Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Posts Tagged ‘UK Politics’

TRIDENT: Not fit for purpose

In A.Graham, C.Spiby on April 27, 2017 at 12:31 pm

We offer no apologies for returning to the topic of the Trident missile system – and its questionable role in our so-called defence system.

It seems that technically it is no longer fit for purpose. It has outlived its effectiveness (if it ever had any), and should now either be scrapped or at the very least phased out.

According to the latest issue of The Spokesman (the quarterly journal of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation),  the Trident system has now completed 26 years of deployment, and has now  “reached its original design life goal” – as the US Department of Defence puts it.

HUSHED UP:

The failed test highlighted in the last issue of the Clarion was hushed up by the Americans, though Theresa May was informed. She chose not to pass on the news to Parliament. It was only revealed through a US press leak.

WHAT ABOUT “DE-COMMISSIONING”?

There are other concerns about the Trident system, apart from the effectiveness of this ageing system. How do we get rid of nuclear submarines when we no longer need them?  The Spokesman reports that HMS Tireless has now joined eighteen other nuclear submarines awaiting dismantling.  “With Dreadnought rusting in Rosyth since 1980, the cost of maintaining them is rising and space running out as the Ministry of Defence struggles to find an environmentally safe and cost effective means of disposal. “

As Laurel and Hardy may well have said, “A fine mess you’ve got us into!”  Yes, Trident should be phased out. As “a defence system” it was never fit for purpose. But even if we do scrap this over-priced system our worries are far from over.  How do we safely and securely scrap our redundant nuclear submarines?  It could be a problem that remains with us for decades – if not longer.

Below is web-only edition of the Clarion bonus material…


 

THE HISTORY OF ‘PROTECT AND SURVIVE’

Professor John Preston will be hosting a discussion on the infamous 1970’s pif ‘Protect and Survive’ on June 29th at the University of East London. Click here for more details on the FREE event (limited numbers so you will need to book).

In Prof. Preston’s own words:

In this workshop we will consider the origins, nature, reception and fate of the 1980s UK government civil defence campagn “Protect and Survive”. We will discuss the following issues:-

  • What were the origins of Protect and Survive? How did the original plans arise and how were they realised? How exactly did it arrive in the public domain?
  • What was the nature of Protect and Survive? Was it a campaign / public information ‘package’? How would it have been used in practice? What types of media would it have used?
  • How was Protect and Survive recieved? How was it portrayed in the media, popular culture, government and internationally?
  • What happened to Protect and Survive? Did it become ‘civil protection’? Does it still exist in some form?

This is a workshop rather than an academic seminar. The format will be to spend one hour (approx.) on each of the four issues (with a tea break at some point) and for perhaps one person to ‘lead’ each area (if anyone would like to volunteer to lead a particular area that woudl be great) by giving a five minute introduction to that topic.

The conference is open to anyone: academics, historians, collectors, policy makers, practitioners and anyone who is interested in “Protect and Survive”

Lunch is not included but you will get a cup of tea / coffee and a biscuit or two. At the end of the workshop you are welcome to join us for a drink.

Incidentally, a seminal BBC Panorama has found its way on to YouTube (available at the time of this posting, at least), which looks into the role of Civil Defence in Britain in 1980, at a time when ‘Protect and Survive’ was still secret and intended for viewing only in the event of impending nuclear war.

Watching this again (I remember seeing it when I was only 9 years old first time around) – this programme has lost none of its potency. If anything it acts as an important reminder of the futility of nuclear war – no less relevant today – but also just how far we’ve come in terms of documentary film-making. An hour long and in-depth this is a far cry from today’s glossy but often light handling of topic on mainstream tv. Panorama on BBC used to occupy the 8pm or 9.25pm slot on BBC1 (just after the 9 o’clock News with Angela Rippon or Kenneth Baker!)

END

Clarion Comment: BEWARE THE IDES OF MAY

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

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

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

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

BAD JUDGEMENT:

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

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

REVIVING THE DODO?

