Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Posts Tagged ‘Jobs and welfare’

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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FOODBANKS: Why do we need them?

In R.Richardson on January 10, 2018 at 1:21 pm

A report from Ruth Richardsonfood-pot-kitchen-cooking.jpg
Our Co-op Member Group meets regularly to discuss topical matters – usually concerning the co-operative movement – but not always.

In November we invited Sandi McDonagh, the PR and training manager of the Forest of Dean foodbanks, to come to talk to us. I warned Sandi that we were a small group, but she assured me that she’s happy to talk to groups of any size including schools, the W.I., housing associations, etc.

The Forest has a foodbank in each of the three main Forest towns, and a large warehouse at Cinderford. It operates under the auspices of the Trussell Trust, a countrywide organisation and by far the largest provider of food banks, now having 400 outlets – a number which has doubled in recent years. Last year over one million three-day food “parcels” were provided.

OTHER FOOD BANKS:

There are other foodbanks in the Forest often run by churches, such as the “Lord’s Larder” in Newent. The need for and use of foodbanks is considerably greater than official statistics show – the Government doesn’t want to lend credence to the idea that its policies have exacerbated need among the less well off!

Sandi showed us the vouchers that clients have to obtain from bodies such as schools, town councils or surgeries, and present them to receive food. Different size boxes are filled at the warehouse to cater for families of different sizes, and the boxes are decanted into bags.

A box contains enough food for a family for three days, and a client can visit the food bank three times in six months. It’s not intended that there should be long-term reliance on the foodbank (The Tressell Trust doesn’t have the resources for that) and what is provided is intended to see a family through an emergency.  Extra food can be provided though for families with school-age children during school holidays when the children will not be getting their free school meals.

At present the Forest foodbanks are supplying donated hats, gloves and scarves and also Advent calendars and tins of chocolate for families. Sandi made the point that the warehouses are well stocked at present because of harvest festivals and also because of people’s generosity in the run-up to Christmas. Often there’s a bit of a shortfall after Easter.

Sandi mentioned that while all donations are welcome they are over-flowing with tins of baked beans and soup! Last year the turnover of food in the Forest was fifty tons.

HELP WITH ADVICE:

All the foodbanks are attended regularly by a representative from Green Square, a Gloucester-based body which advises on housing and debt management, and sign-posts clients to other organisations as appropriate.

Universal Credit which we reported on in our last issue is now being rolled out in Gloucestershire. Although the Government has tweaked its legislation a little, it is still expected that the change over will lead to an increase in the use of foodbanks of 17 per cent in the run up to Christmas.

* Collection points for donated food (tins and packets) are situated in many supermarkets and churches. Or go trusselltrust.org to find your nearest collection point.

R.R.


EDUCATION MATTERS: FACING UP TO WORK LOADS

In September, as we reported in our last issue,  a new large teachers’ union  came into being –  The National Education Union (NEU). It was formed through the merger of the NUT and the ATL.

It’s worth looking at their website, in particular at their campaign to reduce  teachers’ workloads. The average working week is 54 hours for a classroom teacher and 60 plus for subject heads or senior management . The NEU has detailed advice advice on how to “develop a workload  campaign in your workplace”.  The step-by-step guide looks practical and helpful, though whether hard-pressed teachers will have time to put it into practice is doubtful – even with the long-term objective of reducing the workload.

AN EXERCISE IN ASSET STRIPPING:

Another story that we covered in our last issue was the collapse of  the Wakefield Academies Trust. An article in  the Guardian detailed the asset-stripping that occurred in the year or so before the Trust’s demise.  Hundreds of thousands of pounds were transferred into the Trust’s accounts from schools such as Hemsworth Arts and Community Academy or Heath View Primary School, when they joined the chain in the last two or three years.

Even when a budget deficit was evident, the Chief Executive, Mike Ramsey, was paid £82,000 for fifteen weeks’ work. £440,000 was paid to IT and clerking companies owned by Ramsey and his daughter . But, says a draft Department of Education report, there is no suggestion of fraudulent activity. The full report has yet to be published.

