No wonder landowners are scared. We are starting to learn who owns Britain

Scotland is breaking the cover-up that stifles our political thought. Bring the Highland Spring south

This article by George Monbiot originally appeared in The Guardian on 3 December 2014.

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Bring out the violins. The land reform programme announced last week by the Scottish government is the end of civilised life on Earth, if you believe the corporate press. In a country where 432 people own half the private rural land, all change is Stalinism. The Telegraph has published a string of dire warnings – insisting, for example, that deer stalking and grouse shooting could come to an end if business rates are introduced for sporting estates. Moved to tears yet?

Yes, sporting estates – where the richest people in Britain, or oil sheikhs and oligarchs from elsewhere, shoot grouse and stags – are exempt from business rates, a present from John Major’s government in 1994. David Cameron has been just as generous with our money: as he cuts essential services for the poor, he has almost doubled the public subsidy for English grouse moors, and frozen the price of shotgun licences, at a public cost of £17m a year.

But this is small change. Let’s talk about the real money. The Westminster government claims to champion an entrepreneurial society of wealth creators and hardworking families, but the real rewards and incentives are for rent. The power and majesty of the state protects the patrimonial class. A looped and windowed democratic cloak barely covers the corrupt old body of the nation. Here peaceful protesters can still be arrested under the 1361 Justices of the Peace Act. Here the Royal Mines Act 1424 gives the crown the right to all the gold and silver in Scotland. Here the Remembrancer of the City of London sits behind the Speaker’s chair in the House of Commons to protect the entitlements of a corporation that pre-dates the Norman conquest. This is an essentially feudal nation.

It’s no coincidence that the two most regressive forms of taxation in the UK – council tax banding and the payment of farm subsidies – both favour major owners of property. The capping of council tax bands ensures that the owners of £100m flats in London pay less than the owners of £200,000 houses in Blackburn. Farm subsidies, which remain limitless as a result of the Westminster government’s lobbying, ensure that every household in Britain hands £245 a year to the richest people in the land. The single farm payment system, under which landowners are paid by the hectare, is a reinstatement of a medieval levy called feudal aid, a tax the vassals had to pay to their lords.

If this is the government of enterprise, not rent, ask yourself why capital gains tax (at 28%) is lower than the top rate of income tax. Ask yourself why principal residences, though their value may rise by millions, are altogether exempt. Ask yourself why rural landowners are typically excused capital gains tax, inheritance tax and the first five years of income tax. The enterprise society? It’s a con, designed to create an illusion of social mobility.

The Scottish programme for government is the first serious attempt to address the nature of landholding in Britain since David Lloyd George’s budget of 1909. Some of its aims hardly sound radical until you understand the context. For example, it will seek to discover who owns the land. Big deal? Yes, in fact, it is. At the moment the owners of only 26% of the land in Scotland have been identified.

Walk into any mairie in France or ayuntamiento in Spain and you will be shown the cadastral registers on request, on which all the land and its owners are named. When The Land magazine tried to do the same in Britain, it found that there was a full cadastral map available at the local library that could be photocopied for 70p. But it was made in 1840. Even with expert help, it took the magazine several weeks of fighting official obstruction and obfuscation and almost £1,000 to find out who owns the 1.4 sq km around its offices in Dorset. It discovered that the old registers had been closed and removed from public view at the behest of a landed class that wishes to remain as exempt from public scrutiny as it is from taxes. (The landowners are rather more forthcoming when applying for subsidies from the rural payments agency, which possesses a full, though unobtainable, register of their agricultural holdings.) What sort of nation is this, in which you cannot discover who owns the ground beneath your feet?

The Scottish government will consider breaking up large land holdings when they impede the prospects of local people. It will provide further help to communities to buy the land that surrounds them. Compare its promise of “a fairer, wider and more equitable distribution of land” with the Westminster government’s vision of “greater competitiveness, including by consolidation” – which means a continued increase in the size of land holdings. The number of holdings in England is now falling by 2% a year, which is possibly the fastest concentration of ownership since the acts of enclosure.

Consider Scotland’s determination to open up the question of property taxes, which might lead to the only system that is fair and comprehensive: land value taxation. Compare it with the fleabite of a mansion tax proposed by Ed Miliband, which, though it recoups only a tiny percentage of the unearned income of the richest owners, has so outraged the proprietorial class that some of them (yes, Griff Rhys Jones, I’m thinking of you) have threatened to leave the country. Good riddance.

The Scottish government might address the speculative chaos that mangles the countryside while failing to build the houses people need. It might challenge a system in which terrible homes are built at great expense, partly because the price of land has risen from 2% of the cost of a house in the 1930s to 70% today. It might take land into public ownership to ensure that new developments are built by and for those who will live there rather than for the benefit of volume housebuilders. It might prevent mountains being burned and overgrazed by a landowning class that cares only about the numbers of deer and grouse it can bag and the bragging rights this earns in London clubs. As Scotland – where feudalism was not legally abolished until 2000 – becomes a progressive, modern nation, it leaves England stuck in the pre-democratic past.

