Posts Tagged ‘repression’

Magna Carta Under Threat

Sunday, June 12th, 2022

Magna Carta Under Threat – Runnymede Eco Village 12 June 2015

Police question people and refuse to allow them to enter the site

On 15th June 1215, rebel barons forced King John to sign a royal charter of rights at a meeting at Runnymede, just a short bike ride from where I live. According to Wikipedia, “it promised the protection of church rights, protection for the barons from illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice, and limitations on feudal payments to the Crown.” While good news for the church and the barons, it had little to offer the common men, and neither side took much notice of it and was in any case rapidly annulled by the Pope.

Tea and cakes inside the Long House at Runnymede Eco-Village

Two years later after the death of John and a war by the Barons a revised version was part of the peace treaty, and this was then given the name Magna Carta, as there was another smaller Charter of the Forest also agreed between the parties in 2017. This re-established the rights of free men in royal forests which the Normans had largely removed, at the same time making about a third of the land in the south of England into royal forests, giving rights to collect firewood, burn charcoal, graze pigs and other animals and cut turf – all vital activities for keeping alive.

Getting the festival stage ready

Although the legal significance of Magna Carta soon faded away, it re-emerged from the 16th century on as it became seen as the basis for the English constitution, restoring the freedoms that the conquering Normans had removed, and it became widely seen as the basis for “the contemporary powers of Parliament and legal principles such as habeas corpus.” Various British monarchs tried to supress even its discussion but it remained “a powerful, iconic document, even after almost all of its content was repealed from the statute books in the 19th and 20th centuries.” And these discussions had a powerful effect on those writing the US Constitution.

Vinny wears a badge “Who Protects Us Form the Police?”

The only clauses of Magna Catra that remain in force are those protecting the Church and the City of London and Clause 29 which stated “The body of a free man is not to be arrested, or imprisoned, or disseised, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any way ruined, nor is the king to go against him or send forcibly against him, except by judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.” But when Occupy London tried to make use of this to resist eviction their argument was unsuccesful.

The Eco-Village was a friendly, peaceful and welcoming place

More recently Magna Carta “truthers” have unsuccfully tried to use it against various legislation, including the Covid laws, particularly over wearing masks. But without any chance of success. Freedom to flout the law seems mainly to be granted to those in government. And much of the legislation being pushed through the UK parliament now by a large Tory majority does go against our principles of freedom, such as severely restricting our rights to protest and deporting asylum seekers.

The Magna Carta celebration is proposed 3 years earlier – Runnymede, Surrey, Sat 16 Jun 2012

Back in June 2012 I had sat on the grass with ‘Diggers’ camped on Cooper’s Hill close to the US Bar Association Magna Carta memorial (and possibly close to where King John and the Barons met, though that may have been rather closer to Staines.) The original Diggers or ‘True Levellers’ were founded in 1649 after the first English Civil War by Gerard Winstanley who stated “England is not a free people, till the poor that have no land have a free allowance to dig and labour the commons.” His ideas of the sharing of property came from the New Testament.

Luke, trained as a forester, says the woodland had been sadly neglected

This year it is particularly appropriate to recall the Biblical idea of ‘Jubilee’, where after 49 years there would be a ‘Year of Release’ when slaves and prisoners would be freed, and debts would be forgiven. The land would be allowed to lie fallow and all land and other properties (except houses in walled cities) would be returned to the original owners or their heirs.

One home was built around a fallen tree running across the floor

Land ownership in the UK has changed relatively little since the Normans took it away from the inhabitants after 1066, with the same families still owning the great majority of English land. A minute fraction of the UK population – 0.65% – currently own more than two thirds of the UK land area. Land ownership is the foundation of our class system and while a revolution seems unlikely in the near future, any reforming government should be putting a land tax at the centre of its programme.

The Diggers at Runnymede in 2012 had heard a discourse on Magna Carta and the Diggers from a historian at the nearby college of London University, and talked about more recent occupations of disused Land by ‘The Land Is Ours’ at the Wandsworth/Battersea Guinness site in 1996, at the Kew EcoVillage in 2009 and at Grow Heathrow.

A TV Crew set up a picture of one of the residents playing guitar

My post Diggers at Runnymede Call For Freedom gives some detail on the 2012 event as well as the setting up of the Runnymede Eco Village. At the meeting people agreed to hold a celebration of the 2015 anniversary of Magna Carta at the village site.

Police watched me closely as I came out of the gate to take this picture. They were stopping people entering.

Many in the local community welcomed the presence of the Eco-village, and the community work they had done over the three years. What little trouble there had been had been caused by outsiders, thought by some to have been encouraged by landowner and police. And although the celebrations were planned to be entirely peaceful, police, urged on by Surrey County Council and almost certainly some government ministers, laid on a huge and almost certainly illegal exercise to prevent the event taking place.

The festival began – but police stopping people coming & threatening them with arrest

I wrote: “Police surrounded the Runnymede Eco Village as the Magna Carta weekend Festival For Democracy was to start and prevented some people entering, issuing some with exclusion notices covering a wide area.

