Category Archives: Gloucestershire

Former Labour MP David Drew odds on favourite to win back Stroud seat

Drew
Ladbrokes have today released betting odds for the Stroud constituency General Election results for 2015. Stroud’s former MP David Drew will be pleased to see that he is considered odds on favourite.

In 2010 David Drew was defeated by the long-standing Conservative candidate Neil Carmichael by just 2.24%.

2010 Stroud General Election Results:
Conservative: 23679 (40.84%)
Labour: 22380 (38.6%)
Liberal Democrat: 8955 (15.45%)
Green: 1542 (2.66%)
UKIP: 1301 (2.24%)
Independent: 116 (0.2%)
Majority: 1299 (2.24%)

As a result Stroud is considered as a key battleground for the 2015 election. We know that Stroud features 16th on Labour’s 106 must win seats to secure a majority. We also know that Stroud is considered part of the Conservative 40/40 2015 campaign strategy (hold 40 key marginal and win 40 more).

So what will it take for Stroud to once again turn red?

Control the Labour to UKIP vote loss – Although of course UKIP are not a real contender for winning the Stroud seat, they could potentially cost both Labour and the Conservatives dearly. There is evidence to suggest UKIP nationally will dent both Conservative and Labour’s vote share, but locally in Stroud, David Drew is a well-known ‘Eurosceptic’. For Labour to win Stroud back they need to be able to play on this without alienating their core demographic. It will be interesting to watch how the local Labour party plays Drew’s well known ‘Euroscepticism’ in the more working class areas of the constituency such as Storehouse and the centre of Stroud.

Mop up the Liberal Democrats – The Liberal Democrats are widely expected to haemorrhage many of their 8,955 votes as the regional party concentrates on re-electing their standing MPs in the South West. To do this Labour need to learn a lesson from the Liberal Democrats and start producing some bar charts that leave the electorate with the clear message: Stroud is a two-horse race, vote Labour to keep the Tories out. It will be interesting to see if this ‘two-horse race’ rhetoric comes out in the Lib Dem strong-hold of Dursley.

Keep an eye on The Green Party – Lastly there is also the Green Party which saw their vote drop by about a 1,000 from 2005 to 2010 after a substantial campaign by the local Labour party to present David Drew as the ‘green choice’. Just before the election the local Labour party released an advert that some interpreted as a message from the Green Party endorsing the Labour candidate. Although I don’t expect there to see a repeat of a campaign of such intensity to secure Green votes, I am sure that the local Labour party will be wanting to squash any sign of resurgence from the Greens (who maintain a healthy vote share in local elections).

Get their core vote out – At every election we know that the core Conservative vote will turn up to the ballot box. As always, Labour’s challenge will be to ensure that their core support gets out to vote. With this in mind, expect to see a big push for up-dating voter intentions* on their data-bases and then a mammoth election day operation!

*Steve’s tip of the day. To avoid having your door knocked on constantly on election day, tell whatever party that turns up your doorstep that you would never consider voting for them. This way you’re placed in their records as a waste of time to chase on election day.  

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Mike Assenti on the need to change the political climate around flooding

With half of the Somerset Levels currently underwater and thousands of lives and livelihoods put on hold, a huge argument has erupted around the Enviornment Agency and what it should have done to prevent the situation.  Mike Assenti writes for Hynd’s blog on climate change, flooding and his growing frustration with the political establishment.

Somerset-floods_2802176b
Suddenly, it seems everybody is an expert in flood management.

Why weren’t the rivers dredged? Should the rivers even be dredged? Did the Environment Agency give the government bad advice, as Eric Pickles has claimed? Is the Environment Agency’s policy the direct result of the Treasury’s rules, as the EA’s Chairman Chris Smith has countered?

Frankly I don’t know.

Unlike Mr Pickles, I’m more than happy to admit that I’m really not well versed on the evidence on the effects of dredging, and I’m most certainly not an expert in flood defences. But, if you’re interested, George Monbiot wrote a fascinating article on the subject last month for the Guardian.

The media is understandably mostly concerned with the striking images of the effects of this weather, and with the terrible personal stories of those affected. (Now that it is the Home Counties which are facing some serious flooding, the tension seems to have ratcheted even higher…but this is a subject for another, more cynical post.)

Much of the focus has been given to the short term effects of the flooding, and even to the medium term causes and preventative measures. Of course, the fact that there is now a political row attached to this aspect will undoubtedly drive further superficial analysis.

What has had far less attention though are the long term causes of this extreme weather. Whether or not this current batch of weather is definitively linked to climate change is almost impossible to say for certain, but the MET Office Chief Scientist, Dame Julie Slingo has stated that, “All the evidence suggests there is a link to climate change“.

Regardless of the provenance of this current batch of storms, climate scientists broadly agree that one effect of climate change is likely to be the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather.

We have spent years hearing the horror stories of climate change, and even seeing what are supposedly some of the early effects. Agreements have been made as to how best to tackle it, carbon targets set, carbon targets postponed, reduced, and missed. Subsidies have been introduced to encourage the development and installation of renewable power sources, said subsidies then reduced or removed. The leader of a government which came to power claiming to be ‘the greenest ever’, has since been quoted demanding the removal of ‘all the green crap’ from utilities bills.

As an Engineer, I am reluctant to point out a problem without also suggesting a solution. However, in this case my frustration with the attitudes of those in power (both politically and commercially), as well as with a large part of the general public has spilled over from indignant rage into resigned apathy. I don’t know how more clearly the scale of the problem and nature of the solutions to climate change need to be stated before we start to take it seriously. Dozens of solutions to this problem have been mooted, but all of them require a fundamental shift in thinking by those in charge.

