First they came for the socialists…

Tolerance and informed debate are essential to safe governance; seeing the country I love replacing these with a narrative of division, to justify the withdrawal of democratic rights, fills my heart with sadness.

In 1998, backed by Friends of the Earth and the Soil Association, I challenged the legality of a GM maize trial bordering the farm.

While the case awaited judicial review in the High Court, there were marches and protests, which culminated in the trial crop being destroyed (something I did not support). The case brought attention to the risks of GM crops, and helped to mobilise the popular resistance that has kept GM out of British fields and, for the most part, off shop shelves.

I feared no legal repercussions from my protest; whether you support GM or not, few would disagree that such issues should be subject to open debate, informed opposition, and legal challenge.

Yet under Priti Patel’s proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Bill, protest deemed disruptive would be made virtually illegal, and anyone even vaguely associated with organising such a protest – such as by carrying leaflets or placards – could face up to 51 weeks in prison.

The new controls in the Policing Bill are in response to environmental protests. Image Talia Woodin/@taltakingpics.

There are also restrictions proposed on judicial review (the process through which the lawfulness of the decisions and actions of a public body, including the government, can be challenged in court) under the Judicial Review & Courts Bill.

Freedoms which I took for granted 20 years ago suddenly seem precious and fragile. Tolerance, collective responsibility, and informed, open debate are essential to safe governance; seeing the country I love replacing these with a narrative of division, hatred, and fear of the ‘other’, to justify the withdrawal of democratic rights and liberties, fills my heart with sadness and my stomach with foreboding. Are we sleep-walking into Erdogan’s Turkey or Museveni’s Uganda?

I would much rather be writing about the artichoke suckers we planted out last week, which look so fine and strong, or our plans for tree planting this winter. Riverford has made a small corner of the world kind and safe, and it would be easy to hide there. But the latest changes to this bill were proposed in response to environmental protestors, and no person (or farm) is immune from their implications.

As the famous post-WWII confessional goes: “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I am not a socialist.” Then the trade unionists, then the Jews…. “Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

The context is not comparable, but the message stands; I feel compelled not to hide in my fields, but to raise my voice – for the fight against climate catastrophe, and for all protestors. If you feel so inclined, you could write to your MP in protest of the bill, or sign Liberty’s petition here.


Leave a Reply

    1. Please stick to growing vegetables Guy and stay out of politics….particularly the lefty do gooder politics you are recommending.

  1. It is not just a case of raising your voice in protest – now is the time for action! Time to stop the rot that is the present government from reducing us all to serfdom ~ remember the many who died or were terribly injured in soul, mind and body to ensure that out fought for rights ARE NOT TAKEN AWAY! For now by all means make those protests peaceful [carrying out physical attacks gives ammunition to those who would destroy us] but we must all be prepared to back each other up should the need arise!

    the Walrus

  2. Petition signed. Sadly the Labour Party has already come for the socialists, we face a totalitarian future whatever the result of any so called democratic election.

  3. Well said Guy,
    The huge worldwide gatherings/protests every weekend are being totally ignored by mass media – to make us think that everyone is just complying.

    This week, Parliament will vote to try to take away our right to protest.

    Please do sign Liberty’s petition as well as adding your name to the 148,893 others that have already signed the ‘Together Declaration’ & share both far & wide – before they take away all our rights in the name of protecting us!

    People have been ringing & e-mailing their MP this week (especially) to ask them if they are in favour or against the vaccine passports. Please ask your MP the question too.

    Whether you have had the vax or choose not to have this one, these passports they are trying to introduce will take so many of our rights away as well as all the other things they will entail & they will mean more coercion and division. (Bearing in mind you have to have had at least two – maybe 3 jabs soon, to be classed as fully vaxxed). One of their aims is to divide the people in this country – (as Brexit, to a degree did) – but we all need to stand together to be the strongest we can be.

