Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Posts Tagged ‘Local Politics’

CLARION COMMENT: HOW MAY MANAGED TO LOSE HER OWN ELECTION

In Editorial on September 22, 2017 at 1:02 pm

What can we say about May’s decision to hold a snap election that went so sensationally wrong for her?  A miscalculation? An example of hubris writ large?  This and much more has already been said in the media and by commentators galore.

Let’s just say that May managed to undermine her position as PM in spectacular fashion, and turn her slender but workable majority into no majority at all. She now has to rely on the dubious support of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist MPs. The DUP, for goodness sake! That really is scraping the barrel!

And it’s a bit rich when we consider the Tory attempts to smear Corbyn with allegations that he’d supported armed Irish Republicans!

corbyn_yourChoice

A PERSONAL CAMPAIGN:

May chose to personalise her electoral campaign. At the hustings her publicity promoted her as leader, with the Tory Party demoted to a strap line. For May the election was intended to reduce the number of Labour MPs elected to the point where they could no longer function as an effective opposition – whilst at the same time  boosting May’s own standing as she set about doing a demolition job on Jeremy Corbyn.

As it turned out the election results achieved just the opposite.  May has weakened her position in the Tory Party, whilst managing to boost Corbyn’s reputation as a leader who can win seats (some of which had rarely if ever been held by Labour before) and as an effective team player.

LOCAL RESULTS:

Here in the Forest of Dean, Labour’s candidate Shaun Stammers managed to increase his party’s vote from 12,000 to 18,000-plus. Readers can do their own maths!  It was quite an achievement considering that, by necessity, he’d been a last minute choice with no time to get “bedded in” to his role. A candidate could do with a year if he/she is to level the playing field, to get to know the voters, keep abreast of constituency matters in the local press and shape the debate rather than merely react to it. But he and the party locally ran a vigorous high-profile campaign that seem to have paid off.

As for Mark Harper, he nailed his colours firmly to Theresa May’s banner.  His election address declared that he was “standing with Theresa May”, and it included a personal letter from May herself.

hoof_signs_victory

Meanwhile, in the Monmouth constituency, Labour managed to increase its share of the vote, as well. Ruth Jones, for Labour polled over 18,000 votes – an increase of nearly ten per cent.

WHAT NEXT?

In the circumstances, the future for Labour (both nationally and locally) seems rosy. It has enlarged representation in the Commons – and few dissidents within the Party are likely to challenge Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership right now. The great purge of members is now surely over, leaving only those who were expelled to lick their wounds.

Meanwhile, within the Conservative Party, the opposite is the case.  Theresa may is now a Prime Minister living on borrowed time.

But there are plenty of ifs and buts. First, the Tories are hardly likely to call another election in the near future unless circumstances force them to.  Meanwhile, if there was to be a Tory coup to replace May, we just don’t know who’d be in the running to replace her. There are those, of course, who seem happy to throw their hats into the ring (Boris Johnson and David Davies are two names that spring to mind), but who knows what future candidates may emerge from the shadows?

It was Harold Wilson who once famously declared that “a week in politics is a long time”.  As the Clarion only appears bi-monthly, many of our comments may well be overtaken by events before our next issue hits the presses.

Time, as it always does, will tell.


BREXIT?  AN EXIT IN CHAOS!

It’s difficult to envisage a situation in which so-called negotiations were carried out with so much ineptitude as those for the UK’s exit from the European Union.

Cheered on by Tory “exit” supporters, Theresa May first promised a “hard exit”. Then she followed this up with the declaration that no agreement at all with the EU would be better than a bad agreement (would it really?).  There have been quibbles over the amount of money being demanded by the EU, with some Brexit cheer-leaders such as Boris Johnson declaring that we shouldn’t be paying the EU a penny (or should that be a Euro?).

BECOMING DISPLACED PERSONS?

There have been disagreements over the rights of EU citizens living in Britain. Many live and work here, and so far it’s all been perfectly legal. Should they be allowed to stay, with second-class citizen status?  With, perhaps, the threat of possible expulsion hanging over them?  So far there’s been no clear agreement, only the declaration that we should be in charge of our own borders.

And what of those Brits living in the European Union, either working there, perhaps raising families, or just enjoying retirement in other parts of Europe of their choice?   There has been no recognition of the fact that the creation of a united Europe created significant movement in population.  People could choose to live wherever they wanted in the EU, travel for employment opportunities – or settle somewhere else in Europe simply because it suited them better.

AND WHY A “HARD BREXIT”?

And why, oh why, did our Tory Government decide that it had to be a “hard brexit”?  There were to be no ifs or buts. We’d just cut ourselves off from mainland Europe, sign our own treaties and make our own way in the world – because that was what the people of the UK wanted. Well, in fact only a little over fifty per cent voted to leave. In some parts of the country a clear majority voted to stay in the Union. In Scotland it was overwhelming.  There were to be no concessions for them.

So, if we really wanted to leave, wouldn’t it have been a better strategy to go for what might be termed a “softer” strategy?  Such as that taken by Norway, for example?  Both Norway and Iceland opted to remain within the EU’s trade agreements whilst withdrawing from the political aspects of the Union.  For many in Britain it may not be ideal, but it would ensure that the massive level of trade we do with the EU would be safeguarded.

