Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Posts Tagged ‘Housing’

REVIEW: What’s important to us – “Get it together”, by Zoe Williams.

In S. Richardson on June 25, 2015 at 12:12 pm

Reviewed by SARAH RICHARDSON

Zoe Williams, a Guardian journalist, has written an interesting new book on current affairs. Its launch was timed to coincide with the run-up to the recent General Election, but it remains relevant in this era of a continued Tory administration.

The book is in the form of a collection of essays about social issues such as housing, education and health. The title given to each chapter is in the form of a controversial question – such as, “Was your education bog standard?” Her prose style is accessible and readable and she gives examples from personal experience. She reminds us that it is up to all of us to decide what we put a value on. For example, it is wrong that people who work with the very young (i.e. childminders) and the very old (health care assistants) are frequently paid less than the minimum wage. Are we saying that pensioners and under-fives are not important?

SHOCKING:

I was lucky enough to hear the author speak recently at a “Q and A” session at the Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green, London. She was lively and informed with strong personal politics. She was asked what in the book she felt most strongly about. She said that an area that she was particularly shocked about was the privatisation of children’s services and its implication for Child Protection.

She explained that in the past, Local Authorities were responsible for their own children’s homes. Now many of these have been sold off and run by private companies. When children are taken into care they could be sent hundreds of miles away from their school, community, friends and extended family. This made them more vulnerable and, she argued, made scandals such as the Rotherham child abuse ring more likely to happen with children left isolated from support.

“DO SOMETHING”:

In the final chapter, Williams argues that we need to get involved to change things, be this in a political party, trades union or single issue campaign. She reminds us that collective action is more likely to succeed and less likely to lead to demoralisation of the campaigner. “Do something” seems a good watchword to hold on to when things are as bleak as they are at the moment.

Don’t give up, find the thing you care most about and join a campaign group to support it.

S.R.

get_it_together

“Get It Together”, by Zoe Williams, is published by Hutchinson; 2015, at £14.99.

Clarion Comment: TOWARDS A PEOPLE’S MANIFESTO

In Editorial on March 5, 2015 at 7:26 pm
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Labour’s candidate for Parliament, Forest of Dean Labour’s Steve Parry-Hearn with Clarion Editorial Committee member Roger Drury at a vigil in Coleford to stop the destruction and killing of children and civillians in Syria in 2014.

The purpose of any manifesto produced by political parties at election time is to present to eager voters the range of policies that such parties pledge to carry out if they get elected. Any such manifesto is a sort of cross between a catalogue of promises and a showcase.

But of course political parties needn’t have a monopoly on manifestos. And, with this in mind, the Clarion is producing its own “wish list” that we would like to see in any manifesto put to the voters.

And we invite readers to join in. Our next Clarion will be out before the hustings in May, so let us know what policies are important to you.

Meanwhile, here’s some pointers towards the Clarion’s manifesto for the 2015 general election.

PUBLIC OWNERSHIP: We would campaign for a range of privatised services to be returned to public ownership and control. The private sector has failed us all (except for the shareholders!). Top of the list should surely be the railways (and other forms of public transport?), the energy industries, and of course the Royal Mail.

But we would press for forms of public ownership involving public participation by those who work in the industry or are involved in it – as appropriate. Public ownership should mean what it says!

CREATING A NON-NUCLEAR NATION: This means abandoning ALL nuclear weapons on British soil (including Trident of course), as well as nuclear energy – replacing this with “green” energy sources.

BRINGING OUR HEALTH SERVICE BACK INTO THE PUBLIC DOMAIN:  First, by reversing the privatisation of the NHS, and, second by re-creating such bodies as Community Health Councils to ensure local involvement in the Service.

HOMES FOR THE PEOPLE:  We desperately need to provide homes – and a return to a meaningful council house programme with full rent controls is a logical step. We need to turn away from a culture  of “moving up the housing ladder” to one based on ensuring homes for all who need them.