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

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

A MATTER OF EXPENSES:

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

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

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

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

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

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


The brutal Indifference of Deportation

And it’s happening on May’s watch

from a Clarion correspondent

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

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

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

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

DETAINED AT YARL’S WOOD:

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

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

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

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

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

 

MODERN TIMES: the Dinosaur column

In Dinosaur, Uncategorized on 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

MODERN TIMES: The Dinosaur Column

In Dinosaur, Uncategorized on April 24, 2017 at 12:12 pm

So, what’s a “clean break”?

dinosaurTheresa May, our new “iron lady” Prime Minister, has declared that she’s aiming for a “clean break” from the European Union when we have to surrender our membership and leave (by the back door maybe?).

A “clean” break?  When it comes to an exit of this sort there’s no such thing as a “clean” break. Mark my words, it’s going to be messy for an awful lot of people.  We’ve been members of the European Union for a long time now. Many folk were born into it. Whether we liked it or not we grew up as Europeans. We may have grumbled about the EU but many folk moved to mainland Europe, made their homes there, whilst other Europeans moved here. Now, it seems, according to May’s dictat, they’ll no longer be a right of automatic entry to this country for our fellow Europeans on the other side of the channel.    Or, perhaps, no right to stay here if some petty bureaucrat decides otherwise.

If May wants to take it to her “logical” conclusion, she should cancel the Eurostar and fill in the Channel Tunnel. That would help to make a clean break. It wouldn’t have kept the Normans out of course (don’t forget, they were Europeans), or indeed previous waves of Europeans who came here to settle. But who cares these days?

Meanwhile there are plenty of folk both sides of the Channel who’re now working to re-define their nationalities to their best advantage. All because May has decided to make a “clean break”.

Scots wha-hey?

And what of our Scottish neighbours, where the voters decided by a clear majority that they wanted to remain part of Europe?  Scotland has a clear, historically-based sense of separate nationhood, and they don’t want to be bulldosed into a “clean break” with the EU, thank you very much.

What the Scots would be happy to accept it seems would be some kind of “associate status” with the EU – rather similar to that enjoyed by our friends in Norway.  But Theresa May has made it clear that she wants nothing to do with that.

So, if you live in Scotland, where do you go from here?  Hold another referendum?  In which case would May accept a result in favour of Scottish independence?  I wouldn’t know, but then I’m only an old Dinosaur, who enjoys his trips north of the border. Whenever I can. But it’s worth mulling over.

Crossing the river:

I’m afraid I never managed to cross the Severn by way of the old ferry.  It ceased to run in the 1960s – the day before the gleaming new bridge that replaced it was royally opened.

And so the ferry became the stuff of legend, whilst the bridge became something to wonder over.  It was a thing of beauty – and it only cost half a crown (two shillings and sixpence in old money) to motor across.

This was fine – for all except nostalgic thrill seekers who looked back the days of the old ferry.  But then came the craze for privatising everything in sight, and the bridge was franchised out to a French company. Inevitably the cost of crossing started to go up, and up. Not only that, when the new bridge (which bypasses us in the Forest altogether) was built, they threatened to close it down.

It’s now well over six quid. But here’s some good news. It seems the franchise is due to run out in 2018 when it should revert to public ownership. And the estimated cost to cross should fall to three pounds.  I don’t know how this compares to two shillings and sixpence in old money, but it could be worse.

Of course some years back all bridge tolls in Scotland were scrapped completely. But then they’ve never suffered from a Tory government.

Dinosaur

Clarion Review THE VICTORIAN SLUM (Documentary, BBC2) & ‘I, Daniel Blake’

In John Wilmot, Reviews on April 24, 2017 at 11:59 am

It’s refreshing to see a documentary on television devoted to the lives of working class people – particularly back at the end of the 1800s.

For this particular venture the BBC chose to select a group of today’s families and take them back in time to experience life in the worst slum dwellings of London’s East End, in order to re-live the experience of life on the edge.

In those days there were no social services. Those at the bottom of the heap survived as best they could. For those who couldn’t, there was starvation on the streets – or the dreaded Workhouse, where families were split up and inmates subjected to relentless and humiliating toil.

PATCHY:

The finished documentary is somewhat patchy, with many sequences which, to me, seemed hardly relevant – whilst other factors gain no mention at all. The programme rightly made the point that the fate of those on the bottom rung of the social ladder often rested on trade cycles. In other words, as the country prospered there would be work available. During periods of slump in trade, they’d be laid off.