Jeremy Corbyn has now come out with his own proposals for softening the blow of our departure from the EU.  This would considerably lengthen the amount of time that we would, in effect, remain within the remit of the EU, in order to safeguard the rights of EU citizens within the UK (as well as safeguarding those UK citizens in mainland Europe). It would also mean that our present trade agreements with the EU would remain in place.  It might be termed a much “softer” departure from Europe.

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MODERN TIMES: the Dinosaur column

In Dinosaur, Uncategorized on September 22, 2017 at 12:56 pm

dinosaurPOINT TAKEN:

I’ve received a response from one of the quartet of former Labour councillors who’d chosen to resign from the party and sit on the district council as “Independent Labour”.

Bill Osborne puts a somewhat different viewpoint from what seemed to have been agreed by his colleagues.  He tells me that his resignation was in fact motivated more by his suspension from the Labour Party (at national level) which deprived him of his vote in the second leadership election  – when Jeremy Corbyn was confirmed as party leader.

Bill described this as “the straw that broke the camel’s back”.  He also makes the point that the only reason that Labour’s NEC could provide for his suspension was that a comment Bill had made on social media “might have caused offence”.

Which, perhaps, casts a rather different light on Bill’s decision to leave Labour’s ranks. Personally, I take his point!

It’s an opt out:

I’ve always been a fan of the 1950s film, Passport to Pimlico, in which a plucky community in central London decides to opt out and declare itself independent – facing the full wrath of bureaucracy as a result.

It might not be on the same scale, but I was drawn to a piece in the Citizen the other week.  Dr. William Riches, from Newnham, has decided to declare his home an “independent republic”  His wife, Judith, has been declared president, and his children and grandchildren  are citizens.

When the UK finally leaves the EU anyone visiting his home by the Severn, Middlewatch, will have to make sure that they have their passports with them – plus a visa.  And Dr. Riches  and his family will then formally apply for entry to the European Union.

Dr. Riches (a retired university lecturer) is a much-travelled Europhile, and has worked in America, Canada and Northern Ireland.  He’s no “Little Englander”, and sees the world on a different scale than many of those who backed Brexit.  Good luck to him, I say.

Applying for European citizenship?

Of course there are other ways to make the point that you want to remain part of Europe. The kind of “hard Brexit” advocated by many enthusiasts, who believe that we can just go it alone, is bound to create mass upheaval. There are those Brits who’d chosen to make their homes in mainland Europe – as well as  those Europeans who’d chosen to make the UK their home.  Now all this is about to be torn apart.

But a new initiative is now being launched, to try to allow Brits to retain their European citizenship (as shown ou our current passports).  At present we all have “the right to move and reside freely within the territory of Member States under objective conditions of freedom and dignity.”

A new initiative is being launched to allow UK resident citizens to maintain these rights.  So, for more details, email info@eucitizen2017.org

Go on, give it a try!

Dinosaur

MODERN TIMES: the Dinosaur column

In Dinosaur, Uncategorized on April 25, 2017 at 12:34 pm

Saving our Forest way of life:

dinosaurMany old timers in the Forest regret the passing of the “old ways”. Patterns of life have certainly changed over the past fifty years or so.  Mining is now a thing of the past – apart from a scattering of free miners, and even they are fading away.

And we’re losing that thick, sometimes impenetrable, “Vorest” accent, swamped as we are by outside influences. Basically the population is changing as once settled communities are affected by the arrival of incomers in our midst.

Whether this is a good thing or bad depends on your point of view. Me, I couldn’t possibly comment.

But I was interested to see in the local press that attempts had been made to raise money from the heritage lottery to save the distinctive Forest dialect for future generations.

It’s in danger of being lost completely, say those behind the bid.  They aim to make use of oral history recordings (both of the spoken and written word). Attempts will be made to introduce youngsters in the Dean to old patterns of employment – such as ochre mining and “ship badgering” (in other words tending the free-range Forest sheep).

As an old dinosaur I wish them luck. But I must confess to a certain degree of skepticism. We’re all caught up in the forces of change, whether we like it or not. The population of the Forest is changing, patterns of employment, too, are not what they used to be. The best we can hope for is to build up a bank of memories for generations to come. To let them know what our “Land between two rivers” used to be like.

Mark Harper has his say:

I read one of Mark Harper’s contributions to the Citizen the other week with a little bit of interest. Only a little, mind. He is, after all still our MP even if he has been consigned to the backbenches in the Commons.

Now he’s out of government he does seem to be scrabbling around for something relevant to say. He skirts cautiously round the subject of Brexit, before lighting on the High Speed Rail Act which will it seems generate “new jobs and economic growth”.  The trouble is that none of it really affects the Forest of Dean. And it’s somewhat overblown anyway. Our own railway connections will remain exactly the same, apart from some dubious connections in the Bristol direction from Severn Tunnel Junction.

He then lights on the Government’s Bus Services Bill, which will help local authorities improve bus services. Oh yeah? Who’re you kidding? With Stagecoach now running the lion’s share of bus services in and out of the Forest?  I don’t think so.

Then Mark seems to run out of things to say. He rather limply tells us that “the Government is getting on with the day-to-day job of running the country, as well as delivering Brexit.” Yes, that’s what many of us are afraid of.

hoof_signs_victory

Tory Mark Harper MP will be forever linked with the betrayal of what we hold dear and in common: our Forest!

