Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Posts Tagged ‘War on Terror’

MODERN TIMES: The Dinosaur Column

In Dinosaur on March 5, 2015 at 7:12 pm

 

dinosaur

G4S and the Guantanamo connection:

Did you know that our old friends at G4S had been involved in security work at the notorious US holding camp at Guantanamo Bay?

No, nor did I. It seems that it won a lucrative £70 million contract last August to service the base, where 127 inmates are still being held without charge. What we don’t know of course is whether the company’s personnel were in any way involved with any of the torture practises carried out by US guards on those held there – such as “water boarding”, sleep deprivation or force feeding.

But it seems that G4S has since disposed of  its contract. At the end of 2014 it sold on its US subsidiary – which included its Guantanamo connection.  Now the civil rights group, Reprieve, has taken up the case, and referred the matter to the police. Amnesty International has also called for a full investigation.

Of course we don’t know what role G4S fulfilled in Guantanamo. But it does seem rather – er – injudicious to get involved in this notorious holding centre in the first place.

How fares the BNP?

We hear little of the British National Party (the BNP) these days. Its halcyon days were around 2008 to 2009, when it succeeded in winning over 50 council seats around the country, a seat on the London Assembly and two MEPs (including party leader Nick Griffin).

But then it all fell apart. It failed to win any parliamentary seats in 2010, and subsequently its tally of councillors just melted away. It lost both its seats in the European Parliament, and finally last Autumn, Nick Griffin found himself expelled from the party – and that seemed to be that.

But a visit to the relevant website indicates that the rump of the party is still active. And in one constituency members have been dishing out leaflets door to door, proclaiming that the “BNP is the Labour Party your Grandad would have voted for”.

Really?? I don’t think so!

It’s grim in Gloucester:

Recent figures published on the state of the economy broken down  city by city suggests that the North has been blighted most from austerity and recession – just like it was back in the hungry ‘thirties. Places like Rochdale or Hull, for instance, have been hard hit.. Meanwhile others, like Milton Keynes, London and Brighton are doing much better, thanks.

But one blip in the statistics caught my rheumy old eye. Bottom of the league table when it came to jobs was our own city of Gloucester. Here there was a decline in available jobs of 12 percent – even worse than Rochdale, home of the Co-op Pioneers and Gracie Fields.

That’s not the kind of picture you’re given if you read the business section of The Citizen is it?  Here you’d think that the city was on a roll.

But long gone are the days when the city was an industrial hub. It turned out Cotton motorbikes, the Gloucester Wagon Company made railway rolling stock that was sold across the world – and “England’s Glory” matches were on sale throughout the country.

Off the peg:

CND has started the new year with a vigorous campaign against the renewal of our Trident nuclear missile system. It’s an off-the-peg system, where we buy the missiles from the Americans – but, what with the submarines, it still costs loadsa money.

Hardened CND veterans may remember the days when Britain attempted to go it alone. Remember the campaigns against the Blue Streak missile? Or the Polaris submarine system? Not to mention Cruise missiles? They’ve all been consigned to the dustbin of history. Isn’t it time Trident joined them?

Dinosaur

REVIEW: “A BLAZE OF AUTUMN SUNSHINE” – Tony Benn the last diaries

In R.Richardson on January 13, 2014 at 1:19 pm

TONY BENN’S LAST DIARIES, reviewed by Ruth Richardson.

Tony Benn, of course, is still very much with us. We heard him speak at Tolpuddle in July, inspirational as ever.

But following an operation and a period of illness in 2009, his diaries kept for over sixty years ceased. This volume covers the years 2007 to 2009, with a final memoir, “Life after the Diaries” – part personal, part political – reflections on events of the last four years.

As Clare Allan in the Independent wrote, the diaries are “a delight and an inspiration”. More than that, they are a thoughtful, informed critique of the political events of the time.

Here Benn covers the years when Gordon Brown was Prime Minister. Initially Benn had a good deal of sympathy for him. Certainly he was preferable to Tony Blair! But following Brown’s discussions with President Bush on the continued occupation of Iraq, Benn wrote that he felt “absolutely and completely betrayed by New Labour and Gordon Brown… It was just not possible to put a postcard between him and Bush.”

STILL CAMPAIGNING:

Of course Tony Benn was president of the “Stop the War” movement for many years. He was involved in a number of campaigning groups. Although age made standing increasingly difficult, he continued to speak at many rallies up and down the country. He wrote warmly not only of Tolpuddle but also of the Durham Miners’ Gala, the Levellers event at Burford, Glastonbury and Burston.

