Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Posts Tagged ‘Immigration’


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The brutal Indifference of Deportation

And it’s happening on May’s watch

from a Clarion correspondent

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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



MODERN TIMES: the Dinosaur column

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

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

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


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


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

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



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

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

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


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


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

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


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


MODERN TIMES: The Dinosaur column

In Dinosaur on September 2, 2015 at 12:47 pm


Iain Duncan Smith, whose day job is Minister for Work and Pensions, has come up with a dastardly wheeze for eliminating away with child poverty.

That’s a good idea, you might think. Well, no, not exactly. He’s planning new legislation to do away with the official criteria that allows us to define where child poverty exists. So, effectively, we may know that there’s a lot of it about but we’ll no longer be able to prove it to the satisfaction of government officials.

True, he’s come up with a new scale – but it’s got nothing to do with how much income the child’s family has, despite the old saying that money makes the world go round. Instead it’s focused on factors that are more peripheral, such as the child’s level of educational achievement, unemployment in the family, and addiction (whatever that may mean). All these might be the effects of poverty but they don’t necessarily tell us that it exists in financial terms.

Talking in strange tongues?

As I was strolling around our local Co-op the other day I paused to glance at the headlines on the newspaper stand. As you do.

The somewhat xenophobic Daily Express had as its headline, “311 LANGUAGES SPOKEN IN OUR SCHOOLS”. Its subhead stated that there are “Classrooms where English is starting to die out.”

Oh dearie me, I thought. Now some folk might think that such news is a sign that our society is becoming much more multicultural. But I doubt if that’s the sort of spin that the average Express reader would put on it.

I didn’t read the actual article in full, I must admit. That would have involved buying the paper. But it does pose questions, though. Which language does the teacher use to address the class, for example? It could be anything from Aramaic to Yiddish, I suppose. But I somehow suspect it’ll be standard English – which in turn these multi-tongued children would learn too.

I also wondered whether these 311 languages might have included such indigenous tongues as Welsh, Gaelic or even (these days) Cornish?

If so, I have a tip for any Express readers who might be reading this. There was a time when determined attempts were made in Highland classrooms to teach Gaelic speaking youngsters the error of their ways. If any pupils were caught speaking Gaelic in class they were handed a piece of wood called a “torse”. He/she would then hand it on to the next pupil caught speaking their native tongue – and so on.

At the end of the school day the youngster who had the torse was brought out to the front, given a sound beating and told to pass the piece of wood back to the offender he’d got it from , and so on down the line.

Fortunately we now live in more enlightened times, and children no longer have their native language beaten out of them.

Just coasting:

As an ageing dinosaur I’ve always felt that “coasting” was a good thing to do. Just coasting along, with time to appreciate the better things in life, Catch up with a good book or think about life, the universe and everything. After all, is this life so full of care that we have no time to stand and stare?

But not when it comes to schools, it seems. Schools don’t just “fail” according to official criteria. If they’re seen to be “coasting” they’re just as bad.

Now, it seems that three out of four academy chains have been found to be “coasting”. Tut tut! What are we to do about them, I wonder.

And another thing. I know that our public schools, such as Eton, Rugby or Harrow aren’t technically “public” at all. They’re really puffed up private schools. But haven’t they been “coasting” (albeit with a certain amount of complacency) over the years? I know they bask in their traditions, offer an upper class education that’s forced to change with the times – but they’re still “coasting” in my book.



In Editorial on March 5, 2015 at 7:26 pm

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.


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.


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.


CLARION COMMENT: Taking bets on the General Election?

In Editorial on January 30, 2015 at 12:46 pm

Nearer and nearer draws the time when we’ll be back to our nearest polling booths to cast our votes. The next General Election is now a matter of months away – a thought that should be enough to focus the mind of anyone involved in politics.  It’s time to sort out our policies, to set out our stalls, and begin campaigning in earnest.

Not so long ago, Labour supporters in our midst might well have been fairly confident that victory was heading their way. It seemed to be almost inevitable. Labour had been consistently ahead in the polls, the Tories were becoming increasingly unpopular – and as for the Liberal Democrats, what can we say that’s printable?  Their ill-starred alliance with the Tories in the ConDem austerity Government has left them with plunging support. Optimistically,  they may be lucky to hang on to about half their present tally of seats.

