After 800 years, the barons are back in control of Britain, by George Monbiot

Marki Brown mark at
Tue Jul 17 11:53:12 BST 2012

As with his endorsement of Nuclear Power, George makes some fundamental mistakes here. Sure, the Lords are not elected, but they have been more honest and successful both in debating and amending the criminalisation of squatting act. 
Party political whips have less force in the Lords and there is something rather good about a house full of independent minded landowners, some of whom are public spirited too.
They are not all the Dukes of Buccleuch or Westminster in the upper house and therefore, strangely, have a much greater moral conscience that the party funded three line whipped Commons. [ed.]

After 800 years, the barons are back in control of Britain

The Magna Carta forced King John to give away powers. But big business 
now exerts a chilling grip on the workforce

by George Monbiot
The Guardian, Mon 16th July 2012

Hounded by police and bailiffs, evicted wherever they stopped, they 
did not mean to settle here. They had walked out of London to occupy 
disused farmland on the Queen's estates surrounding Windsor Castle. 
Perhaps unsurprisingly, that didn't work out very well. But after 
several days of pursuit, they landed two fields away from the place 
where modern democracy is commonly supposed to have been born.

At first this group of mostly young, dispossessed people, who (after 
the 17th century revolutionaries) call themselves Diggers 2012, camped 
on the old rugby pitch of Brunel University's Runnymede campus. It's a 
weed-choked complex of grand old buildings and modern halls of 
residence, whose mildewed curtains flap in the wind behind open 
windows, all mysteriously abandoned as if struck by a plague or a 
neutron bomb.

The diggers were evicted again, and moved down the hill into the woods 
behind the campus – pressed, as if by the ineluctable force of 
history, ever closer to the symbolic spot. From the meeting house they 
have built and their cluster of tents, you can see across the meadows 
to where the Magna Carta was sealed almost 800 years ago.

Their aim is simple: to remove themselves from the corporate economy, 
to house themselves, grow food and build a community on abandoned 
land. Implementation is less simple. Soon after I arrived, on a sodden 
day last week, an enforcer working for the company which now owns the 
land came slithering through the mud in his suit and patent leather 
shoes with a posse of police, to serve papers.

Already the crops the settlers had planted had been destroyed once; 
the day after my visit they were destroyed again. But the repeated 
destruction, removals and arrests have not deterred them. As one of 
their number, Gareth Newnham, told me: "If we go to prison we'll just 
come back … I'm not saying that this is the only way. But at least 
we're creating an opportunity for young people to step out of the 

To be young in the post-industrial nations today is to be excluded. 
Excluded from the comforts enjoyed by preceding generations; excluded 
from jobs; excluded from hopes of a better world; excluded from 

Those with degrees are owned by the banks before they leave college. 
Housing benefit is being choked off. Landlords now demand rents so 
high that only those with the better jobs can pay. Work has been 
sliced up and outsourced into a series of mindless repetitive tasks, 
whose practitioners are interchangeable. Through globalisation and 
standardisation, through unemployment and the erosion of collective 
bargaining and employment laws, big business now asserts a control 
over its workforce almost unprecedented in the age of universal 

The promise the old hold out to the young is a lifetime of rent, debt 
and insecurity. A rentier class holds the nation's children to ransom. 
Faced with these conditions, who can blame people for seeking an 

But the alternatives have also been shut down: you are excluded yet 
you cannot opt out. The land – even disused land – is guarded as 
fiercely as the rest of the economy. Its ownership is scarcely less 
concentrated than it was when the Magna Carta was written. But today 
there is no Charter of the Forest (the document appended to the Magna 
Carta in 1217, granting the common people rights to use the royal 
estates). As Simon Moore, an articulate, well-read 27-year-old, 
explained, "those who control the land have enjoyed massive economic 
and political privileges. The relationship between land and democracy 
is a strong one, which is not widely understood."

As we sat in the wooden house the diggers have built, listening to the 
rain dripping from the eaves, the latest attempt to reform the House 
of Lords was collapsing in parliament. Almost 800 years after the 
Magna Carta was approved, unrepresentative power of the kind familiar 
to King John and his barons still holds sway. Even in the House of 
Commons, most seats are pocket boroughs, controlled by those who fund 
the major parties and establish the limits of political action.

Through such ancient powers, our illegitimate rulers sustain a system 
of ancient injustices, which curtail alternatives and lock the poor 
into rent and debt. This spring, the government dropped a clause into 
an unrelated bill so late that it could not be properly scrutinised by 
the House of Commons, criminalising the squatting of abandoned 
residential buildings.

The House of Lords, among whom the landowning class is still 
well-represented, approved the measure. Thousands of people who have 
solved their own housing crises will now be evicted, just as housing 
benefit payments are being cut back. I remember a political postcard 
from the early 1990s titled "Britain in 2020", which depicted the 
police rounding up some scruffy-looking people with the words, "you're 
under arrest for not owning or renting property". It was funny then; 
it's less funny today.

The young men and women camping at Runnymede are trying to revive a 
different tradition, largely forgotten in the new age of robber 
barons. They are seeking, in the words of the Diggers of 1649, to make 
"the Earth a common treasury for all … not one lording over another, 
but all looking upon each other as equals in the creation". The 
tradition of resistance, the assertion of independence from the laws 
devised to protect the landlords' ill-gotten property, long pre-date 
and long post-date the Magna Carta. But today they scarcely feature in 
national consciousness.

I set off in lashing rain to catch a train home from Egham, on the 
other side of the hill. As I walked into the town, I found the 
pavements packed with people. The rain bounced off their umbrellas, 
forming a silver mist. The front passed and the sun came out, and a 
few minutes later everyone began to cheer and wave their flags as the 
Olympic torch was carried down the road. The sense of common purpose 
was tangible, the readiness for sacrifice (in the form of a thorough 
soaking) just as evident. Half of what we need is here already. Now 
how do we recruit it to the fight for democracy?

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