NICE WORK (?):

A Times Education Supplement investigation discovered that a quarter of  England’s best paid academy leaders received pay increases of  ten per cent or more last year. The investigation analysed the top salaries at 121 academy trusts and found that on average the pay was a fifth more than that of the Prime Minister. The Department of Education commented: “It is essential that we have the best people to lead our schools if we are to raise standards.” One wonders if Mike Ramsey from the Wakefield Academies Trust was one of the “best people”?

A NARROWING CURRICULUM?

Amanda Spelman is the head of Ofsted.  Recently she condemned the narrowed down curriculum resulting from the focus on passing SATS and GCSEs .  Her comment infuriated teachers who for years  have been railing against league tables, SATS and continual assessment.

A letter in the “i” newspaper from a retired teacher expressed their views succinctly.

“I was a teacher for 43 years and had to endure a rich, vibrant and interesting curriculum being systematically eroded and turned into a narrow, blinkered, unimaginative, boring regime.”

Another letter commented  that test results decide…

“Ofsted grading, pay increases and the head’s future” so schools then “focus on results to the detriment of everything else. Who’d have thought it?”

DO IT YOURSELF?

A recent article in the “i” newspaper reported on the lengths that some head teachers are going to, to keep costs down as their budgets undergo the heaviest cuts in a generation. They are carrying out the work of caretakers, support staff and maintenance men.

One head spent his summer holidays repainting the school, whilst another has had to let the playing fields go to seed as he cannot afford to mow them.

Schools funding levels have been frozen whilst costs have increased. Which means a shortfall in real terms of around eight per cent.

Ruth Richardson.

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!

CO-OPERATION! The Co-operative Party celebrates its centenary

In A.Graham on July 4, 2017 at 12:29 pm

by Alistair Graham

This year marks the centenary of the foundation of the Co-operative Party. It was born in 1917, in the uncertain years of the First World War, as the conflict was dragging towards its bloody conclusion.

But its roots were sown in earlier years, the years before war engulfed Europe. The co-operative movement was growing rapidly – but the Liberal government was hardly sympathetic to this new movement. Many co-operators believed that it needed a political voice to represent the movement – in Parliament if need be.

There were those who opposed this view, of course. Those who argued that the movement was made up of members of various political (and indeed religious) views. At an early meeting of the Co-operative Congress in 1897 a motion was passed supporting direct representation in Parliament – but such was the lack of any enthusiasm, it was reversed in 1900.

But the issue wouldn’t go away. It was probably the position of the Liberal Government that was in power during the years leading up to the First World War that was a deciding factor. The Liberals may have been the “shopkeepers’ friend” – but this new, strange concept of co-operation was a different matter altogether.

The Liberal Government was definitely hostile to the ideals of co-operation. The notion of sharing out “surplus value” amongst members and giving them a say in how the Co-op was run, was definitely an alien concept. As for the Tories – well, let’s not go down that road!

All this led to the Co-operative Congress of 1917, held in Swansea, passing a resolution that stated the Co-op Movement should have direct representation in Parliament in order to safeguard its interests. There was some opposition of course, but it was passed overwhelmingly.

Success for the new Co-operative Party was slow in coming. The first Co-op candidate to win a seat was A.E. Waterson in Kettering in 1918 – and he soon lost it again (albeit narrowly). .

In 1922, the party won four seats, including that of A.V. Alexander (who went on to become leader of the group in the Commons). Meanwhile, the strength of the Labour Party was growing, and finally the two parties reached a joint agreement.

In more recent years the Co-operative Party has continued to function as an independent body, with its own conferences and policy making bodies. But as for the candidates there has been a tendency for those who stand as “Labour Co-op” candidates to be seen as merely Labour by the electorate.

ALISTAIR GRAHAM
(Member of the Co-operative Party and the Mid-counties Co-op Society.


A.V. ALEXANDER: A co-operator in Parliament – and outside.