Tony’s schedule was staggering for anyone, let alone an octogenarian. In July 2007, he wrote: “I have to be up at five to go to the picket line for the post men and then I am off to Durham and I won’t be back till Saturday night. Tolpuddle on Sunday and on Monday I am at Fox Primary School.”

MIND OVER BODY?

But increasingly over the two years up to when the diary ceases, he admits to feeling tired and sometimes depressed. “I’m feeling my age very much more,” he writes. “I’m unsteady on my legs… I doze and am tired all the time. But there you are, I’ve just got to get used to that. My mind is okay.”

As indeed it is. The final fifteen pages in which Tony reflects on events between 2009 and 2013 are as insightful as ever. He writes, too, of his family, his four children, their partners and his grandchildren who are obviously hugely important to him. He pays great tribute to Ruth Winstone who edits the diaries and who “looks after all my arrangements now… I couldn’t carry on without her.”

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE:

A few weeks ago, there was an interesting and moving interview with Tony Benn by Stephen Moss in the Guardian. At the end, Tony says that he is looking forward to reaching ninety, and Stephen Moss asks him how he manages to stay so positive. “In some ways,” replies Tony, “the test of politics is whether your mind is fixed on the future or the past, and I always try to keep my mind fixed on the future.”

(published by Hutchinson, IBSN 978-0-94387)

Interview with Anarchist author & bookseller STUART CHRISTIE

In O. Adams on March 14, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Perhaps the biggest challenge anarchists face is combating all the disinformation out there about anarchism, and to educate the 99%. That’s part of the reason Forest of Dean Anarchists was set up.

Stuart Christie has been an active anarchist, through writing, publishing and action. The Glaswegian author of Granny Made Me An Anarchist, General Franco Made Me A Terrorist and Edward Heath Made Me Angry (his entertaining and inspiring three-part autobiography), and The Christie File: Enemy Of The State, first achieved notoriety in 1964, when at the age of 18 he hitch-hiked to Madrid to assassinate Franco, and was caught and imprisoned. He was freed three years later thanks to an international campaign led by Jean-Paul Sartre and Bertrand Russell. In the 1970s, he and Albert Meltzer re-formed the Anarchist Black Cross association (to help political prisoners), edited the Black Flag magazine and was acquitted of being part of the Angry Brigade. He remains active in the south of England, where he runs a book publishers http://www.christiebooks.com/ChristieBooksWP/ and hopes to get funding to get an anarchist/libertarian film archive up and running again (see appeal on his site).

Do you feel that earlier anarchist methods, such as ‘propaganda by the deed’ can be effective today?

The tactic of propaganda by the deed is an essential and unchanging element in the struggle for justice and fairness. What may differ from time to time, generation to generation, is the methodology of that direct action. When called on, each new generation and/or individual finds its own way to resist tyranny or advance the struggle. Methods that, for one reason or another, were morally or technically feasible or 20 or even 10 years ago are often no longer be possible today. To paraphrase Karl Popper: because our knowledge and understanding of the world is constantly changing and evolving, especially so in our digital age, we cannot, therefore, know today what we can only know tomorrow

I have seen little evidence that the protagonists of recent movements such as the Indignados of southern Europe, the Arab Spring, and Occupy describe themselves as socialists or anarchists, yet it seems to me that their calls for direct democracy, their holding of general assemblies and call for the end of capitalism are similar, or the same, as anarcho-syndicalism. Do you agree, and if so, why do you think the words‘anarchism’ or ‘socialism’ are rarely, if ever, mentioned, and do you think they should be?

My understanding of these movements is that anarchists and libertarians were — and are — very active in these movements, indeed central to them, especially in the case of the indignados in Spain. What they didn’t do, however, quite sensibly and correctly as anarchists, is lay ideological claim to these popular movements or attempt use them as fertile organisational ‘recruiting grounds’,as inevitably occurs with the Marxist-Leninist-Trotskyist and the Islamist/Jihadist groupings. Anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists and libertarian socialists are certainly active today in Egypt, Libya and other Maghreb countries, and I’ve no doubt there are also anarchists active in the Arabian Peninsula as well. If the terms ‘anarchism’ and ‘socialism’ are rarely heard that’s possibly down to the editorial policies of the mainstream broadcast and print media who have a different agenda and prefer to focus on the Jihadist/Muslim Brotherhood threat..