But a couple of months in politics can be a long time – particularly if you’re a Labour supporter. Since the Scottish referendum there’s been an unexpected surge in support for the SNP which poses a real threat to Labour in its heartland north of the border. Indeed some of our gloomier poll pundits suggest that Labour seats in Scotland could go down like ninepins.


There’s also been the rise in support for UKIP, resulting in that party gaining its first toehold in Parliament.  Whilst theoretically UKIP’s surge in the polls  should be damaging the Tories most, results so far suggest that the “kippers” are capable of eating into Labour’s support as well.  These latter-day Poujardists* are basically populists whose policies are little more than (often inconsistent) slogans. And for many voters, there is sadly a gut appeal to the anti-immigrant, anti-Europe message.


It’s not just UKIP that’s been enjoying increasing support. The Green Party is now level-pegging with the Liberal Democrats in the opinion polls. Indeed, if the Greens fail to win more seats it will only be because of the distortions produced by our electoral system.  Here we have a party that could be considered to the left of Labour on many of its policies.  It’s not just on its basic “green” appeal, though such issues must be considered important. On a wider platform, the party opposes the austerity packages endorsed by the three main parties. And it does believe in public ownership where appropriate (such as the railways, for example).

This increase in support for what were once considered to be “fringe” parties suggests that old political loyalties are breaking down.  We can’t make the same assumptions about the way the electorate might vote. Or, indeed, which party is most likely to be in a position to form the next government. Which raises the question,  are we likely to see another coalition in power after the election (though, hopefully, one of a different hue)?

Finally, it’s difficult to predict at this stage how far the controversy over the performance of Labour’s leader might affect the party’s showing in the polls. The issues involved are covered elsewhere in this issue – but, to put it briefly, in November the media was highlighting the suggestion that dissatisfaction with Ed Miliband’s leadership was provoking moves within the party to replace him with a new pair of hands. How far this was based on mere media speculation is still hard to tell.

But as we said earlier, a couple of months in politics is a long time. And it’s rather longer than that before we go to the polls in May.  As for those of us in the Forest, most of us surely will be campaigning to replace Mark Harper with an MP who will stand up for our interests and those of the community in which we live.  And for many of us, the choice will have to be Steve Parry– Hearn, our Labour candidate.

* Postscript: “Poujardist” was the term coined to describe supporters of French politician, Pierre Poujard, who, in the 1950s, founded an “anti tax” party, which had particular appeal amongst small shopkeepers, merchants and farmers. In 1956 it gained 51 seats in the French Assembly. It went on to become increasingly xenophobic, appealing particularly to voters who had a nostalgic view of what they saw as “the good old days”.

By the mid ‘sixties the “Poujardists” as an organised force had faded. But one young member who’d been elected to the French Assembly on the Poujard ticket was Le Pen – who went on to found the right-wing Front National.


In Guest Feature, O. Adams on May 2, 2013 at 12:31 pm

NEVER again – I can recall the words emblazoned against images of concentration camps and other Nazi atrocities from my school history lessons. Our minds boggled at how the majority of any population could put up with such tyranny and colluded in it: well now, in 2013, I think I understand.

Through a mixture of propaganda and the credible threat of being pushed into the same position if we dare blow a whistle and speak up against cruelty or even show sympathy – the poorest people in British society are being marginalised, demonised, abandoned with zero funds and left to trawl food skips, beg or try their luck at food banks. People with disabilities, mental illness and terminal cancers are being judged unworthy of any social security or welfare.

Campaigners have alleged 50 people a week are dying despite or as a result of being judged fit to work by ATOS, and a Guardian investigation discovered 680,000 people between January and October 2012 had their benefits “sanctioned”, that is, stopped altogether. Jobcentre staff are facing threatening performance reviews from their DWP managers with the threat of dismissal if they don’t plunge enough people into absolute poverty.

These Jobcentre employees are surely aware that, according to figures from 2010 (probably worse now), that on average 23 people are chasing one job, with the ratio rising when it comes to skilled work. If they don’t pull their finger out and do the evil deed, they themselves will face the same nightmare.

Instead of receiving sympathy and empathy the jobless are seen as somehow less than human, with ever more indignities, abuse and insults piled on them.

Despite policies that call for the wholesale privatisation of the NHS, nuclear rearmament, a ban on climate-change education, a doubling of prison places, and measures amounting to the establishment of a military state, media reports tell us UKIP’s support is soaring.

