Monday, 07 October 2013

Re-feudalising the country includes selling off common land (and hiding Cromwell) What’s this about common land? Jane Merrick in the Indy this morning tells us that there are 3,870 registered ‘village greens’ in England and Wales, covering 8,770 acres. Apparently that's less than half the size of the family estate of Richard Benyon MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Natural Environment, Water and Rural Affairs. Merrick writes: ‘We don't take up that much land, we commoners. Our families don't need 20,000 acres to take the dog for a walk, or let the kids kick a football.’ And without a hint of irony, it seems – these rich posh people tend to have a substantial intelligence gap in that department - Mr Benyon has said: ‘Towns across the country have been held back from getting the developments they want through misuse of the village green system.’ (Nothing then about damage to the country from misuse of the hereditary and political systems?) The Open Spaces Society response is here and the straightforward dishonesty of the department’s line is exposed here. File under Tory Arrogance. But take it more seriously. This is about their systematic attack on what is public and on the rights we have in common. It goes alongside the wanton, evidence-free and often costly decimation of the community sector, social support, public libraries and the postal service – things we own. Further down in her column, Merrick notes the irony in the fact that: ‘a new 10ft-high iron perimeter fence has been erected along the main public access area of the House of Commons. From the pavement, you can no longer see the statue of Oliver Cromwell which stands near St Stephen's Entrance.’ It’s a brazen stroke of sinister symbolism. Parliamentary democracy is bankrupt and the statue has been sequestered - by parliament! Perhaps the fence should be stormed for that reason - which in some eyes, in an added irony, would justify its installation. This is all part of the determined re-feudalisation of the country, although of course as the increasingly perverse climate-change-deniers with ministerial responsibility for Mr Benyon’s department are trying to make sure, before long there may not be much environment left for the peasants to work on. And there will be fences around the whole of Westminster, like a vast medieval castle.
Naming neighbours' names 91.5 per cent of neighbourliness surveys ask the wrong questions. And an astonishing 98.2 per cent fail to provide the evidence for the stuff that gets reproduced in newspapers. These random remarks have been conjured out of nowhere (consistent with the evidence-free policy environment that we currently inhabit) following the publication in today’s Indy and several other sources, of survey results from a home insurance company. I have not been able to find the questions or data behind the press release; nor the press release, come to that (although of course that can be fairly accurately reconstructed from the articles published). We are told: ‘About 70 per cent of people do not know their neighbours’ full names.’ The questionable assumption being that knowing your neighbours’ names is necessarily a good indicator of neighbourhood relations. And I suppose one reason you might ask about full names (how full?) in a survey would be in the anticipation of getting a figure you could broadcast to imply that neighourliness is in crisis. But surely not, who would do such a thing? Next - ‘Less than a third of those polled would classify their neighbours as friends. This falls to 18 per cent for those aged between 18 and 34.’ Are we supposed to absorb the assumption that neighbouring is equivalent to friendship? Being on what is called ‘first-name terms’ might be a necessary condition for someone to be categorised as a friend, although I think even that is questionable. Taking the above two quotes together, it’s reasonable to suggest that survey respondents are more fully aware than those behind the survey, or the company releasing it, or the journalist reproducing it, that neighbouring is not the same as friendship. Glancing back to this rough summary (which I know I need to update) I notice the following from previous surveys: Don't know name of next door neighbour Aviva (Norwich Union) 2006 - 55% (maybe a typo?) Full of Life survey 2008 - 5% It's hard to know what to make of these without seeing the wording. But here’s some good news. A while ago Swinton put their name to a rather more responsible-looking survey, and their communications agent, SKV, kindly sent me the basic data. I intend to try to do justice to this material when I’ve had a little more time to look at it, but for now let me share one minor detail. The survey asked ‘Do you know the names of your next door neighbour?’ (I suspect that should have read ‘neighbours’ plural). The results were as follows: So that’s 85.5 per cent of respondents claiming they know the name(s) of at least one of their next–door neighbours - not all neighbours, just those on either side. These figures do not necessarily contradict those published in today’s articles based on the idea of knowing a neighbour's full names. But I suggest they are both more useful and more dependable. Finally though, here’s what I think is the most interesting finding offered...

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