Battle of the Beanfield 31 yrs on: Where is the Spirit of Dissent in the UK Today?

Tony Gosling tony at
Thu Jun 2 12:21:28 BST 2016

It’s Now 31 Years Since the Battle of the 
Beanfield: Where is the Spirit of Dissent in the UK Today?


Buy my book 
Battle of the Beanfield. Also available: 
Celebration and Subversion.

31 years ago, the British state, under Margaret 
Thatcher, committed one of its most violent acts 
against its own citizens, at the Battle of the 
Beanfield, when a group of travellers ­ men, 
women and children ­ who were driving to 
Stonehenge from Savernake Forest to establish 
what would have been the 12th annual 
Free Festival were set upon by tooled-up police 
from six counties, and the Ministry of Defence. 
The travellers were outnumbered three to one, 
while the police were at the height of their use 
as a paramilitary force by Margaret Thatcher.

The year before, the police had crushed the 
miners at Orgreave (promoting 
this year for an official inquiry after 
belated triumph of victims’ families against the 
police at the Hillsborough Inquest), and the 
assault on the travelling community had started 
shortly after, when a group of travellers were 
harried from 
festival in the north of England. Some of this 
group joined up with other travellers, 
festival-goers and green activists at Molesworth, 
in Cambridgeshire, the planned location for 
Britain’s second cruise missile base, where a 
peace camp was set up, following the example of 
Women’s peace camp at Greenham Common, set up in 
opposition to the first cruise missile base. The 
Molesworth camp was, in turn, shut down by the 
largest peacetime mobilisation of troops, in 
February 1985, and for the next four months the 
travellers were harassed until June 1, when the 
Battle of the Beanfield took place.

The Beanfield was a horrible example of state 
violence, with both short-term and long-term 
implications. Severe damage was done to Britain’s 
traveller community, who had been seeking to 
create an alternative culture of free festivals 
from May to October every year, and who, as 
Molesworth showed, were not just hedonists, but 
also had ecological and anti-nuclear aims.

I had attended the last two Stonehenge Free 
Festivals, and what I experienced had been an 
astonishing eye-opener, an alternative society 
that evidently continued the counter-cultural 
ambitions of the 1960s and 1970s, but that, by 
the 1980s, had run up against the intolerance of 
Thatcher’s vision of a new Britain, where 
dissenters ­ the “enemy within,” as she called 
the miners ­ were crushed, so that corporate 
capitalism could prevail unchallenged.

The Beanfield did not stamp out dissent, although 
it paved the way for the notion of the 
criminalisation of dissent to take hold, which 
led to 
laws being passed that clamped down on the 
freedom of assembly so that it now appears to be 
some sort of ancient dream, and the police 
eventually worked out a form of crowd control ­ 
­ that effectively shuts down unwanted protest.

Nevertheless, following the Beanfield, the 
government of Margaret Thatcher, and, later, of 
John Major, was 
by the rave scene, when, every weekend, millions 
of ecstasy-fuelled young people partied in fields 
and in warehouses across the nation, and by 
road protest movement, which saw creative 
protestors living in trees to stop road expansion 
programmes (a uniquely British development that 
does not appear to have been replicated anywhere 
else). This is turn led to an urban offshoot, 
the Streets, that joyfully took back public 
spaces ­ roads ­ in a way that is now almost unimaginable.

The beginning of the end, after the creative 
chaos of the Major years, was, I think, the 
election in 1997 of Tony Blair, who, as I 
generally describe it, hit us all with a psychic 
cosh, removing our freedom through a mixture of 
repression and brainwashing ­ the former building 
on the laws passed by the Tories, and taking 
advantage of the new opportunities for repression 
and a message of permanent fear that was enabled 
by the 9/11 attacks (after a few years of serious 
anti-globalisation movement), and the latter 
through a message of greed and materialism that 
infected the culture as a whole, and, it seems, 
significantly changed the way far too many people think.

YouTube, I’m posting ‘Operation Solstice’, the 
1991 documentary the Battle of the Beanfield, and 
the subsequent trial, in a version that 
co-director Gareth Morris produced for the 30th 
anniversary of the Battle of the Beanfield last year:

Every year, the Beanfield anniversary reminds me 
how much has been lost, and while I’m aware that 
this is, in part, because I’m becoming older, 
nothing has yet persuaded me that the current 
culture ­ selfish, self-obsessed, materialistic 
and corporate-enslaved, and with an almost 
inescapable obsession with suppressing anything 
that resembles a viable counter-culture by 
pricing it out or buying it up ­ has much about it worth celebrating.