RESPECT FOR AND TOLERANCE TOWARDS IMMIGRANTS:  We reject prejudice, and it should go without saying that we oppose moves towards a “closed door” policy. We are, and have been for centuries, a nation of immigrants. It’s what enriches us as a people.

SHORTLIST:

This is, of course, merely a shortlist. It fails to cover a range of issues at this stage – including, importantly foreign affairs. Or, indeed, the need for an Alternative Economic Policy, based on public need rather than the strictures of austerity. And there’s also the need to bring sanity back to the education sector – for the sake of those growing up in an increasingly fractured culture.

As they have done in Greece, let’s work and vote for HOPE for a better future.

Clarionposter

NOT OUR MANIFESTO: We created and posted this image on our Clarion Facebook page; as at 5/3/15 it reached over 9,300 people, over 130 of which re-shared the image. Spread the word.

 

LEFT INSIDE: Just who ARE these Squeezed Middle ‘Strivers’?

In C.Spiby on March 14, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Hard-working voters, once referred to as the ‘squeezed middle’ are now ‘strivers’. It is these people who will be the battleground for the next General Election.

Labour sees these as ordinary working people. Indeed, Yvette Cooper outed them as at least 2.5million working women (affected by the latest Child Benefit cuts), while millionaires – mostly men – have had their tax bill cut. The true face of the Tories is revealed once again.

No one believes is something for nothing. But the latest round of benefit cuts doesn’t even make mathematical sense. For example, you could have two members of a household earning up to £49k each – totalling a household income of £98k – receiving no cuts at all, but the mother who stays at home to raise her children, while the father ‘strives’ at his £51k salary job will be hit by these new cuts.

What’s particularly galling, however, is the fact that low-paid mothers – as Ms Cooper points out – on just £12k a year will be some £1,700 worse off in the child’s first year.

Labour’s shadow cabinet are united in their distaste for misplaced cuts. Ed Balls said after the last budget ‘This Tory-led Government is standing up for the wrong people. While millionaires get a £3 billion tax cut, it is people who are already struggling to make ends meet – millions of middle and lower income families and pensioners – who are paying the price for this failure.’

That is the sound of OUR Labour.

And, clearly, this is not being ‘in it together’ as Messrs’ Cameron and Osborne would have us believe.

Tax cuts, especially for the rich and big business, are being funded by three-year real-term cuts in benefits for the poor, unemployed and single parents while energy, transport and banking sharks squeeze maximum profits out of millions of people whose wages, pensions and benefits are shrinking.

Osborne’s plan isn’t working: take energy supply. Ripping off ordinary working people merely creates greater profits for shareholders, not more demand, investment or jobs in the economy.

This is where Ed Miliband’s ‘One Nation’ Labour fits in. He sees a nation at risk of becoming two; a place where there’s a million young people out of work – the gap between the richest and everyone else getting wider and worse. That’s what he wants Labour to change.

But what does ‘One Nation’ Labour look like? Well there’s still another 18 months until the next election, so I think we should be forgiven for not having out complete manifesto drawn out at this early stage. After all, a week in politics is a long time.

Nevertheless Labour supporters can debate their vision for the future at www.yourbritain.org.uk – it’s the new Party policy hub. If you don’t get your views on it, then they won’t be heard, and you can’t help develop the 2015 manifesto. So spread the word and spread it loud.

What’s more, locally, it is time to get active. There is the County Council elections on 2nd May this year. We need to start the fight-back now, and remove any chance of UKIP’s minority views getting around the table of local and county politics as they sneak up on the reach of the Lib Dems, reeling from Clegg’s betrayal of Lib Dem principles.

Let’s remember this post-‘New Labour’ Labour wants a bank bonus tax to help pay for a youth jobs programme. It seeks a tax break for small firms taking on extra workers, plus a plan to build affordable homes and get people back to work. And, as I have written many times before, this Labour has also promised to repeal the awful Health & Social Care Bill which is destroying our NHS.
 

CARL SPIBY

ANALYSIS: “ALL IN THIS TOGETHER”?