It seems to me that anarchism is regarded by many as a dirty word, partly due to successful anti-anarchist propaganda, partly due to the interpretation given to it by some anarchists themselves (such as ‘the black bloc’). Would you agree with me, and how might we ‘sell’anarchism to the masses?

The words‘Anarchism’ and ‘anarchists’ have always been demonised by the mainstream media; the time to worry is when the capitalist press and state spin doctors stop using them as ‘bogeymen terms. As for ‘selling anarchism to the masses’the only way to do that is through education (spreading the Idea), inspiration— and example.

Would you consider yourself a socialist as well as an anarchist?

Yes

How hopeful, or hopeless, do you feel the anarchist struggle could be in the face of this current government?

It has never been a question of being hopeful or hopeless in the face of this or any future government/society; the struggle —with the human condition, not just the state — is forever with relentless struggle. All you can — or should — hope for along the way are a few little victories and, maybe, the occasional big one.‘History’, Seamus Heaney says ‘Don’t hope on this side of the grave. But then, once in a lifetime, the longed-for tidal wave of justice can rise up, and hope and history rhyme. So hope for a great sea-change on the far side of revenge. Believe that a further shore is reachable from here. Believe in miracles and cures and healing wells.’

If there were a general election tomorrow, would you vote, and if so, who would you vote for (if they were standing)?

No, I wouldn’t vote for a party or for an individual no matter how honourable, but I would certainly consider a protest vote against a party — or for something achievable. For example, in the Spanish elections of 1936 the anarcho-syndicalist CNT tacitly withdrew its overt opposition to participation in the parliamentary process (ie, voting) in order to force the release of 30,000 political prisoners imprisoned by the Republic over the previous three years

Do you think we could achieve a wholesale anarchist society? Could it happen transitionally or would a rapid revolution be necessary?

I’ve really no idea; what appeared to work rapidly and violently in particular places and times (e.g., Russia, 1917, and Spain, 1936) clearly, for a whole variety of reasons, didn’t endure.Similar events may happen again, who knows, all we can do is work, hopeand carry on. Even so, as, when,and if an ‘anarchist’ society comes into being we’ll still have to face the perennial problems of co-existence human beings have faced since time immemorial. One saving grace we should have — as anarchists — is that we’d hope to be more realistic and conscious of our human failings, shortcomings and limitations, particularly with regard to the corrupting influence of the exercise of power. However, I am an optimist and I share the view of American psychologist William James” ‘The ceaseless whisper of the more permanent ideals, the steady tug of truth and justice, give them but time, MUST warp the world in their direction.’

Do you think that a. the NHS, b. Social security, c. police, d. military, could continue to function, or would be necessary, in an anarchist society?

An anarchist society is and always will be an aspiration, an ideal —a ‘star’ to follow — one that provides us with an ethical code, a moral barometer and a libertarian political template for our everyday lives. If and when a social revolutionary situation recurs again (in this country or anywhere) the role of the anarchist will be to do what they can to ensure that the social institutions required to ensure that any human society (including health and welfare,and security/defence services), function justly, fairly and as conflict-free as is humanly possible, are — and remain — fundamentally democratic, libertarian and answerable to the community. It’s not about achieving Nirvana or a Utopia, only religious zealots and ideological fundamentalists believe in the ‘rapture’ that creates the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, or the ‘last fight’ mentioned in ‘The Internationale’. Anarchists appreciate only too well how ‘imperfect’ human beings are and, doubtless always will be, which is why they reject institutionalised power structures as the bedrock for the creation of oligarchies (well-meaning or otherwise) and the corrupting of the body politic.

What examples can you think of as anarchy in action today?

Can’t think of any offhand, specifically, but I’m sure your readers can come up with lots of examples of voluntary self-help and direct organisations and bodies that would fit into the category of ‘anarchy in action’.

Can laissez-faire capitalists/ the US Libertarian Party be considered as anarchists?

Not in the slightest. These people are minimal statists, the minimal part being the defence and advancement of self-interest and property rights — and not even‘enlightened’ self-interest.

Have your ideas changed much over the decades, and if so, how?

Yes, my thoughts and views on lots of things have changed over the years, which is inevitable as you acquire more knowledge through different experiences, and meeta wide variety of people with different views on life to your own — and of course reading, TV, cinema, the internet, etc.. But my anarchist view of the world remains fundamentally unchanged, ie – see the following:

What is anarchism?