Albert Victor Alexander rose through the Co-operative movement to become the Co-op MP for Sheffield Hillsborough in 1922./ At the time he was one of just four Co-op MPs, but he was to hold his seat (with one short break in the’30s) until 1950.

He became leader of the Co-op parliamentary group and at one time he was a Minister in the in Labour Government of Ramsay Macdonald. But he opposed the cuts introduced in the late 1920s (particularly the cuts in unemployment benefits). He lost his seat in the 1931 election, winning it back in 1933, and resumed his position as leader of the Co-operative Parliamentary group.

In 1950 he retired from the Commons to take up his seat in the House of Lords. Here he continued to represent the cause of co-operation until his death in 1965 at the age of 79.


 

CLARION COMMENT:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REFERENDUM:

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

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

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

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

EDITORIAL: Poverty Knocks

In A.Graham, Editorial on March 9, 2016 at 1:15 pm

Clarion Comment: What’s all this about a “living wage”?

“The poor are always with us” is one of those platitudes that was once popular amongst those who had plenty of money. Nowadays, of course, they don’t bother. Far too many have swept the whole topic of poverty under the carpet. And far too many of them are in the present Government.

But there are means to, at least, ameliorate the impact of income differentials on families and allow them to lead a more acceptable life. First, we need to ensure that all those in work are paid a decent wage. And second, to maintain an adequate welfare system to look after all those in society – regardless of age, income or social position.

WORK AND WELFARE:

Britain’s welfare state was, when it was first implemented following the Beveridge Report, a great social leveller. Not only did it provide comprehensive health care but also ensured homes for all and relatively full employment. Of course it didn’t happen overnight. And neither was it perfect. But when we see the callous way in which it’s been dismantled we can also see how fundamentally necessary it all was. Today it no longer provides even a sufficient safety net.

The second point is of course to try to ensure that all families receive at least an adequate income, and prevent them being prey to the vagaries of a capitalist market place. It was to deal with this point that Gordon Brown (under a Labour Government) first introduced the “minimum wage”.

Since then, of course, the notion that the minimum wage comes anywhere near meeting basic requirements has been torn to shreds. Work patterns have changed (usually for the worse), the welfare state no longer provides the kind of succour it once did – and poverty has risen steadily, in tandem with the increase in wealth enjoyed by those at the top.

TALKING OF A LIVING WAGE:

That’s why politicians have been bringing up a new concept of a living wage. One that would take families beyond that of the basic minimum wage.   At the beginning of November, a new group calling itself the People’s Movement was launched to campaign for a real living wage. It was a response to George Osborne’s announcement that he was to introduce a new “national living wage”. But this isn’t due to come into force until next April

For many campaigners the levels he announced simply weren’t considered enough. There are claims that it’s merely the existing “minimum wage” dressed up in new clothing. Not only that but his new “living wage” doesn’t stretch to those under the age of 25, and it will also depend on how the Low Pay Commission estimates “what the market can bear” (the Observer, 1st November).

One can appreciate that many campaigners feel that this just isn’t good enough. Some would go further and suggest that it’s all smoke and mirrors. In reality this Tory Government isn’t interested in dealing with the problem of starvation wages – where an increasing number of working people are paid less than the living wage being promoted by the People’s Movement (23 per cent at the last count). The Government is more concerned with maintaining profit levels for the rich whilst massaging figures on pay.

As for the People’s Movement, it is a commendable campaign. But it would seem to rely on trying to persuade employers to “do the decent thing” and pay their workforce appropriate wage rates. Admittedly, as a pressure group, its role is limited – but in the present climate, is this sufficient?

UNEMPLOYMENT:

Meanwhile unemployment rates are also massaged to present the kind of statistics the Government wants. From our viewpoint they remain disturbingly high, but according to Government figures they’re falling – which should be good news if we could take them at face value.

However, such broad statistics don’t take into account part-time work (particularly those on zero hours contracts), or those who’ve been forced off the unemployment register by harsh, bullying conditions or the negativity of those who now work at Job Centres throughout the country. There are many who are prevented from taking up jobs because the infrastructure that would allow them to do so just isn’t there. Others simply drop below the radar and are no longer part of the Government’s statistics.