In R.Richardson on March 13, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Do you think that the present Government’s policies make for greater inequality within our society? Most would surely answer with a resounding “yes”. But many might think that while the poorest are severely disadvantaged, the rich are sitting pretty.

But it’s not as simple as that, says Kate Pickett, professor of Epidemiology at the University of York. According to research which she undertook with Richard Wilkinson, inequality has a negative impact on a society as a whole. For example, imprisonment rates, homicide rates and mental illness are higher , and life expectancy and welfare provision are lower.

THE STATISTICS:

Here in the UK, the richest 20 per cent are seven times richer than the poorest 20 per cent, while in Sweden they are only four times richer. And, more worrying, in the Unicef index of child wellbeing measured against income equality, the UK ranked bottom amongst the wealthy countries.

Recent legislation regarding the one per cent cap on benefits has hit the headlines. This will affect the poorest families most and will include half of Britain’s working households. These cuts are particularly hard to stomach when one bears in mind the cut in top rate income tax from 50 to 45 per cent last year. There’s little chance that Cameron might emulate his French counterpart Francois Hollande in raising top-rate taxes to 70 per cent – thus going some way towards reducing inequality.

DISPERSING THE POOR:

A few weeks ago, Polly Toynbee wrote an article in the Guardian on how new legislation will affect homeless families. The cap on the rent allowance in a particular area means that local authorities have to look further afield for cheaper accommodation. Inner city areas look to the outer boroughs which in turn are squeezed. Families can end up being housed many miles away from their home borough. Children are taken away from schools and parents from their support network, where indeed their families may have lived for generations.

As Polly Toynbee points out, the richest areas are purged of all their poorer residents and so no longer bear the cost of providing for them. Thus the inequalities in our society are magnified.

THE MYTHS:

The present Government (aided by certain elements in the media) has attempted to win general support for its divisive policies by encouraging a few myths. The case of families housed in £100,000 a year mansions was one. It emerged that there were just five of these temporary oddities. Another myth set the “shirkers” against the “strivers” – with a clear implication that the unemployed didn’t want to work.

In fact government policies have hugely increased the number of long-term unemployed. And the benefits cap will hit half of Britain’s working families as well as those without jobs.

In addition, under-25s will no longer be eligible for housing benefit, thus forcing them to stay at home unable to seek jobs or apprenticeships elsewhere.

As Polly Toynbee says, “those born workless in Knowsley or Hull can never leave.” Are these young people to be labelled “shirkers”?

FACING THE FACTS:

In a recent “Face the Facts” programme on Radio 4, John Waite outlined the huge problems that boroughs in London and the Home Counties face. Although guidance recommends families should stay in emergency B&Bs for only six weeks, some are there for several months because of the difficulty in finding suitable accommodation even when councils look further afield.

Because of the 1980s sell-off of council houses the problem is of course exacerbated. And many families who formerly owned their own homes, unable to keep up mortgage repayments have been forced into rented accommodation. It really is a landlords’ market.

“FAIRNESS”??

John Waite asked for a comment from the Housing Minister, and was told: “Our reforms return fairness to a system that was allowed to spiral out of control.”

John Waite asked for a comment from the Housing Minister, and was told: “Our reforms return fairness to a system that was allowed to spiral out of control.”

As the cap on benefits – including tax credits and child benefit as well as housing benefit – begins to bite, the gap between the haves and the have-nots in our society grows ever wider.

By RUTH RICHARDSON

FRIENDS AND IMMIGRATION

In C.Spiby on November 15, 2012 at 1:40 pm

THE LEFT INSIDE COLUMN by C. Spiby

So, we have a re-shuffle in the ConDem government.

What does this mean to us locally?

On the face of it not much. In reality numerous mainstream media pundits see the changes as a move further to the right.

That means a consolidation of the awful Tory policies of cuts, cuts and cuts. Oh, and increasing private influence and profit on everything from schools to hospitals.

