Saturday 11 November 2017

John McDonnell and the Labour’s Shadow Treasury Team are holding economic conferences around Britain over the next year, hoping to broaden access and raise the level of debate around economic issues. The conference will take place from 11am until 4pm at Bishop Grosseteste University.

New Putney Debates and the Charter of the Forest organising group are assisting with the this event, which will be celebrating the Charter of the Forest.

Tickets are being sold on the Labour events website at a cost of £10.

The Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell MP, will lay out his party’s plans to bring back key industries into public ownership.

Opening Plenary (11–12.15)

Karen Lee MP– Welcome
John McDonnell MP (Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer)
Guy Standing
Peter Linebaugh
Claire McCarthy (General Secretary of Co-op Party)

Lunch 12.15-1.15

Breakout 1: Public Ownership: Ending the era of privatisation (1.15-2.45)

The Labour Party is committed to more democratic ownership structures that would help our economy deliver for the many not the few. This workshop It will focus on Water, Rail and Royal mail and discuss how public ownership could deliver lower prices, more accountability, greater investment and a more sustainable economy.

• Kate Bayliss – Water
• Rachel Maskell MP – Rail
• Andrew Towers – Post CWU
Chair: TBC

Breakout 2: A social commons: the role of co-operatives, social enterprises and self organised groups and platforms in moving towards a new economy fit for the 21st Century. (1.15 – 2.45)

The early Labour movement gave rise to new forms association based on cooperatives principles. Many of these organisations are still with us and flourishing. More recently Europe has seen the emergence of a ‘commons movement’: with local people coming together to run social centres, town energy networks, and develop social platforms that mutually support workers, rather than exploit them. How can Labour enable this sector to flourish?

• Claire McCarthy (General Secretary Co-operative Party)
• Tim Flitcroft / Commons Rising & Jonny Gordeon-Farleigh / Stir to Action
• Rossana , Commons speaker ( details to follow)
Chair: TBC

Breakout 3: Land: new concepts of land ownership and government. (1.15 -2.45)

UK has some of the most concentrated land ownership in the western world, much of it shrouded in secrecy. We will explore how this concentration of ownership and rights is both a key driver of inequality and a cause of degradation of natural resources. Most importantly this workshop will explore solutions: the call for New Domesday book; moving to a better distribution of land rights and responsibilities; and whether a Land Value Tax could improve both equality and promote more sustainable land use.

• Julie Timbrell, New Putney Debates
• Christian Eriksson , Towards a News Domesday Books – Private Eye
• Either Heather Wetzel or Carol Wilcox, Labour Land Campaign (on LVT) – we will sort this out.
Chair: Dave Dewhurst

Final Plenary 3.00 – 4.00 General Discussion


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Tuesday 7 November 2017

Forging a Charter of the Commons

A joint partnership between the Shadow Chancellor, New Putney Debates and the Charter of the Forest 800 organising group, celebrating the 800th anniversary of the Charter of the Forest, first agreed on November 6, 1217.

The meeting, in the Speakers House of the House of Commons, focussed on the commons and the plan to forge new charters, inspired by the principles in the original charter.  One of the principles enshrined in the Charter was the right to subsistence. It was also the first environmental charter and the first to enshrine the rights of commoners to manage the commons. It provided a defence of the commons in general, and prevented enclosure. This fundamental part of the British Constitution stayed on the statute books longer than any other piece of legislation—and was only repealed and replaced by the Wild Creatures and Forest Laws Act of 1971.


Hosted by John McDonnell, and chaired by him, in the magnificent room of The Speaker, with large portraits of previous speakers hanging right round the hall, the invited audience heard Professor Peter Linebaugh, author of The Magna Carta Manifesto and Stop, Thief!, spoke about the history and contemporary relevance of the charter today.

Professor Guy Standing spoke about the current plunder of the commons as corporations and the rich used their influence and money to take over and privatise large parts of the commons. He called for a basic income for all.