LOW WAGE ECONOMY:

Maintaining a low wage, poverty-fuelled economy is not good for society. It does none of us any good. But that is what the present Tory Government is doing. Whilst it remains in power we will continue to see people forced to sleep on the streets. Food Banks will stay in business, as a necessary (but hardly adequate) prop for those who no longer have the means to feed themselves.

Is that really what we want?

ENDNOTES: Testing Times for Jeremy

It’s been a challenging couple of months for Jeremy Corbyn. Not only has the Tory press (led, naturally, by the Mail and the Murdoch minions) been stepping up its attacks on the Labour leader but also there’s been the rising surge of public expressed dissent from certain Labour MPs, plaintively calling for a “change in direction”.

Considering this scenario, it’s not surprising that Labour slipped somewhat in the opinion polls. Indeed, everything considered, Labour’s by-election victory in Michael Meacher’s old constituency in Oldham came as a morale booster for all of us.

The poison that’s been coming from the right-wing press is to be expected (though surely it went too far when a commentator on Sky News referred to Corbyn as “Jihadi Jez!), though its corrosive influence should not be under-estimated. The atmosphere created by the horrifying ISIS attacks in Paris has been bound to have an impact, and here, Jeremy’s position was grossly misrepresented. To give an example, unless we believe in a policy of lynch law, surely it’s better, where possible, to arrest terrorists and try them in a court of law rather than just gunning them down?

But what’s even more dispiriting are the activities of those in the ranks of the Labour Party who have chosen to attack him – and to hint that the Party needs a change of leadership. With friends like these, where do we think we’re going? Whatever happened to that old Socialist slogan, “Solidarity forever”?

Of course events in Paris plus the ongoing refugee crisis in the Middle East had tended to overshadow those domestic policies where Labour should have been able to hit the Government hard, as it did with Osborne’s budget attack on tax relief for the low paid. We also need to go on the offensive against the continuing privatisation of what’s left of the public sector, and the treatment by Jeremy Hunt of junior doctors within the NHS, not to mention the disintegration of the Health Service as a whole – to give a couple of examples. But there have been a host of examples where Corbyn’s leadership has been frustrated by the antics of right-wing Labour MPs whose notions of solidarity seemed sadly lacking. They seem more concerned with infighting than facing up to the real enemy.

What’s necessary within the Parliamentary Labour Party is unity – unity in the face of a vicious, uncaring Tory government that has no scruples when it comes to deepening the divisions in our society. “New Labour” is dead in the water. It has been for some time. Now’s the time to give Corbyn the Party’s backing, to fight the real enemy – the Cameron/Osborne Government.

A NEW VOICE FOR MONMOUTH: An Interview with Labour Candidate Catherine Fookes

In T. Chinnick on February 12, 2016 at 1:56 pm

Catherine-Fookes-head-and-shoulders

Labour AM Candidate for the Monmouth Constituency Catherine Fookes.

In September of last year Monmouth Constituency Labour Party selected Catherine Fookes to fight the seat in the Welsh Assembly elections next year.

Born in Dorset in a small village near Blandford, Catherine grew up on a farm before moving to London and then Bristol. But it was only after marrying her Catalan husband 15 years ago that they decided to move to the countryside and raise a family. “We craved space and a great environment for our kids to grow up in.” She says and so they decided on Monmouthshire.

She currently works as a freelance food campaigner for the Organic Trade Board and ‘Sustain’, promoting organic food. She previously worked for the Soil Association campaigning against GM and with the Pesticides Action Network to raise awareness about the hazards of pesticide residues on food. Her work in this area has lead to changes in Government policy.

I spoke to Catherine about her life, politics and issues of concern to Clarion readers.

When and why did you join the Labour party?

“I joined two years ago as until that point I was pretty disillusioned with politics in general. I also used to sit on a Government Committee and political party membership at that time was not permitted.