For his part Mark Harper MP has been promoted to the Ministry of State at the Home Office, taking over from Damian Green as minister for Immigration. Surely what that means for us, in the Dean, is even less representation in the House, as his Parliamentary career portfolio increases in importance and workload.

To start with an aside, it is my personal belief that the when a minister wins a portfolio, then either the second-place local candidate at the last election is assigned as constituency representative, or – even better – each Party also stand a reserve during the General Election: one to act as Parliamentary MP for the constituency in the House of Commons, the other to get on with the business of Government should they be selected. This latter idea might even help the media to focus on Party policy, not personality. But these are whims of fancy of my own.

Back to Harper. Our beloved Minister used to be listed as a member of the right-wing Freedom Association but matching his ascendency in Government is the removal of his name as a cited supporter of the pressure group’s website. Their 7 principles don’t directly target immigration, but they put all the other traditional Tory policies right at their heart. We might perhaps characterise those policies as rampant self-preservation.

But, the Tories yell, net migration is down [1]. Hurrah! Cry Daily Mail readers and the EDL. And I guess at least the Government is consistent on one thing: its attack on the poorest. By removing and reducing benefit to even those previously denied their role in society on medical grounds, the only jobs left in a recession will be exactly those low-paid, temporary jobs that previously could only be filled by workers from Eastern Europe. If those workers are denied access, then, great! The workforce the government feel is ripe to pick up the shortfall in labour will be those very same poor devils they’ve got the media to class universally as ‘benefit scroungers’. They will be forced to work in what pretty much amounts to near-slave-labour rates in the kind of poor working conditions we thought we got rid of in the Edwardian era, thanks to the Trade Union and labour movements.

Of course it will only be ‘benefit cheats’ and the ‘hoodies’ Cameron previously urged us to hug who will be doing that low paid work, not the tax cheats like investment bankers who brokered this worldwide economic downturn.

However, even immigration – which has to be the golden chalice of the right – is bungled by this lot. There’s been a 30% drop in student visas [2] to June this year, and even cases of forcing foreign students back from where they came before their courses have finished. In a climate of highest-ever fees for students yet reduced government funding for education, this Government is struggling to handle even its most prized policy. Perhaps Harper’s ability to dress up saving us from the selling-off of our Forests as something he did in the corridors of power has proven the skills necessary to navigate the morally tricky world of immigration control.

And what of Labour? Well, Chris Bryant MP who holds the shadow post of Harper states clearly: “Rather than preventing legitimate students our economy needs, the Government should focus on the worsening illegal immigration situation. We need to reverse the fall in deportation of those who break the rules, and the rise in people absconding through immigration controls.” [3]

But, despite his new role to protect this island from the invading hordes of scroungers, Mark cares a lot about our foreign friends. Well, he does if they come from Israel.

Harper is a member of the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI), a position he shares with some 80% of fellow Tory MP’s [4]. CFI is one of the most dynamic lobby groups in Parliament. While the Arab world is in revolutionary turmoil, where neighbouring countries take the brunt of conflicts such as that in Syria, housing hundreds of thousands of families fleeing brutal murder, Mark and his friends are primarily concerned with keeping low paid jobs for low-paid British workers. The CFI lobby for their part is primarily concerned about business deals with friends like Israel, especially in the arms trade. For example, Israel and the UK have been working on a joint drone project for a number of years. Some of these were used on the 2008/09 drone attacks on Gaza.

Carl Spiby

[1] http://www.conservatives.com/News/News_stories/2012/08/Damian_Green_welcomes_figures_that_demonstrate_a_fall_in_net_migration.aspx

[2] ibid.

[3] http://www.labour.org.uk/worsening-illegal-immigration

[4] Dispatches: Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby, Channel 4, Monday 16 November 2009

FOCUS ON IMMIGRATION

In R.Richardson on March 5, 2012 at 1:09 pm

The Truth behind the headlines: 

RUTH RICHARDSON examines the rival claims on the impact of immigration on jobs,

On January 10, headlines in the “i” newspaper read “Immigration has no impact on employment”. The following day the Daily Express’s front page declared “Migrants do take British jobs.” Even allowing for the different political perspectives of the respective newspapers, this seems a contradiction too far.