But to be fair to Mark he does go on to tell us about his constituency, with people contacting him “email, phone or in writing.”  He adds that “in addition to this I have continued to attend local events, visit businesses and meet local residents around the constituency.” Well, that’s what he’s paid for.

 

All in all I got the impression that Harper, now he’s no longer involved in Government circles, is casting around to find things to say to his constituents.  But never mind. At least some would say he’s trying. Others might add that he’s very trying.

Clarionposter

The Good Life? Or not so good.

It seems that after trying vegetarianism we’re now being encouraged to go the whole hog (if that’s the right way to put it) and go Vegan. Veganism is the “smart way to save the planet” we’re told.

Humph. A recent item in one paper I read said this isn’t necessarily so.  It doesn’t take into account the air miles that our vegetables travel before they arrive in our shopping bags. Or unless we have our own allotments, how growing them devastates rain forests or other natural climatic regions. Not only that but those who go in for those trendy veggie boxes are more likely to throw away half the contents.

So, let’s think about our culinary habits, eh?

Dinosaur

Clarion Comment & Health-watch special: CRISIS IN THE NHS

In Editorial, R.Richardson on April 24, 2017 at 12:08 pm

As 2017 dawned, crises struck the National Health Service in England. Our hospital services in particular were hit by what seemed like a sudden tsunami of patients needing treatment. The media showed us queues in hospital corridors of patients left (often overnight) on trolleys because beds just weren’t available. Or, indeed immediate treatment. It showed up a service in meltdown. Even the Red Cross described it as a “humanitarian crisis”.

Yet it was a crisis that seemed to have a certain inevitability about it. Indeed it wasn’t really a case of if but when. A bout of bad weather together with a build-up of urgent cases that couldn’t be put on the back burner was enough to trigger the emergency. Even cancer cases were put on hold in some hospitals.

The National Health Service has come a long way since it was founded with such high expectations in the post-war years. It came into being in the summer of 1948, at a time when the country was trying to pull itself together after the devastation of war. It was the most visible, and most welcomed, part of the new welfare state being created following the adoption of the “Beveridge Plan”. The Tories didn’t like it, of course, claiming loudly that it was something that we just couldn’t afford.

We could of course afford it (as we could today if the will was there). True, the provision of “National Health” glasses disappeared, along with free dental care, not to mention modest prescription charges. But apart from that the NHS had become rooted and accepted by the time the Tories returned to power in the early ‘fifties. And the new Government accepted it as part of the status quo.

THATCHER – AND BLAIR:

It wasn’t until Margaret Thatcher returned to power that the NHS came under attack. She made it clear (at least privately) that she disliked our Health Service. But she realised that any frontal attack would be unwise, and so instead she encouraged the spread of private health care, to provide “options”. The strategy was clear. As funds were re-directed from the public to the private sector, then the NHS would decline into providing a second class service.

Certainly within Thatcher’s own period of office it failed to have the impact she desired. But when Blair came to power it seemed he had his own plans for the NHS which in many ways ran counter to the original ideals of the Service. Early examples of democratic control disappeared. Smaller hospitals and care facilities were closed, and a process of centralisation of services was introduced.

Even hospital provision in the Forest came under threat. Both Lydney and the Dilke were earmarked for closure, and were only saved after a determined and sustained campaign across the Forest of Dean.

But Blair’s biggest attack on the founding principles of the Health Service was the introduction of “foundation hospitals” in 2003. This was bitterly opposed by Labour MPs in the Commons (63 voted against it), and Frank Dobson, a former Health Minister described them as a “cuckoo in the nest”. Health campaigner, Professor Allyson Pollock declared that such foundation trusts were a “fig leaf for privatisation.”

Incidentally, one of those that applied for “foundation trust” status was the Gloucester hospital trust. Fortunately, it never went ahead.

EROSION OF THE NHS:

All these changes to the structure of the National Health Service contributed to its fragmentation. Local health boards had, by now, disappeared – and there was a blurring of the line between public and private health care.

Fast forward to the Cameron era, and the “age of austerity”. Health care was soon identified as one of the country’s big spenders which, it seemed, we couldn’t afford. Strict financial controls were imposed on health care – particularly on hospital budgets.

Of course if a patient needs treatment, he or she should get it. And the NHS was founded to ensure that the care would be available, “free at the point of need”. They shouldn’t have to shop around, or join a waiting list, let alone dig into their pockets in order to “go private”.

David Cameron was keen to point out that “we were all in this together, but by this time the lines were so blurred and care was being increasingly rationed that the NHS was struggling to provide adequate care.

A SORRY SAGA:

We’ve come a long way from the establishment of the NHS in the summer of 1948 to the sorry state of the service today. Our Health Care needs more, much more, than extra cash to fund it adequately. It also to be able to return to the principles and practices on which it was founded.

And we should also salute those who work within the service who’ve worked hard, for long hours, to keep it operating for so long – often for little reward.


HEALTH WATCH: PROMISES, PROMISES

Whatever happened to those promises that if we achieved “Brexit” there’d be all that extra money to pump back into the NHS?

The pledge was plastered all over the sides of campaign buses. It figured in speeches made by pro-Brexit campaigners. And then quietly forgotten after the votes had been counted.

Now, it seems, the opposite will be true. There will be swingeing cuts to an already cash-strapped service.