Instead of paying lip service to those campaigning for solutions to climate change, we need to start seeing some real action. We need to see real investment in renewables and local storage, rather than incentivising fracking. Countering the assertion of the energy companies that green subsidies are to blame for increasing bills not with (the totally accurate) explanation of how little these subsidies are, but with an explanation of why it is fair that they are paid. Taking more control of public transport, to make it economical to travel by train or bus rather than driving. Appointing an Environment Secretary who isn’t a climate change skeptic would be a good start, not to mention ditching a chancellor who wants the UK to be behind Europe on tackling climate change.

For years now the images of the effects of climate change have been of floods in Bangladesh, typhoons in the Far East and rising sea levels in the Maldives. Now that affluent villages in the South West of England are under water, will we start to see a shift in attitude?

Sadly, I suspect that we will continue treating the symptoms rather than the root cause.

I recently heard an excellent description of climate change skeptics who cite the cold weather in the US as evidence against climate change as standing on the Titanic, claiming, “The ship can’t be sinking – my end is 500 feet in the air”.

Here in the UK, we are ignoring the oncoming icebergs while we argue about drying the bed linen.

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Brian Oosthuysen, on the birth of the Rainbow Nation and the death of Mandela

This is a guest post from Brian Oosthuysen on the death of Nelson Mandela. Brian is a Labour Party Gloucestershire County Councillor in Stroud and he is also a consistent campaigner for freedom, fairness and human rights both locally and internationally. Brian tweets @BrianatRodboro

Mandela 2
Apartheid was an evil, vicious system which saw the death of many thousands and the incarceration of even more. It dominated all aspects of life and was one of the reasons I left SA as a young man.

Nelson Mandela was one of those sent to prison and he suffered in many different and horrible  ways during his 27 years behind bars.

In the 70s and 80s I often addressed meetings as a member of the Anti-Apartheid Movement in England and I always ended my talk with a look into the future, which I saw as unbearably bleak.  “It will”, I would say, “end in bloodshed and the deaths of thousands of black and white people”.

And then Nelson Mandela (Madiba) was released and almost immediately transformed the political and social landscape in South Africa, and the Rainbow Nation was born.

His act of forgiveness to his former warders, his call for reconciliation and his setting up of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee showed the people of South Africa and the world that he was a man of towering stature and amazing integrity.  The constitution which his new government brought in is recognised across the world as one of the most progressive, and his stamp is clearly on it.

South Africa has many problems but the South Africa we now have is a country more at peace with itself than it has been since before 1945 when the Nationalist government came to power and Madiba is the reason for this.

Madiba once said, “No one is born hating another because of the colour of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

He lived out that maxim and his death leaves the world a darker, colder place.

Hamba Kahle, Madiba.

 

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I look forward to the day when a local newspaper headline reads: “New ASDA opens driving down local jobs and driving obesity levels up”

My local paper, The Citizen, has today reported on the opening of a new ASDA in Gloucester and once again ignores the cost to the local economy and quotes industry figures with no critical eye.

The Citizen reports:

Store manager Russ Elkins said there are still plenty of jobs up for grabs and is encouraging people from the area to apply. “This store has employed 130 from this area, and it will help deliver healthy eating at competitive prices,” he said.”

Well, if the story manager says it…it must be true.

So let’s explore Russ Elkins’ claim: “[ASDA] will help deliver healthy eating”.

In 2005 a report was published that stated that despite improvements, supermarkets were “undermining public health goals” through price deals that “promote unhealthy food”.

In 2008 a report was released showing that supermarkets had doubled the number of promotions on unhealthy foods since 2006.  At the time Saranjit Sihota, of the charity Diabetes UK, said: “Increasing the promotion of unhealthy foods in supermarkets clearly fuels the ticking time-bomb of obesity in this country.”

In 2012, a three year study was published that found supermarkets, like ASDA, guilty of “over-promoting fatty and sugary products using special offers and price reductions”.

The trend and sentiment of these reports are damming.

For balance, I tried Googling ‘ASDA healthy eating’ and all that came up were stories on ASDA’s website (you will excuse me if I don’t trust that source) and Daily Mail articles about ASDA’s bagged salads being linked to poisoning cases (again you will excuse me if I don’t trust that source either, but still…not exactly a ringing endorsement).

So, some questions for store manager Russ: Does your supermarket disproportionally promote unhealthy foods through special offers and price discounts? If yes, how would you say this fits with your statement, “[ASDA] will help deliver healthy eating”?

And then secondly, his claim about the store creating jobs.

Again, some questions: How many of the jobs provided will be part-time jobs?

I have read statistics to suggest that about 2/3 of all jobs in supermarket jobs are part-time. Is this reflective of the new store? Then, how many of these jobs will pay the Living Wage – the minimum someone needs to live off?

A report by the Fair Pay Network (FPN) suggested that only 1 in 7 jobs in the big four supermarkets get paid a living wage. Will this be reflective of the new ASDA store?

Lastly, of course, there is the Friends of the Earth report that found that local stores employ more people within a local community than superstores do, concluding, “The simple conclusion is that small shops are better for employment than having a superstore”.

In other words, even if ASDA did offer stable contracts and decent pay, the undeniable conclusion is that less people will be employed in an area because of the opening of a new supermarket.

Russ, do you really believe ASDA has created 130 new jobs…or just taken 200 and minced them into an own-brand 130?

At some point, it would be nice to see a local paper asking store managers these sorts of questions.

Rant over!

 

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Petition: Stop further out of town supermarket developments in Stroud

Please head over to change.org to sign this petition. Why? Well, as the petition says:

“Supermarkets claim that they offer us choice, value and convenience but they are actually powerful corporations who bully their suppliers and crush local economies. We think that Stroud has enough supermarkets and that we should be supporting our local shops and opposing the building of more supermarkets in our town.

SASS is not against change or development and fully supports new investment and regeneration in the local economy in line with the ‘Local Plan’. However, we maintain that these developments will harm industry, including small and medium sized enterprises, as well as putting pressure on diversity of livelihood and overall employment rates.