So as the nation apparently swings further to the right, now we have all but 40 of Labour’s MPs, at the orders of Liam Byrne and Ed Miliband, sitting on their hands as the Government forces through legislation to negate a High Court judgement brought by two plucky workfare victims. The judge found their forcible work terms at Poundland wrong but to avoid paying half-a-million fellow workfare victims compensation – instead parliament in concert has set a dangerous precedent for retrospective legislation.

Yet another punitive measure to be visited on the poorest is the Bedroom Tax – forcing social tenants to pay up to 25% of their rent if they are deemed to be “under-occupying” their house. Rather than exposing from the rooftops the screaming hypocrisy of a cabinet of millionaires forcing the most skint to pick up the tab for their casino-capitalism misadventures, we instead have witnessed bun-fights between different elements of the left, accusing each other of hypocrisy and sabotage.

Grassroots campaigners in Merseyside felt sidelined by a new Labour Against the Bedroom Tax initiative which sprang up after they’d been fighting for months – ironic as Brown’s government introduced it for private tenants in 2008. A large rally in Liverpool was spoilt with brawls between left campaigners attempting to expel known fascist troublemakers from their midst; Labour Party stewards protected the fascists. Meanwhile, in Manchester, a Revolutionary Communist Party supporter faced off “Labour hypocrites” with a megaphone, leading to ugly scenes. Those non-politically aligned could only look on in bemusement.

As protests were held in more than 50 cities, many subjects of the bedroom tax were instead logged on to Facebook, content to blame immigrants rather than politicians – rumours of conspiracies to get “our own” out of their homes to make way for a new wave of foreigners abounded: no matter that official statistics show that immigrants who will work incredibly hard for less than minimum wage and are so attractive to exploitative employers, are very rarely able to get social housing. Asylum seekers are entitled to less than £40 per week and not allowed to work.

By the time this is published, the Forest Anti-Bedroom Tax Action Group (FABTAG) will have launched its first action – a pyjama party in the Coleford district council offices, with a demand FODDC follows the example of Scottish and Brighton councils in guaranteeing no one will be evicted due to inability to pay bedroom tax. FABTAG hopes not to be deterred by inter-left battles; nor does the new People’s Assembly beginning on June 22, and promoted by Tony Benn’s Coalition of Resistance and Independent journalist Owen Jones, among other prominent left faces.

While the far-right-wing, propelled by the Daily Mail and Sun, is gaining strength, many on the left are waiting for a movement to take up cudgels and fight on our behalf. I’d conclude by saying there’s no time to waste waiting for a saviour, and we all need to get stuck in and fight this class war and stop this cruel, fascistic tide from enveloping us all. That means leaving our particular hats – be they Labour-left, Socialist Party, Green or anarchist – at the door and getting stuck in fighting the common foe: capitalism and the ruling class. Fascism? Never again!

CLARION COMMENT: Osborne’s budget – and beyond

In A.Graham, Editorial on April 26, 2013 at 12:32 pm

George Osborne described his Spring budget, released on March 20, as a “budget for an aspirational nation“.

It contained nothing for those who have little to aspire to – except of course, security, perhaps a job and a decent home. Although he didn’t spell it out this time, his budget was aimed squarely at those he’d previously termed the “strivers”. Those who have a comfortable job, can make choices in their lives, and maybe would also like a second home to retreat to occasionally.

It wasn’t even a budget capable of kick-starting our flagging economy. We’re still heading for a “triple-dip” recession (though such economic terms mean little to those who’ve been suffering from an increasing squeeze on their living standards ever since the present government took office). It’s been a long time since the difference in living standards between the “haves and have-nots” has been so marked. And for those who struggle just to get by, there are yet more cuts to social welfare in the pipe line.

Of course as we all know, the difference between those who are labelled as “strivers” and those who are seen as “scroungers” is clear cut. The “strivers” still have security and reasonably paid employment. The “scroungers” are those who’ve lost their jobs (or in the case of many young people, have failed to gain employment at all), and have to live on the margins. And their number is growing.


The bits in the budget that the right-wing press really liked were the penny off the pint of beer, the freezing of excise duty and the offer of help to buyers of new-build houses. But how much of that is available to the millions who live outside Osborne’s notion of society? They are still there, on the outside looking in.

As many social commentators have pointed out, any society marked by a growing gulf between rich and poor, where the very rich get even richer whilst the poor sink deeper into poverty, is a “dysfunctional society”. Or as we’d phrase it, a very sick society. But that is what is being created by the economic policies of this Government.