Matt Larsen-Daw, from the Charter for Trees, Woods and People, set up by the Woodland Trust, spoke about the Tree Charter as being a contemporary offshoot of the original Charter of the Forest. The Woodland Trust had reached out to all sections of society to define the new charter as a people-powered movement for trees. More than 70 organisations and 300 local community groups helped to collect over 60,000 stories about trees and the important part they play in the lives of people. These stories had helped to define the 10 principles of the Tree Charter.


Julie Timbrell, of New Putney Debates, called for new charters of the commons to be drawn up with the priority being to re-claim and protect the commons. Guy Shrubsole and Anna Powell-Smith, from Friends of the Earth, authors of Who Owns England? demonstrated their new on-line maps identifying secret corporate, often overseas, owners of large parts of the UK.

The meeting ended with questions, discussion and closing remarks, before wine and refreshments were served to all—with a few songs from the group Three Acres and a Cow.

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Sunday 5 November 2017

The 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Charter of the Forest (November 6, 1217) was celebrated at the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest, where the legendary Robin Hood resided. The celebration was co-ordinated by local anti-fracking groups.

“It was a provision of the Charter of the Forest to get rid of the Sheriff of Nottingham [Robin Hood’s foe],” said Julie Timbrell, New Putney Debates activist, making the link.

She pointed out that the 1217 Charter of the Forest re-established the rights of ordinary people to use the land for their own purpose, but that nowadays politics was moving in the opposite direction. The National Government has passed legislation making it difficult to oppose companies that promote seismic testing, test drilling and eventually hydraulic fracturing.

There are plans to establish a gas field across Nottinghamshire and the North of England and INEOS have been licensed to frack under Sherwood Forest and are undertaking seismic testing. INEOS have taken out injunctions in an attempt to prevent local Protectors from defending their environmental and cultural heritage.

Robin Hood, his Merry Men and Women celebrated the 800 year-anniversary of the Charter of the Forest with songs and performance by Three Acres & A Cow, a musical group which is part of the Land Justice Network. Many anti-fracking Land & Water Protectors dressed as their favourite character from the myths and legends of Robin Hood, assembled at the Major Oak  at noon for singing and short talks on the history of the land rights and the contemporary threat of fracking.

Gathering in front of the Major Oak, protesting the silencing by INEOS injunctions

No Fracking way INEOS

South Forest Leisure Centre 2-5pm

The importance of the Charter of the Forest to commoners was later explained at a meeting in nearby Edwinstowe. “It was the first charter of the propertyless,” declared Professor Guy Standing, author of Basic Income And How We Can Make It Happen.

“The Magna Carta was all about property rights. The Charter of the Forest gave all the land back that William the Conqueror and King John had enclosed and taken from the commons. It was a class based charter, and was only passed because the king, Henry III, was only ten years old and guided by his regent, William Marshall. The king was furious when he became an adult and made hundreds of attempts to revoke it, but failed.

“It lasted for 754 years, longer than any other, and was only repealed in 1971 by the Heath government. Originally it had to be read out four times a year in every church so commoners were aware of their rights.

“It was the first charter in history to give every man, woman and child the right to subsistance. This included the right to fish, and collect peat and clay, and wood.

“It was also the first environmental charter in history,” continued Prof Standing. “Principles of stewardship, preserving the commons rather than depleting them, and reproducing were all contained in it.”

Peter Linebaugh & Guy Standing

Its importance for the “restoration and reparation of the forest” was also stressed by Professor Peter Linebaugh, author of Magna Carta Manifesto. “The Charter of the Forest was all about returning what you have taken,” he said.

It allowed commoners to have wood from the forest to build roofs and as fuel for warmth, use pastures for their cattle, and put their pigs out from September to November.

He read a passage from the memoirs of land reformer Thomas Spence (1750-1814) who proclaimed “the land is the people’s farm” to be shared equally.

Spence related collecting nuts in the forest belonging to the Duke of Portland, when he was challenged by a forester for trespassing. The nuts belonged to the duke, he was told. Spence responded by suggesting he challenge squirrels for the same “offence”. As far as Spence was concerned it was first come, first served, and the duke would have to act sharpish if he wanted any nuts.

The charter was also the first to end capital punishment for a particular crime, concluded the professor, in this case for illegally killing deer.

