forgotten footnote in the history of Africa.

MODERN TIMES: the Dinosaur column

In Dinosaur on January 10, 2018 at 1:15 pm

dinosaurAll change on the  railways:

Under this pie-eyed privatised system we now have for the railways, the franchise to run the Gloucester to Cardiff line via Lydney is now up for renewal. And Arriva trains (who’ve held the franchise for much of the time since privatisation) are bowing out.

I don’t know why. It just seems like a case of “goodbye, it’s been good to know you.” So, very soon, we’ll have another company running our trains – and looking at the choice of those in the bidding, it doesn’t look good.

When privatisation was introduced (by John Major in a moment of muddled thinking), the franchise for our local line was won by a cowboy outfit called the West & Wales Railway.  It suffered from a shortage of rolling stock and an inability to keep to its timetables. It wasn’t  surprising when it was  sent packing.

At that time Arriva was running trains in the north of England – and was, it seems, making a similar hash of things. They, too, lost their franchise, but were offered our cluster of routes as a kind of consolation prize.

Then the Arriva group was taken over by Deutsche Bahn (the German state railway company) and efficiency improved – though we were still saddled with antiquated rolling stock on our line. But we’ve grown used to them – and things aren’t likely to get any better when the new franchisee takes over, I fear. It’s a case of same old system, whether we like it or not.

ON THE BUSES:

Not everyone in this neck of the woods knows that  Arriva also own a few bus companies here and there. For example they run the city services up in Wakefield, and also around North Wales – and no doubt elsewhere.

But this Autumn Arriva bus crews came out on strike, in protest against a meagre pay offer. It seems the company is making quite a profit – but wants to keep most of it to itself.

According to one source,  Arriva’s transport operations are profitable enough to send some £26 million a year (on average) back to Germany. Which I’m sure will do nicely  for Deutsche Bahn!

21 YEARS:

It’s now over 21 years since I started writing this column for the Clarion. Ah, I remember it well!

But why should the Clarion take on a dinosaur to write a comment column, however erudite it may be?  Well, you could say it was a sign of the times.

Back then “New Labour” was  in power. It was indeed the flavour of the month for many.  But there were others  who weren’t  so happy.  It wasn’t just a matter of nostalgia; it was more a sense of betrayal. It was a feeling that much of New Labour’s policy was merely Thatcherism dressed up in new clothes.

Tony Blair (remember him?) Scoffed at his critics. He dismissed them, and called the “dinosaurs”.  So when the Clarion was launched with the muffled sound of trumpets it was decided that this new  paper should have its own dinosaur.

Now of course it’s Blairism aka “New Labour” that’s sunk almost without trace.  It may well be that dinosaurs are coming back into fashion. Let’s hope so!

Dinosaur

100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution

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

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

“Comrades,

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

But what do we propose to put in its place?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long live the inspiration of the October Socialist Revolution!

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READERS’ LETTER:

To my fellow Clarion Readers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE SCOURGE OF “UNIVERSAL CREDIT”

In A.Graham, R.Richardson on November 7, 2017 at 6:51 am

Explained by RUTH RICHARDSON

Universal Credit was introduced in 2012 as part of the Welfare Reform Act (sic). Its aims were to simplify the system whereby clients claimed a number of benefits with a multiplicity of forms to fill in. It also aimed to encourage people into work and to make sure that work paid. And, it was claimed, the system would reduce fraud and be cheaper to administer.

The transition to Universal Credit from so-called “legacy benefits” such as Jobseekers’ Allowance, Income Support, Child Tax Credit and Housing Benefit has been gradual. But it is the Government’s aim that the roll out should be completed by 2022.  A report from the Trussel Trust [1] lists a number of points of difference from the previous system.

These include:

  1. A six-week delay for first-time claimants.
  2. Payments made in arrears with housing benefits paid directly to claimants rather than landlords.
  3. New forms of conditionality for claimants both in and out of work.
  4. Digitisation of how payments are managed (ie, on-line communication regarding benefits).
  5. Some reductions in the amounts received.