To quote from The Observer (24th March), “Mr. Osborne… crafted a set of measures that will make it increasingly difficult for those in the bottom third of society to manage income, housing, employment and childcare. Favoured are those already several several rungs up the ladder, and high earners”. As the chief executive of Citizens Advice declares, “the lowest paid, part-time working parents, won’t benefit, whilst some wealthy parents earning eight times the minimum wage will.”


Yet, whilst Cameron, Osborne (and Clegg?) remain at the helm, there seems to be no let up. Their stated aim of sorting out the economy is failing. Growth forecasts have had to be scaled down to the point where they’re in danger of disappearing altogether. Only a few months ago, the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast that the UK economy would grow by 1.2 per cent this year. That’s now been revised down to just 0.6 per cent. For the past three years, growth forecasts have had to be scaled down, as the economy stagnates. All that Osborne could say was “it’s taking longer than anyone hoped.”

We’re not even cutting the deficit, which, we’re told, is what this is all about. Indeed, the Government is going to have to borrow even more this year.

This means, of course, more cuts for us all. The Government’s spending review for the years ahead suggest a further £11.5 billion, on top of those already implemented or in the pipeline.

And it seems there is also talk about introducing a cap on all welfare benefits – what’s been labelled AME (or annually managed expenditure). Basically what this means is that there will only be a set amount in the welfare pot. If the number of claimants, and their needs, grows, their benefits will shrink – making it even more difficult for them to make ends meet.


As for Osborne’s cunning wheeze to help home seekers to b houses, this would only affect those who can afford a mortgage anyway. Meanwhile it’s estimated that a family is currently made homeless every 15 minutes – either because they can’t keep up with mortgage repayments or the rent on their homes. For those in such desperate straits, Osborne’s ploy is just a mockery.

So what happened to the old slogan, “from each according to their means, to each according to their needs”? Under this Government it’s become more a case of another old slogan: “to those that have shall be given, from those that have not, so shall it be taken away.”

If we want evidence that this really is a nasty government led by an extremely nasty party, we only have to look at Osborne’s budget, and his programme for further cuts.

From our point of view, it can only be seen as a class budget, aimed at improving the lot of those that today’s Tories represent, at the expense of the rest of us. Of course, Osborne may simply be suffering from myopia (necessitating a visit to Specsavers to widen his field of vision). But we fear that it will need more than that.

A change of government and a change of outlook are urgently needed. And by the time we reach the next election, in 2015, the damage done to our society, and to the victims of Tory policies, will be even greater.

That’s why it’s vital that we all keep up the campaigning, to ensure we don’t lose sight of all that needs to be done after the election.


IMMIGRATION: and the ugly face of racialism

It seems that they’re all at it. Cameron and the Tories (keeping one watchful eye on UKIP) want checks on immigrants. The Daily Mail and other right-wing newspapers lead with dire warnings of floods of foreign nationals coming to Britain in order to sponge off our Welfare State. And even Ed Miliband and the Labour leadership seem to shuffle rather uncomfortably.

As for UKIP, it declares that unless we do something to stop it, we’re going to be overwhelmed by hordes of Bulgarians and Romanians coming to Britain to live off the fat of our land. They have decided that this tack is a vote winner, and they’ve been plugging it for all it’s worth.

Of course most of those gullible enough to lap this all up have never seen a Bulgarian or Romanian in their lives. These would-be immigrants have become akin to bogeymen (like the myths about the gypsies of old who it was claimed used to steal our children).

As for Cameron, he wants to “end Britain’s reputation for being a soft touch”. They’re flocking in to claim our benefits, it seems – despite the statistics that show that the vast majority who reach our shores actually come to seek work.

Of course, many of those who want to shut the door on immigration deny vehemently that they’re “racist” – unless they happen to be paid up members of the BNP of course. But if those who are denied entry simply on the grounds of who they are or where they come from (are you listening, UKIP?) isn’t that just a tad racist?

The European Union (under its old name of the European Economic Community) had as one of its founding principles the free movement of labour within member states. We signed up to this and – unless UKIP has its way – we’re bound by it.

Britain has a patchy record when it comes to immigration. Once, of course, we assumed we had a God given right to colonise the Empire. Or anywhere else, come to that. And, towards the end of the 19th Century, we did accept thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing pogroms in Russia. In those days, passport controls were, shall we say, more fluid – until the passing of the “Aliens Act” in the early 20th Century. But in the 1930s we did accept many hundreds of Jewish refugees fleeing from Nazi Germany – though most of these had to be sponsored by those willing to give them a home. Incidentally, Ralph Miliband (father of David and Ed) escaped in the nick of time, arriving in the UK in 1940.

