Villagers to run their own school

Long before posh toff David Cameron was going on about his ‘big society’, anarchists were making the argument that you don’t need the government and state to run society, ordinary people can do it for themselves.

And so it is that, after a long battle with Herefordshire Council, Dilwyn residents have decided to run their village school themselves.

Last year council bosses decided that Dilwyn Primary School was ‘unsustainable’ and would have to close despite various rescue plans including linking with St Mary’s High School in Lugwardine. The local community are now working on plans for a free school run by volunteers.

As we’ve said previously, schools are an important hub of village life and even more so for a small village like Dilwyn. At a time when rural communities are being decimated by the dwindling agricultural industry and multinational companies sucking trade in to the towns and cities, it is vital that we do whatever it takes to preserve these communities.

Herefordshire Council, whilst paying its top boss more than the prime minister, look only at the balance sheet and see a school as unprofitable, taking in no account of its social value.

We support the efforts of Dilwyn’s people in keeping their school open, but it is also vital that we continue to resist every closure.

Herefordshire Council are currently reviewing the future of other schools and will no doubt be attempting to shut down whatever they can. A strong and united anti-closure movement is a must.

A Question of Democracy – A Critical Look At It’s Our County

We anarchists are often ridiculed and criticised for our attitude towards voting and to representative democracy as a whole. We view the system of having individuals representing us in council or government as giving up our freedom. We all know that these people do whatever they want once elected and rarely keep the promises they made in order to win votes. Anarchism comes from the Greek an-archos meaning without leaders.Democracy to us is everyone having an equal voice. If we organised in our communities and workplaces into groups and made decisions based on consensus we could do without those people who claim to represent us.

An example of what we mean can be seen from the It’s Our City anti-ESG campaign. This group was set up by people, including but not exclusively councillors, in order to stop the destruction of the city centre. Around 16,000 people agreed with them and signed a petition to show their support. At this point, we believe, the democratic thing to do would have been open public meetings to decide on the direction of the campaign. We would have pushed for the picketing of council meetings, city centre rallies and other forms of direct action. Not everyone would have agreed with us, but at least in open meetings people could have shared their ideas.

Unfortunately the self appointed leadership of It’s Our City decided that 16,000 signatures meant 16,000 votes. Behind closed doors they turned a vibrant community wide campaign into a political party. This was anything but a democratic decision. Cynics would say they let their egos and hunger for power get the better of them. In the end they failed to win the election. But it would make no difference if they had won control of the council; people who claim to be the solution always end up as the problem. Tony Blair and Barak Obama are evidence of that. Leading members of the It’s Our County party supported the election of Jesse ‘sod the poor’ Norman, so it’s clear their political views aren’t very different to the people they claim to oppose.

When It’s Our City was being wound up, Hereford Solidarity League tried to push for an open and democratic continuation of the campaign, but organisers refused, thinking that we wanted to take over. We thought that there would be support for direct action, as numerous community based campaigns have successfully used this in the past. This would have allowed supporters to use their own voice, rather than rely on other councillors to talk for them. As we now know only a lack of money stands between the council and their ESG plans. We hope that future campaigns learn from the mistakes of It’s Our City and not allow politicians to get in the way of democracy.

Herefordshire Schools Under Threat Again!

A financial package going for final approval in March may seal the fate of a number of Herefordshire’s small schools.

The package shows that funding allocations that help to keep small schools and nurseries open could be heavily slashed as the schools budget could be cut by over £1.5 million.

The schools budget loses some £500,000 through falling rolls while facing an increase in overall spending commitments of at least £1million.

This is not the first time Herefordshire’s schools have come under serious threat. Back in January 2008 Herefordshire Council made proposals to either close or merge 37 schools in the county.

Meetings and rallies were quickly called to oppose the plans and to kick-start a protest campaign. In February there was a mass rally and march in Hereford, which attracted hundreds of parents, teachers, school kids and concerned members of the public.