Many of those affected were self-employed tradesmen, trying to make a living from their slum dwellings – but still subjected to the trade cycles that came and went.  On top of that Britain’s industrial supremacy was being challenged  (by such countries as Germany and the USA) and the political establishment was divided between those who favoured protection and those who argued for free trade as a response to these challenges.

VOTES FOR WOMEN:

At a time when women didn’t have a vote, much is made of the suffragette movement. Although the campaign for the suffrage did impinge on working class women, it wasn’t so important in their lives as this series makes out. The suffragettes – particularly the wing of the movement led by the Pankhursts – was overwhelmingly middle class.

Another movement that did have more impact on working class lives was the rise of the co-operative movement.  From the cotton mills of Rochdale this was spreading rapidly across the country and was now becoming rooted in the East End.

Through the Co-op, working class families could buy wholesome food cheaply – and also benefit from the “dividend”. Contamination of food by shopkeepers who preyed on working class customers was widespread in those days.

WHAT, NO SOCIALISM?!

One glaring omission from this series was the rapid rise of Socialism and Socialist ideas, which were soon to transform the political landscape. As far as this programme was concerned, Voters were either Conservative or Liberal.

But during the time span covered by “The Victorian Slum” (which stretched through the Edwardian period almost to the First World War), we had the founding of the Fabian Society, and the Independent Labour Party, launched in 1893. Keir Hardie, leader of the ILP, was elected to Parliament, and William Morris became converted to Socialism, launching his own Socialist movement.  Here was a new movement based on a new set of ideas that was forcing itself on to the political scene, and into the minds and hearts of those in the East End of London, as elsewhere.

REPLACING THE SLUMS?

We also saw the first attempts to replace the slums with blocks of flats, by the newly formed London County Council (LCC). Initially these were a failure.  For various reasons, the slum dwellers failed to move on to the new accommodation on offer – and in fact much of the surrounding slum property remained until well into the 1930s. And it was left to Hitler, in the wartime blitz to destroy much of what was left.  But that of course was another story.

Despite its flaws this was an interesting series, giving an intimate view of what it was like to be poor in Victorian and Edwardian England. Other parts of the country, of course, shared similar experiences.  And, gradually, social reforms began to improve conditions.

There was the introduction of old age pensions (for example) when Lloyd George was Prime Minister. Then there was the first meagre payment for the unemployment. But, of course it wasn’t until after 1945 (during the Atlee Government) that the Welfare State as we came to know it, to care for people “from the cradle to the grave” came into being.

Looking back to the days of Victorian and Edwardian Britain it’s something we should cherish – whilst we’ve still got it.

JOHN WILMOT.


“I, DANIEL BLAKE”: Another masterpiece from Ken Loach

Ken Loach has long been the scourge of the Establishment, attacking today’s divided society for the callous inhumanity of those  who administrate it on behalf of those in control. And long after many film directors would have retired (to a life of light gardening, perhaps) he’s carried on.

We were able to see his latest work, I Daniel Blake, at a crowded performance at the Palace Cinema in Cinderford. The film waded into the attack practically from the first reel, pinpointing the inadequacies of the so-called “Welfare State”, and the callousness of its administration, with a clarity that must have left many in the audience seething with anger at the kind of society that we’ve created.

Daniel Blake is a carpenter in his late fifties. He lives in Newcastle, but a heart attack has left him without work, and he has to sign on.  He meets a young woman, Katie, with a young son and daughter. (They have arrived in Newcastle from down south and are strangers to the city), Daniel takes them under his wing.

BATTLING THE SYSTEM:

And here their battle with the system begins.  One of the many hoops that they’re expected to jump through is computer literacy.  And of course there are many who lack it… after all, how many of those stuck in such a position can afford a computer or have had access to one?

The hurdles to be faced to get any support from officials in the so-called “social security” offices with their “jobsworth” attitudes colour the whole system and those who show sympathy with the claimants become ground down.

LIFE AT THE BOTTOM:

Other aspects of a rotten system are highlighted. One young man on a zero hours contract finds himself forced into the black economy in order to survive.  And Katie is forced to join the queues at the local Food Bank when she goes to get food to feed herself and her children.  She gets supplies and sympathy, of course, but still finds the experience humiliating.