According to the BMA, £22 billion’s worth of cuts will have to be made in order to balance the books. And Dr. Mark Porter, head of the doctors’ union, charged those with pushing the cuts of using them “as a cover for starving services and resources and patients of vital care.”

“SUSTAINABILITY AND TRANSFORMATION”:

The cuts are all part of the new “Sustainability and Transformation” plan (revealed in the last issue of the Clarion.) The plan has been introduced with little or no consultation with those who will be most affected – the doctors (not to mention the patients!

In response Dr. Porter says, “improving patient care must be the priority… There is a real risk that these transformative plans will be used as a cover for delivering cuts, starving services of resources and patients of vital care.”

Meanwhile, a conference held in Birmingham to “challenge the Sustainability and Transformation Plan” back in September was organised by Health Campaigns Together. It drew a packed audience. One of its main speakers was Dr. John Lister.

“MISSING ELEMENTS”:

There are three missing elements from the NHS as we know it today, declared Dr. Lister. One, the money. Two, the staff to do the job. And, three, the evidence that the policies can deliver the expected results.

Documents produced by the Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) show a reluctance to engage with this harsh reality, he said. Instead there’s an air of wishful thinking, of pie in the sky.

Consequently, plans are written not by those from within the NHS, but by lavishly paid management consultants. Meanwhile, have these consultants, however lavishly paid, offered any real evidence to support the assertions and proposals that they’ve made?

WHAT’S “INTERMEDIATE CARE”?

“What is glaringly obvious is that throughout the 51 pages of text there is not one example of a working model of the type of new systems that are proposed to replace hospital bed provision… According to another document prepared by management consultants “intermediate care” is supposed to enable the NHS in North West London to dispense with over 400 hospital beds – but the document lacks any definition of intermediate care, let alone any plans to establish or expand it.”

THE CUTTING EDGE:

Faced with this welter of confusion, Dr. Lister sees the STPs as being presented as ways of curbing health spending, to live within the impossible spending limits imposed since 2010 even while the needs for health services continue to grow.

Or, asks Dr. Lister, “is it in fact the cuts that are being driven through now on the ground, and already happening even as we plough through the small print?”

Meanwhile, Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS providers, has been busy in the media stating the case that there is not enough money to sustain services at the current level or meet increased demand over the next four years.

His options include: a reduction in the number of priorities that the NHS is trying to deliver; rationing access to care; and reducing the size of the NHS workforce.

Dr Lister retorts that “Hopson’s choice” is effectively to abandon NHS principles – or to cut the NHS to vanishing point. He adds that “most of these things are already being done in some form at local level…”

Hopson suggests a “public debate” on how the NHS should be sustained. Dr. Lister doesn’t favour the idea, in which one side “backed by the right wing media… and the backwoods Tory right that is now dominant will be urging us to turn the clock back to the 1930s drop the NHS principles and adopt some combination of charging for treatment and private health insurance.”

“Let’s fund the NHS properly from general taxation. It’s already under-funded compared to almost any comparable country, with fewer staff, fewer beds and less modern equipment than almost any developed economy.”

 

 

 

Co-op In The Forest Under Attack

In A.Graham, Uncategorized on February 23, 2017 at 1:31 pm

According to its critics, the Co-op in the Forest of Dean has been stifling competition, and forcing shoppers to travel out of the area to get a decent deal.

The brunt of the attack on the Co-op centres on plans for a new supermarket on the Steam Mills quarter of Cinderford.  This would of course pose a threat to the Co-op store in the town – as well as the many smaller shops in Cinderford.

The site was once earmarked by Tesco, as part of its expansion into the Forest – but after a long fight (led initially by Somerfield) planning permission was finally rejected at government level.  Later Asda submitted plans for an out of town store at Steam Mills – but then withdrew.

The current application appears to be developer-led. At present no particular supermarket chain has expressed specific interest, but the developers (Trilogy Development)  believe that Asda could be tempted back.

ACCUSATIONS:
At the time of writing there has been no challenge to what looks like a speculative venture.  But one (Labour) councillor from Cinderford has declared his belief that the Midcounties Co-op would mount a legal challenge.  He went on to say “All people want is choice and I believe the Co-op in Cinderford should be penalised for stifling trade.”

Such accusations seem at this stage to be somewhat gratuitous, and it might well be that it wouldn’t only be the Co-op that would suffer in the town.  It would be all retail trade in the town centre, the small shops, convenience stores, and all the outlets that have offered choice.  It could also affect other such alternative food sources as the“Forest Hub”.  Their future is bleak if more of the big supermarket chains are foisted on the Forest.

It should further be noted that Cinderford had already gained another supermarket. There is also a Lidl in the town, and it’s been trading there for some years.

But the attacks on the Co-op continue.  Another angle is that because of its obstructionist approach it’s forcing shoppers to travel out of town (to Ross-on-Wye for example) in order to do the “shopping of their choice”.  The aforementioned Labour Councillor was quoted in the Forester as saying: “anybody who goes to Morrisons in Ross on any Friday or Saturday afternoon will see more Cinderford people there than on Cinderford High Street.”

This comment is speculative to say the least. As far as I know, there’s been no scientific survey on the weekend shopping habits of Cinderford folk ~ though of course it may be that such shoppers are happy to take a day out in a town like Ross, regardless of such an ambiguous concept as “choice”!