What confused the issue was that there have been two recent reports on immigration that appear to be in conflict on whether there is an association between inward migration and rising unemployment. The report by MAC (the Migration Advisory Committee) seems to suggest such an association. But to quote MAC’s chair, David Metcalf, “there is some displacement but it isn’t huge, and it doesn’t happen in buoyant economic times.” Moreover, evidence of competition for jobs is confined to the skilled sectors, which suggests that immigration is not a factor in the recent rise in youth unemployment.

The other report, by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) concludes that immigration has had little or no impact on employment.

DIFFERENCE IN DATA:

So, why the difference? Mainly, says MRN (Migrant Rights Network), the two reports used different data sets. The MAC report used labour force survey material which extends across all eleven regions of the UK. The NIESR on the other hand used data from National Insurance number registrations, which provides more detailed material on people moving to the UK to work. This methodology enabled researchers to look in detail at smaller areas, giving their study more focus and accuracy.

The MAC report points out that there are many more aspects to immigration than the impact on the jobs market. In devising an immigration policy the Government needs to be clear on whose needs and interests are being prioritised. The well-being of the resident population in terms of public finances, housing and transport should be the focus, says MAC chair, David Metcalfe.

RESEARCH – AND BIAS:

Both the MAC and the NIESR are respectable research bodies which seek to present their findings accurately and without bias. However, in searching the internet for background to this story, I came across the website of Migration Watch. Set up about ten years ago, this organisation sees itself as a watchdog to guard against the UK being “swamped by immigrants”. Visitors to the website are invited to sign an e-petition to keep the UK population below 70 million. I found particularly unpleasant a section called “reports” which contains short news stories concerning anything that shows an immigrant in a poor light. Daily Express readers will find all their prejudices confirmed here!

Immigration Minister, Damien Green, says “this Government is working to reduce net migration… controlled immigration can bring benefits to the UK, but uncontrolled immigration can put pressure on public services, on infrastructures and on community relations.”

SAD:

Personally I find it sad that it is taken for granted that any immigration policy we devise should only be for the benefit of the UK. Surely as one of the richer countries in the world (even in these straitened times) we could see it as our duty as citizens of the world to welcome those who need a haven. Economic migrants are not evil. They simply want a better chance in life for their families. Don’t we all?

I found the stories behind the headlines of the Express and the “i”  quite complicated and the reports needed careful reading. But it was a salutory lesson in how facts can be plucked from their contexts to give credence to a pre-determined view.

“HOME SWEET HOME”?

In R.Richardson on December 14, 2011 at 4:27 pm

In a capitalist society, “markets” decide what kind of homes (if any) are available to us. Surely there must be a fairer way? RUTH RICHARDSON looks at the options.

We usually associate vast areas of tents with short-term solutions to natural disasters. But in the USA, where more than five million homes have been repossessed in the last five years, tent cities have sprung up around conurbations which house millions of homeless people.

An article in a recent issue of Red Pepper magazine by Stuart Hodkinson argues that in Britain “all the elements of a perfect storm are gathering in the wider housing system”. In the five years to 2009 repossessions in the UK had increased eight-fold, to 48,000. For many people, repossession of their home means a worsening credit rating, so that getting back on to the housing ladder is difficult. The Government’s homeowner support scheme (giving support for up to two years to those facing a loss of income) was closed down in April.

SLUMP IN NEW HOMES: Since 2006 house building completions have slumped to their lowest level in 90 years. Although house prices have fallen by 25 per cent in the last three years, for most first-time buyers on an average income, owning their own home remains an impossible

dream. The days of 100 per cent mortgages are well and truly over. The average house price (currently £226,648) would need a £60,000 deposit and a salary of £56,000 plus.

What about renting? The local authority waiting lists have doubled since 1997 to around five million. And increased demand for private rented accomodation has caused rents to rise considerably.