The police action appeared to be an entirely politically motivated action against the community and its many friends to prevent their long-planned celebrations of Magna Carta, a charter supposed to represent freedom under the law but here at its very source 800 years ago it was being suppressed in an unfair and arbitrary manner by the forces of the Law.”

As well as my account of what I saw on Friday 12th June at Runnymede on My London Diary, Police threaten Runnymede Magna Carta festival, you can also read the post I wrote the following day here on >Re:PHOTO, Celebrating Magna Carta.


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Brexit and More: 20th Oct 2018

Wednesday, October 20th, 2021

Brexit isn’t the end of the world, but it is beginning to become very clear what a huge mistake it was, driven by a relatively few people who not only stood to make large profits but also were scared of losing the huge advantages they get from currently legal tax avoidance schemes which the EU were promising to clamp down.

The vote – a close one – shows how the handful of billionaires who control most of our media and set the agenda for the rest use their power to influence many voters in this country, making a mockery of the ideals behind our ideas of democracy. It also showed the stupidity of the then Conservative leader who was so sure of winning that he set up the vote on an important constitutional change in a way that would not have been allowed by the average tennis club, where important issues would need rather more than a simple majority.

Those behind the People’s Vote argued that so much evidence had come out since the referendum that it was necessary to get a new mandate from the people to leave the EU. It was an argument that although well-founded was not going to get any support from the then PM Theresa May who was by then running scared of the right-wing hard Brexiteers who eventually took over the party. And it was also to prove toxic to the Labour Party who were pushed into supporting it by Keir Starmer – when there was already no shortage of poison and dirty tricks – as a leaked report made clear – though we still await the report of the Forde Inquiry on this.

The current dispute over the agreement signed with the EU to resolve the problems of the Irish border shows how eager the Johnson government was to get a hard Brexit done, apparently signing up without reading the small print (or rather ignoring the advice of civil servants who had read it.) Although the EU seem to be making things as easy as possible for exports to flow freely it currently seems likely that the UK will continue to demand the impossible and trigger a complete breakdown and a massive and highly damaging trade war, probably not confined to Europe.

I photographed at the start of the huge People’s March, when people filled much of Park Lane and a large corner of Hyde Park, and watched as they streamed past me.

Movement for Justice came to the march and tried to join it near the front, and when they were refused went and stood on the road in front of the official banner – along with quite a few other protesters. They were calling for an end to the hostile environment and the scapegoating of immigrants and demanding an amnesty for all people already present in the country and the extension of freedom of movement to include the Commonwealth. They marched down Piccadilly ahead of the main march whose start was held up.

Later I rejoined the main march as it came down Whitehall for the rally in Parliament Square. There were so many people that they could not all get into the square and many came to a halt along Whitehall, while others were reported still to be at Green Park, just a short distance from the start of the march. People were dancing and partying on the route having given up the attempt to complete the march.

A couple of other protests were taking place around Whitehall. Opposite Downing St the
People’s Mujahedin of Iran were protesting against the repressive regime in Iran,. there and calling for an end to executions there Posters reminded us that the Iranian regime is the world record holder for executions and gibbets and three women held in a prison cell illustrated the reign of terror there.

At the Ministry of Defence Veterans United Against Suicide were calling for more to be done to help service men and veterans in the fight against their developing PTSD and eventually committing suicide. They appeared to be a small extreme right group exploiting the issue, with a large banner supporting the soldier discharged for standing with Tommy Robinson in a photo used to publicise his extreme right-wing views. While I took a few pictures a speaker was condemning one of the major forces charities, accusing it of fraud and failure to act over the mental health issues. Some of those present made clear that I was not welcome at the event and I decided not to stay.

More at:

People’s Vote March – End
Veterans United Against Suicide
People’s Mujahedin of Iran
MfJ at People’s Vote March
People’s Vote March – Start


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State Opening, Class War and Student Protests

Thursday, May 27th, 2021

I usually make a point of keeping away from the big occasions such as the State Opening of Parliament, but made an exception on Wednesday May 27th 2015, partly because I had been told that Class War were planning to come and protest, but mainly as there were other events I was intending to photograph later in the day.

Class War arrived too late to reach the centre of Parliament Square where they had hoped to display their banner and the area was already tightly sealed off by police. Police security for royal events is always very tight and as on this occasion often goes well beyond what is legal. So although they managed to briefly display their banner well before the Queen’s coach arrived they were quickly forced to take it down and pushed away. Around 50 police then followed the dozen or so as they made their way to a nearby pub and a few more supporters, and stood around for an hour or so looking as if arrests were imminent before most of them moved off, but police continued to follow the group until they left Westminster. Two other people who had been showing posters against austerity in Parliament Square were arrested despite their actions being perfectly within the law; they were released without charge a couple of hours late.

I walked from the pub up to Downing St, where a line of people from Compassion in Care where holding up posters and calling for ‘Edna’s Law’ which would make it a criminal offence to fail to act on the genuine concerns of a whistle-blower, and would make the state protect whistleblowers rather than them having to spend thousands of pounds on taking their cases for unfair dismissals to industrial tribunals. They say current law, the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 which has failed to protect the public, the victims or the whistle-blowers. So far nothing has changed.