As for Daniel Blake, in desperation he resorts to painting slogans on the wall opposite the social security offices, declaring that he is a human being, not just a faceless number to be processed through a heartless system.  Inevitably he’s arrested.

His action gains him support from fellow victims of the system.  But of course his friends are powerless. As the film draws towards its end, he collapses and dies of a fatal heart attack. His funeral is packed, and here Katie  reads out his final statement  that he’d prepared to present at a hearing at the Social Security offices to which he’d been summoned (prior to having his allowance cut off).

The scruffy, hand-written piece of paper is a defiant defence of his own humanity – and of all those who had come to his funeral.

MIXED RESPONSES:

There have, of course been mixed responses to the film.  It’s only natural that  Ken Loach has  chosen a multi-pronged attack on the system.  And most of those who’ve flocked to the cinema to see the film have never shared the experiences of those like Daniel Blake, Katie and others at the mercy of the system.

As for Tories who raised their heads above the parapet, their response has been to condemn the film as false propaganda.  At best, it’s “exaggerated”. Iain Duncan Smith, for example, didn’t like it at all.

But simply on a human level it’s a moving account of those forced to suffer under an unfeeling system that has traduced what was once regarded as part of one of this country’s proudest achievements – the welfare State.

JOHN WILMOT

EDUCATION MATTERS roundup

In R.Richardson, Uncategorized on April 21, 2017 at 12:45 pm

2 issues worth compiled by RUTH  RICHARDSON

HIDDEN AGENDA?:

Education news recently revealed is hardly positive. Statistics published at the end of last year indicated that only 53 per cent of primary schools reached the standard in reading, writing and arithmetic demanded by the new rigorous tests for ten and eleven year-olds.  Heads and teachers complained that the tests were set at too high a level, whilst parents reported their children being extremely stressed.

The previous year eighty per cent of primary schools reached the required target, and some fear that there is a hidden behind the setting up of the new tough tests. Schools who fail could face being forced into academisation, which is of course the model that the Department of Education favours.

WARNING OF CUTS TO COME:

We have reported previously on the cuts imminent in education in the years 2017-18.  Russell Hobby, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, has warned of “bigger classes, fewer subjects and staff being let go. Parents … will see the person looking after special educational needs go and all those other additional services disappear. ”

Schools have already used up any accumulated reserves. For example one playing field has been sold off every two weeks since the London 2012 Olympics – this at a time of growing concern over childhood obesity rates.

WHO’LL SUFFER?

A recent article in the “i” newspaper reports that changes to the way that funding is allocated will mean that schools in Labour areas will suffer proportionately more.

The article compares funding in, for example, poorer London constituencies such as Bermondsey with more affluent  Conservative seats such as Derby North.  It finds that the poorest constituencies suffer cuts of £800-£1,000, whilst the richer ones face cuts of £80-£150 per pupil per year. These figures have been published by six education unions.

The Department for Education claimed that the analysis was “fundamentally misleading.”

EXIT TRISTRAM:

Last month the shadow Education Secretary, Tristram Hunt left his job as an MP to become director of the Victoria & Albert Museum, a move that will almost double his salary.

Many of us on the left will feel that he is no great loss – the New Statesman in 1915 labelled him “Britain’s least popular MP”,

An avowed Blairite, Hunt backed the setting up of academies and free schools, and advocated performance related pay for teachers.

Hunt has been reported as supporting entry charges to the big London museums, charges which in 2011 were abolished. We hope that the V& A does not live to regret its new appointee.

STANDING UP FOR EDUCATION

During the past year the National Union of Teachers (NUT) has been running a campaign entitled “Stand Up for Education”, to fight for better policies – a fairer system with a wider vision which values every child.

A recent pamphlet, Reclaiming Our Schools*,  sets out ten objectives of the campaign, which include giving more time to teaching rather than tests, ensuring a 100 per cent qualified teaching profession and an assurance that education  will never be run for profit.

