This is a summary of the sessions that took place within the framework of the New Putney Debates in London Oct/Nov 2012. Although Occupy seems to have disappeared from the public radar (aka Big Media) after the St Paul’s Cathedral campsite eviction, the Working Groups formed during the occupation months have continued to study and develop new initiatives for a better system. All groups came together in the New Putney debates to celebrate this unbroken tradition of people working for Equality and Real Democracy, just like the Levellers and the New Model Army did 365 years ago.
Saturday 27 October
Economics and democracy
Rising inequality – what is the solution?
Inequality: the enemy between us? – The Spirit Level: Why Inequality Matters. With Professor Richard Wilkinson who stressed that societies are more fruitful and harmonious when there is greater equality. His position emerges from epidemiological research. For instance he has shown that health parameters for the rich are better in less unequal societies.
The Finance Curse: Tax Haven Britain, Predator and Victim. How Britain has become captive to its offshore empire and what we can do. John Christensen, from Tax Justice Network stated that it is the accumulation of wealth and tax evasion through Tax Havens that is destabilising the economy and creating the social ills that we see today. His criticism to imposing austerity measures on the general population and hardship for the less well off families in the face of the mammoth accumulation in Tax Havens is that there is absolutely no need for austerity measures but some form of redress and redistribution is the only way forward.
Income Equality – a co-operative approach, with Dr John Courtneidge. This practical workshop invited participants to work our where they stand in relation to Capitalism, its pros and cons as well as putting in evidence the ample spread of ideas about wage differentials and other measures of inequality.
Occupy economic roadmap -a lightning introduction tour, and an introduction to the ‘Little Book of Ideas’, followed by a plenary discussion.
Sunday 28 October
The English Revolution, the Putney Debates and the making of the British Constitution
with the Occupy Real Democracy working group
What would real democracy look like? With John McDonnell, Labour party MP, who described the failings of the present political system, how grassroots activism rarely translates into policy at the top, his experiences in participatory democracy and the tendency for leaderships to follow “safe” issues. A workshop followed with break-out groups discussing related themes to promote the idea of “A New Agreement of the People 2012”.
Sunday 28 October
St Mary’s Church, Putney High Street, Putney (Original venue of the 1647 Putney Debates)
Light shining in Buckinghamshire, a Play by Caryl Churchill, which looked at the events of the English Revolution. The second half of the play focuses on the conflict within the New Model Army between the senior officers (the Grandees) and the Agitators, who stood for the interests of the ordinary men and women. The Putney Debates reached their peak when a document called ‘An Agreement of the People’, prepared by those who wanted a democratic republic, was presented to the General Council of the Army.
Monday 29 October
Socially useful banking?
Public discussion led by Andy Haldane, Bank of England Executive Director, Financial Stability. Responding: Duncan Weldon, TUC senior economist, and Dominic Lindley, Which? Head of Financial Services Policy. Chaired by Lisa Pollack, Financial Times & Alphaville blog.
In spite of Haldane’s congratulatory tone to Occupy for accurately describing the economic crisis as being the result of the growing inequality, there was a widespread feeling that the overoptimistic tone of the presentation, implying that the Bank of England is putting in place the necessary changes to fix the problems, left much to be desired, as there were no fundamental changes in the system, in fact the issues of “Money as Debt” and Tax Havens were not even mentioned and the need for “growth” (regardless of finite resources) and “more competition” implied a continuation of the neoliberal orthodoxy.
Wednesday 31 October
War, Tax and Law
‘This house holds that the most effective non-violent democratic way for taxpayers to hold governments to account for their performance is lawful tax resistance’
The event addressed and debated: When is it a crime to pay tax? and When is war lawful? These and other questions were part of a quiz to introduce the theme of Taxes, War and Law, followed by a discussion and proposals. The International agreements which have made all wars of aggression and genocide unlawful since 1928 were explained and the fact that any citizen who contributes with their tax money to such actions (Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria) could be considered an accessory to was crimes. The need for a network of people, businesses and organisations to promote the ethical and lawful use of taxes was discussed by the participants.
Thursday 1 November
Land and democracy
Nearly 400 years ago the Diggers described the Earth as a ‘common storehouse for all’ and objected to land being kept in the hands of a few. Are landowners still oppressing the people today, and how should we respond?
Presentations by George Monbiot, journalist; Natalie Bennett, Leader of the Green Party; Max Lawson, Head of Advocacy at Oxfam; the Runnymede Diggers; and performance poet Pete the Temp.
Saturday 3 November
Who does the legal system benefit?
With Professor of Human Rights, Conor Gearty and Michael Mansfield QC, and Halina Ward from the Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable Development
The point was made that there is too much corporate influence in the legal system and although Human Rights legislation is being put in place, legal aid is disappearing, barring in fact anybody who is not affluent from its benefits. Property rights stick to neoliberal capitalism dogma and completely disregard the common good. All this undermines Democracy but change cannot come from changing the Law in isolation.