COMPETITION INCREASING
The Co-op is of course deeply rooted in the Forest of Dean. These roots go back to the late 19th Century.  Even today it has four supermarkets in the Dean council area, as well as a number of convenience stores.

But it’s only natural that competition should be increasing. In Lydney there are two other supermarkets apart from the Co-op. In Coleford there’s also a Nisa, and a smaller convenience store – Tesco – in competition with the Co-op.  And much the same pattern is seen in Cinderford.
But still, it seems, some folk want even more supermarkets, and to blazes with the consequences.

First, there’s only so much “competition” that our Forest communities can absorb before retail outlets start to go to the wall. The first will be the smaller specialist shops, such as butchers. bakers, clothes shops, and the smaller retail “general” stores. Then the weaker supermarket stores will suffer – and only the more voracious giants will survive.

It’s not up to me to speculate on the fate of the proposed Steam Mills development.  But a retail economy based solely on supermarket shopping is not a happy trend – particularly when we consider the next trend – one in which all shopping is done “online”,  goods are just shipped from the relevant warehouse to the customer, and we never have to go near a shop or supermarket again.

Then, of course, all diversity will have vanished, and the finger-pointing as to who did what to whom will vanish with it.  And you won’t be able to blame the Co-op!

EDUCATION MATTERS: Dean Academy still seeking new Head & HEALTHWATCH

In R.Richardson on May 5, 2016 at 12:37 pm

In our last issue, we highlighted the woes that had befallen the Dean Academy in Lydney. A new permanent Head was being sought, and interviews took place in February.

But judging from the school’s website no appointment has yet been made. It is still hoped that the new Head will begin the new school year in September, with the present acting head, John Barrett, staying on as part-time adviser. The website outlines the post-Ofsted action plan that has been put in place to lift the school out of “special measures” which is already being acted on. Ofsted will no doubt be visiting in the not-too-distant future, to judge whether the action plan has been effective.

“BRAIN DRAIN” DEPARTURES:

Speaking of Ofsted, its chief, Michael Wilshaw has been commenting on the “brain drain” of teachers to work abroad. He is seeking ways to persuade at least newly-qualified teachers to spend two or three years teaching here. But Ben Culverhouse, a junior school teacher from Somerset, writing in the Guardian, believes Michael Wilshaw is part of the problem. Michael Gove, when Minister for Education, instructed Wilshaw to “raise standards”. Ofsted “suddenly got nasty”. Good schools were deemed to be coasting and any weakness in a school was ruthlessly exploited.

ACADEMISATION:

This policy, of course, went hand-in-hand with the Gove/Cameron objective of academisation.

Any school judged inadequate could be forced into becoming an academy. The belief in the efficacy of a “could do better” approach to teachers and schools is epitomised by a reported remark to the Guardian by Wilshaw in 2012: “If anyone says to you that staff morale is at an all-time low, you know you are doing something right.” Unbelievable! No wonder teachers are leaving in droves. And pupil numbers are set to rise by one million by 2022.

BLOG LINES:

Tim Paramour, a deputy head in a London primary school (pictured above), wrote a blog which outlines his reasons for leaving teaching at the end of this school year after twelve years in the profession. He writes that unless teachers want to get their Head the sack they have to teach to a series of dull, uninspiring tests. “Got a passion for music? Primary teaching is not for you!” He wrote. “Want to inspire children with drama? Go hug a tree, you Corbyn-loving hippie. Teachers want trust, respect and the right to exercise their own professional judgement.”

In our last issue, we highlighted the woes that had befallen the Dean Academy in Lydney. A new permanent Head was being sought, and interviews took place in February.

But judging from the school’s website no appointment has yet been made. It is still hoped that the new Head will begin the new school year in September, with the present acting head, John Barrett, staying on as part-time adviser. The website outlines the post-Ofsted action plan that has been put in place to lift the school out of “special measures” which is already being acted on. Ofsted will no doubt be visiting in the not-too-distant future, to judge whether the action plan has been effective.

Apart from a general teacher shortage, there are shortages in particular areas. 73 per cent of Heads say that they are having to resort to putting teachers not trained in the subject in front of classes. Maths, with 78 per cent of schools using non-specialist teachers, and Science (75 per cent) are the most worrying, and languages (33 per cent) are also having problems.

One of the side-effects of the emphasis on exam results was high-lighted by “Secret Teacher”, an anonymous contributor to the Guardian. She writes of how the A Level and GCSE groups are assigned specialist teachers whilst the others often have non-specialists or long term supply teachers. Key Stage Three (the first years at Secondary School) are the ones who lose out. “If your performance is judged completely on exam groups and you’re creaking under the strain of an unsustainable workload of 60-plus hours a week, you’re going to cut corners, and it’s going to be in Key Stage Three,” writes “Secret Teacher”.

OFF THE MARK:

It seems that our own MP, Mark Harper, is all in favour of tests. Previous expectations have been too low, he wrote recently in the Forester. He approves of the new tests this year for Key Stages One and Two (incidentally Key Stage One tests were abolished around 2000 but are now being brought back). Harper thinks it essential that schools are “held to account” for their pupils’ performance – and that they will be required to publish results. Testing and more testing Mark Harper thinks is bound to raise standards so that “the next generation have the skills they need to succeed in today’s competitive global market.