THOUGHT PROVOKING:

The pamphlet is a compendium of thirteen essays from leading educationalists. All are thought-provoking and range from a historical analysis of our current situation to the ending of child poverty.  One essay in particular interested me. It argued for “an empowered democratised and properly resourced local school system.” The authors are Professor Richard Hatcher of Birmingham University and Ken Jones, formerly Professor of Education at Goldsmiths College and now working for the NUT.

SILENCE FROM LABOUR?

They quote a policy document put out by the Labour Party which states that “we will put an end to the fragmented, divisive school system created by this government “.   But this document, say the authors, remains silent on the subject of free schools, academies and grammar schools, all of which have contributed to the very fragmentation which the Labour Party seeks to condemn. This essay points out that research shows that academisation does not raise standards, as has been claimed, and their lack of accountability is unacceptable.

A first step would be the “re-creation of fully inclusive local systems of schools.”

Legal expert, David Wolfe, has shown that funding agreements can be rescinded, including those with private sponsor chains. No state-funded school should be controlled by a private organisation – it’s a form of privatisation.

LOCAL AUTHORITY’S ROLE:

The role of the local authority being re-established, they should control admissions policy and identify schools which need additional support.  Schools would work co-operatively instead of competitively. The local Authority would be acting in the interests of the whole community they are elected to represent.

Professors Hatcher and Jones (the authors) were at pains to point out how important it would be to have proper structures and procedures in place, to enable local communities to effectively participate in decision making.  They argue for the idea of a local education panel to include governors, teachers, school students and community representatives. Such wide-reaching participation would not mean intervening in issues which are properly matters of professional judgement. But there would be a movement towards “deliberation and negotiation between public professionals and local authorities and the mobilisation of collective support for progressive policies.

BIAS AGAINST LABOUR AREAS:

A recent report in the Morning Star revealed that school funding costs would adversely affect more Labour constituencies than Tory ones. Teachers ‘unions published a list of one hundred MPs whose constituencies were most likely to be affected, and of these 86 are Labour and 14 Tory.

Kevin Courtney, NUT general secretary, said: “Budgets have already been cut to the bone and all the sacrifices and compromises have been made. Schools simply cannot take another blow to already precarious finances.”  There was a rally of teachers in Whitehall on November 17th in protest at the proposed cuts.

FOOTNOTE:

The King Edward V1 Grammar School in Louth, Lincolnshire, sent out postal results of their entrance examination. Those children who had passed received their results in gold envelopes, whilst the rest were in plain envelopes.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said that this “told you all you needed to know about selective education.

The school declined to comment. 

RUTH RICHARDSON

*See  http://www.reclaimingschools.org

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!

Clarion Comment: THE MANY FACES OF DONALD TRUMP

In Editorial, Uncategorized on January 19, 2017 at 1:46 pm

Those of us who followed the US presidential election contest on television must have watched the performance of Donald Trump with increasing revulsion – mixed perhaps with a certain amount of dread. It wasn’t just his message. It was also the reaction of his cheering supporters – and the sneaking thought that maybe, just maybe, he could actually win and become the next President of America.

The pledge to build a wall to keep Mexicans (whom he described as “rapists”) from “flooding into America”, the promise to bar entry to Muslims, to abolish “Obamacare” and to impeach Hillary Clinton as a “criminal” got her opponents cheering – and (as far as Hillary Clinton was concerned) got them chanting in unison, “lock her up, lock her up!”

Lest we forget the frenzy, those were just a few of the headlines that we witnessed from the Trump campaign. As well there were the smears against women in business, and attacks on those of minority ethnic origin.

Then came the culmination of the election – the counting of the votes. Despite the fact that Clinton, on a straight head count, got a substantial majority of votes overall, she lost. Our worst fears had been realised. As the results were confirmed, those who opposed Trump in New York and San Francisco took to the streets in outrage.

ANOTHER FACE:

But then another face of Trump briefly emerged. From the moment he met Obama at the White House we saw a more conciliatory Trump. One who declared the need to work together for the “sake of America”. It seemed that the notion of building a wall between the USA and Mexico had been put on hold. “Obamacare” we were told wouldn’t be scrapped altogether but merely amended (whatever that would mean). Suddenly the rhetoric of confrontation was scaled down to the point where it became almost placatory.