Stroud has a thriving town centre that is full of vibrant local independent retailers and a hugely successful nationally acclaimed farmers’ market. Its unique mix of shops, cafés and bars provides an excellent retail setting for tourists and residents alike. Stonehouse too has a diverse mix of independent shops, and is well-served by the co-operative store on the High Street.

These distinctly positive and attractive elements in the retail settings could change very significantly if these supermarket developments are allowed to proceed.

Developers propose to locate one supermarket on a flood-plain at Ryeford and another on a historical industrial site in Lightpill. Each site is on a key gateway route into Stonehouse and Stroud. We should fight to conserve the historic built fabric and the established infrastructure investment, and thus to enhance the integration and cultural identity of the district.  This is what gives Stroud its rich and varied attractive characteristics. We already have four large supermarkets operating in Stroud district and SASS argues strongly that there is no need for any more.”

Need more convincing? Read my blog on the proposed new ASDA here.

Then please do sign this petition.

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Letter to the Stroud News and Journal: MP rejects EU referendum and democracy

This is a copy of a letter I sent to the Stroud News and Journal

Dear Editor,

On Monday you reported that our local MP considers now not a good time to hold an in/out EU referendum (Now is not the right time for EU referendum, says Stroud MP 07/10/2013).

Defending his position, Mr Carmichael is quoted as saying, “I think that we need enough time to properly re-assess and renegotiate our relationship with the EU” – whilst at the same time saying he backs a referendum to be held in 2017.

I am curious as to what Mr Carmichael is hoping the UK will renegotiate between now and 2017. The fiasco of the Lisbon Treaty (the UKs last real chance to renegotiate the EU) has only just been put to bed and there is no appetite in Brussels for any serious renegotiations in the coming years.

The worse thing is that I think Mr Carmichael knows this. To me, it looks like he is once again just playing politics. The only difference between now and 2017 is that there is a general election in-between.

Your article finished by quoting Mr Carmichael saying, “We are going to renegotiate, reassess, recalibrate our relationship with the EU.” Your guess as to what that means is as a good as mine.

In stark contrast The Green Party has been very clear about where they stand on an in/out EU referendum. They have said they stand for “Three Yeses”:

·         Yes to an in/out referendum

·         Yes to major reform of the EU

·         Yes to staying in a reformed EU

As someone who, on balance, supports Britain’s involvement in the EU, I think it is important that we, the public, get the opportunity to decide if we stay in the EU or not…even if I may not like the outcome of the referendum.

I agree with Mr Carmichael that we are better off in the EU. Where I differ with him is that I think the people of Britain should be given the opportunity to make this judgement themselves.

If Mr Carmichael believes in democracy, he should back a referendum without delay.

Yours sincerely,

Steve Hynd

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Minimum wage sparks Twitter argument with Stroud MP Neil Carmichael

This is a cross-post from my local paper, the Stroud News and Journal. I cross-post it only to illustrate the positive potential that twitter has to hold our politicians to account.

STROUD MP Neil Carmichael has come under fire for refusing to rule out voting for a freeze or a cut in the national minimum wage.

Despite saying a reduction would be a move in the wrong direction, the Tory politician would not commit to opposing one in the future, insisting that he would have to look at any proposals brought forward by the government before deciding how to vote.

Following his comments, Stroud Labour Party sent out a press release saying it was an ‘absolute disgrace’ that Mr Carmichael would not rule out voting to cut the minimum wage.

The party claimed his position amounted to supporting ‘the idea of reducing the wages of the poorest in society’.
Responding to local blogger Steve Hynd who re-tweeted the article in last week’s SNJ with the comment, “This is going to win @neil_mp zero friends in #Stroud,” Mr Carmichael tweeted, “@stroudnews #Stroud – I have long supported a minimum wage as a floor &, above all, I believe in promoting a high wage economy.”
Mr Hynd tweeted back, “So why not pledge to oppose any cuts? Min wage already below living wage! Time to stand up for #Stroud cc (constituents).”
Tweeting later on, Mr Carmichael said: “Low Pay Commission has reviewed methodology behind the minimum wage – to be considered – but I am focused on creating a high wage economy.”

Labour county councillor Brian Oosthuysen said: “To refuse to oppose any reduction in the national minimum wage is a kick in the wallet for all those low-paid workers who are struggling to keep their families afloat.”

He added: “What Stroud residents want is to see their MP fighting for them in Government, not fighting for the Government against them.”

You can follow me on twitter here
You can follow Brian here
You can follow Neil Carmichael MP here

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Gloucestershire County Council’s hypocrisy in tackling lung cancer

The Stroud News and Journal has today run the story “Lung cancer awareness campaign comes to Stroud”.

The article highlights the Gloucestershire County Council (GCC) campaign and the importance of getting yourself checked out if you display symptoms of lung cancer such as a persistent cough and breathlessness.

What it fails to comment on however are the causes of lung cancer. 90% of cases of lung cancer in the UK are attributed to smoking.

Equally it also fails to mention the £12.2 million that GCC has invested in tobacco firms.

On the one hand GCC are funding campaigns to raise awareness of lung cancer and on the other they are pumping money into an industry that is responsible for 90% of cases of lung cancer…

When I raised this with local politicians it only seemed to be the local Conservative MP, Neil Carmichael, who didn’t think this was a problem!

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Interview: Rorie Scott, the Manager of Stroud’s ‘Bisley House’

“when it is good and if it’s right for us and our customers, we like to choose local.”

Bisley House 2Stroud’s ‘Bisley House’ has just reopened as a family friendly bar/restaurant. Steve Hynd recently caught up with the Manager of The Bisley House, Rorie Scott, to find out how the first few weeks of business have been going.

Can you tell us a little about Bisley House and what your vision for the future is?

Bisley House is Stroud’s oldest Ale House. We’ve changed it though from being a rundown brewery owned boozer to a family friendly bar-restaurant.  