Scotland is rudely interrupting the constructed silences that stifle political thought in the UK. This is why the oligarchs who own the media hate everything that is happening there: their interests are being exposed in a way that is currently impossible south of the border.

For centuries, Britain has been a welfare state for patrimonial capital. It’s time we broke it open, and broke the culture of deference that keeps us in our place. Let’s bring the Highland spring south, and start discussing some dangerous subjects.

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Caroline responds to the winter floods

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Make a New Year’s resolution and be more Green in 2016

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As 2016 approaches and our thoughts turn to the coming year, perhaps this could be the year that you help to make a difference?

2016 promises to be a busy year for Barnsley Green Party. We have the local elections in May, fracking licences now extending over most of the borough, austerity is biting hard, the effects of climate change gathering pace and a substantial threat to our green belt, now is an important time to make a stand and to get involved.

There are many ways in which you can help.

Join the Green Party: Our membership continues to grow as we fight on many fronts, standing up for the environment, fighting austerity and holding those in power to account. Join us today.

Stand as a Green Candidate in the local elections: We aim to stand a candidate in each of the 21 wards in the Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council area. Even if you don’t expect to want or be able to do any campaigning, you could help give hundreds of people in your area the opportunity to vote Green, and give the party a foundation to build upon in future elections. More info here.

Help us to campaign: We have a number of campaigns planned for 2016, across a wide variety of issues. Maybe you could help us with an existing campaign, or perhaps you know of an issue on which you would like to make a stand? We welcome contributions for our website by party members on local and Green issues. Please contact us. You can also attend our monthly branch meetings.

Spread the Word: You can even help us without leaving your living room, by signing petitions, sharing our social media posts on Facebook and Twitter and making your friends and family aware of the issues on which we campaign. If you would like to be more active, you could help us to distribute leaflets. Please contact us for more info.

2016; there has never been a better year to be more Green!

Our next meeting is;

Thursday 14th January 2016 at 7pm

All meetings take place at the Barnsley YMCA, 1 Blucher St, Barnsley, S70 1AP.

Our local party contact is Dominic Wood. Call 01226 791188/07553 134015 or email info@barnsley.greenparty.org.uk.

Green Party to challenge BBC broadcast blackout

The Green Party has pledged to challenge the BBC after it failed to award the party a single party political broadcast for 2016, despite giving three to UKIP (1).

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The party’s leader Natalie Bennett said she was “astonished” that the Greens were being denied “vital broadcast coverage” but was hopeful that a popular campaign could once again convince the BBC to change its mind.

Her statement came after the corporation announced that it will be increasing UKIP’s number of broadcasts from zero to three, equal with Labour, the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats but continuing to leave the Greens with none. That is despite the fact that the party quadrupled its vote in the recent 2015 general election and currently has the same number of MPs as UKIP.

Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, said:

“After all that happened last year I am astonished that the BBC has chosen to deny us vital broadcast coverage. We have the same number of MPs as UKIP who have been granted three broadcasts. We quadrupled our vote share in the last election. We’ve grown as a party by more than three times in the last 12 months. I’m starting to wonder what exactly it is that we need to do to convince the BBC to grant us fair representation.

Shahrar Ali, Deputy Leader of the Green Party, added:

“The BBC is sometimes criticised for being too fond of repeats and I am certainly getting a strong sense of déjà vu. Only this time last year we were denied a place in the leaders’ debates. Then, a quarter of a million people were moved to sign a petition calling on broadcasters to change their minds and give us a spot. We’re certain that by challenging this decision and demonstrating the strength of our support we can do the same once again.”

The Green Party has stated that it will be writing to the BBC to request an urgent meeting to discuss their decision. In the meantime the party is urging anyone, no matter which party they support, who believes that the Greens should be given a broadcast slot to sign the petition on the 38 Degrees website (2).

Notes:

1.       The BBC’s announcement is here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/our_work/editorial_standards/ppb_2015

2.       Petition is available here: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/don-t-exclude-the-greens-1?bucket&source=facebook-share-button&time=1450766738

Local groups condemn new fracking licences

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A day after MPs voted to allow fracking under national parks, new exploratory fracking licences have been released, including one which covers Barnsley.

93 licences to explore 159 blocks of land across the UK were granted on Thursday 17th December 2015. One of those blocks (SE30b) covers an area that includes Barnsley town centre, Cudworth, Barugh Green, Dodworth, Hood Green, Worsbrough, Birdwell, Ardsley and Elsecar.

Barnsley Green Party have condemned the newly released fracking licences. A spokesperson explained, “This is very bad news for Barnsley and the surrounding areas. Wherever fracking has been practised it has left behind a trail of environmental damage.

“When fracking moves into an area there may be a promise of quick benefits for local communities, but the reality is often that the few local jobs that are created dry up once the fracking is finished and communities are left to live with the consequences.

“Fracking will not even improve our energy security or bring down bills, as any gas produced will be sold on the open market and may not even be offered to British consumers.”

David Burley of Frack Free South Yorkshire joined the condemnation, commenting, “Only one week after signing the international agreement to curb climate change, our UK government seems hell-bent on doing the exact opposite, regardless of local wishes. Shale gas is yet another fossil fuel that scientists around the world say we should leave in the ground. This ‘dash for gas’ is bonkers.