So which Trump are we to believe? And does it matter? The answer must be yes, it does. It was his performance on the hustings that stirred up his supporters and brought previously hidden emotions bubbling to the surface, like a poisonous, putrid stew. They made the public face of UKIP in Britain seem almost cuddly by comparison (though the congratulatory visit to Trump Towers by Nigel Farage was all the more nauseating for that). Basically an ugly side of America was revealed during this campaign, and the surge of “Trumpism” won’t just go away.

Then, just when we thought that Trump himself was having second thoughts, he told us all that he was going to build his wall to keep out the Mexicans after all (and that Mexico would pay for it. Oh yeah?). It may be that the wall might be scaled down to a barbed wire fence in places, but it would be built, he declared. And he’s still going to “deport or incarcerate” up to three million “criminal aliens”.

We don’t of course yet know what the future will bring. In particular we don’t know what impact it will have on relations between the UK and the USA. Theresa May went through the obligatory motions of welcoming Trump’s election – whilst he made it clear that she wasn’t exactly on his list of priorities – or if she was on his list at all.

But more complex matters, such as his odd attraction towards Putin, the conflict in the Middle East, and the whole approach to international aid are likely to be affected by Trump’s entry to the White House.

But perhaps more serious in the long term is the fact that Trump is a climate change denier. He doesn’t believe in global warming – and his refusal to clear up his act could affect us all. Already he’s threatening to cancel America’s agreement to the Paris Accord (signed by leading nations to cut back on carbon emissions to tackle global warming). All this could be deadly serious news for our planet. More recently he’s been brandishing the nuclear military option, in a way designed to send shivers down the spine.

CONSPIRACY?

At this stage of the Trump saga signs of conspiracy began to emerge. Could it be that the vacillations over previous policy statements were less due to changes of heart and more the effect of manipulation?

Enter Steve Bannon. He’s been appointed the new chief strategist for Donald Trump.

He’s not a name that many of us know on this side of the Atlantic, but he is the executive chair of “Breitbart News” – described as a “white ethnic nationalist propaganda mill”. He’s been a strong supporter of Trump during the presidential campaign. And his appointment has been welcomed both by the leader of the American Nazi Party and the former head of the Ku Klux Klan. To be fair, we doubt if he asked for this support (or, indeed, welcomed it), but it’s a sign of where his more extreme support might lie.

And if anyone needs any more evidence of the kind of government that Trump will be providing then they only need to look at those he’s chosen to fill the rest of his Cabinet. They’re not a pretty sight.

What all this means for the future of the USA (or indeed the rest of us) remains to be seen. At present America remains a deeply divided country – one that looks as though it’s shifting ominously to the right. So, watch this space.

trump_may

HEALTH WATCH / EDUCATION MATTERS double-bill

In R.Richardson on January 3, 2017 at 5:22 pm

EDUCATION MATTERS: Who Wants Grammar Schools?

As schools went back after the long summer break, the big news was that Theresa May intends to lift the 17-year ban on establishing new selective schools – in other words to bring back grammar schools.

The “tripartite system” of secondary education which was set up following the Education Act of 1944 prescribed  a universal exam at 11, whereby children were selected for what was considered the most suitable education for them.  The three types of schools were grammar schools for the more academic pupils, technical schools  for the technologically minded (though few of these were established) and secondary modern schools for the rest.

UNDER FIRE:

Twenty years later the system was  being criticised by educationalists on several counts. First, eleven was far too young an age to predict ability  and consequently to prescribe a suitable educational path.  Secondly, those who went to the secondary modern schools were all too often deemed to have “failed” and thus had low expectations.

The solution was the setting up of comprehensive schools countrywide, where children worked and played alongside all their classmates from the primary schools. This policy which obviously took several years to implement, was begun under a Labour government, with Harold Wilson being PM and Anthony Crossland as the then education minister.

REVERSE GEAR:

When a Conservative government under Edward Heath was returned in 1970 , the comprehensive  programme was not yet complete, so there was the anomaly of some grammar schools remaining in Tory local education authorities.  It has never been part of Conservative education policy to promote comprehensive schools, and Margaret Thatcher (who was then education minister) brought the programme to an abrupt halt.