Feedback from our customers told us that Stroud needed a great place to eat out, and this is our focus for the Bisley House in the coming months. Our food focuses on Mediterranean flavours and is already developing a bit of a reputation.

But Bisley House also has a long standing history as a great drinking place and we wanted to keep this. That’s why we stock a selection of local beers and European wines.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became the Manager of The Bisley House?

The Bisley House is a family run business, owned by my Mum, renovated with the direction of top Project Manager,,,my Dad, and is managed day to day by myself and my wife Ania.

We’ve been contemplating the move from my 10 year career as a snowsports coach to get settled back in Stroud. Quite simply, it was an offer and opportunity I couldn’t refuse.

When a customer walks though your door for the first time – what’s the impression you hope they will get?

The new look Bisley House is much brighter and cleaner than how people might remember it. Returning locals marvel at the work done, while new visitors compliment us on it clean and modern look. Also, the “meet and greet” from myself and the team is genuine and friendly. The service is relaxed and not over fussy.

We want people to feel relaxed and at home at Bisley House.

You put a lot of emphasis on local products – why is this so important to you?

There are several reasons for this. The easiest answer is the environmental aspect. It’s simply much better for our world if we use products that haven’t travelled too far. Secondly, the service tends to be better. Small and local businesses tend to look after each other. To give an example, if we miss our order day with Stroud Brewery, they deliver anyway or we can pick it up.

Last but not least, our customers like it. It’s not always possible, or affordable, to use local products though. Local isn’t always the best quality either. But when it is good and if it’s right for us and our customers, we like to choose local.

You put a lot of emphasis on your selection of drinks – do you see yourself as competition to the local pubs?

Competition is such a strong word. There’s no doubting though that we are a great place to come for a drink. We serve 2 local ales from Stroud Brewery, with a guest ale on the way. We use Cotswold Lager and Cotswold Cider and no less than 11 wines by the glass. The beer garden has served us well these first 2 weeks since opening. Long may the English summer continue!

Lastly, what’s your favourite dish/drink at Bisley House? 

My favourite of the moment is Leon, our chef’s, Chickpea and Pancetta stew. It’s been on our specials board a couple of times but we’d like to make it a permanent addition to our autumn lunch menu.

To drink, the Cotswold Brewing Company’s 5% Cider has been a lovely summer tipple.

Visit: http://www.bisleyhousecafe.co.uk/
Follow: www.twitter.com/BisleyHouseCafe
Like: www.facebook.com/BisleyHouseCafe

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Molly Scott Cato: “The Greens are seeing a strong but steady increase, especially in the South West.”

Molly Cato Scott is a green economist as well as The Green Party’s lead candidate for the European Parliament elections in the South West of England. Molly passionately believes that at the heart of our environmental problems is a badly designed economic system. Steve Hynd recently caught up with Molly to find out why she thought standing for election will help solve either the economic or environmental crises we currently face.


Can you tell us a little about yourself and why you think you are qualified to represent the South West of England in the European Parliament?

I have been working as a green economist for the past 15 years. I have been involved in the Green Party for 23 years including standing in general elections and European elections and I am now leader of the Green Group on Stroud District Council, where we are part of the administration.

I hope that I can use this experience to best represent everyone living in the South West.

What way will a Green MEP for the South West look different to any of the others?

The Green Group in the European Parliament is doing great work challenging the interests of finance in Europe and resisting the increasing inequality between North and South. Oh and of course protecting workers’ rights and the environment!

I would like to be a part of that, helping to Green the Common Agricultural Policy for example. The EU spends a lot of money in the south-west of England but at present it does not have to achieve real environmental objectives, I would be seeking to change that.

Can you explain why the European Parliament elections affect ordinary people living and working in the South West?

There are so many ways. To give just one example, the rules that govern the single market that we operate within are made by the EU so it is vital that we are contributing positively to making sure that they achieve the best for the South West.

When people vote in the European Elections, they vote for a party, not for an individual. Do you agree with everything the Green Party stands for and if not, what will you do if you have to choose between personal beliefs and party policy?

I sometimes wonder if I might disagree, but when I read party policy I find that I agree. I used to be a bit tepid about the banking policy but I worked with a friend to change the policy so it’s fine now–no, it’s excellent!

I think we could do with emphasising the political economy implications of some of our policies a bit more. So for example on immigration we should, of course, be fighting the racist attacks on migrant workers but we should also be arguing for better global protection of workers’ rights in a globalised economy

How do you explain the recent rise in popularity in UKIP and the relative flat-lining of the Greens? Do you think this will be the same in the upcoming election? 

I don’t think you are right to say that the Greens are flat-lining. The Greens are seeing a strong but steady increase, especially in the South West. Our main problem is the media, who focus on the daft, shallow stories about UKIP and tend to ignore our more serious issues. It is incredibly hard to get journalists to deal seriously with either Europe or the environment. A shame on them and a pity for us all. I think Zoe Williams had it pretty much right with her analysis of why UKIP get such attention from the media.

What is the one thing you hope to achieve if elected to the European Parliament?

One thing? You aren’t very ambitious!

I will focus on the stuff where I think I can make the most difference: finance and the single market. It is hard to know how far I can go until I understand the politics better from the inside. I would like to take my understanding of finance into the parliament, because I am not sure how many of the Greens really understand what went wrong with the Eurozone crisis. I also think we should work for more local supply of food and against the endless increase in pointless and energy-intensive trade.

You have previously written on the importance of working shorter working hours and yet you are applying for a job with some of the longest, have you thought about how personally you are going to balance that?

I have thought about this. I think that it would be a sacrifice to be away from Stroud. I think that most politicians make a similar sacrifice and it is one reason that the attacks on politicians are pretty unfair. But there are times when the parliament is out of session when I will be delighted to jump onto Eurostar and come home.

If elected, will you continue as a Stroud District Councillor? 

Absolutely not, the time commitments would make it impossible.