Anarchism is the movement for social justice through freedom. It is concrete, democratic and egalitarian. It has existed and developed since the seventeenth century, with a philosophy and a defined outlook that have evolved and grown with time and circumstance. Anarchism began as what it remains today: a direct challenge by the underprivileged to their oppression and exploitation. It opposes both the insidious growth of state power and the pernicious ethos of possessive individualism, which, together or separately, ultimately serve only the interests of the few at the expense of the rest.

Anarchism promotes mutual aid, harmony and human solidarity, to achieve a free, classless society – a cooperative commonwealth. Anarchism is both a theory and practice of life. Philosophically, it aims for perfect accord between the individual, society and nature. In an anarchist society, mutually respectful sovereign individuals would be organised in non-coercive relationships within naturally defined communities in which the means of production and distribution are held in common.

Anarchists, are not simply dreamers obsessed with abstract principles. We know that events are ruled by chance, and that people’s actions depend much on long-held habits and on psychological and emotional factors that are often anti-social and usually unpredictable. We are well aware that a perfect society cannot be won tomorrow. Indeed, the struggle could last forever! However, it is the vision that provides the spur to struggle against things as they are, and for things that might be.

Whatever the immediate prospects of achieving a free society, and however remote the ideal, if we value our common humanity then we must never cease to strive to realise our vision. If we settle for anything less, then we are little more than beasts of burden at the service of the privileged few, without much to gain from life other than a lighter load, better feed and a cosier berth.

Ultimately, only struggle determines outcome, and progress towards a more meaningful community must begin with the will to resist every form of injustice.

In general terms, this means challenging all exploitation and defying the legitimacy of all coercive authority. If anarchists have one article of unshakeable faith then it is that, once the habit of deferring to politicians or ideologues is lost, and that of resistance to domination and exploitation acquired, then ordinary people have a capacity to organise every aspect of their lives in their own interests, anywhere and at any time, both freely and fairly.

Anarchism encompasses such a broad view of the world that it cannot easily be distilled into a formal definition. Michael Bakunin, the man whose writings and example over a century ago did most to transform anarchism from an abstract critique of political power into a theory of practical social action, defined its fundamental tenet thus: In a word, we reject all privileged, licensed, official, and legal legislation and authority, even though it arise from universal suffrage, convinced that it could only turn to the benefit of a dominant and exploiting minority, and against the interests of the vast enslaved majority.

Anarchists do not stand aside from popular struggle, nor do they attempt to dominate it. They seek to contribute to it practically whatever they can, and also to assist within it the highest possible levels both of individual self-development and of group solidarity. It is possible to recognise anarchist ideas concerning voluntary relationships, egalitarian participation in decision-making processes, mutual aid and a related critique of all forms of domination in philosophical, social and revolutionary movements in all times and places.

Elsewhere, the less formal practices and struggles of the more indomitable among the propertyless and disadvantaged victims of the authority system have found articulation in the writings of those who on brief acquaintance would appear to be mere millenarian dreamers. Far from being abstract speculations conjured out of thin air, such works have, like all social theories, been derived from sensitive observation. They reflect the fundamental and uncontainable conviction nourished by a conscious minority throughout history that social power held over people is a usurpation of natural rights: power originates in the people, and they alone have, together, the right to wield it.

Do you think we in Britain are still threatened by fascism?

Fascism of one sort or another — as with any other reactionary populist ideology and fundamentalist belief system — is always a potential threat to society, especially when people’s fears and emotions can be manipulated and used in the furtherance of some elitist political or religious agenda. Who’d have thought twenty years ago that militant jihadist Islam or fundamentalist Protestantism/Catholicism would still be a serious and ongoing problem in the 21st century!

Should we try and build a movement and organise? If so, how might we do it and what form could it take?

Movements that are thrown up as a response to a particular threat or situation, yes, but you can’t just ‘set up’ a body with revolutionary aspirations in the hope of it developing it into a revolutionary movement’ without it — inevitably—degenerating into a self-perpetuating, self-serving vanguardist monster, e.g., the Communist Party, SWP, WRP, etc. A very useful text to read in that respect is Robert Michels’ ‘Political Parties’, especially the chapters outlining what he called ‘the Iron Law of Oligarchy’. The only way to build, organise, educate and proselytise anarchist libertarian ideas and solutions is through bodies with shared economic/class interests such as the trade unions, trades councils or other community-based groups…

This interview was undertaken by Owen Adams and is a Clarion web-edition special.