SURVIVAL:

Those remaining grammar schools have survived through successive Conservative and Labour regimes, so it is possible to look today at areas such as Kent and Buckinghamshire which have retained their policy of selection at 11. . An article by Stephen Bush in the “i” newspaper points out that while in those areas the grammar school  does create higher education opportunities for some children it is by no means a panacea for those from the working class.

A third of grammar school pupils from deprived backgrounds left without a single GCSE, wrote Stephen Bush. Strangely, Theresa May claimed on September 9th that “the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils is reduced to almost zero for children in selective schools.” So who is correct?

Jeremy Corbyn cited Kent as an area  where there was evidence of the shortcomings of selection. He said that GCSE results in Kent showed the system was not working.  In Kent, said Corbyn, only 27 percent of children on free school meals (an important indicator of social deprivation) got at  least five GCSEs whereas in inner London, a fully comprehensivve area, the figure is 45 per cent.

Some Conservative MPs have also expressed concern. Theresa Villiers, former Northern Ireland Secretary, asked how new grammar schools would actually benefit the communities in which they are situated. Keith Simpson, Tory MP for Broadland also had “severe reservations.”

Theresa May was at pains to point out that new grammar schools would be required to take a proportion of pupils from lower-income households.  They would, in fact, promote social mobility, she claimed.

UNITING THE OPPOSITION:

May’s announcement managed to unify against her the “seemingly un-unifiable Labour Party, along with a coalition of the likes of Teach First, the University of Oxford  and Kings College, London”, The Sutton Trust has recently produced research warning that grammar schools entrench inequality. Its CEO, Dr. Elliott Major points out that children from less affluent backgrounds would have to be offered lower thresholds to take up a place if May’s claims of social mobility are to be met. At present only 3 per cent of grammar school pupils are entitled to free school meals as against 17 per cent of the national average.

An article in the Observer quotes the reaction of a number of educationalists to May’s announcement. Among them is Melissa Benn, who writes “All the evidence shows that where schools select social segregation  and widening gaps in attainment follow, and it’s ordinary working class people who lose out …  but what May and co. have not yet reckoned on is the fury these plans will arouse among parents across the country…   for whom comprehensive education is working well. They certainly won’t accept the rejection of their own children before they have even left primary school.”

RUTH RICHARDSON


HEALTH WATCH: WHAT’S THE SUSTAINABILITY AND TRANSFORMATION PLAN WHEN IT’S AT HOME?

The notion of  “Sustainability and Transformation Plans” (STPs) seems to have been exercising the minds of those within the English NHS a great deal this year. It seems to be presented as a kind of panacea for the problems facing the Health Service – without providing any extra funding.

Draft plans for STPs were submitted in June this year. To the layperson it’s difficult to understand what exactly they will mean for the Health Service on the ground. There’s plenty of talk about “co-ordination” and “working together”- and, perhaps more ominously, of “closing the funding gap”.

Health campaigner, Dr. John Lister,though is in no doubt. He points to the fact that Health Care managers and top bureaucrats have been involved from the beginning in the preparation of these STPs, whilst those on the ground have been left out of the process. “The STPs don’t just exclude GPs and primary care staff  from the process – they also exclude hospital staff and staff in community health services” he points out (writing in the Morning Star) . In other words, all those who will be most affected by the planned changes are to have no say.

With NHS budgets frozen at levels totally inadequate to meet needs plus mounting deficits, it’s difficult to see how the STPs are supposed to resolve the underlying problem of lack of funding.  Indeed, Dr Lister suggests that they are little more than a “slash and burn” exercise.

At present NHS budgets are insufficient to meet the needs of the Service.  Rather than looking to increase funding, the STPs seem to be based on cutting services to meet what money’s available.

As far as the care for those who need it in the NHS is concerned, that’s no solution.  The proposals like to use words like “reconfiguration” without spelling out what this means – the closing of hospitals.

All this is to prepare us for making the NHS a second class service – whilst opening the door to more private health care, charges for certain treatment within the NHS – and private health insurance.

So, beware of managers bearing gifts. Study the small print – if you’re able. The more jargon is involved the more we should be suspicious of the intentions. The STPs look suspiciously like another blow at the National Health Service as we’ve known and cherished it.

Paying for a consultation – or a quick fix?