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Filed under Economics, EU politics, Gloucestershire, Interview

Stroud Fringe Festival – Full line up and ‘bands to watch’

I was delighted today to read that Stroud Fringe Festival made the late but cracking addition in their line up of Birmingham based folk band, Boat to Row. Anyone who has seen them will know what I am talking about. They play folk with favourable comparisons to previous touring partner Johnny Flynn but with a soulful softer sound all of their own.

They are playing at 3:30pm Saturday 31st August  in Bank Gardens, Stroud. Make sure you are there!

One has to at this point take your metaphorical hat off to Stroud Fringe Festival. A few years back it was…well…a bit of laughing stock if we are being honest. This year though, it looks like they have built on the last few years success and put together a pretty good line up.

So without any further delay, here are a few more recommendations:

Gaz Brookfield

A Bristol based singer song writer with a certain knack in the way he tells stories.

Gaz is playing at 8pm on Friday 30th August in Bank Gardens, Stroud.

Chloe Foy

A wonderful singer song writer with all the charm and ease of Lucy Rose, but more depth and interest.

Chloe is playing at 5pm on Friday 30th August in Bank Gardens, Stroud.

George Montague

Something a bit different but a very worthy headliner, George performs (and that’s the optimum word) Jazz in the loosest possible sense of the word. He also plays the ukulele which makes him cool in itself…doesn’t it?

George is headlining at 9pm on Friday 30th August in Bank Gardens, Stroud (straight after Gaz Brookfield).

Go and check out these an other bands at a great local festival. You won’t regret it!

The full line-up can be seen here.

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“The long slog through the desert of pre-season football will soon be over and at last the rains of competitive football will once again fall”

This article was first published on Tattooed Football.

20130730-100825.jpgOn 1st August, at exactly 19:45 British Summer Time something truly remarkable will happen.

Football fans up and down the country will breathe a collective sigh of relief, for the long slog through the desert of pre-season football will be over and at last the rains of competitive football will once again fall.

The cruelty of crushing defeats, the deafening roars of previous victories, and the inevitable inaction of the transfer window can, at long last, be put behind us. Now, as the summer heats disappear almost as quickly as they came, so to can the suspense, the anticipation and anxiety of pre-season.

The time for reflection is over, now is the time to look ahead.

This annual cleansing, the leaving behind of the past, is an essential ritual for football fans. It allows us to be simultaneously enticed by the possibility of the up-coming season whilst also, holding on to a near eternal pessimism that borders on fatalism.

Take my team, the Robbins as an example. No not Bristol City and defiantly not (spits on the floor in pre-historic ritual) Swindon, but Cheltenham Town.

The last two seasons have been stained by the enticing near success of play-off failure. So close, and yet so far away.

The present, the now, the days before the new season however build on this turbulent past. The players who battled to last season’s triumphant failure have now been joined by fresh talent and some tested experience.

The present allows us to reach out to the future in anticipation. It entices, it allows all who habitually take to the stands to start dreaming of the coming season.

Yet, despite these fresh winds of possibility that surround us, despite sitting at work and toying with the ‘what ifs’ that rest somewhere in the back of all of our minds, we are all also confident in the certain failure of our team.

There is a part of us that is certain we will slip up against [insert local rival here].

This cocktail of aimless optimism combined with pessimism bordering on fatalism allows us, the football fan, to exist in a reality entirely devoid of reality. Both simultaneously imagining a cup run alongside battling for draws away against the (spit on the floor) [local rvials].

This safety net of pessimism allows us to dream of the impossible, to escape the traps of the possible.

Some might read this and think that this level of self-delusion is a worrying trait. For me, someone who has been through this ritual one too many times, it is a sign of the eternal beauty of this so aptly named beautiful game.

Every year we are born again in our collective hope, our collective dreams, and our collective ‘what ifs’. Past failures matter not, we are levelled, equal and looking ahead.

If you are reading this and worrying about me, about us, football fans, don’t.

We – the football fan – are not so different. Think of the obese that plod the pavements sweating in the winter sun of New Year’s Day dressed in lycra convinced that this year will be different to all the rest, that this year will yield results.

We are all delusional – football fans are just better at embracing it and having more fun.

Here’s to 2013/14 season. Remember, anything is possible!

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Do we need a new ASDA in Stroud?

ASDA is planning a new megastore in Stroud with promises of jobs and greater consumer choice. But is yet another megastore really what the people of Stroud need?

The diverse independent food retail sector in Stroud is part of what makes this Cotswold market town what it is. Stroud boasts an award winning farmers market and a bunch of quality local traders.

It is a unique vibrant exception to the generic supermarket dominated towns that have sprung up across the UK.

Stroud is noteworthy in this respect as it is still fighting against what the New Economics Foundation refers to as, ‘Clone Towns’ – the homogenization of the high street driven by chain stores. The British Independent Retailers Association estimates that 98% of the UK’s £150bn grocery industry is now controlled by just nine stores.

This homogenization has already resulted in out of town Tesco, Sainsbury and Waitrose stores in Stroud. Stroud’s quality, if quirky, independent retail sector is struggling under these conditions but, for now at least, surviving.

It is unclear how it would respond though if  a new ASDA store that is planned for Daniels Industrial Estate on the A46 gets the go ahead.

But what cost will Stroud pay for this new development – is it really as simple as more jobs and more consumer choice?

The first point to make is the, ‘we are losing part of what makes Stroud special’ argument. This argument says that we value something more than profit and three quid chickens and that a sense of community and creativity which is currently created by the craft food retailers found in Stroud’s bustling independent shops is something worth protecting.

The second point to make is to ask if another new supermarket is really good for the consumer’s wallet and choice of produce.

Taking the issue of choice first, you have to ask why there is so little local produce available in supermarkets. If I want to choose to buy fresh locally grown produce, this is often close to impossible in big supermarket retailers. Why? Because this is not what profit dictates, we know that supermarkets stock food for appearance, longevity and value, not for the things I value like taste or seasonality.