“Fortunately, opposition continues to grow: South Yorkshire MPs Michael Dugher, Dan Jarvis, Ed Miliband and shadow front-bencher Louise Haigh have already called for a moratorium on fracking.

“Frack Free South Yorkshire will be actively supporting the ‘No Fracking in Barnsley’ campaign to give the people of Barnsley the facts about fracking.“

The independent campaign ‘No Fracking in Barnsley’ will hold a meeting on Tuesday 5th January 2016, from 6.30pm at Barnsley YMCA to discuss the threat of fracking in the area.

Could you stand as a candidate for the Green Party?

We are currently preparing for the upcoming local elections on 5th May 2016 and are looking for members who might be willing to stand as Green Party candidates.

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We aim to stand a candidate in each of the 21 wards in the Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council area. Even if you don’t expect to want or be able to do any campaigning, you could help give hundreds of people in your area the opportunity to vote Green, and give the party a foundation to build upon in future elections.

There are a few criteria that you will need to meet to be eligible to stand for election (details here Part-1-Can-you-stand-for-election-LGEW and here). In order to complete the nominations process before the deadline, as well as prepare campaign materials for any ward that we intend to set as a target ward, we will need candidates to come forward as soon as possible.

If you are interested in standing as a candidate for the Green Party, we hope you’ll join us at one of our monthly meetings, which are held at 7pm on the second Thursday of each month.

Our next meeting is;

Thursday 14th January 2016 at 7pm
All meetings take place at the Barnsley YMCA, located at 1 Blucher St, Barnsley, S70 1AP.

If you are interested but unable to attend the meeting, or if you have any questions or would like more details, please feel free to get in touch by calling our local party contact, Dominic Wood, on 01226 791188/0755 3134015 or email info@barnsley.greenparty.org.uk.

Green Party oppose Barnsley PSPOs

Proposed Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) in Barnsley could criminalise the most vulnerable people in society and lead to greater marginalisation

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Barnsley Council have recently launched a public consultation into PSPOs. These are broad powers which allow councils to criminalise particular, non-criminal activities taking place within a specified area. Unfortunately, we have frequently seen them used against the most vulnerable in our society, mostly the homeless and the young.

We at Barnsley Green Party oppose their introduction, as the definitions of what can be interpreted as a criminal or anti-social activity are too vague and carry disproportionately punitive sanctions. PSPOs will effectively criminalise the poorest people in our society and not tackle underlying issues, or the causes of the activities that they seek to ban.

The way in which the questions in the consultation are worded is a cause for concern. We find questions such as, “how safe to you feel in the shaded area of Barnsley on the map?” and, “do you support the use of a PSPO to control the way that people behave in public spaces…” to be wildly open to interpretation. For example, how do you define ‘erratic behaviour’ and in what form would this kind of behaviour constitute an offense?

The questions are very much angled towards playing on the fears of the respondent regarding alcohol and substance consumption (although strangely not alcohol consumed on licenced premises), leading the respondent to give the answers that the council wants to receive in order to create consent for what could be the introduction of vague and arbitrary laws, targeted against a certain section of society.

The wider effect could be to ban rough sleepers from the town centre, as other councils have attempted recently. As the problem of homelessness grows, PSPOs are designed to keep the homeless out of sight and would serve to increase the vulnerability of an already vulnerable group.

PSPOs could also curtail our civil liberties. This means that Barnsley residents may no longer be able to protest against council or government decisions, or campaign to promote a cause without fear of being criminalised. Effectively declaring protest and free speech in the town centre as anti-social.

We are also concerned that PSPOs will be used to discriminate against people of different ethnic or religious backgrounds and against people of certain age groups.

In Oxford, the council passed a PSPO that prohibits people under the age of 21 from entering a specific tower block, Foresters Tower. Bassetlaw District Council has created a PSPO that prohibits “under 16 year olds … gathering in groups of three or more”.

All that PSPOs will achieve is to move what the council defines as problem behaviour out of the town centre and in to areas which are less well light and policed. They could lead to our residential areas feeling less safe and make no attempt to tackle underlying causes of drug and alcohol consumption. Punitive fines will hit those least likely to be able to afford them and simply fast-track vulnerable people into the criminal justice system, rather than divert them away from it. At a time of rising homelessness and poverty, we should be helping people rather than criminalising them based on their economic circumstances.

It is vitally important that people participate in this consultation by the end of January, whether they are residents, visitors, tourists, buskers or people who care about civic freedoms, public space and social justice. The more people who take part in this survey and express their constructive opposition to these damaging proposals, the more chance we have of ensuring that they do not go through. The consultation will take between 10/20 minutes to complete depending upon the amount of detail you go into it. Your response will make a big difference to this campaign, so please find the time to do it if you can.

“Sleeping rough isn’t anti-social behaviour – it’s poverty.”
Liberty

The on-line consultation can be found here: http://consult.barnsley.gov.uk/portal/adcs/comsafety/pspo

A consultation event is being held on Tuesday 15 December, 6-8pm at the Church of the Nazarene, Oxford Road (off Upper Sheffield Road).