DEADLINE FOR ACADEMISATION:

It was George Osborne’s budget that dropped an unexpected bombshell. We were told, abruptly, that all schools in England should become academies by 2020 – a change that will affect 15,000 schools. Teachers’ organisations were all but unanimous in opposing these plans – and Jeremy Corbyn, speaking at the annual NUT conference roundly condemned the pan as “an ideological attack on teachers and on local and parental accountability.” He received a standing ovation. Meanwhile, education minister, Nicky Morgan, floundered against a hostile audience in the Commons.

Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that as Wales and Scotland have control over their own education, their schools will remain firmly under the direction of local authorities.


HEALTH WATCH: Under-funded NHS trusts denied funding

The majority of England’s NHS trusts are in deficit, with no way to claw their way back without making drastic cuts. Yet the Health Minister Jeremy Hunt has denied them the means to get back on even keel without cutting NHS services and front line jobs.

According to recent figures, deficits continue to rise with 130 out of 150 trusts in the red, and the number is rising. Barts, in London, heads the list with a deficit of £134 million.

Meanwhile any share of the £1.5 billion “transformation fund” for 2016-2017 are to be denied them.

“BALANCE THE BOOKS”:

Hunt has demanded that trusts “balance the books without compromising patient care” if they’re to get any of the much-needed cash injection. In other words, if you really need the money you can’t have any.

Meanwhile, guidance from the NHS regulator “Monitor” has urged those trusts in deficit to agree action that would include “headcount reduction”. In other words, by sacking staff. How this is compatible with Hunt’s drive to recruit more doctors and to bring in 24-hour cover to hospitals is not explained.

Dr. John Lister, who produces the website Health Emergency writes in response: “Five years of frozen funding under David Cameron’s governments have reduced the NHS to a cash-strapped shadow of the service the Tories inherited when they took office in 2010 …. But the latest call for trusts to balance the books by culling staff is a sure-fire recipe for growing waiting lists, waiting times, trolley waits and all the misery some of us remember from the grim Thatcher years in the late 1980s.”

CARRY ON CAMPAIGNING:

Meanwhile, campaigns in defence of our Health Service and those who work in the NHS continue. In many parts of the country there have been marches in support of the junior doctors who have faced a “take it or leave it” ultimatum from Jeremy Hunt in his insistence on imposing new hours and conditions.

Other demonstrations have focused on declining conditions in hospitals – including those in Gloucestershire. In March campaigners from across the county rallied in a march through Cheltenham in support of junior doctors and to protest against the lack of adequate funding for the NHS generally. Protesters also showed their support for the doctors outside the Gloucester Royal.

JUNIOR DOCTORS TO STRIKE AGAIN:

As we go to press the junior doctors have given notice that they intend to accelerate their campaign against the new conditions being imposed on them by Health Minister Jeremy Hunt.

Further strike action will take place on April 26 and 27 – and on this occasion there will be no emergency cover provided. So what has provoked this hardening of attitude amongst the doctors?

It can be summed up in two words. Jeremy Hunt. It was his decision to break off negotiations and impose a deal willy nilly that in its present form is unacceptable to the doctors involved.

Hunt’s response was to declare that “the matter is closed.” The BMA spokesman for the junior doctors responded by saying that “The Government will bear full responsibility for the first full walkout of doctors in this country.

He went on to point out that the biggest barrier to seven-day cover is “a chronic lack of investment and a shortage of staff.”

And with the intransigence of the Tory Government, this is likely to get worse rather than better.

RUTH RICHARDSON

OBITUARIES: TANIA ROSE

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

tania_roseA friend of the Clarion

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

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

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

RETURN TO BRITAIN:

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

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

NEW DIRECTIONS:

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

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

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

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

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’.

VOTE GREEN – GO BLUE

In T. Chinnick on May 5, 2015 at 9:22 pm

An on-line Clarion special for the General Election 2015 by Monmouth Labour’s Tyler Chinnick, in between canvassing for Ruth Jones in Monmouth.

On Shamocracy yesterday Brogan Morris took exception to the main parties urging the electorate to vote tactically.  I understand amidst the noise and blackmail it can be easy just to think ‘Fuck it’ and vote for the party that most closely represents your own views, but that would be a mistake.  Let me explain why.

I came of political age under New Labour and to a large extent I defined myself in opposition to it; to its policies of war and privatisation, of ID cards and 90 day detention.  I loathed its rightward lurch and felt absolutely no affiliation to it.

As my political education continued my opposition to New Labour quickly became indistinguishable from my opposition to neo-liberalism and American imperialism.  During this time I flirted with a number of groups – TUSC, the Socialist Party, the Socialist Labour Party, the Socialist Party of Great Britain, the Socialist Workers Party, the Communist Party of Britain, the People’s Front of Judea… the Judean people’s front…

Prior to the last election I organized a hustings to which our then Labour candidate was invited alongside Plaid, Green, Communists and others.  When confronted with a semi-hostile left-wing audience* the Labour candidate’s default argument as to why we should vote Labour was ‘to keep out the Tories’.  This struck me as being horribly negative.  I hated that they had nothing positive to offer and I resented the implied blackmail.  And so at the last election, knowing that Labour were certain to lose and living in a safe conservative seat I felt no regret about casting my vote for the most left-wing party on the ballot – The Greens.

