TLIO: re-foundation, money, and ethics

david bangs dave.bangs at
Tue Dec 4 21:37:46 GMT 2012

The Land Is Ours

Re-foundation, money and ethics


Dave Bangs, 3rd December 2012


The re-foundation meeting of The Land Is Ours on 1st December was a success. Twenty people attended from across the country (from Plymouth, Hereford, Dorset, Bristol, as well as a strong London contingent) with a wide range of land-based concerns. 


The election of an eight strong steering committee to consolidate this re-foundation marked a clean democratic departure from the old closed core group 'leadership'.   


It was a last-gasp move. The old core group had been stifling TLIO's re-emergence and contained people who had no faith in, or commitment to, its revival. 


It is over a year now, since TLIO's exhilarating Gathering in October 2011. That Gathering was the first the organisation had had for 10 years, and was marked by an exciting inter-generational revival, and the presence of folk from many campaigning sectors. 


That Gathering had been fatally flawed, however, by its failure to address the organisational questions that needed to be answered...and, in the aftermath of the Gathering, this flaw turned into a full-scale disaster. 


The price that TLIO has paid for its failure to take democratic functioning seriously has been the loss of the great majority of the remaining uncommitted funds of the organisation via a last-ditch gifting away of its monies by the core group - a disaster which made crystal clear how political decline can go hand in hand with ethical decline.  


For a whole further year the do-nothing core group, which had not met for nearly two years, resisted meeting for month after month. When it finally met, a few weeks ago, all of its members present, except Mark Brown, stated that they wished to resign.


This did not prevent them, however, from off-loading almost all of the uncommitted funds (based largely on a £38,000 bequest made circa 2007) of the organisation to their pet projects. At the end of that carve-up they graciously left a mere £2000 cash (so it was reported) for the on-going needs of a re-founded TLIO. About £8,750 had been gifted away, if my information is correct (including a sum of £500 to the Runnymede 'diggers' which did not even have the consent of the core group at the time, but which they left unchallenged).


These last ditch disposals consisted of gifts to the Advisory Service for Squatters (ASS), the British version of Via Campesina (not yet properly in existence, I understand), 'The Land' magazine, the Runnymede 'diggers' encampment, and Chapter7 for a 'cadastral' land ownership mapping project. (A further £10,000 remains on the books from a loan to a tiny eco-housing initiative. The full repayment of that loan is not guaranteed, for it depends upon this project's land retaining its value. If the project do not get planning permission they will be unable to repay all the loan because of the reduced value of their land asset, I was told).


-         It did not seem to occur to the members of the core group that their role was to steward the funds intact until a proper, democratic re-founded TLIO could take fiscal responsibility for them.


-         It did not seem to occur to the core group that they lacked any democratic legitimacy for these disposals, or that the fact that two members of the core group had projects which were beneficiaries of the funding (The Land magazine and the mapping project) was doubly ethically dubious. 


-         It did not seem to occur to the core group that a re-founded TLIO would need all the funds it could get to be effective in work which has a widely dispersed geographical reach across the country - and internationally - and in which many of its supporters will lack the means even to travel across the country to meetings and events, leave alone buy campaigning equipment, pay legal costs and so on.


Four points were made at the December 1st re-foundation meeting (in conversation, or in the full meeting) in justification of these disposals...


ONE (paraphrase) was that these "were all good causes that we support and that need the money".


...But the judgement on whether these were good causes was a matter for a democratised TLIO to decide, not a by-invite-only rump of do-nothings who'd long wanted out.  


TWO was that "this money needed to be spent".


..A nonsensical argument. There was absolutely no imperative to dispose of the funds before a new - democratic - leadership was in place. 


THREE was that "nobody was asking for the funds" (in the last few years).


...If they really believed this argument they would have issued a formal call to the TLIO network for applicants for grant aid...and explained to them that they wished to off-load their funds.  In any case, this argument was no excuse for taking the money for their own projects.


FOUR was that "it wasn't very much money anyway".


...But if it wasn't very much money then it was doubly important that it be preserved as the dowry for the newly re-formed TLIO...and if it wasn't very much money then what was the urgency in disposing of it ??


There is only one ethical way to deal with this maladministration. 


The new TLIO steering committee should explain to all the gift recipients that there has been a failure of procedure, and ask them, in friendship, to return the financial gifts...and apologise to them for the mistake made by their predecessors.


If any of these gifts are still not complete then they should be cancelled and the money considered as part of the TLIO's property. 


It may be embarrassing to ask for the return of these monies, but embarrassment is better than undeserved penury as the only dowry TLIO is to receive from the old core group...


Dave Bangs

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