We may have grown up to overcome much of the 
dysfunction that fuelled a lot of the iconoclasm 
of the ’70s ­ which has to be a good thing, of 
course ­ but in many ways that has left us, in 
general, quiescent, prone to believe the lies 
told us by new age-saturated charlatans in PR and 
marketing, who have convinced us that there is no 
such things as righteous anger (there is), and 
unable to fight back against those who have taken 
advantage of the lack of opposition to feather 
their own obscenely greedy nests, at the expense 
of the domestic poor, the globally exploited and 
impoverished, and, of course, the environment.

To my mind, whatever victories have been achieved 
in our superficially clever, insatiably greedy 
society, with its promise of billions of 
everything ­ from food, to clothes, to gadgets, 
to all the treats we’re told we deserve because 
we’re worth it, because we’re special ­ are 
offset by catastrophic climate change, by the 
greatest refugee crisis of our lifetimes, and by 
the self-obsessed miserable, isolationist 
whingeing of an aging population of people who, 
far from being deprived of anything, are, 
materially, the most fortunate generation in human history.

As I mark this sad anniversary for the 31st time, 
I have a dream ­ of the revival of a vibrant 
counter-culture ­ to tear down the dull 
complacency of the materialistic mainstream, with 
its smug empty triumphalism, and its cold, cold heart.

Below, as a bonus, I’m posting, 
via YouTube, ‘Life in the Fast Lane – The No M11 
Story’ by Operation Solstice co-director Neil 
Goodwin and Mayyasa Al-Malazi, about the road protest movement:

For more on the Beanfield, see my 2009 article 
for the Guardian, 
the Battle of the Beanfield, and my accompanying 
the Guardian: Remembering the Battle of the 
Beanfield, which provides excerpts from The 
Battle of the Beanfield. Also see 
Battle of the Beanfield 25th Anniversary: An 
Interview with Phil Shakesby, aka Phil the Beer, 
a prominent traveller who died six years ago, 
the Battle of the Beanfield: It’s the 27th 
Anniversary Today of Thatcher’s Brutal 
Suppression of Traveller Society, 
On Eve of Summer Solstice at Stonehenge, Andy 
Worthington Discusses the Battle of the Beanfield 
and Dissent in the UK, 
28 Years Since Margaret Thatcher Crushed 
Travellers at the Battle of the Beanfield, 
in Print: The Battle of the Beanfield, Marking 
Margaret Thatcher’s Destruction of Britain’s 
29 Years Since the Battle of the Beanfield, and 
the World Has Changed Immeasurably and 
30 Years Since Margaret Thatcher Trashed the 
Travellers’ Movement at the Battle of the Beanfield.

For reflections on Stonehenge and the summer 
solstice, see 
and the summer solstice: past and present, 
25 Years Since The Last Stonehenge Free Festival, 
Summer Solstice 2010: Remembering the Battle of 
the Beanfield, 
Sid Rawle, Land Reformer, Free Festival Pioneer, 
Stonehenge Stalwart, 
Summer Solstice to the Revellers at Stonehenge ­ 
Is it Really 27 Years Since the Last Free 
and the Summer Solstice: On the 28th Anniversary 
of the Last Free Festival, Check Out “Festivals 
of Youth and the Need for Dissent on the 29th 
Anniversary of the last Stonehenge Free Festival, 
Years On from the Last Stonehenge Free Festival, 
Where is the Spirit of Dissent? and 
and the Summer Solstice, 30 Years After the Battle of the Beanfield.

Also see my article on Margaret Thatcher’s death, 
is Better than Greed”: Photos, and a Response to 
Margaret Thatcher on the Day of Her Funeral.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative 
journalist, activist, author, 
film-maker and 
(the lead singer and main songwriter for the 
London-based band 
Four Fathers, whose debut album, ‘Love and War,’ 
for download or on CD via Bandcamp ­ also 
here). He is the co-founder of the 
Guantánamo campaign (and the 
to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in 
January 2016), the co-director of 
Stand With Shaker, which called for the release 
from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British 
resident in the prison (finally freed on October 
30, 2015), and the author of 
Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 
Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published 
by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of 
Chicago Press in the US, and available from 
Amazon, including a Kindle edition ­ click on the 
following for the 
and the 
and of two other books: 
Celebration and Subversion and 
Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the 
co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary 
the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on 
­ or 
for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please 
subscribe to Andy’s 
feed ­ and he can also be found on 
Also see the six-part 
Guantánamo prisoner list, and 
Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, 
million-word series drawing on files released by 
WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the 
Guantánamo habeas list, 
full military commissions list, and 
chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider 
the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you 
appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to 
a donation.
- See more at: 

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