The Rev Deborah Hodson, an inter-faith vicar, said that one of her ancestors took part in the Pentrich Rising of 1817 when several hundred quarrymen and ironworkers set out on a march to Nottingham, armed with pikes, scythes with a series of demands for change. The uprising was thwarted in part by the collusion of local landowners with the justice system, and her ancestor was one of the three that were hanged. A descendant of that landowner is party to the present plans to frack Sherwood Forest, she said. She read out a poem from her nieces and nephews about the forest.


Mothiur Rahma

Mothiur Rahman, of the Falkirk Community Charter, spoke about the lessons from the successful anti-fracking and extreme energy extraction movement  in Scotland. This was developed with local people, he said. He was part of the legal team that organized an objection to the planning process.

The team noticed that the corporation planning to undertake coal bed methane extraction had provided documentation for the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) that stated that there was no local heritage, interpreting this narrowly as meaning only historic buildings. The legal team utilised European guidance which defines heritage more widely. They used this legal tack to develop a community charter to setting out the community assets.


The Falkirk Community Charter opening paragraphs declare:

“ Our Cultural Heritage to be the sum total of the local tangible and intangible assets we have collectively agreed to be fundamental to the health and well-being of our present and future generations. These constitute an inseparable ecological and socio-cultural fabric that sustains life, and which provides us with the solid foundations for building and celebrating our homes, families, community and legacy within a healthy, diverse, beautiful and safe natural environment.”

 The charter was adopted by several local Community Councils and local people. During the Scottish Independence movement the charter was used an example of government that represented the will of the people, and used to advocate for anti-fracking pro-democracy position,  in opposition to what was largely perceived as the elitist (and pro fracking) agenda of Westminster.  A local protector asked about the possibility of using this approach in Sherwood. Mothiur said he was now based in Devon, and was part of a national fracking network that can share skills which could support the development of a charter approach in Sherwood.

Joe Boyd, the main defendant in the injunction obtained by the multi-national, INEOS, denounced the attempt to stop the actions as an affront to “our right to lawful protest”. The injunction had implications for the ability of all campaigners in general to protest against the conduct of giant corporate firms.

Joe Boyd

Addressed to “persons unknown”, it applies to all protesters and warns that they face being imprisoned, fined or having their assets seized if they obstruct the firm`s fracking operations.

The injunction specifically prohibits protesters from walking slowly in front of lorries to delay deliveries, a common campaigning tactic. Breaching the injunction could lead to a charge of contempt of court and a prison sentence of 6 months and/or a fine of £5,000.

He appealed for support and for funds as he could face a large bill if he loses.


Major Oak, Sherwood Forest

Section of the audience at South Forest Leisure Centre


Three Acres and a Cow lead a sing-a-long





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Sunday 17 September 2017

Windsor to Runnymede & Ankerwycke

Charter of the Forest 800th anniversary celebrations.

The opening event to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Charter of the Forest started at Windsor, travelling to Runnymede  & Ankerwycke by boat, on Sunday 17 September. Workshops and discussions about the charter and its contemporary relevance were held as the boat made its way downstream, and ended on the meadow at Runnymede and a trip to the 2500 year old Ankerwycke Yew, silent witness to the Magna Carta 1215, which gave rise to the Charter of the Forest two years later.

About 40 people joined the barge at Windsor for the working voyage down the river to Runnymede. The boat, called the Fordham Gallery barge, passed through 2 locks on the 6-mile journey to the National Trust landing stage by Runnymede Meadow.

Workshops got underway before the barge departed, with the reading of messages of support  from John McDonnell, shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, and from Caroline Lucas, joint leader of the Green Party.

The real work then started with an introductory talk about the history and the contemporary importance of the Charter of the Forest, called Conceptualising the Commons, given by Guy Standing, professorial Research Associate at SOAS.

He explained that The Charter of 1217 asserted the right of commoners to access  the forests and the commons, and curbed the power of the monarch to seize the land for himself and his friends. It was intended as a permanent law limiting the enclosure of common land, and providing economic rights to enable people to subsist from the commonwealth;  but today enclosure is accelerating without our knowledge or consent and many people cannot meet their basic needs for food and housing, and our natural commons are being degraded.