So even if supermarkets offer a wide range of choice around the colour of different washing up-liquids on or the colours of toothbrushes, it does not offer me the choice that I want – good, tasty, locally produced food.

Then there is the issue of cost. Isn’t it good for consumers and the poorest that we have access to three quid chickens? Aren’t independents just for the liberal middle-classes? To a degree this holds weight, but again only so if we see ourselves as nothing more than consumers.

We can see that when supermarkets come to town, local businesses beyond the retail sector also start to suffer. Money starts to leak out of local economies into multi-nationals with no steak or interest in re-investing into what most people think to be important – local businesses (or put another way, the jobs we all rely on).

Choice is removed from the food retail sector and local wages decrease (either through unemployment of reduced wages and working conditions) and as such the spending power of local communities decrease, which further drives them into the hands of the cheap chicken retailers.

And thus the spiral of poverty is perpetuated by those claiming to be on the poor’s side – the supermarkets. And again let’s be clear about why this is, because profit dictates it.

Of course people shop where the prices are cheaper and the products more consistent, but this takes no account of community cohesion or local employment, let alone the dangers of a monopsony.

So when ASDA comes to Stroud proclaiming 250 new jobs for the area and a greater consumer choice, I want people to seriously consider the New Economics Foundations opening remark:

“We can choose to take action that will lead to thriving, diverse, resilient local economies across the UK; or, we can do nothing and condemn ourselves to bland identikit towns dominated by a few bloated retail behemoths. The choice is ours. “

Read this report and then please do respond to the Stroud/ASDA consultation – the future of the high street might depend on it!

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Filed under Economics, Food and Drink, Gloucestershire

‘That was my mosque you tried to burn down’

Police outside Mosque on Ryecroft Street in GloucesterIn the early hours of this morning, someone tried to burn down the Masjid-E-Noor mosque in Ryecroft StreetGloucester. CCTV footage shows someone pouring petrol onto the front door before lighting a rag to ignite the fire.

This is just one of a recent spate of anti-Islam (Muslim?) attacks that have occurred since the tragic murder of Lee Rigby.

In reaction to these attacks the liberal left have gone on what I refer to as the, “we are all the same” offensive. Owen Jones writing in the Independent illustrates this phenomenon by stating:  “83 per cent of Muslims are proud to be British…compared to 79% of the British public” – a gallant effort to highlight the ludicrousness of the EDL’s arguments.

I think something slightly more nuanced than this though.

I don’t really share many nationalistic sentiments, with the right or the left. Why would I? What have I got in common with someone from Glasgow, or Gilford, or even Glandyfi?

In contrast however, what do I have in common with someone from Gloucester? Well, quite a lot now you come to mention it…and yes, I do take it personally when an arson attack occurs in Gloucester.

The good people of Gloucester and I, we share a lot. We probably share friends, favourite places to eat, bus routes, schools, hospitals and everything else that makes a community. And yes, despite being a de facto atheist our friends and family will share places of worship.

So when a man approaches the mosque with petrol and matches in hand, he isn’t just approaching a place of worship that is special to hundreds of Gloucester residents. He is wading through the centre of my community.  He is lighting a fire under something that I hold very close to me.

The vibrant Muslim community in Gloucester is part of what makes the city what it is. The Masjid-E-Noor mosque has been part of this city for generations. People have been worshiping in the mosque since 1974 and at the site even longer. An arson attack on the mosque is like burning a hole in the patchwork rug of Gloucester.

This arson attack, on my local mosque, is no different to trying to burn down my neighbour’s house. It’s fucking with people that are close to me, and the metaphorical flames of hatred might burn down something that I deeply care about – the diverse tolerant multicultural ambiance of my home town, Gloucester.

You can sign a letter to Yakub Patel and the congregation of the Masjid-e-Noor mosque on the hope not hate website – here

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Politicians respond to Gloucestershire County Council’s deadly investments…

Yesterday Hynd’s Blog covered the story that Gloucestershire County Council was investing over £12 million in tobacco firms despite Gloucester having the highest rate of lung cancers in the country.

The story evoked some reactions from local politicians.

Labour County Councillor Brian Oosthuysen was the first to respond and said through facebook:

“Steve, Brian here. I will raise it immediately. Shocking”

The Green Party’s Stroud District Councillor, Phillip Booth, responded by highlighting the GreenParty’s longstanding opposition to the council investing in tobacco:

Phillip highlighted this 2010 article in which The Green Party’s County Councillor, Sarah Lunnon makes the wider point around ethical investment.

The Cheltenham Liberal Democrats also tweeted the story out and their local branch secretary, Mel Gladwin responded saying:

Against this back drop, Stroud’s Conservative MP Neil Carmichael’s response is noteworthy for bucking the trend.

DM with Neil

I am yet to receive a response from him (although to be fair he hasn’t had much time) but nor do I expect to receive one.

Few Conservatives would follow Neil’s ‘profit at any cost’ logic – I’m not even sure Neil would if you pushed him. For example, I don’t believe many Conservatives would back investment into small arms. Why? Because quite rightly they would say that it is a product that when used exactly like the manufacture intended, kills people.

The obvious parallel here can be made with cigarettes. When a consumer uses the product exactly as the manufacture intends, the product kills.

As the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention rather aptly puts it, “More deaths are caused each year by tobacco use than by all deaths from human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides, and murders combined.”

Why then, in this Conservative mindset, is it OK to invest in Tobacco but not guns?

So the question for Neil Carmichael, Gloucestershire County Council and anyone else that backs such deadly investments is: Assuming you agree that there should be some ethical guidelines to investment, what criteria do you think GCC should use that still includes tobacco, a product that is responsible for the death of 6 million people every year?

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Gloucestershire County Council invested £12.2 million in tobacco companies

The BBC has today revealed that Gloucestershire County Council (GCC) has invested at least £12.2 million in tobacco firms through its pension’s scheme.