A new service has recently been promoted by a group of  GPs allowing patients to gain access on line to a quick quarter of an hour consultation.  Those surgeries who wish to be involved sign up to “Doctaly”, which allows its doctors to join in the new service.-  And  to charge £40  for the 15 minute consultation.

According to those behind the scheme, it’s “the quickest way to find and book an affordable face-to-face GP  appointment. Choose from our trusted private doctors, at a convenient time  and location from just £39.99”

The blurb tells those who may be interested that the scheme “allows patients to book and pay for a 15 minute appointment with a GP – who primarily works in the NHS – at a local practice for £40 on line” (incidentally, this cost rises to £69.99 for  any out of hours appointments).

This new service has already been rolled out in North London (and the Doctaly website includes a glowing reference from a patient from Bounds Green). It’s being extended throughout London, followed by the rest of the country over the next couple of  years.  Incidentally, London patients can also get a same-day appointment at a BUPA hospital for £70.

It’s not surprising that it has its critics. “This is privatisation of the worst kind,” declared  Alan Taman for “Keep our NHS Public”.  “Not only is it substituting for what should be freely available to all – a GP appointment in a decent time – but it’s doing so at a time when GP services are on their knees.

“This creates a three-tier service – a fully privatised version for those willing to pay, a deteriorating NHS service for those who cannot afford to pay, and now this – a queue jumping scheme parasiting off the NHS while getting people to dig into their pockets.”

RUTH RICHARDSON

ON THE DAY FARES GO UP: Getting our Railways back on track!

In A.Graham on January 3, 2017 at 5:17 pm

Question: why have rail workers, though their union the RMT, been in dispute with the company that owns and runs Southern Rail?

And what are the implications for passengers?  In the short term many commuters may complain of the inconvenience. Indeed, many no doubt have. But looking at the industrial action and its causes, RMT members are campaigning for all passengers on our trains. The issue is over the need for guards on our trains.

Southern Rail is one of a number of companies that wants to get rid of guards on their trains. Which means that there will just be a driver to deal with any problems that may occur en route, check tickets and ensure that journeys go smoothly. How passengers get their tickets at any unmanned stations (like Lydney) isn’t explained.

POOR PERFORMANCE:

Maybe it’s because the poor performance of Southern Rail (part of the Southern/Govia-Thameslink Group) that it’s found itself in the front line. But there are other rail companies that aspire to getting rid of their guards on their trains as well. Scot Rail, Richard Branson’s Virgin East Coast trains, and even Eurostar would like to go down that track,

But it’s not the only point of complaint that travellers may have with the current rail system. Indeed, it’s more a case of “how long have you got?” But the dispute over the employment of guards on trains is a glaring example of what’s wrong with our privatised system.

When the rail network was de-nationalised in 1996 (by John Major), it turned out to be a botched job.  All British Rail’s assets were taken over, and the network of tracks on which the trains ran were placed in the hands of a new company called Railtrack. In order to give as many aspiring rail companies as possible a bite of the cherry, routes were parcelled out and awarded as franchises to different bidders, all eager to milk the opportunity to make loads of money for their shareholders.

PATCHY:

The results were, to say the least, patchy. A few companies soon lost their franchises through sheer incompetence.  Others were taken over. There was little co-ordination, and the whole system became fragmented. And fares continue to rise across the whole network.

And it continues to fray around the edges. Meanwhile the major companies continue to make nice profits. – All helped by generous subsidies.

In 2014-15, for example, rail subsidies came to £4.8 billion. In the same period, Network Rail (the successor to Railtrack)  managed accumulated losses of £40 billion.  We could also add to the taxpayers’ bills the overall cot of such vanity projects as  HS2 (the high speed rail link to the north). Meanwhile, Southern Rail has been given a nice  fat handout  to help them over their “troubles”.

Incidentally, many of the companies running our train services are now foreign-owned.  The two companies who cater for passengers through Lydney , for example, are both owned by Deutsche Bahn (the German State Railways. Both Arriva and Crosscountry are part of the German company’s portfolio.

All this surely increases the case for taking the railways back into public ownership.  And to reinforce the point, in successive polls, public opinion has been firmly in favour of returning the railways to public hands.