The Trussel Trust report detailed the problems clients face in coping with these changes.  The six week delay in the first payment hits particularly hard and food banks report that this alone has led to a 65 per cent increase in referrals.

Digitisation seemed fraught with difficulties with misinformation, claims being lost and documents misplaced.  To speak to an advisor directly, claimants have to hold on for an average of 40 minutes (at no small cost).  In fact the administration in general seems to be in disarray.

Since Universal Credit has been introduced, Food Banks have seen increasing problems with mental health, debt, work issues and housing. The report emphasises that where possible clients are sign-posted to local support services such as Citizens Advice – though these services are often stretched with a waiting list for appointments.

CALL FOR RE-THINK:

This report was published in April this year.  More recently, a newsletter from the Trust asks for the Universal Credit roll-out to be halted.  The Trust asks the Government to re-think the six-week waiting time for a first payment and to tackle the poor administration that can lead to ever longer waits.  More support for claimants could be provided through programmes like Universal Support [2]

Meanwhile the Trust calls for a  pause “particularly until appropriate emergency financial support is available and accessible to all people left with no income and no food in the cupboard.”

It is feared that as winter approaches problems will only get worse for the most vulnerable in our society.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] The Trussel Trust is the largest provider of Food Banks in the UK. Like many charities (such as Amnesty International) it bends over backwards to appear non-political.

[2] Universal Support is a partnership between the DWP and local authorities to give advice on the transition to Universal Credit.


FOCUS: What happened to public transport in the Forest?

a Clarion report by A. Graham

There was a time when we were well served by bus and rail services both in and out of the Forest of Dean – but sadly those days have long since gone.

The network of bus services is now dominated by Stagecoach, whilst all that’s left of the public rail service are the trains that serve Lydney station.  The network that once ran up into the Forest (and indeed across the Severn) has long since gone (true, we have the Dean Forest Railway, but that is basically a tourist-style “heritage” line).

ON THE BUSES:

The bus network in the Dean, and indeed beyond, was swallowed up through a ruthless takeover of other local companies in Gloucestershire by the Stagecoach group. It followed a series of acquisitions by the company throughout the country.  When Stagecoach finally set its sights on our neck of the woods in the early 1990s, it took over four companies in one fell swoop – Cheltenham & District, City of Gloucester, Stroud Valleys – and Red & White Services with its network of routes in the Forest and into South Wales.

The “Red & White” company had its head offices in Bulwark, near Chepstow, though its roots were in Lydney, having been founded by the John Watts’ group of companies between the wars. In 1950 Red & White was brought under public control along with other major bus undertakings throughout the UK. Routes were co-ordinated in order to provide an integrated network of services throughout the country, and fare levels were controlled.

In the Forest, there were two major bus service “hubs” – one in Lydney and the other in Cinderford. In Lydney (as an example) there was a sizeable bus depot and a cafe. The main service operated from Gloucester through Lydney and on to Cardiff – whilst there was also a service up to Hereford. From Cinderford there were connections with the Western Welsh company’s buses.

“DE-REGULATION”:

All this came to an end with legislation passed by the Thatcher Government in October 1986. This de-regulated the way that buses were operated, and effectively ended public control. Before then there had been a legal obligation on bus operators to provide adequate services, whilst any changes in routes or fares was subjected to scrutiny.

CHAOS – FOLLOWED BY CO-ORDINATION:

The immediate result of the legislation was chaos, when any old Tom, Dick or Harry who felt that he/she could run a bus service could buy up an old bus or two and put it on the road. In many parts of the country, timetables ceased to have any meaning. But then came a phase of co-ordination, with the big companies putting the privateers out of business. Within a short while Stagecoach and the “First Bus” groups established a virtual monopoly in their respective areas.