I felt following the recession that instead of those who caused the crisis – the bankers and financial institutions – being punished those on low incomes were being punished instead. It made me incredibly angry and once I realised that debating on twitter, writing letters to the papers and shouting at the TV wasn’t making a difference I felt it was time to get active in my local Labour party.”

What had been your political engagement prior to that?

“Part of my work in the 90’s was lobbying parliament on environmental and food issues including getting better support for organic producers. I also went on the Stop the War demonstrations. That’s another reason I didn’t join the Labour party earlier. I have also been a school Governor and active in the community – for example setting up a food co-op. I view those things as political with a small “p.” I’ve always been active – when I see a problem I try to solve it.”

It’s fair to say that Catherine didn’t expect to win. Standing against Monmouth’s three time former MP Huw Edwards her success can largely be attributed to the energy and determination with which she campaigned

“I worked very hard to win and I called up every single Labour Party member who had a telephone number and wrote to those that didn’t. However I knew I was up against a person who has a lot more experience than me and has a proven political track record, so I have to say I was surprised I won. I think what people like is I have new ideas, new energy and I’m not steeped in politics so I can relate to ordinary people.”

This energy and dedication is in sharp contrast to her Conservative opponent Nick Ramsay who, amongst other things has fallen asleep in public meetings and claimed for a flat in Cardiff despite only living 40 minutes away. Monmouth is blighted by being represented by two Conservatives: Ramsay in Cardiff Bay and David Davies in Westminster. (Not to mention a Conservative County Council). But whereas Davies is never shy about his views, some of which are very extreme, what exactly does Ramsay stand for?

“I am not sure what Nick Ramsay stands for as we don’t hear about his political beliefs in the way we do with Davies. With David Davies we know he’s anti–EU, anti-immigration and you could say anti-environment with his views on climate change, but Nick Ramsay keeps his views close to his chest which is strange for an Assembly Member.”

But not being as outspoken as Davies doesn’t mean he isn’t a conscientious AM – what’s he done for the Monmouth Constituency?

“Apart from writing letters to Ministers I am not entirely sure what he’s done for the constituency – I’ve asked many local groups and charities and have not heard of a single campaign he’s championed. I believe he’s become complacent and he does nothing of any consequence for the constituency. We deserve better.”

But for all her evident qualities Catherine faces an uphill struggle to get elected. Monmouth Labour has never won an Assembly election before, in a Conservative leaning constituency and with an incumbent Welsh Labour Government what chance is there that they will this time around?

“I think people are fed up with the Conservatives locally so we have a great chance. The Tory led council has resulted in our education system in Monmouthshire being in Special Measures*; our Tory AM is invisible and our Tory MP really shocked people this summer with his nasty comments on refugees. So I think we have a great chance.”

You mention the fact that Monmouthshire is in special measures, how will you make sure it improves?*

“As I’m a school governor** and also a Mum I can see at first hand the effects of our Tory Led councils cuts on education. Head Teachers and staff are facing real challenges keeping their schools going. I want to work with them to ensure they have the resources they need.

None of our secondary schools are designated ‘green’ by Ofsted and given the prosperity of the region they really should be. Local schools were also found to be failing children on free school meals. There is a huge gap between them and other children. The County Council (MCC) have been complacent and haven’t really pushed schools enough. I would put pressure on the MCC to get the standards up.”

Jeremy Corbyn (JC) has talked about wanting to narrow the “red water” between Westminster and Cardiff Bay. What could he and English Labour learn from the Government in Wales?

“We’re not just slashing and burning like the Tories, we’re targeting investment. What JC and English Labour could learn from us is how to target effectively like in Jobs Growth Wales which has created 15,000 jobs – so while we’ve got less money we’re still investing in our economy.

Our school system is better because it’s non-selective and we’re not creating academies, which is creating a two-tier system in England.

We’ve also reduced tuition fees for Welsh students regardless of where they’re studying, introduced the Domestic Violence Act, not to mention introducing free school breakfasts, prescriptions and bus passes. So we have achieved so much but we need to get the message across.”

