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Sunday, 20 March 2011

Celebrating the Defeat of Cameron's Attempt to Privatise the Forests

The Triumph of the Collective Good over Private Interest

One of the few triumphs we have had since the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition took government in Britain in May 2010 has been the retreat over the privatisation of Britain’s woodland. When it was announced that our forests were going to be privatised there was uproar, even from the most conservative sections of the populace.

Most people know what happens when something is privatised. It becomes the plaything of the person(s) who bought it. The common good is sacrificed. Since the 1930’s there has been a continuous campaign to open up access to Britain’s beauty spots, much of which were in private lands, most of which the public were prevented access to. One of the few decent pieces of legislation of the New Labour Government was the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, often known as the Right to Roam Act.

On Sunday March 20th a rally was called, initially to protest at the Tory Lib privatisation plans, but it turned instead into a victory rally and we went on a 5+ mile hike through Friston Forest, which is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty opposite the 7 Sisters Countryside Park.
Dave Bangs, an intrepid campaigner in Brighton for the right to roam and the organiser of many mass trespasses spoke at the rally of how Gerard Winstanley of the Diggers of the English Civil War spoke of how the Earth was given as a common treasury to all. Tory/New Labour politics of privatisation have the opposite belief, that a few individuals and companies are entitled, by virtue of their wealth, to keep out the mass of people from enjoying what should be their common inheritance.

He also noted how a number of NGOs and environmental charities had sought not to oppose but merely to ‘improve’ the Tory proposals, groups such as Natural England, and one of the speakers for another group spoke about how ownership wasn’t as important as control, as if you can separate the two.

But as was made clear, the Forestry Commission, which does excellent work, sees 10% of its estate privatised every 4 years. In other words, both under the Tories and New Labour there has been 'stealth privatisation'. What Cameron proposed was to quicken the pace.

There are a lot of lessons from the 1930’s which need to be relearnt, not least about how only collective action and experience trumps the private and selfish everytime.

Here are some pictures from our ramble today.

Tony Greenstein

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