Stuart Hodkinson’s article gives a historical perspective to the current situation. Engels, 140 years ago, wrote that sub-standard housing for many with, periodically, a wider crisis is endemic to capitalism. Council house provision gained ground from the beginning of the last century. A mixed economy of public and private home-building (with priority given to council housing in the years immediately after the war) helped to mitigate the boom-bust cycles since the early 1970s . But the reluctant withdrawal of local authorities from house building has increased the instability of the housing market.

BURSTING THE BUBBLE: Thatcher’s policy of “popular capitalism” encouraged us all to aspire to home ownership. The combination of extravagant lending, speculation and most significantly the financial commodification of housing drove the market higher and higher. All this was sustainable only so long as house prises continued to rise. But finally the bubble has burst.

New Labour followed the privatisation agenda. At present, under Ed Miliband, the Labour Party is conducting a “housing policy review”, but this will most likely continue to promote home ownership and a market-dominated approach to the provision of affordable housing.

There is an urgent need for resistance to the coalition’s current housing policy. A number of pressure groups such as “Defend Council Housing” and “London Coalition Against Poverty” have been set up, but mobilising mass resistance is very difficult. An additional source of affordable housing might be co-operative housing schemes, particularly the establishment of community land trusts (CLTs). The CLT would own the freehold, and thus stop speculative and inflationary forces driving up property prices and rents. It’s doubtful though whether CLTs can make more than a marginal difference to the current situation.

RADICAL RE-THINK: Stuart Hodkinson calls for a radical re-think in our housing policy, including a moratorium on all repossessions, compulsory purchases and benefit cuts, stronger rent controls and the refurbishment of existing council house stock. Homeowners could be encouraged to sell their homes to a new housing co-op, swapping their mortgages for rents that build up an equity stake within the housing co-op.

Two core attributes might assure the success of such a movement, he suggests. Firstly, the movement would bring together public and private tenants, homeowners and the homeless, around a shared agenda – the provision of decent quality affordable housing for all. And people would gain a degree of security against eviction and repossession.

Significantly, Hodkinson sees these proposals as a step towards ending capitalism completely in our country. Some may think that a claim too far. It also seems to side-step the urgent (and perhaps immediate) need for a new generation of local authority homes providing security of tenure for tenants.

But events in the worlds of housing, finance and employment over recent years indicate the need for effective controls over the capitalist forces that dominate our lives.

WHERE NEXT FOR LABOUR?

In T. Chinnick on December 6, 2011 at 3:41 pm

asks TYLER CHINNICK

Over the past year, the Labour Party has been inviting people, members and non-members alike, to give their ideas for the future direction of the Party.

New Labour always held that any move to the left would make the party “less electable”. But there are many policies to the left of current orthodoxy that I think would make the Party more, not less, electable. Here are some of them.

MPs should receive the national average  wage.

Failing this, their earnings should be linked to the minimum wage. Politicians, when they are elected, lose touch with the hardships of life as most people live it. Earning a national average wage would make MPs much more aware of life as we live it, and thus more able to represent our interests.

Re-nationalise the railways.

A “yougov” poll conducted in 2009 showed 70 per cent support for re-nationalisation. It would not only be popular, it would also save us money. We’ve spent nearly four times the amount subsidising private industries than we ever gave to the industry when it was in public hands.

Bring NHS cleaning services back under public control.

There is a clear correlation between those hospitals where the cleaning staff are contracted out and high rates of MRSA. And end the ludicrous charade of PFI/PPP. As far as I’m aware, the only other political leader to try the “buy now pay much later” approach was Mussolini. I don’t think we should be following his example!

Introduce a “Robin Hood” tax.  

Charged at a measly quarter of a per cent on those financial transactions that do not involve the public, this would raise an estimated £100 to £200 billion. This is fair, practical and popular, and is supported by many mainstream figures.

Scrap Trident.

It’s a “deterrent” designed for the Cold War and has no relevance today. We’re told that the main threat we face to our national security is from global terrorism, against which Trident is useless.