Nick Ramsay, David Davies, Mark Harper and the Prime Minister have all attacked the Welsh NHS. Ambulance response times, cancer care and waiting times in A&E are all worse than in England – are Tory criticisms justified or is it just cynical fear-mongering?

“Comparing England and Wales directly is an over-simplification. Our population is far more dispersed and we’re a poorer country. Part of it is scare-mongering – some of our waiting times are too long, doctors and the health board are desperately trying to get them down but using the NHS as a political football isn’t helpful. But we’ve protected the NHS by having fewer PFI contracts and increased funding – we spend £120 more per head on health and social care than in England.

One of the things that my meeting with local health experts made clear to me is that we have a fixation on targets – but we can’t allow targets to become an end in themselves. We have an 8 minute response time target for ambulances. If someone breaks their leg it’s not important that an ambulance arrives in under 8 minutes but if someone suffers a heart attack then we need the ambulance to be there as soon as possible. It’s about prioritising.

We have a GP and nurse shortage in the Monmouth constituency – we’re recruiting nurses from overseas which is a real shame when we have unemployment in our area. We need to make sure careers advice includes what public service jobs are out there, especially in the Aneurin Bevan Health Board because there are probably brilliant school leavers who could fulfill some of these roles but they need to know the jobs are there.

Co-operation between public services and local schools is a very simple idea but it doesn’t seem to be happening at the moment.”

Do you oppose fracking in the Forest of Dean?

“I do. It’s just another sticking plaster, another investment in fossil fuels when we need to be moving toward renewables. And it’s another example of where the WLG has lead the way.” (The Welsh Government has introduced a moratorium on Fracking).

What can Forest Of Dean residents do to help your campaign?

“Write letters of support to the press, talk about why they support Labour to their friends. But most of all we need people to come and campaign with us!”

If you want to help get Catherine elected please contact Su McConnel on 07817076232 or at sumcchey@gmail.com

catherinefookes.com

monmouthlabour.org

*MCC has been taken out of special measures since this interview was conducted.
** The Governing Body of Cross Ash School of which Catherine is a member has recently won ‘the Quality Mark Bronze Award’.

LEFT INSIDE: welcome home. Time to leave.

In C.Spiby on October 6, 2015 at 2:03 pm

by Carl Spiby

After the defeat of Ed Miliband’s One Nation view of socialism under Labour, and despite a very progressive local manifesto (I should know, I lead the Manifesto Drafting Group who authored it, and it included all the things we so desperately need right now: a strong anti-fracking, anti-cuts and pro-public Forest stance), who would have thought that Labour would come back to its natural home?

The success of Jeremy Corbyn shows, to me, just how out of touch the Parliamentary Labour Party was with its own grass-roots membership.

But, while supporting Tom Watson as Deputy, Forest of Dean CLP actually voted to back Andy Burnham for leader.  And now there are rumours afoot within the CLP that Corbyn’s success and the left is tearing the local branch apart. But they’re just rumours. What I’ve seen is a fractured bureaucratic CLP Exec concerned more with rules and in-fighting than changing lives and building socialism, whichever brand you support.

And that’s why this will be my last ‘Left Inside’ column for the Clarion.

The Executive Committee, in my experience, despite its aims and objectives turns out to be an inadvertent vehicle for losing members and quelling activism.

On social media I touted the idea of a Red Labour campaigning group, but there just isn’t the support for that locally. Nationally, however, new members joined in their thousands following Corbyn’s success, but locally they’ll be (rightly) directed to the CLP first. But our CLP is, to me, little more than an extension of the District Council Labour Group, not an independent campaigning and organising committee for the success of the next Labour MP in the Dean, working to win a socialist sitting in Parliament for the Dean among other socialists in a majority Labour government.

Besides, in the meantime, we need to build support for the Dean anti-fracking campaign. Then there’s TTIP. Instead our CLP is bent on a long-running internal investigation on the appropriate use of members’ e-mail lists. A process so painful that even the incumbent acting Secretary won’t be seeking re-election in that role, after only a matter of months in the post.

