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A rave? People gather to hear a lecture at the Democracy Festival near Runnymede yesterday. Photo: John Phoenix via Facebook.
A rave? People gather to hear a lecture at the Democracy Festival near Runnymede yesterday. Photo: John Phoenix via Facebook.
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  • A resident of the Runnymede Eco-village. Photo: Daniela Zalcman via Facebook.

    A resident of the Runnymede Eco-village. Photo: Daniela Zalcman via Facebook.

  • Police attempting to prevent people from attending the Democracy Festival near Runnymede yesterday. Photo: John Phoenix via Facebook.
    Police attempting to prevent people from attending the Democracy Festival near Runnymede yesterday. Photo: John Phoenix via Facebook.
  • A small gathering at the Democracy Festival near Runnymede over the weekend. Photo: John Phoenix via Facebook.
    A small gathering at the Democracy Festival near Runnymede over the weekend. Photo: John Phoenix via Facebook.

Let's turn a Magna Carta travesty into a summons to defend our freedoms

Donnachadh McCarthy

15th June 2015

As the great and good of Britain including its most august royal personages converge on Runnymede to celebrate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, police are violating the very freedoms the Charter guarantees, writes Donnachadh McCarthy, after declaring an alternative Festival of Democracy to be an 'illegal rave'.

Even the present level of rights, freedoms and democracy that the British people enjoy is too much for today's powers-that-be, who appear determined, under the cover of Magna Carta celebrations, to set them back in every way possible.

Police helicopters, territorial support squads, police from five different forces and guard-dogs all descended last Friday, on the Runnymede Eco-village's Festival of Democracy.

It was being held this weekend to mark the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. The Festival had a full programme of speakers, workshops and music, covering everything from the corporate destruction of democracy to the reduction in access to justice, as well as a range of eco-workshops.

=== STOP PRESS - POLICE BACK DOWN - FESTIVAL GOES AHEAD ===

But Surrey Police chiefs disgracefully abused their powers and declared the democracy festival to be a "rave", a claim faithfully relayed by the BBC along with police claims that they were "committed to ensuring the safety of the public", acting only "to prevent any disturbance, disruption or distress to the local community", and concerned about "increased crime".

By claiming the event to be an "illegal rave" police were able to block Festival goers from entering the eco-village under Section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act (1994). Two arrests were made, including indymedia journalist Ben Kidd who was peacefully live-streaming the police invasion (see embed, below).

Both those arbitrary arrests, and the threatened seizure of the property of those attending the Festival - another power accorded by Section 63 - run completely against the guarantees of the Magna Carta itself: an irony no doubt lost on Surrey Police and their political masters.

Inspired by the Diggers of the 17th century

Runnymede Eco-Village was founded in 2012 by a group called the 2012 Diggers. The original Diggers were founded in the 17th century and sought to set up free, self-sustaining communities on common lands during the English Civil War. They were brutally suppressed by Cromwell.

The 2012 Diggers were formed from members of the St Paul's London Occupy movement and the evicted Kew Bridge Eco-Community. They are calling for a land reform revolution, to enable people to live on the land, growing their own food and building ecological communities on unused land.

The Surrey police oppression is a stark reminder that some things have changed little since the Magna Carta was signed in 1215. Unlike most other European countries, there has been very little land-reform in Britain since then. A staggering 66% of the UK's land surface is owned by a tiny 0.4% elite. A third is still owned by the aristocracy, led by the Duke of Westminster whose 240,000 acres are worth a phenomenal £6 billion.

Smallholdings are far more productive and far more ecological than the vast destructive mono-culture factory farms now dominating Britain. Low impact settlement in harmony with land and landscape, as promoted by the 2012 Diggers, stands in stark contrast to the endless spread of car-dependent mass housing spreading across the British countryside.

Robber barons - Britain's five richest families own more than the poorest fifth

But it's not just Britain's land distribution which is extreme, but also the growing concentration of wealth, which has only increased under the years of 'austerity'. The five richest UK families own more wealth than the twelve and half million people, making up the poorest fifth of the UK's population.

It is important to remember that the Magna Carta was not about freedom, democracy and the rule of law for the general population, but for the aristocracy and property-owning gentry, who in the Battle of the Barons rebelled against the royal supremacy of King John.

Whilst it was a crucial first step, it took centuries of painful sacrifice by rebels and campaigners, from the Peasants Revolt of 1381 to the Suffragettes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the post World War 2 creators of the European Convention on humam rights, to achieve parliamentary democracy, universal suffrage and human rights for the wider population.

But even the level of rights, freedoms and democracy that the British people presently enjoy is too much for today's powers-that-be, who appear determined, under the cover of Magna Carta celebrations, to set them back in every way possible.

So it is that today Britain faces another Battle of the Barons. The fossil fuel, fracking, banking, vulture capitalist, tax-haven and media barons of the 1% have captured our democracy and our media. They have established The Prostitute State.

They are using this to usurp our remaining human rights, with for example Rupert Murdoch boasting how he forced Cameron to abolish the Human Rights Act, legal aid being slashed for millions of people, making a mockery of the Magna Carta commitment to access to justice and the new Extremism Act abolishing many remaining free-speech or protest rights.

These are the very same fossil-fuel addicted barons blocking all meaningful democratic action on the climate and ecological crises threatening the planet with ecocide, within our children's lifetimes.

We should be celebrating people, not power

So rather than bizarrely unveiling statues of the unelected successor to King John, Elizabeth Saxe-Coburg, let us instead from the meadows of Runnymede today, summon civil society to an urgent constitutional people's convention to draft a Great 21st Century Democratic Reform Act.

This would lay the basis for a new Britain based on the principles of ecological and social justice for the 100% and not the 1%. Now that would be a true celebration of the spirit of the Magna Carta.

 


 

More information: Runnymede Democracy Festival.

Donnachadh McCarthy is a member of Occupy Democracy, co-organiser for Occupy Rupert Murdoch Week, a former Deputy Chair of the Liberal Democrats, and author of "The Prostitute State - How Britain's Democracy Has Been Bought". He can be reached via his website 3acorns. Follow on Facebook.

Petition: 'Save the Human Rights Act' (38 Degrees).

Copies of 'The Prostitute State - How Britain's Democracy Has Been Bought' are available from theprostitutestate.co.uk. E-book version available from Lulu.com.

 

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