As a result of this huge public opposition the plans were put on hold, for ‘further consideration’ in 2011.

It would now seem that the Government’s planned public spending cuts have given the council an excuse to revisit and implement these proposals.

Our rural schools provide vital and easily reachable education for many young Herefordians. Many are also the focal points of the community, providing a space for other out-of-school-hours activities. Closing them would be a cowardly and damaging move by the Council, putting their own interests and the interests of profits before the education of our children.

The Hereford Heckler repeat’s the call it made in 2008: NO SCHOOL CLOSURES!

Whoever you vote for, It’s Still THEIR County

Central ward councillor Mark Hubbard launched his new political party this September to a packed out Shire Hall of almost 200 people.

It’s Our County claims to be “a new kind of political party dedicated to returning democracy to Herefordshire and to finding local solutions to local problems”. They are now campaigning ahead of next year’s local elections under the broad banner of ‘change’. But hang on, haven’t we heard all of this before? Blair in 1997; Obama in 2008; Cameron in 2010.What we quickly find out is that they’re just more of the same.

It’s Our County was formed out of It’s Our City, the campaign against the Edgar Street Grid. It’s Our City now looks set to be wound up at the decision of those involved in It’s Our County, despite the fact that firm plans are still in place for the ESG development.

* * *

Since its launch in September last year, It’s Our City has dragged its feet over the ESG issue. Over the course of a year it has amounted to little more than a petition and it has failed to mobilise its 13,000 supporters–a campaign against a major development like the ESG cannot be fought with the single tactic of a petition alone.

In November when the petition was presented to the council we organised a feeder march to arrive at the time of the presentation. Despite repeated requests, they refused to advertise the march because it might lose them their air of respectability. For us the choice was simple: did they want to look respectful or did they want to win, because you can’t always have both.

When the petition failed we pushed for action: pickets at council meetings, marches, mass street meetings and rallies, occupations of council buildings … whatever it took. Many people told us that it was time for It’s Our City to take a more militant approach. Not knowing where to go next, the campaign went into near shutdown, emerging months later with its key members planning a new political party–It’s Our County.

It’s hard not to be cynical about this–was It’s Our City just a strategy to galvanise support for a future political party? Have they ridden on the backs of discontent over the ESG just to gain power for themselves?

It’s Our County is now claiming to be a more serious fight against not only the ESG but the council’s ‘growth agenda’ as a whole–the plan to build 8,000 new houses and a bypass in Hereford.

What we’re fed up with is Herefordshire Council making all the decisions for us. But It’s Our County will be more of the same. If they take control of the council next year it will still be ‘them’ making the decisions and ‘us’ who get no say. Their version of ‘democracy’ is exactly the same as all the others: we get a vote once every four years and if you don’t like what they do in between then tough!

No more leaders, No more political parties, let’s have some genuine people power instead.

Herefordshire’s own Houdini – ESG becomes Hereford Futures

To walk away from the smouldering car wreck that was ESG Ltd without a scratch, then calmly settle behind the wheel of an even larger ‘development vehicle’, the supercharged Hereford Failures shows recklessness even Top Gear’s Richard Hammond would admire.

Yet that is just what ESG’s former chief executive, Jonathan Bretherton, has done, becoming CEO of Herefordshire Council’s renamed development company Hereford Failures, which will be “…taking its lead (according to a saccharine-flavoured council Press statement) from the priorities voiced by residents in the council’s successful (sic) Shaping Our Place consultation…”.

The statement is long on Blairite hyperbole but short on hard facts.

Hereford Failures, it seems, is to be charged with [deep breath] creating new and better-paid jobs, affordable homes, vibrant communities, an energy-efficient urban village, new retail and leisure attractions, a new relief road, a second river crossing, all flood alleviation engineering work, [inhale] sustainable transport projects (including improved public transport connections), the creation of a higher education campus, strategic business parks for knowledge-based industries… oh yeah, and a retail quarter on the Edgar Street grid site and a new link road. Same as before then.