As Agent for Steve Parry-Hearn (your Labour candidate in the last General Election), I continue to meet with Steve and his Campaign Manager, the hard-working Roger Gilson. All three of us welcomed Corbyn’s success. But I for one don’t feel that our current CLP is the vehicle to locally show that support let alone build on it. I will vote and continue to support Corbyn’s Labour but I no longer feel I am the ‘left inside’ in the local LP. Hopefully there are others, new faces which will re-purpose the CLP Executive.

For me, for now, thanks for the ride.

C. Spiby is a member of Forest of Dean Constituency Labour Party and was on its Executive Committee. He was nominated the lead in the 2015 General Election FoD Labour Party manifesto drafting group for the District Council (which we also laid out our Parliamentary Candidate’s priorities) and was Social Media Officer for the CLP on the Executive, and finally the Electoral Agent for our Parliamentary Candidate. He remains a Labour party member but has resigned from the local CLP Executive and handed over Social Media duties for FoD CLP.

foof

MODERN TIMES: The Dinosaur Column

In Dinosaur on June 22, 2015 at 4:31 pm

Gutted:

Like most readers I’m sure, I was gutted by the election results. Both here in the Forest, and of course nationally. My first reaction was that it must be a bad dream. Maybe it was something I ate. That was followed by the thought, “have folk taken leave of their senses??”

dinosaurI even contemplated emigration. Perhaps moving to Scotland where I might get a better deal from that nice Nicola Sturgeon – even if  the SNP’s not quite so squeaky clean as their image suggests. But all those emotions only lasted a few minutes, and then I came to my senses.

Of course we have to fight back, and it’s here that it all begins. But we also have to sort ourselves out, following the resignation of Ed Miliband as Labour Party leader.

This was the moment when the Blairite “New Labour” acolytes and their closet supporters chose to jump out of their various closets and blame Ed for Labour’s defeat. He was, they declared, “too left”. Well, maybe about as left as Harold Wilson or Jim Callaghan actually. We were told that Labour must appeal to the “middle ground”, aspiring employees and the world of business. I even heard one Labour MP declare that we shouldn’t waste time attacking such iniquities as the Bedroom Tax or Zero Hours contracts. It makes one wonder why the Labour Party was set up in the first place.

There are a lot of reasons why Labour lost out.  One point that critics seem to have ignored was the loss of 40 seats north of the border – a number that makes a significant difference to Labour’s overall tally of seats. Incidentally, the groundwork for this debacle was laid during the Blairite years, when Scottish Labour was forced into line, losing its radical roots in the process.   After that its tally of MPs were just taken for granted.

Another point to bear in mind was the Liberal wipe-out. Their total number of MPs is now roughly down to the level they had in the 1950s, under Clement Davies. Then they were regarded as an irrelevance. Of course this time round they asked for it, but there was still something ruthless about the way Cameron set about demolishing the Liberal heartland in the West, considering they’d been his allies for the past five years. But it did increase his own total of MPs significantly. And we shouldn’t ignore the UKIP factor – according to BBC polls, the “Kippers” managed to take more votes from Labour than it did from the Tories.

As for poor old Ed, he also had to face a daily barrage of invective from the Murdoch press and the Daily Mail. Rupert Murdoch, it seems, personally ordered this attack on “Red Ed” as he was dubbed by the Sun (as well as the Mail).  As I see it, this concerted onslaught must have had some impact on the vote.

So, let’s have no more nonsense about Ed being “too left wing”. And let’s make sure that we rebut the siren voices of the Blairites in the wings.

Minor voices:

One diversion from fuming over the Tory victory and the fate of the opposition was seeking out how some of the minor players in the election fared. Well, it’s what we dinosaurs do.

Like for example “National Health Action”, made up of a handful of doughty doctors fighting to save the NHS from destruction. They polled a total of 20,210, doing particularly well in the Wyre Forest.