I presumed that even though my vote would make absolutely no practical difference Labour would at least register the discontent that I and many others felt.

In 2015, however, you absolutely should fear another Tory government and it isn’t illegitimate to point out that the only way to stop it is by voting Labour.

Nonetheless, I fully understand that that isn’t enough.  People have the right to demand something to vote for; luckily in Ed Miliband’s Labour we have it.

When the financial crisis hit a few years previously I had naively assumed that everyone would more or less instinctively see the error of their ways and, with the exception of a few free-market fundamentalists declare neo-liberalism dead.  The political parties could then begin in earnest to decide what would replace it.  This would be remarkably propitious to the left in general and the Labour party in particular.

Skip forward to the Labour leadership election.  On the BBC Parliament channel Ed Milliband is giving a speech to the Fabian society outlining his assessment of Labour and the country and his vision for our future.  His basic contention is essentially this: like the post-war consensus before it the Thatcherite consensus is now dead, Labour has alienated many of its core supporters, shed thousands of members and been reduced to its second worst election result since 1918.  It is time to reconnect and forge a new path.  I’m sold and although not a member I’m rooting for him.

A battle between left and right ensues.  That his brother, an unreconstructed Blairite should embody the other pole of Labour opinion and also be Ed’s main rival gives the contest the feel of a Shakespearean tragedy. What’s left of the New Labour machine is mobilised for David and the media have more or less crowned him winner before the battle proper has even begun.  So as well as having the right prescription Ed is also the anti-Blairite candidate – suddenly I feel that it is even more important that he should win.

A year later Ed Milliband gives his first speech as leader at the Labour conference.  By anyone’s standard it’s not good.  Propped on the lectern is a voluminous manuscript from which he reads like a particularly uncharismatic politics professor.  The content is very similar to the speech given to the Fabians that so impressed me a year earlier, but overly academic and lacking the common touch it fails to connect with the audience.  The verdict from the commentariat is damning.  The right wing press wrongly interpret his attempt at left-wing populism as a return to 1970‘s style ‘old Labour’.  That he lacks the rhetorical skills of a Thatcher or Blair is evident but the content for me is more important.

The calls of having chosen the wrong brother intensify and treacherous Blairites crawl out of the woodwork to sniff and sneer; people begin to talk about getting rid of him “before it’s too late”.

In fact the reaction becomes so hysterical, so over-the-top, so nasty and personal that I decide to join the party in the hope of bolstering his leadership credentials in whatever small way I can.

Miliband’s time as leader since has been characterised by challenging conventional wisdom and taking on powerful vested interests, and winning.

He has broken the neo-liberal consensus by championing market interventionism, opposing privatisation and proposing some re-nationalisation, albeit limited.

He defied both Rupert Murdoch and conventional wisdom when Murdoch tried to take over the remaining shares of bskyb.  He followed it up by vowing to implement Lord Leveson’s findings in full, which would, amongst other things break up Murdoch’s press monopoly.  It’s no wonder the ‘dirty digger’ harangued his journalists a few weeks ago for not doing enough to harm Miliband.  The sound of the gutter press in full attack mode combined with Lynton Crosby’s shameless smear campaign (it seems British politics is now overrun with venomous antipodean reptiles) should be enough to elicit your sympathy for Mr. Miliband if nothing else.  The fact that he has faced all this with a commendable humility and resilience should – if people really do want politicians of principle and decency – consider awarding him their vote on Election Day.

Consider this also – if Ed Miliband becomes prime minister tomorrow it will mean the end of the toxic stranglehold that an unaccountable foreign national has held over our politics since the 70’s.  The British press and British democracy will be infinitely healthier as a result.

By voting for the recognition of a Palestinian state and refusing to support the bombing of Syria he defied the assumption that Britain will always support the U.S.  But this still won’t be enough for some people.  He doesn’t want to scrap Trident and has no aim of disbanding the army like the Greens.  But if he does become Prime Minister we will see the most significant shift in British foreign policy since at least the 1970’s.

I probably don’t need to remind readers of Shamocracy of the legacy of this government but quickly: 700,000 people on zero hours contracts, at least a Million people forced to rely on food banks, the worst rate or underemployment in the E.U, 3.5 million children living in poverty, the bedroom tax, a huge onslaught on welfare which has led to people dying, large scale privatisation of the N.H.S, privatisation of the Royal Mail and probation services, rising energy prices, a cost of living crisis, disability hate crime up, homelessness up.  We have the ability to end all this tomorrow.  But only if we vote Labour.

If elected Miliband will end the bedroom tax, ban zero hours contracts, take action on food banks, reverse the Health and Social Care Act, start a million new house builds, raise the minimum wage, take action on energy prices, ensure a fair deal for private renters, introduce a mansion tax, hire 20,000 more nurses, end the free school program and the list goes on.

The Labour party supports TTIP.  I do not.  I share the Green position. But this is one issue out of many and I would much, much rather spend my energies fighting a Labour government on that one single issue than a Conservative government on everything.

Even then, Labour has pledged to ring-fence our most valuable public service – the NHS – from TTIP.