It should, though, be noted that for a while some well-established local operators (such as Soudley Valley Coaches, Cottrells, Willetts and – of courses – Bevans, continued to provide an adequate network of local services in the Forest – but over time they were put out of service or taken over. Now only Willetts and Bevan’s survive.

OFF THE RAILS:

What of the rail network that once served the Forest? Much of it survived the notorious “Beeching Report” (although there was a degree of shrinkage), but the old Forest and Wye network suffered a mortal blow with the destruction of the old Severn rail bridge in 1960. After a decade of inaction it was finally decided to demolish it in 1970.

When John Major came to power he decided to de-nationalise British Rail and carve up the remnants of the network into an overlapping patchwork of franchises. At the present time, our last remaining railway line is served by two passenger rail companies – Arriva and CrossCountry. Both are now owned by Deutsche Bahn (the German state railway) – although their franchises are up for renewal. So, as they say, watch this space!

CLARION REVIEW: KEIR HARDIE – Labour’s first leader

In A.Graham, Reviews on September 22, 2017 at 1:32 pm

“What would Keir Hardie say?” Edited by Pauline Bryan   and published by Luath Press Ltd, Edinburgh. ISBN 978-1-910745-15-1

Clarion Review by Alistair Graham


 

KeirHardieKeir Hardie can justifiably be seen as Labour’s first leader. He was one of those who helped to found the Independent Labour Party (ILP), in I893 – called “Independent” to distinguish itself from those who’d been elected to Parliament as “Lib-Lab” members – in other words who relied on Liberal support for their seats.

Hardie, who grew up in the Scots town of Cumnock, went on to be the first truly Labour MP in the Commons. He opposed the looming clouds of conflict in the years leading up to 1914 and spoke eloquently from anti-war platforms. But worn out with his efforts he died prematurely in 1915.

This book is a collection from contributors assessing Hardie’s record and his relevance to the politics of today – though as there’s been a over a century of change since his day I found it difficult in places to trace the connections. But there are, of course, common themes that run through the decades.

One of the contributors to the book is Jeremy Corbyn, today’s leader of the Labour Party. Others include fellow political activists and academics.

“A LEGACY FOR THE PEACE MOVEMENT”:

Corbyn sees Hardie’s work as a “legacy for the Peace movement”, and introduces his contribution with an account of the mass peace march in London, in February 2003 in which well over a million took part., to voice opposition to the invasion of Iraq. “It was the biggest ever demonstration in British history.” He goes on to look at the carnage of the First World War, and how it is remembered in his own constituency of Islington.

Another contributor is Melissa Benn – writing in the footsetps of her mother, Caroline Benn who produced a definitive “warts and all” biography of Hardie back in 1997. Melissa makes the point that Hardie had no love for Parliament. (And it’s worth adding, Parliament had no love for him). He saw his role more as an agitator. “Agitation was at the heart of three of the most significant movements of his lifetime – the representation of labour, the struggle for women’s suffrage and pacifism”.

Barry Winter, who has had a long connection with the ILP, remembers two old party members (no longer with us) who had memories of Hardie when he was alive. Bert Lea remembered Keir Hardie asking him to sell copies of the ILP paper, the Labour Leader, which he continued to do for the rest of his long life. And in Bradford. May Allinson was one of the children who performed for Hardie at an ILP concert in 1914. She gave a lifetime commitment to both the ILP and the Socialist Sunday School.

Barry’s contribution is in the main a historical account of the foundation of the ILP (at a special conference in Bradford) through the early years of its growth. Hardie saw the need to forge an alliance with the trade union movement which was then finding its feet. In 1899, the TUC voted to form “a Labour Representation Committee” (though not all unions backed it). Then, in 1906 this Committee transformed itself into the Labour Party, though it made slow progress in its early years.