Today the commons are being commercialised, neglected and sold off at knockdown prices, often to foreign capital or offshore investors. The 27,000 public parks in the UK are threatened, the public libraries, swimming pools, youth centres and children`s playgrounds are being shut or cut; fracking and drilling are being allowed under the national parks.

The celebrations of the charter are being held to revive its ethos and to support campaigns for sustaining the commons, for resisting enclosures, for the right to subsistence, and for giving legal rights to nature—for the common good of all.

This was followed by a contribution from Julie Timbrell, of New Putney Debates, on the importance of the principles of the Charter of the Forest to modern environmental and democratic concerns. A commons approach in medieval times provided in part for the sustainable management of common resources through forums like swanimote courts. These mediated the rights & responsibilities of local commoners. Of course this was partial under the feudal reign of the King and aristocracy, but nevertheless it did give people a mechanism to self-manage their local environment, which has been preserved to this day in many place, including the New Forest. Today modern commoning is taking place in food forests and local cooperatives; these are forms of land as well as social commons. This approach allows for a different type of democracy with a different ethos –  stewardship for the common good. 

Workshop 2, called Towards a New Domesday Book, with Tom Connor as Chair, began with a talk by Marion Shoard, author of This Land is Our Land and was followed by contributions by Dave Wetzel, of the Labour Land Campaign; by Guy Shrubsole of Friends of the Earth and author of Who Owns England; and by Christian Eriksson, one of the Private Eye journalists behind the investigations into the offshore property map.

At this point the mooring ropes were cast off and the barge moved swiftly towards the first lock. Below decks, a specially prepared medieval soup with venison and lentils (did they have lentils in medieval times, one wonders) was served, together with a vegetarian soup, bread, and tea and coffee, all prepared by Julie and assistants the day before.

After enjoying the lunch, people then mingled, networked and chatted or studied the 8-metre Timeline that ran along the whole wall of the gallery, until the ship`s company was called to order for Workshop 3, on the subject of the Timeline, a record in words and pictures of the historical evolution of the Charter and of commons rights, introduced by Peter Deane, Carl Fraser and Julie Timbrell.

Workshop 4, with the title From Right to Subsistence to Basic Income, produced a lively discussion on the campaign for a Universal Basic Income. Introduced by Guy Standing and facilitated by Barb Jacobsen, of  Basic Income UK, the case for a basic income for everyone was made (and also opposed). The discussion had to be cut short as the barge by this time had arrived and tied up at Runnymede.

The company made their way a short distance across the meadow to The Jurors artwork, which was commissioned to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta, the twin to the Charter of the Forest of 1217. People sat on the 12 chairs and stood around them to listen to the contributors to Workshop 5, titled Latin American social movements for the commons and for Mother Earth to be accorded rights.



Mothiur Rahman spoke on the campaign for rights for Mother Earth; Fidel Ernesto Narvaez, the first secretary at the Embassy of Ecuador, told the meeting about the inclusion of these rights into the constitution of Ecuador; Amancay Colque spoke of the water rights movements in Bolivia; and Helena Paul of EcoNexus gave a talk on Food Sovereignty and La Via Campesina.

And in the final session, on local charters and the commons, Tim Flitcroft, of Commons Rising, spoke about the contemporary commons.

A group of 8 people went on a “pilgrimage” by taxi to the other side of the river to see the 2,500-year old yew tree, the Ankerwycke yew, which may even be the tree under which King John and the barons sealed the Magna Carta.

To round off the day Natasha Langridge gave a preview performance of her one-person play about love and protest—a love note to neighbours and a revolutionary call to the world to protect the natural and social commons.

Further events to celebrate the Charter, organised by New Putney Debates and the Charter of the Forest 800 group, include a rally at the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest on November 5 to support the local resistance to fracking and to protect the local commons. And there is a meeting at the House of Commons on November 7, sponsored by John McDonnell, at which the American Marxist historian Peter Linebaugh, author of The Magna Carta Manifesto, will speak on the evolution of the Charter since 1217 and its contemporary relevance.


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