Back in 2011 when this issue was raised by The Guardian, Jo Walker, Gloucestershire County Council’s director of finance, hinted at a rethink saying, “We are currently talking to other councils about the approach local government takes to investing in pension funds.”

Today the BBC reported that GCC has repeated that it “had a responsibility to ensure it invested in companies which provided the best value for taxpayers and pensioners’ money.”

Quite literally this is our local council putting profit before human life. Each year tobacco is responsible for the death of 6 million people and is one of the leading causes of preventable diseases.

GCC however sees no problem in investing heavily in tobacco firms despite Gloucester being dubbed the “Cancer Capital of UK”. Specifically, Gloucester has more diagnoses and resulting deaths from lung cancer than anywhere else in the country.

If you live in Gloucestershire and want to raise this with your local councilor you can find their contact details  – here.

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The EDL is like the fluff that collects in my belly button

Dwelling on the EDL instead of Englishness as a whole is like meeting someone who is interesting and beautiful but only being interested in their belly button fluff.

English Defence League supporters protest against Islam after the murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich

Photograph: Rob Pinney/Demotix/Corbis

The week’s papers have been filled by that notorious minority that have so abused the term ‘English’ – the English Defence League (EDL).  The same merry band of men who purport to defend ‘Englishness’ whilst with no sense of irony, exerting – and I use this next phrase carefully – a degree of ‘fuckwittery’ that most people in England find as repulsive as they do alien.

Watching a video of one of these men taking to the streets of Newcastle to tell “the Black cunts to go home” I felt a small bit of my soul crumble.  Watching it I desperately waited for someone in the crowd to pipe up with a retort such as, “What about Ashley Cole…or Oona King, or…Kelly Holmes, Lewis Hamilton, Lennox Lewis or John Barnes? Do they all have to ‘go home’?”

Alas, it never came.

However much we would like to pretend otherwise though, this merry band of fuck wits who fall under the sloppy title of the EDL to regurgitate their hatred and hyperbole are also part of ‘English culture’ – a culture that we all part of.

To deny them their place in contemporary English culture is to play into their idiotic rhetoric that ‘Englishness’ can somehow be defined by one group or persons’ understanding of morality.

Like it or not, the EDL are (a small) part of contemporary English culture.

We don’t however, despite what the front pages of the tabloids would have you believe, have to dwell on this one nasty bit of our culture.

Let me illustrate…

If I was to go on a first date, I probably wouldn’t show my date the little bit of fluff that seems to habitually collect in my belly button. That would be as disgusting as it would probably give my date the wrong impression of me.

In the same way, we don’t have to constantly project our far-right thugs into the international limelight.

On this hypothetical first date however, I might, if I was feeling lucky, flash my date a quick smile. Again, it doesn’t define me, but it is much more likely to set a good impression than picking the fluff out of my belly button.

In England, I think we have thousands of cheeky smiles that I would love the world to see more often. So, in a week where the world has focused in our metaphorical belly button fluff I thought I would show you one or two of our cheeky smiles.

The first example comes in this heart-warming story from York. After hearing news that the EDL were planning a protest outside the local mosque, people scrambled to…make tea. The Guardian reports:

“A York mosque dealt with a potentially volatile situation after reports that it was going to be the focus of a demonstration organised by a far-right street protest movement – by inviting those taking part in the protest in for tea and biscuits.”

The story gets better with the little details. The report goes onto say:

“tensions were rapidly defused over tea and plates of custard creams, followed by an impromptu game of football”

Football and custard creams – how very very English!

Carrying on the food based theme (who says that the English don’t have a wonderful cuisine!), the second story comes from my home shire – Gloucestershire – and is based around the county’s finest product – Double Gloucester Cheese.

While hundreds of EDL supporters rallied outside 10 downing street to blame Islam for the Woolwich attacks, a few thousand Brits alongside a few hundred “foreigners” turned up to Cooper’s Hill in Gloucestershire to chase after wheels of Double Gloucester cheese.

I struggle to think of a more wonderful juxtaposition of illustrations of ‘English culture’. One on the capitol’s streets with half-pissed middle-aged men shouting slogans that condemn a faith that some 3 million fellow Brits peacefully follow with all the anger and arrogance they can muster; while the other sees thousands of people running down a near vertical muddy slope chasing a piece of cheese with nothing in their cider confused mind other than to have a good time.

I know which part of these contrasting glances at English culture I want the world to see.

The question then is simple, why do we focus in on, worry about, and obsess over England’s belly button fluff when it has such a winning smile?

England doesn’t just have a nice smile, it is also has a rich history, a melting pots of faiths, languages  and cuisines that collectively contribute to what makes it the country it is today. We should celebrate this.

Read my poetic take on Englishness here

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Gloucestershire’s crimewave. Police tackle small hats and *possible* illicit cheese production

Yesterday I reported this wonderfully obscure story from my local paper about a police warning that was sent out after it was reported that four men wearing robes and possibly small hats (we are still unclear what the word possibly is referring to, could the hats have actually been large?) were seen in the small market town of Wotton-under-Edge.

Today, carrying on their important work, Gloucestershire’s police used the hashtag #FreeTheCheese to put out this rather odd statement denying that they were banning an old woman from making cheese.

Diana-Smart-86-with-her-banned-Double-Gloucester-yesterday
I kid you not. The statement reads:

Several months ago one police officer visited the son and mother who in the past have produced the cheese for both official and unofficial cheese rolling events.

The purpose of this visit was to advise them that, in the absence of a recognised organiser, anyone that facilitates the event could be deemed to be an organiser by default. In this case that person could then attract the legal liability issues that come with hosting the cheese rolling.”

They finish this statement by clarifying:

“No one has been “banned” from making or providing the cheese.”

This is serious business! Yahoo reported contradictory information earlier today saying that:

“It is the first time in its 200 year history that police have banned a cheesemaker providing the cheese “

A strong accusation.