EDITORIAL: 100 issues – as we were saying…

In Editorial on August 31, 2012 at 7:49 am

There’s something special about reaching the 100th edition of a paper like the Clarion, It’s like scoring a century. It’s something to celebrate.

When our first issue was being prepared, back in January 1996, we faced different issues than we do now – though it’s interesting how many of them weren’t all that different after all. The Forest had a Tory MP, Paul Marland, and a Tory government was in power at Westminster. It was the final years of the Major Government, and the implacable regime built up during the Thatcher years was beginning to crack.

Meanwhile, the Labour opposition was in the process of being re-branded. It was to become “New Labour”, proclaiming the message that it could administer capitalism just as efficiently (but more humanely?) than the Conservatives. The annual Labour Party conference became a showcase for the leadership – rather than a forum where policies and resolutions were debated with passion and commitment. Socialism, it seemed, had become a dirty word. It just wasn’t in the “New Labour” vocabulary. That’s why the Clarion was proud to proclaim itself as “the only Socialist paper in the Dean”.

Trends such as these presented the new-born Clarion with plenty of issues to debate. And there were more immediate campaigns to focus on. Trade unions at the GCHQ centre in Cheltenham were still banned, and our first issue carried an article by Mike Grindley, outlining the case for trade union representation at GCHQ, The first issue of the Clarion was on sale at the annual GCHQ march and rally in Cheltenham, at the end of January 1996.

And then came the decision by the Major Government to dispose of Forestry Commission woodland to private investors. The Clarion immediately backed the campaign to save our Forest. In the summer of 1996, we wrote: “We could live to see a situation where woodlands are merely cultivated for commercial gain … where “leisure” facilities and tourism are tied to big business and restricted to a few commercially exploited “theme” centres in the Forest – whilst our right to roam freely will be replaced by a right to use a few designated footpaths and cycleways.”

The attempt then to commercialise the Forest was defeated. But it was to re-emerge in 2010 – to be beaten back by an energetic campaign by HOOF, with similar campaigns in threatened woodland areas throughout the country. Now, the threat may have receded, but it hasn’t necessarily disappeared.

THE THREAT OF PFI:   Another interesting parallel with today was the threat to Gloucester Royal Hospital at the end of 1996. The Tory Government had decided that a new hospital should be built on the site of the present one, paid for by private capital. The NHS Trust would lease back the new hospital building and surplus land would be sold off – for, amongst other things, the building of a new private hospital.

“The scheme is part of the Government’s ‘Private Finance Initiative’, and the NHS ‘partner’ in the scheme is a body called United Healthcare.” we wrote.

Paul Marland, our Tory MP at the time, commented that he was “very concerned at the attitude of some union members, who made it clear they totally opposed the plans to provide a new hospital at Gloucester.”

The plans would have cost the NHS some £15 million a year in rent alone. As it turned out, nothing came of it. But the PFI approach to hospital building, dreamed up by the Tories, was to be taken up with enthusiasm by the “New Labour” Government under Blair. And now, it seems, the chickens are coming home to roost.

PFI has now become an increasing burden for many NHS hospitals, who now find that they are facing losses of millions of pounds, and cannot pay their debts

According to a report in Tribune (June 29), the financial problems facing the South London Healthcare NHS Trust “are just a tip of the iceberg”. A combination of under-funding by the present Government plus the legacy of past PFI deals means that another 22 trusts face similar cash crises.

Tribune quotes Geoff Martin of London Health Emergency as saying: “the poisonous cocktail of the great PFI rip-off and years of gross mismanagement has now been revealed.” Of course we were all warned. At the end of 2002, the Clarion reported:

“PFI comes in a number of forms, but the one we’re probably most familiar with is the “lease back” variety in which a private company is contracted to build, let’s say, a school or hospital, which it then leases back … over a period of some thirty years. This means that we, the taxpayer, have to keep paying out until such a time as the property is past its sell-by-date. And it doesn’t come cheap. According to Professor Allyson Pollock, PFI schemes in the Health Service were increasing costs four-fold compared to traditional public funding.”

We can blame New Labour for pursuing such deals as these – but when latter-day Tory leaders get all pious about the situation, they should never forget – and neither should we – that they thought of the idea first.