As I arrived in Trafalgar Square where people were gathering for a protest against education fees and cuts there was an angry scene when a squad of police surrounded and arrested a man, refusing to talk with any of those in the crowd around about their actions. Had they explained at the time that the man being arrested had been identified as someone who was wanted for an earlier unspecified offence and was being taken in for questioning, it would have defused the incident, but this was only revealed after the man – and one of the protesters who had questioned the police about their action – had been put into a police van a short distance away and driven off.

Back in Trafalgar Square there was music as we were waiting for the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts protest to begin, provided by ‘Disco Boy’ Lee Marshall from Kent who had brought a mobile rig to Trafalgar Square. Apparently as well as running local discos he has a huge social media following.

Finally the NCAFC protest got under way, with a good crowd of mainly students in Trafalgar Square and speakers on the plinth of Nelson’s Column.

Class War came along (still followed by police) and there were cheers as they displayed their several banners; also taking the stage and marching with the students were the Hashem Shabani group of Ahwazi Arabs, who later held their own protest.

After the speeches in Trafalgar Square the NCAFC protesters set off to march to Parliament. Police tried to stop them with a line of officers and barriers at Downing St, but there were too few officers and many of the protesters walked around them and the barriers. Police apparently randomly picked on a few of the demonstrators and tackled them with unnecessary force making several arrests. The protesters continued marching around Westminster for some hours, but I left them at Parliament Square.

I finished my day’s work in Parliament Square with the Ahwazi Arabs who protested there against the continuing Iranian attacks on their heritage and identity since their homeland, which includes most of Iran’s oil was occupied by Iran in 1925. The occupation was important in protecting the interests of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, effectively nationalised by the UK government in 1914 (later it became the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and then in 1954, BP) and even after the nationalisation of Iran’s oil, BP remained a leading player in the consortium marketing Iranian oil.

Strangers Into Citizens 2007

Friday, May 7th, 2021

One of the great failures of British politicians in my lifetime has been over immigration. Since Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in Birmingham in April 1968, both major parties have engaged in a desperate contest to show they are tougher on immigration than the other.

Immigration as we moved from Empire to Commonwealth wasn’t just a moral issue of living up to the promises the country had long made to its overseas subjects – but had failed to live up to. It was also a matter of economic and social need, for workers, nurses, bus conductors, doctors and more to keep the United Kingdom running. By the 1960s, a third of junior doctors were from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and in 1963 Enoch Powell, then minister of health launched a campaign which recruited a further 18,000 doctors from India and Pakistan.

Immigration controls had of course begun earlier, but the 1962 Conservative Commonwealth Immigrants Act began a new series of anti-immigration measures. Labour followed this with their 1968 Act, a panic measure to restrict the arrival here of Kenyan Asians. The 1971 Immigration Act and further legislation restricted even restricted the numbers of foreign nurses – who the NHS was and is still very reliant on.

On and on the politicians have gone, increasing the restrictions and playing the numbers game promoted by racists rather than adopting a positive approach and stressing the great advantages that immigrants have brought to this country. While in the Tory party attitudes have largely been driven by straight-forward racism and the residues of imperialism, Labour’s policies seem more cynical and solely based on middle-class electoral assumptions about working-class racism.

Of course there are working-class racists. But there is also working class solidarity that crosses any lines of race, and which could have been fostered by the Labour Party and the trade unions. Instead they have left the field largely open to the likes of the EDL and the lies of the right-wing press. In this and other ways Labour has not lost the working class, but abandoned it.

The vicious and racist policies imposed in recent years by Theresa May against migrants, particularly those here without official permission but also those with every right to be here but without a huge archive of paperwork by which to prove this – the Windrush generation have met with opposition from some mainly on the left in Labour, but they built on the policies of the New Labour government before here.

Labour have abstained rather than voted against so much discriminatory legislation, and their opposition to Priti Patel’s draconian bill which aims to criminalise Roma, Gypsy and Traveller lifestyles and increase the surveillance powers of immigration officers as well as introducing new ‘diversionary cautions’ against migrants to allow police to force them to leave the country has at best been half-hearted.

Of course there are exceptions. Honourable men and women in both parties who have argued against racist policies, and MPs who have voted with their consciences rather than follow the party line – and sometimes lost the party whip. And of course those in some of the smaller parties and outside parliament, particularly various religious leaders, some of whom took a leading role in the Strangers into Citizens March and Rally on May 7th 2007 which called for all those who have worked (and paid their taxes) here for more than four years to be given a two year work permit, after which if they get suitable work and character references they would be given indefinite leave to remain.

Although this still would not change our terrible mistreatment of those who arrive seeking asylum, it did seem a pragmatic solution to a major problem which governments have found intractable. But as the organisers of the event and many of the speakers insisted, it needed to be part of a wider package of fair treatment for those applying for asylum or immigration. But the political parties were not listening and seem only able to think of more and more restrictive, racist and authoritarian policies which drive us further into becoming a police state.

http://mylondondiary.co.uk/2007/05/may.htm


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