Crack down on tax avoidance and evasion.

It’s not impossible, as the Tories claim – and it has overwhelming public support. Tax havens should face a cooling of political, diplomatic and trade relations. It they continue to act as they do, they should receive the same kind of treatment as other rogue states, such as sanctions or freezing of assets.

Keep the Royal Mail public.

Privatisation will inevitably lead to a massive deterioration in the service and won’t save us money.

A referendum on the EU.

The European Union is undemocratic and enforces the same neo-liberal market orthodoxy that has ruined so many western countries in recent years. In the early days of the EEC, it was Labour who were most vocal in opposition. Now the only criticism we hear comes from the Right and is usually accompanied by scarcely concealed xenophobia.

Build more Council Houses.

The building sector was hard hit by the recession and there is a massive need for affordable housing. Why not kill two birds with one stone? Before the last election there were even some Tories talking about the need for more social housing. And when the Tories say we need more council houses, then you know we need more council houses!

Scrap university tuition fees and reinstate the EMA.

Or, at the very least, reduce them. Education is a right, not a privilege. Labour should become a party for young people once again.

Electoral reform.

The fact that in the 21st century, half our government is unelected is outrageous. The House of Lords needs to be democratically elected (preferably by PR) – or abolished altogether.

A new Green deal.

Ed Balls in an interview with the CWU paper Voice said that the road to recovery was through Keynesian economics. What better way to resurrect the economy than by embarking on a massive building project to create the energy of tomorrow? This could be partly funded by ending subsidies to the arms industry. It’s the most heavily subsidised industry in Britain costing taxpayers £851.91 million a year. It’s obscene that so much is spent on creating devices of torture and death when it could be spent on green energy.

Make public services more democratic.

Why shouldn’t workers in the public sector who know their industries have a say in who runs the service and how? Nurses, teachers and many other public sector workers have a huge wealth of knowledge that currently goes untapped.

An ethical foreign policy.

Which would involve: withdrawing support from regimes such as Saudi Arabia (whilst possibly ending our dependency on oil). Ending complicity in torture, and not invading countries which do not threaten us.

Reforming the media.

The media have made it perfectly clear over recent years that they are unable to regulate themselves. The Press Complaints Commission therefore needs to be independent of the industry, and made much stronger – with real sanctions, particularly fines, which they are unafraid to use. A law such as “one man, one newspaper”, or a ban on foreign ownership of British media should be introduced. The kind of monopolies that exist in the media world today not only endanger free speech and democracy, but also inevitably lead to heinous abuse.

Just a few of these policies would be enough to secure a Labour victory at the next election, and they would all, without exception, have an enormously positive effect.

MOBILISING THE CAMPAIGN AGAINST THE CUTS

In A.Graham, C.Spiby on February 21, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Report by CARL SPIBY (with additional notes by Alistair Graham)

A meeting of the Monmouth and Forest of Dean SOS (“Save Our Services”) anti-cuts campaign has won the endorsement of comedian, broadcaster and Independent columnist, Mark Steel.

The campaign seeks to confront the myths promoted by the coalition Government to justify raising VAT whilst cutting public services and jobs. Mark Steel will be sending tickets to his show in Hereford to help with the campaign’s fund-raising.

The meeting, at Monmouth’s Queen’s Hotel, saw the former Labour Party candidate, Hamish Sanderson, raising his own concerns over the deep public sector cuts. Also present were local activists, members of the Forest & Wye Clarion editorial committee, pensioners’ groups and the public.

Unison‘s Peter Short presented a compelling picture of how the scale of the UK’s debt was actually lower now than it was at the end of the war, when the NHS was created. The scale of our deficit had been deliberately distorted by the right-wing press and politicians.

WOMEN AND THE POOR TO SUFFER:

He was followed by Jeremy Gass (from Abergavenny SOS), who gave a description of what the cuts really meant for those at the poorest end of the income scale. As well as job losses in the public sector, there are forecasts of increasing child poverty, cuts in housing benefits, welfare benefits, local government services, and legal aid (in other words, access to justice). And the cuts will fall disproportionately on women.