ALL CHANGE:

But back in May 1st 1997, the Tories went down to crashing defeat, Marland lost his Forest of Dean seat and New Labour took over the reins of Government.

For the Clarion it was a case of mixed emotions. We couldn’t help but celebrate the defeat of the Conservatives. As we said after the election: “Socialism is not on the agenda this time round. But we should be prepared to expect more caring policies; that protect and revive the welfare state, give hope to education, go some way towards closing the yawning gap between between rich and poor, and set about restoring civil liberties taken from us by the Tories.”

Readers can judge for themselves how far these aspirations were achieved under Blair. As for us, we’ll have to fast forward again – to the end of 2002, and the decision by Blair to back Bush’s ill-judged decision to invade Iraq.

MARCHING AGAINST WAR:

On the 15th of February 2003, four coach loads of demonstrators left the Forest to join the march against war in Iraq. It was the biggest demonstration ever to take to the streets of London, attracting between one and two million people (depending on whose figures one accepted).

It was this act, more than any other, that discredited Blair in the eyes of millions of voters. No longer was he viewed as the “wunderkind” of UK politics.

As we said in our “Comment” column (April/May 2003), “In the face of unprecedented worldwide opposition, Bush and Blair have chosen to go to war…

“There have been massive demonstrations against war throughout the world, including the biggest ever march and rally in London on February 15…. and the Prime Minister has faced his biggest rebellion to date amongst Labour MPs. At the end of the debate on March 18, 139 of them voted against war (including our own Diana Organ).”

Of course since then we’ve discovered that Blair failed to consult adequately with Cabinet colleagues, and there were no “weapons of mass destruction” to be found in Iraq. Well, certainly not on the Iraqi side.

And the chaotic aftermath of war lingered on in Iraq. Four years later, in 2007, We asked why the country had rapidly disintegrated whilst US armed forces stood by.

The Clarion reported that no thought had been given to the fate of the country after the war was officially over. “There was talk of “reconstruction”, contracts were awarded to (mainly American) companies, a “slush fund” was hastily put together – which promptly vanished into a multitude of pockets without trace. Meanwhile the country continued to disintegrate.”  

Looking at Iraq today, can we say that any of the stated objectives were achieved? There were NO “weapons of mass destruction”. True, there was “regime change” – but when we went to war, that wasn’t on the agenda. And that unhappy country still hasn’t gained the stability that was promised.

The Iraqi war provided the first major revolt by Labour MPs in the Commons. But more were to follow – including the establishment of “foundation hospitals” within the NHS. In May 2003, 63 Labour MPs voted against the plans; and the Clarion quoted Frank Dobson as saying that foundation hospitals would become a “cuckoo in the nest” and would set “hospital against hospital”. We added: “make no mistake. This Bill is about privatising our hospitals. It will give the private sector a new way into the Health Service…” (Clarion, June/July 2003). Since then, critics have suggested that it was this measure that provided the Tories with the foundations for their Health & Social Care Act, passed earlier this year.

ENTER CAMERON, STAGE RIGHT:

By 2007, the Tories had a new leader in David Cameron. He tried to project a new, softer, image for his party, one that was greener, more humane, and willing to “hug a hoodie”. But by the beginning of 2008 his mask had slipped, with his plans to cut the number of long-term unemployed. They would be “forced back into some semblance of work whatever the pay, conditions or suitability. They will be removed from the unemployment register, whatever the cost to themselves or their families,” we wrote.

Cameron’s model was based on the system used in the state of Wisconsin, USA. We were warned back then that the ugly face of Toryism hadn’t gone away

And now, half way through Cameron’s term of office, we have experience of what Tory Government means during a time of recession. But further comment will have to be covered on other pages and in other editions of the Clarion.

AND NOW A WORD FROM OUR EDITOR IN CHIEF – Alistair Graham…

A SOCIALIST VOICE FOR THE FOREST!

The first issue of the Forest Clarion appeared in mid-January 1996 – in time for the march and rally for trade unions rights at GCHQ in Cheltenham. But the genesis of our paper had been during the previous year, when a small group of us got together to plan a new magazine that would reflect the aspirations of many on the left, at a time of great political change.

Planning a new journal from scratch was no easy matter. For a start, money had to be raised, a printer found – not to mention the thorny question of how our goals should be reflected in the pages of our slim magazine. The Clarion was to be tied to no political party. It aimed to be an independent voice from the start, encouraging debate, informing its readers – and covering topics far wider than the boundaries of the Forest of Dean (later we decided to include the Wye Valley in our title and coverage).