“MORE THAN A CREED”:

A contribution by Richard Leonard describes Hardie as a “visionary” dedicated to the creation of a Socialist society.” He sees Hardie as a man guided by moral principles rather than by philosophical theorising.” He believed that the truths about Socialism were self-evident, rooted in ethical values and moral courage.

“Yet Hardie clearly understood the class-based nature of capitalist society and the need to appeal to workers as a class. He saw the value of the work of Marx and Engels, but he did not believe in following it rigidly. And Richard Leonard quotes from Hardie’s from Serfdom to Socialism “The economic object of Socialism is therefore to make land and industrial capital common property, and to cease to produce for the profit of the landlord and the capitalist and to begin to produce for the use of the community.”

Many I would hope, would see this as a good summary of their own beliefs when it comes to the transformation of society under Socialism.

HARDIE’S “WELSH ODYSSEY”:

During his Parliamentary career, Hardie represented two constituencies – first was West Ham, and then came Merthyr Tydfil. The account of his “Welsh Odyssey” is written by Owen Smith (MP for the neighbouring constituency of Pontypridd).

Smith starts his contribution with reminiscences of growing up amidst the slag heaps of South Wales, with his grandfather telling him of Keir Hardie campaigning from slag heaps when he gained the seat of Merthyr Boroughs in 1900. He “gave a hundred or more such ‘Cinder Hall’ sermons” before his election.

Hardie had lost his seat in West Ham five years earlier, which gave him some time to visit South Wales, and to build up a following for the ILP as well as for himself as a potential candidate. “This period cemented Hardie’s reputation as a standard bearer for the working class,” writes Owen Smith.

Despite Merthyr’s radical traditions, stretching back to the days of the Chartists, Hardie had his opponents. There was a strong Liberal tradition in the area, but there was also a strong conservative element amongst chapel goers. But Hardie was able to capitalise on the anti-war -feelings, stirred up by the Boer war, as well as his support for the miners in the struggle. He won, and was to represent Merthyr until his early death in 1915.

RELEVANCE TO TODAY:

Owen Smith then turns to the relevance of Hardie’s work to today. “How can a Queen’s Speech in 2015 call up the spectre of Taff Vale with its promise to curb the right to strike and break the democratic power of the trade unions?” He asks. “Perhaps Hardie would have been surprised that we still have so far to travel, and that such hard won progress can be halted with such ease.”

In such a rich collection of fact and comment in this book it’s only really possible to skim the surface in a review such as this. But I will finish with one more contribution – on Hardie’s roots in Cumnock, in Scotland.

HARDIE’S HOME TERRITORY:

Kier Hardie was an internationalist, but according to Cathie Jamieson, the Scots community of Cumnock in Ayrshire was always his home. It was where his family was raised, and where he always returned. And even today the town still remembers him in so many different ways

He and his wife Lillie arrived in Cumnock in 1979. He was then involved with the miners’ union in Lanarkshire.

It was in Cumnock that Hardie developed the political ideas that would shape the rest of his life. “The struggle of the miners he represented was fundamental to his work and his emerging political beliefs,” writes Kathie Jamieson. It was here that he realised that the Liberals would not deliver the kind of changes that the working class needed. He was soon backing a resolution put forward by the Ayrshire miners that “the time has come for the formation of a Labour Party in the House of Commons…”

Later he was to declare: “I am a Socialist, and until industry is organised on a co-operative basis, wherein men shall work, not to make profit, but to produce the necessaries of life for the community, the evils complained of will never be eradicated.”

OTHER BOOKS ON HARDIE:

There have, of course, been quite a few books written and published on the life and times of Kier Hardie. That’s only natural. But this volume is different. It sees his life from so many different angles, and though it contains numerous viewpoints, all are sympathetic to a man who, more than most, helped to create a movement that over the decades has helped to shape our society – and hopefully will continue to do so in years to come. If, of course, we remember the ideals that Hardie worked so hard for.

And it’s a compendium to be read from cover to cover – or just dipped into over a period of time.