AN ALTERNATIVE:

Finally, Dominic McAskill, a co-ordinator for UNISON in Wales, presented the case for an alternative policy to that of the Tory-led coalition Government. Two years ago, he reminded us, we had faced a crisis in capitalism, resulting in the debt crisis, and the bailing out of the banks.

The cry had gone out that we had to ensure that it did not happen again. Banks had to be regulated and dodgy practices curtailed. But today such calls have largely disappeared. Under the present Government, it’s not the bankers who are being threatened – it’s the very structure of the welfare state.

Amongst alternative policies put forward by Dominic McAskill was for a new tax on the rich and super-rich (a so-called “Robin Hood Tax“). After all, it had been their crisis that had led to the bail-out in the first place. Now we face a new round of super-bonuses for bankers (£7 billion this year alone). All this Government has done is “nationalise” the debt, placing the burden on ordinary people.

“If we do nothing, we’re not only selling out ourselves but selling out generations to come. Our whole welfare state is under threat,” he concluded.

BUILDING THE CAMPAIGN:

The campaign in Monmouth and the Forest of Dean is aiming to build support for those campaigning against the cuts, including those who who are working to save the library service in the Forest. Hopefully this will include coaches for those who want to attend the “Anti-Cuts” march and rally in London on March 26.

No Guardian Angels

In A.Graham, Reviews on August 10, 2010 at 2:52 pm

‘Britain’s Everyday Heroes’ by Gordon Brown

Non-fiction/society/charity & government review by A. Graham

Those folk who unsparingly involve themselves in community work play an important part in our society. They often give of their time unstintingly, for little or no reward. And perhaps their role today is even more important than it was, as decades of Thatcherite and “New Labour” policies lead to the unravelling of the social fabric.

This book consists of thirty profiles of individuals who have committed themselves to trying to plug the holes that are appearing in our communities. There are those who work with alienated youngsters, some trying to deal with the social problems of inner city areas, others working with immigrants and carers. And there is one on the man who worked hard to make Garstang, in Lancashire, Britain’s first “fairtrade” town.

There is also an introduction, together with some linking pieces, in which Gordon Brown outlines his own “vision” – and how these “everyday heroes” fit in with it.

And it’s here that I begin to feel distinctly uncomfortable. “The values that matter for a good society – individuals doing their duty, communities coming together and a supportive government playing its part – are familiar to me,” he writes. I may be accused of quoting out of context here, but it does seem to me to beg a number of questions. First, what does he mean by “individuals doing their duty”? Duty to whom or what? And doesn’t his vision of society have any place for the rebel with a cause? And what’s this about a “supportive” government? Is it the role of government merely to be supportive? Who, after all, supplies the fabric that holds our society together?

It has been suggested that this book may well be an indication of how Brown will be approaching the social agenda. It’s a view of our society held together by a network of responsible citizens, all giving time and energy to the betterment of the less fortunate or the alienated in our midst.

To me it smacks of that Hollywood masterpiece, It’s a Wonderful Life, in which James Stewart, almost single handedly, makes his community a fit place to live in – despite the evil machinations of the local developer and entrepreneur, Mr Potter.

I always enjoy the film when it appears on our TV screen at Christmas time. It’s the classic US view of the “little man” winning the day. Sadly, though, there are no guardian angels, and in reality the Potters of this world would have won out – and indeed might well have been taken on board as advisors to Brown’s Cabinet, where they could lecture us all on “wealth creation”.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to knock those whose life and work is described in this book. They are all dedicated, committed folk who give a lot. As things stand, we may well need them. But there’s no way that we should come to rely on them.

Indeed, wouldn’t it be preferable if we had the kind of society that didn’t need the kind of remedial work that they undertake? And in the meantime, isn’t there also a need for the rebels, the “awkward squad” who are prepared to campaign for the betterment of our society as a whole?

Price £10.99p, from Community Links. ISBN 97845963071.