I’m sure that Cameron doesn’t see himself as a racist. Fair enough, but he is a populist, and as such he seems to be quite prepared to give the public what he thinks they want. And the tactic he’s trying is to make immigrants pay for the dubious privilege of coming to Tory Britain.

Of course this notion of making them pay over a “bond” before gaining entry will ensure that we get the right kind of immigrants – the rich ones. And to blazes with “the poor and huddled masses”.


Blairism: the final years

In A.Graham, Reviews on June 29, 2012 at 10:23 am

“Decline & Fall”, the diaries of Chris Mullin. 2005-2010. Profile Books, £9.99.

The rise of “New Labour”, “Cool Britannia” and all the other cliched slogans heralded the end of the grim, bleak years of Thatcher and Major. At first the change of Government seemed like a breath of fresh air. Many Labour loyalists may have resented all the re-branding that accompanied the rise of Blairism – but nonetheless at the time they still cheered Labour’s poll victory on May Day 1997.

By the time we reached 2005, the gloss had departed from “New” Labour, Britannia was no longer cool – and party membership had slumped drastically. And the party’s rich donors were deserting in droves. Blair had led us into war in Iraq, playing second fiddle to a US president whose ineptitude was only matched by his own sense of complacency. As for the Government, it was beginning to look as though it had at last outstayed its welcome.


These last five years of New Labour rule were recorded in the diaries of former Tribunite and MP for Sunderland South, Chris Mullin. His diaries are a refreshing antidote to the exercises in self glorification that pass as memoirs of many former political leaders. Indeed, I’d venture to suggest that they stand alongside those of Tony Benn – himself a noted diarist who recorded events with honesty and candour. .

Although Mullin had served as a junior Minister in the Foreign Office, by the time this volume of his diaries begins he had returned to the back benches. – which perhaps gave him a certain freedom to view the unravelling of New Labour. And might also account for a certain cynicism.

Having said that, his warm affection for his family and indeed many of his parliamentary colleagues still shines through. This is no hatchet job – but it does serve to remind us of many events that marked New Labour’s final years in power.

Throughout, he refers to Tony Blair as “the Man”, and outlines his practice of preferring to rule with the aid of an inner cabal rather that through full Cabinet, of making up policy on the hoof whilst launching political initiatives out of the blue. One case in point was the decision to renew the Trident missile system. There seemed general agreement that a brand new Trident system would serve no useful purpose. Mullin suggests that it was political – a case of “keeping up with the Joneses” – in this case, the French.

He seems to have more time for Brown, who he refers to as Gordon. He sees him as a person of integrity – but he’s dubious about his temperamental ability to lead a government; pointing out his obsession with micro-management, and his somewhat erratic temper when under stress.


One area, particularly amongst his own constituents, that concerned Mullin was the fate of the migrant community – facing harassment and bigotry on the one hand and the threat of deportation on the other. He worked hard to try to persuade Government Ministers to halt deportation orders, and to prevent immigration families being split up by bureaucratic decree. Sadly he wasn’t always successful.

And he continues his watching brief on Africa, paying frequent visits with parliamentary colleagues.

Amongst those he counts as a friend is Tony Benn (by this time, of course, no longer an MP, but instead “devoting his time to politics”). There is an amiable dialogue between the two of them, but Mullin confesses to being a bit hurt when he is accused of “selling out” in Tony Benn’s diaries. But this doesn’t impede the continuing friendship.

As for whether he could be said to have “sold out” is a moot point. Mullin certainly seemed to have accommodated himself to the cross currents and intrigues of Parliamentary life – though a certain weariness becomes evident as we reach the final years of Blair’s premiership.


On the 10th May 2007, Mullin records in his diary that “the Man flew to Sedgefield to announce the date of his re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere. It is to be 27 June.” And so on the allotted date, Mullins records Blair’s final appearance as Prime Minister in the Commons. It was, we’re told, mainly a subdued affair.

And so we come to the brief Brown years, highlighted by the collapse of the banks and the big bail-out. In 2010 the “New Labour” years came to an abrupt end – and Chris Mullin left Parliament for good.


Debate & communicate


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.


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.


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.”


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.