So, since on more or less everything else the Greens and Labour are in agreement – the only question is the extent.  Greens want a minimum wage of £10 by 2020; Labour £8.  Greens want to bring the railways back into public ownership by waiting for the contracts to expire; Labour want to set up a state rail company to bid for contracts and gradually bring the railways into public ownership that way.  The Greens want to raise the top tax band to 60p; Labour want 50p.  The Greens want a complete end to privatisation in the NHS; Labour want to reverse Tory privatisation and cap profits on contracts already awarded.

The main difference between Labour and the Greens is that the Greens don’t have to worry about either large-scale electability or whether their ideas are practical.  Labour on the other hand doesn’t have the luxury of being a minor party; they can’t throw out ideas and see what sticks. If they commit to something chances are they’ll have to implement it.

Throughout the dark days of New Labour I encountered various hard-left groups, such as those mentioned earlier who insisted that Labour weren’t left-wing enough.  But I recognised that their prescriptions – basically an unreconstructed Socialism – were completely unelectable.  There was surely a path to be trodden between ‘New Labour’ and out and out Socialism (however desirable that may be) that was both properly left wing and electable.  At last in Ed Milliband’s Labour we have such a party.

Meanwhile we now have more insurgent groups who are not only insisting that Labour isn’t left enough but are taking Labour votes.  How tragic would it be that given the opportunity to vote for change – real change unlike we’ve had in years – a section of the left should deny us that opportunity by voting for the Green or SNP?

Brogan regards the first past the post voting system as “absurd” but burying your head in the sand and voting as if we have a proportional system is even more absurd.

I’m not saying under no circumstance don’t vote Green, far from it.  If you live in Brighton or a super safe seat then by all means obey your conscience.  But if you live in a Labour-Tory marginal please vote with your head not your heart, and put your cross in the red box.

Don’t #Votegreenandfeelblue #VoteLabour

*it was at this meeting that the Green party leader in Wales Pippa Bartolotti claims to have got her political awakening

THE WORKHOUSE: How to penalise the poor

In John Wilmot on March 5, 2015 at 8:17 pm

The Victorians, it seems had their own way of dealing with poverty. It was known as the workhouse, brought in under the New Poor Law in the 1840s, and immortalised by Charles Dickens in his novel Oliver Twist.

Poverty, of course, has long been with us. But for some decades  before the New Poor Law came into being, it had been dealt with through the granting of “out relief”, paid out by the Parish to those unable to provide for themselves or their families.

INDUSTRIALISATION:

But the 19th Century was a time of sweeping change. Industrialisation and the introduction of the factory system was undermining old patterns of employment. Whole swathes of the population found that  their jobs were cut from under them. And the cost of administering “out relief” rose sharply.

But in his book, “A People’s History of England”, historian A.L. Morton suggests that there was another reason for the setting up the workhouse system.  Effectively, he said, those thrown out of work “were offered a choice between the factory and the workhouse.”  Industrialism needed a workforce – and the harsh conditions laid down by the workhouse system ensured that workers were in plentiful supply.

PENALISING POVERTY:

The new Poor Law Commissioners appointed stated that inmates of the new workhouses must be “subjected to such courses of labour and discipline as will repel the indolent and vicious.” Within the walls of the workhouse,  families were broken up, food was meagre and hard grinding work was the order of the day.

THE POOR LAW COMMISSIONERS:

Poor Law Commissioners were appointed to administer the new system (thus making sure that there was no longer even a vestige of democratic control), headed by their secretary, Edwin Chadwick. Morton comments that “they became for a whole decade the most detested men in Britain.”

Opposition to the workhouse system was particularly strong in the north of England. In some towns they were stormed by angry mobs and even burned down. In the West Yorkshire town of Todmorden it took thirty years for the workhouse to be built.

THE WORKHOUSE IN THE FOREST OF DEAN:

An illuminating talk on the workhouse system in the Forest of Dean was given last month  by Cecile Hunt at a meeting of the Local History Society.

There were some special circumstances that  applied in the Forest. As much of it at the time was Crown land, the pattern of parishes didn’t always exist. Consequently, two workhouses were built to house “paupers” within the Forest. One was built at Westbury, and the workhouses at Chepstow and Monmouth took inmates from the west of the Dean, whilst the second within the Dean was at Newent. Schools were, at first, attached  but these were often ineffective.  The children were often orphans, or were placed in the workhouse by parents who just couldn’t feed or look after them.

Both the conditions and the food were invariably poor.  Patterns of work were strictly regulated and inmates were given bread and gruel for breakfast and soup for dinner alternating with small amounts of meat.

The men worked some ten hours a day, often picking oakum, stone breaking or bone crushing.  Such work was inevitably hard, pointless, manual labour. At Westbury Union, a contract for stone breaking was carried out. Meanwhile, women inmates had to carry out domestic work.

The guardians of the workhouses lasted until 1930, and the name “workhouse” itself was subsequently dropped for something more euphemistic. The institution in Westbury, for example, eventually became Westbury House, and then morphed into homes for the elderly.

Today few signs of the old workhouse buildings remain, either in Westbury or Newnham. Few would wish to be reminded of them. The site of the workhouse in Westbury, for example, is now occupied by new housing.

“VICTORIAN VALUES”?

The workhouse system could be seen as part of those “Victorian values” extolled by Margaret Thatcher. Certainly it was the Victorians (or some of them) who came up with the differentiation between the “deserving and undeserving poor” – a distinction that many who should know better still hold today. Remember Osborne’s distinction between “strivers and slackers”?

JOHN WILMOT