    There is another protest in London on 13th Dec & the organisers will be hoping for a good turn out for this gathering but it is on a weekday. It’s at Parliament Square at 1pm.
    So many of the freedoms & rights that were fought so hard for are going to be taken away unless we stand together.
    Also, there is a march from at Parliament Square 18th Dec 2021 at 12pm standing against medical apartheid, communism, coercion, social credit systems, vax passports & mandates of any kind.

    No Vaccine Passports –

    Hold The Line –

    Robert W. Malone, MD Inventor of mRNA vaccines.

  4. OMG thank you for your article. 100% agree on the totalitarianism front. So important to find like-minded people who are not subject to the “Mass Formation” created by the extreme propoganda, along with the “weapons of mass distraction” meanwhile a social credit score system is quietly being introduced worldwide thanks to Mr/Mrs/Them Global-already signed. Keep up the good work

  5. The issue is not protesting but the disruption caused by extreme action e.g. Putting motorists lives and protestors lives at risk when blocking the M25. People going about their daily activities now need protection from extreme protestors and the new measures have been drafted in response to this other basic right. Or should we favour anarchy? It is true that broad powers as drafted could be abused just as the right to protest has been stretched to the extreme. Don’t like the government? then vote, do not disrupt or risk lives.

    1. It’s a delicate balance isn’t it? I would agree that some protestors have crossed the line and actually damaged the reputation of the environmental movement. But equally i would say that activism has been crucial in putting climate change on the government’s agenda.

      The right to protest and challenge government is pretty essential for making change and building a social movement. But it has to have widespread approval and solidarity from the public.

      If you look at the Indian farmers’ protest, they kept this balance despite millions protesting for over a year because the rest of the population identified with their struggles and supported them. I reckon there are a few lessons to be learnt from this.

  6. Thanks Guy, I agree. Have signed the petition.
    Some friends of mine were involved in the protests back in the summer, to do with trains, I suppose before this present legislation came into force. They went to trial quite recently. They obviously put up good arguments, including those by Phil an 85 yr old grandparent. The jury did not convict them.

    I know this has happened before, just goes to show something! anthony roper

  7. I agree. Some friends of mine were recently on trial by jury for their involvement in the train protests back in the summer. The jury did not find them guilty!

  8. Dear IanK, I don’t want anyone endangered by protests. The problem is that with a first past the post voting system without compulsory voting, we have anarchy in Government now.. Also our youth are not enfranchised yet will suffer most if climate chaos is not slowed massively. So your call to vote is tragically baseless in effect.
    Am I to risk imprisonment for a handful of unused moderate anti-fracking leaflets in a folder? Apparently so. See the social credit comment above, were you aware that attending Christian meetings in China will reduce your score via facial recognition?
    And if people are noble enough to risk martyring themselves for a just cause who are we to gainsay them.

    1. Apologies for the typo. I meant “Thank you so much for bringing “what matters” to the fore. What if MPs don’t “count” anymore?”

  9. Very worrying indeed, protesting about your local care home closing, your local school closing (including protesting about crop spraying next to a local school which was an issue in Weymouth when I lived there), all could be deemed illegal at the whim of the local Police Force. Holding a placard, holding someone’s arm who is protesting, all could be deemed illegal and make you liable to 51 weeks in prison. Are there really enough prisons?

  10. Jennyh
    This is a very autocratic move, one that we should all recognise as taking away people’s right to protest, which is a benchmark of a free society. This Government is not fit for purpose. Thank you for putting it so wel lGuy, we will be writing to our MP.

  11. Thank you Guy for standing tall on this. ‘Organic’ is about more than absenting pesticides: it’s the joy and fruitfulness of diverse, contesting life. Society and businesses depend on this just as much as nature does. Stop this Bill’s crazy, neurotic compulsion with control and uniformity!

    1. Hi Jonathan,

      Really like your idea of organic representing more than just a lack of pesticides. I think it’s easy to miss this point, and interested to know what values you associate with organic? I like the idea that it’s is so much more than just eating, food is a lens through which to see the world and can help us understand wider social issues, that might not seem relevant to us otherwise.



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