Indeed, the same story quotes 86 year old Diana as saying the police seemed “threatening” and that they were “heavy handed”.

Indeed, branding the police’s actions “crackers” The Express clearly states that three (not one like the police claim) officers went to the cheese makers house.  This article quotes the 86 year old cheese maker as saying:

It’s crackers…The police are using scare tactics on businesses because they can’t break the will of the locals

Here at Hynd’s blog we are not dismissing the possibility that the two events are *possibly* connected. Could the men in Wotton who were seen acting suspiciously wearing possibly small hats have been connected in some way to illicit cheese production?

Could this be the start of hat/cheese related crimewave?

Hynd’s blog encourages all readers in the shire – Gloucestershire – to take all precautions. Avoid any suspicious cheese sources and use only well known outlets. Most importantly though, avoid any men wearing robes, especially if you cannot see how big their hats are!

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Local paper reports “Suspicious incident involving men in black robes and small hats”

This is a deliciously obscure story from my local paper, Gloucester’s The Citizen:

Suspicious incident involving men in black robes and small hats

A suspicious incident involving four men in black robes and small hats has prompted a police warning in Wotton-under-Edge.

The incident happened outside Katharine Lady Berkeley’s School on Wotton Road at around 5pm on Sunday May 19.

The victim, a 17-year-old from Kingswood was walking towards Wotton when a small dark car, thought to be a maroon Ford Ka drove up and down Wotton Road.

The victim then quickly turned along an alley way and jumped over a hedge. As he looked back he saw four men in the car.

The men in the Ford are described as black, wearing black robes and possibly small hats on their heads. One of the men is described as very tall, thought to be over 6ft tall.

Anyone with any information about the incident is asked to contact Gloucestershire Police on 101, quoting incident number 335 of May 19.

You can also give information anonymously by contacting the charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111

So far the only explanation that has been offered are:

If you have a more plausible explanation I would love to hear it…

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Artist Richard Woods is “unashamed to be political”

This interview was originally printed in New Europe.


Richard Woods describes himself as “more social commentator than artist” and has been compared to the likes of Peter Howson. Woods is famed for his grotesque caricatures and macabre take on places, politics and people as he explores the “absurdity of human existence”. On the back of another critically acclaimed exhibition at the Garden Gallery in the UK, Steve Hynd met up with Woods to find out what drives the painter behind the canvas. 

Can you tell us a bit about your background – where did you grow up  and where did you study?

I was born in Harrogate, but moved with my family to Cheltenham when I was seven. My parents would often take me abroad, so from a young age I had already seen a lot of the world. As an only child I had a lot of time on my hands and spent most of my time drawing and watching cartoons, leading to an extremely active imagination.

Is there any one person that inspires you?

The artist Peter Howson has been the biggest inspiration on me. He’s the official war artist for Bosnia. I remember going to Art College aware of the fact I wanted to paint people but was unsure of how I wanted to do it. When a tutor showed me Howson’s work for the first time I was blown away. That’s when I knew the type of artwork I wanted to make -Distorted characters and stories which are rooted to real issues within society. All of a sudden I felt I had a real sense of purpose, that I was doing something greater than just painting a picture. Perhaps that sounds a bit egotistical, but I don’t really mind that to be honest.

Would you describe your art as political?

Yes certainly. When I first began creating social commentaries I was really focusing on the darkest aspects of the world. I was tackling the ugliest problems in society head on with huge dark boldly painted canvases.

But I was young and full of enthusiasm then, I somewhat reckless with my choices. I soon realised what I was painting could alienate some people more than inspire them – although all those early paintings are now in private collections. I wanted people to reflect on my art but also to enjoy my work visually. I wanted people to be inspired to also try and fix the problems I paint about

Are you an artist first, social commentator second, or vice-versa?

I think at one point I was more social commentator than artist, but over the past couple of years I would say I’m more of a visual artist.

Most of my imagery begins with the idea or the inspiration which can be a news headline or something as simple as a personal experience. That’s the foundations of a work before I indulge my imagination and build up a composition. As an artist my experiences and surroundings mould my perspectives on life. Artists create work in response to these whether consciously or not.

Is there a message or ethos behind your art? If so, is it important to you that people understand that message?

Yes I would like them to but at the same time I’m just like anyone else, I need to make a living and I want people to want to hang my pictures on their walls.

Visual art is essentially about creating something unique and aesthetic that visually people can enjoy. I am always trying new things out. At my recent solo show in Cheltenham I had quite a diverse exhibition to show people what I can do with a paintbrush. Quite often artists develop a comfort zone (including myself) which is actually quite anti-creative. To find true originality you need to experiment.

I have even been painting landscapes outdoors recently. I know, a bit of a cliché.

How have the UK’s coalition years affected your art?

The coalition creates a lot of interesting imagery. I did one painting of Cameron and Clegg titled “Cutting Corners,” which interestingly got a lot of attention in Scotland. It was sold along with some of Peter Howson’s paintings from The Braewell Galleries. I think people value a visual representation of the political issues that they cannot always articulate themselves.

Your art is often a grotesque reflection on life, does this reflect your personal take on life?

It’s definitely how I view the world. I always loved looking at the German expressionist paintings, like Otto Dix and Max Beckman. They were so grotesque and surreal yet held so much truth about the world in their content.

I really thrive on making work which has a cause or purpose. With my early work some people seemed a bit shocked by it but for me I didn’t see what was so shocking, it was just normality to me.

In complete contrast my more recent work which has seen huge ice cream cones filled with fluorescent ice cream has been really appealing to people, especially children. Yet they actually represent a number of dark topics including The Fukishima nuclear disaster and the idea of economic meltdown. This is a good dynamic, having people enjoy the visual imagery then afterwards can discuss the politics.

For more information on his art please visit http://www.art-spaces.com/richardwoods/

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Filed under EU politics, Gloucestershire, Interview, Politics