We hope that we’ve maintained both that independence and spirit of debate over the years. At the start, we were feeling our way, but as we produced those first few issues, it all gradually came together. We worked out a statement of aims, which appears on the back page of the Clarion, which ends with the declaration that we aim “to provide a platform for that debate, to keep readers informed of issues that we regard as important and to support campaigns in line with our aims.” And these have remained the key principles that we’ve tried to maintain.

As a paper produced by an open collective, we have no rich backers or any “sugar daddies” to provide funds. We have to pay our way. At times it hasn’t been easy, but we’ve soldiered on. So far, thanks to the support both of our readers and our printer, we haven’t missed an issue!

The Clarion will carry on – hopefully for as long as our readers feel a need for it.

AG

More Time For Politics!

In R.Richardson, Reviews on August 10, 2010 at 3:16 pm

‘More Time For Politics: the Benn Diaries 2001 – 2007’ by Tony Benn

Non-fiction/politics/journal/autobiographical. Review by Ruth Richardson

Another volume of Tony Benn‘s diaries – his eighth – was published just before Christmas. Again it is a blend of the political and the personal, a hugely readable account of the six years since he left Parliament.

The diaries provide ample evidence of the title of this book. When he gave up being an MP, his wife Caroline said that he would “have more time for politics”. In the last six years his schedule of meetings, broadcasts, travelling and writing would have exhausted a man half his age. On the eve of his eightieth birthday, he writes: “From the time I left Parliament… I’ve made 555 speeches in around 130 towns. Did 1,089 broadcasts… and wrote 190 newspaper articles and three books. So it’s not a bad record, but I’m now getting to the point where I just want to quieten down a bit.” But he shows no signs of doing so. The following year he writes, “I’ve got 24 meetings this month. I must be absolutely out of my mind.”

WAR IN IRAQ:

The event which dominated these years was, of course, the Iraq war. Those of us who attended the huge demonstration in Hyde Park in February 2003 will remember the eloquence and passion with which Tony Benn spoke. Two weeks before that he had flown to Baghdad to interview Saddam Hussein, a visit that Tony Benn had been trying to arrange since before Christmas. The interview is printed in full and makes interesting reading.

Tony Benn wrote “A lot of people will be… disgusted that I was friendly to him, but for God’s sake it was to stop a war!” He writes of the chaos and looting in Baghdad and predicted that there would be huge problems in post-war Iraq, a prediction that we now know to be only too true.

ERODING CIVIL LIBERTIES:

Tony Benn’s disillusionment with New Labour, already evident in his 1991-2001 diaries, is even more pronounced. He writes of Labour Party conferences where the role of delegates is “just to look up and admire the satellite”. Blair, he writes, is an absolute control freak, and Gordon Brown has little time for trade unions or Socialism. Tony Benn is greatly concerned about New Labour’s erosion of civil liberties, as evidenced by the attempts to introduce ID cards and the Anti-Terrorism Act. “Bush’s war is being used to take away our civil liberties,” he writes.

He is, however, aware of the effect his outspokenness may have on his son Hilary’s political career. He is immensely proud of Hilary and likens their relationship to that of himself and his own father.

FAMILY BONDS:

The love and support of his family is extremely important to Tony Benn. In between the meetings, the speeches and the journeys are accounts of happy family gatherings and holidays. Often they remembered Caroline, who died in 2000. On the first anniversary of her death they held a little family gathering of remembrance, and on the fifth anniversary he writes, “there’s not a day, not an hour, goes by when I don’t think of her.” Benn’s daughter, Melissa, and his grandchildren are frequently mentioned with pride and affection.

ENCOUNTERS:

As in the previous diaries, there are a number of quirky encounters with people on trains, taxi drivers, his builder, and the nuns who live next door. Apparently Tony Benn got to know them when he was sweeping his front steps one Christmas morning. He writes, too, about tackling the laundry and the shopping with “my big shopping trolley”, and I liked his account of managing to sew a button on his trousers and of how proud he felt!

Tony Benn is wary of being “a bit of an old hat”. It is heart warming to read “I’ve got to develop new thoughts, have a dream, but be realistic, try and understand the world and encourage people.”

I think that that is what Tony Benn has always done. May he long continue to do so.

{Tony Benn is an honourary Clarion subscriber}