Runnymede Eco-villagers get court date for same day Queen arrives for Magna Carta celebrations

  • Villagers hold “Festival for Democracy” to explore how the UK citizens can write a Magna Carta for the 21st century
  • Villagers question suspicious timing of court date
  • Festival Programme announced 

Runnymede Eco-villagers court date is same day as Queen arrives for Magna Carta celebrations

Villagers from Runnymede Eco-village [1] have been served notice for a court hearing in proceedings to evict them for the same date that the Queen arrives in Runnymede to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta [2]. The Queen will arrive on Monday 15th June and will be just a few hundred yards from the settlement of self-built homes in Coopers Hill Coppice.

Defendant Phoenix Rainbow said: 

“The Magna Carta is a universal symbol of individual freedom against the arbitrary power of the state. Yet it appears that the state is conspiring once again with rich landowners to remove ordinary people who have chosen to live in common on the land. Magna Carta’s companion “Charter of the Forest” gave rights to commoners to subsist on the land. While they will pretend to celebrate the Magna Carta this weekend they will actually be acting in direct contradiction to its very spirit.”

Residents at the Eco-village have taken inspiration from the Diggers who in 1649 went to set up a communal village on the land. They too were evicted by rich landlords.

The plaintiffs in the case are Orchid Runnymede Limited but it seems the site is being developed by luxury property developers Art Estates, part of the Royalton Group. According to their website the development will provide “grand living” at “an aspirational address” and will be “set in 67 acres of beautiful parkland … with close proximity to Windsor Great Park [and] Royal Ascot” [3].

The court hearing is set for Monday 15th at 10:30am at Guildford County Court. This is the same day the Queen will unveil a statue of herself as the culmination of the official Magna Carta celebrations [4].

Villagers naturally think the timing is suspicious. Are the authorities attempting to draw people away from the village at a time when the Queen will be a few hundred yards away?

At the previous court hearing on 9 April Judge Kubiak ruled in their favour by saying: “It appears to me that there is some arrangement in place in some shape or form to occupy this land” [5].

Phoenix Rainbow said: 

“We demand the right to subsist on waste ground as the Charter of the Forest provided for.”

“Festival for Democracy” to explore how UK citizens can write a Magna Carta for the 21st century

The Runnymede eco-village community in partnership with supporters of Occupy Democracy [6] and The New Putney Debates [7] have organised a “Festival for Democracy” [8] as an alternative to the official Magna Carta 800th anniversary celebrations.

As well as serving as the community’s annual festival the event will explore how citizens can write their own Magna Carta (or constitution) that is fit for the 21st century. 

At the same time as celebrating the sealing of the Magna Carta 800 years ago David Cameron wants to roll back UK democracy by scrapping the Human Rights Act [9]; giving the state increased powers to snoop on its cirtizens [10]; criminalising certain types of political belief and action [11]; and handing more of our democracy over to corporations by signing the secretive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership [12].

Anthony Barnett, founder of OpenDemocracy and author of This Time: Our Constitutional Revolution will be speaking at the event. He said: 

“The official celebration of the Magna Carta is designed to make it into a harmless ‘designer event’. But it stands as a rebuke to arbitrary power as judicial review is under attack; as a call for access to the law for all as legal aid is decimated; and as an inspiration to write down our constitution.”

The Charter of the Forest allowed people to subsist in the commons which can be seen as providing protection equivalent of today’s welfare state. The Charters also provided protection from “cruel or unusual punishment” or punishment that robbed a person of their livelihoods. Yet today people claiming welfare benefits are subject to arbitrary sanctions without recourse to due process.

Guy Standing, Professor in Development Studies at SOAS and author of The Precariat Charter, will also be speaking at the event. He says the official celebration of the Magna Carta stinks of hypocrisy:

“To counter the false libertarian perspective of the Runnymede Tories, we need a Runnymede Progressives’ perspective, recognising that the Magna Carta only came into existence when integrated with the Charter of the Forest in 1217, comprising a constitutional commitment to preserve the commons against private property and to guarantee the right to subsistence of all free men and women. Today, a Precariat Charter must include protection of the commons and due process for all, contrary to the regime of arbitrary sanctions and unlimited privatisation.”

Festival highlights 

The festival comprises workshops, skill-sharing, speakers, music and dancing [13].

Speakers on democracy and constitutional issues include Anthony Barnett (OpenDemocracy), David Graeber (author, The Democracy Project), Guy Standing (SOAS) and The Artist Taxi Driver (producer, Westmonster).

There will be daily workshops on making your own charter, an introduction to charters through the ages and presentations of ideas for what should be in a new charter (or constitution). Kurdish women will talk about democracy in Rojava and there will be a talks about Republican Democracy, the principles and practice of “the commons”, The Charter of the Forest and Robin Hood.

On Monday at 5pm there will be a “Folk-moot” gathering at the 2,500-year old yew tree Ankerwycke where the Magna Carta was sealed 800 years ago where Anthony Barnett will speak on “The four principles of the Magna Carta our democracy needs today” and participants will consider the elements they would like to see in a modern charter.

Notes for editors:

1. See: http://www.runnymede.community and http://www.diggers2012.wordpress.com. The Runnymede Eco-village was set up in in Coopers Hill Coppice in 2012 by people from Occupy London and has been developing and expanding ever since. Runnymede is the historic birthplace of democracy where the Magna Carta was signed 800 years ago this year.

2. http://www.getsurrey.co.uk/news/surrey-news/queen-visit-runnymede-magna-carta-9060316

3. http://www.artestates.co.uk/magna-carta-park/

4. http://www.getsurrey.co.uk/news/surrey-news/queen-visit-runnymede-magna-carta-9060316

5. http://www.getsurrey.co.uk/news/surrey-news/victory-eco-warriors-court-hearing-9016100

6. https://occupydemocracy.org.uk/

7. http://thenewputneydebates.com

8. http://www.runnymede.community/the-festival/festival-programme/

9. https://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/human-rights/what-are-human-rights/human-rights-act/human-rights-act-mythbuster

10. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/may/09/theresa-may-revive-snoopers-charter-lib-dem-brakes-off-privacy-election

11. http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/05/there-threat-british-values-british-government

12. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/british-sovereignty-at-risk-from-euus-trade-deal-uk-in-danger-of-surrendering-judicial-independence-to-multinational-corporations-warn-activists-9057318.html

13. http://www.runnymede.community/the-festival/festival-programme/

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