The “Yorkshire First” party, formed after the carrot of regionalism was dangled and snatched away, gained 6,811 in the seats it fought.  And “Mebyon Kernow”, the Cornish nationalists, did quite well in the few seats it was able to fight in Cornwall – particularly in St. Austell where it polled 2063 votes.

Mebyon Kernow now has seats in all districts of the County Council (though it doesn’t use the word “county” as this would assume that Cornwall lacks its own sense of nationhood!).

… and the Greens:

By the way, the Green Party polled well over a million votes – 1,157,613 actually – and ended up with just one MP (congratulations, Caroline Lucas, for increasing your majority!). But surely this alone strengthens the case for proportional representation, don’t you think? Not that we’re likely to get any movement on that from the Tories. Not whilst they’re sitting in power with just about a third of the total vote.

Dinosaur

HOW TO DEFEAT THE TORIES

In C.Spiby on May 5, 2015 at 8:12 pm

THE LEFT INSIDE COLUMN by Forest of Dean Labour member Carl Spiby

There are many reasons to vote Labour come the General Election. Some might argue there is also reason not to.

I’ve written before in the Clarion about compromise, but some still feel a vote for the Greens is still the best way to deliver a left-wing agenda in Parliament.

The Greens offer much, but what can they actually deliver? The stark answer to this question is: very little without any MP’s – even Caroline Lucas will struggle to retain the Green’s only seat in Parliament. Recently though, the Greens do offer a leader to rival Labour’s own in terms of unpopularity – but that’s shallow thinking. The kind of which the media is so obsessed with.

Locally, James Greenwood – a prominent organiser for S.T.A.N.D. (Severnside Together Against Nuclear Development) – is a passionate and skilled public speaker and a good Green candidate, but his party’s support is, as our own Clarion Comment editorial states in this issue, starting from virtually square one.

So we turn to Labour’s Steve Parry-Hearn. How might he fare?

On core local Green Party issues he pretty much cleans up. Steve’s pledge card lays it down clearly: Parry-Hearn is against new nuclear power at Oldbury, against fracking in the Dean and against Trident renewal. All these policies are cornerstone reasons to vote Green. But you can get them locally and for real by voting Labour.

Furthermore, Steve Parry-Hearn is also a strong supporter of the NHS, apprenticeships and green industry but is equally passionate about scrapping the bedroom tax. The difference is, Labour can win here – the Greens will not.

Voting Green means the Tory will retain the seat (or possibly worse, what with UKIP having made the Forest a target seat). Either way, anything but a Labour win will mean your next MP will support Trident renewal, support back-door privatisation of the NHS and will be pro-nuclear.

Meanwhile Labour’s Parry-Hearn takes a risk with his position on these topics of nuclear power, fracking and nuclear weapons as Steve is running contrary to current party policy on all three issues. That’s good news for Clarion readers as it finally means we’ve got a candidate who is a strong independent voice in Labour. A man of conviction built from a bedrock of core Labour principles. What Clarion readers might recognise as one of their own.

But many will call this tactical voting. I call it pragmatic voting. It is all very well having a strong view on an issue, but to trade that passion for an unwillingness to compromise is a self-defeating way to hand victory to those supporting the exact opposite of one’s own view.

When I started writing for the Clarion many years ago I was politically adrift. Back then in 2003 I was secretary of our local Stop the War movement but I belonged to no Party. I had left the Communist Party of Britain because it could never win an MP in my lifetime. At that time I couldn’t join Labour because New Labour supported Bush’s war. So the Lib Dems temporarily won my vote but like many I was let down.

Now I support Labour which is post-New Labour. I do so firstly because of my desire to retain the NHS as Labour built it; but I am also in the Labour Party because Ed Miliband was the choice of the trades union movement – the voice of the working class; and I am proud to support Forest Labour’s Steve Parry-Hearn precisely because of his position on the topics mentioned above. All this would be for nought if a Labour victory didn’t represent the only realistic opportunity of keeping the right out of power in the Dean and in our Parliament.

Please join me in defeating the Tories.