Do we need a new civil rights movement today? Presented by UK lawyer Melanie Strickland – in the US communities are asserting their rights above corporate rights by putting in place local laws called Community Bills of Rights – can we do something similar; Dr Shahrar Ali, London Green Party; and Michael Mansfield QC on the National Civil Rights Movement.
Sunday 4 November
Capitalism is Crisis (Another World is Possible…)
Sessions on capital, power and the State telling a story of capitalism to explore the character of the capitalist process that is continuing to tear up the planet and to exterminate its inhabitants. The purpose of the sessions was to investigate why we are doomed, and also how we might escape the doom.
Participants included Annette Zera (facilitator), Joseph Choonara (Marxist economist), Hilary Koob-Sassen (artist and theorist), John Bywater (philosophical engineer) amongst other theorists, writers, artists, activists, and makers.
The use of “Open Space” for strong participation of all those present was highly commended.
Monday 5 November
Contributors included Steve Barwick (Housing Voice: UNISON) who have variously been involved with Housing documents in the past year. David Smith (East London Community Land Trust), Chris Cook, the Cambridge Study and Co-op also to inform a debate centred upon the Occupy Petition on Housing to No 10 in July, with emphasis upon affordable land for TRULY Affordable Homes, and consideration of issues such as Land Value Tax. Dr John Courtneidge contributed with his experience in Housing co-ops (“not the solution of the problem”). The discussion included questions about the need to build so many houses taking green spaces when three are so many empty properties.
Thursday 8 November
The courage to pay: tax, honesty and business with Richard Murphy
Richard Murphy is director of Tax Research LLP and advises the Tax Justice Network (of which he was a founder), the UK Trade Union Congress and many other organisations on tax policy issues. His work for the TUC is considered by many to have created the current debate on the tax gap, tax avoidance and tax evasion in the UK (with much information about Tax Havens).
Tax revenue is now the commodity in shortest supply throughout the whole of Europe. That shortage is driving austerity and ruining lives and yet the tax revenue we need to turn economies round, to offer employment and revitalise hope is available if only politicians had the courage to demand that people pay their tax. In this talk Richard Murphy, Economist and Accountant with deep knowledge of Tax Havens and other evasion strategies, explored how that courage can be created and practical ways in which it could deliver.
Friday 9 November
A New Economy, with Clive Menzies and Janos Abel.
This two hour workshop examined flaws in the economic system, why it cannot be sustained and what an alternative system could look like. The foundations of the New Economy are: the means to life (water, food and housing) for all as a right; land and resources held in common and the benefits shared; alternative currencies to foster greater equality and societal cohesion.
Saturday 10 November
Food and democracy: how do we ensure people have access to nutritious, sustainable and good food?
with Helena Paul, Econexus; Dominika Jarosz, Head of Campaigns for Pig Business, and Biofuelwatch
Energy and democracy: with Jeremy Leggett, Solarcentury; Fuel Poverty Action Group, and Danny Chivers.
The panel described how the model of industrialised farming dependent on fossil fuels is destroying the environment. There is also a need to preserve the seeds supply threatened by GE practices. There was a suggestion that the policy developed to deal with the foot and mouth crisis targeted small farmers in particular. The problems of biofuels was discussed in relation to food prices, the rights of indigenous peoples, land grabs and increased carbon release. The need to oppose gas conversion for the UK was emphasised in relation to the real energy needs in the UK, which could be (contrary to much advertised opinion) completely supplied by renewables.
Law, environment and democracy: with Polly Higgins, Eradicating Ecocide, and Melanie Strickland, speaking on the Community Bill of Rights, from the Occupy Law working group, and Halina Ward; Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable Development.
In fact Ecocide was not a new concept, as it had been already presented to the UN in the past, although it had been somehow sidelined.
The right of communities to oppose large corporations intent on establishing businesses, coal or nuclear power stations and other enterprises potentially damaging for a particular community would be enshrined in the proposed Community Bill of Rights, already established in some US areas and being discussed in the UK. The need to also enshrine the rights of Nature is also gathering widespread support.
Sunday 11 November
Reclaiming the Commons: practical steps and galvanizing action.
A new Agreement of the People for 2012
After a feedback summary from the different sessions of the New Putney Debates the participants formed groups to discuss possible future proposals and actions that would be contained in a New Agreement of the People, forming a civil rights movement for real democracy. There was general support to making the New Putney Debates a yearly event to bring together and articulate the many projects developed by Occupy and other organisations working in the direction of equality and real democracy.
Participants were invited to a further workshop on the theme of Commoning:
Saturday 24 November
Venue: Runnymede Diggers, Runnymede, Egham.
Daytime. Land and Freedom
The day will look at who owns the land and the history of common people living communally in the Forests and Chases of Britain There will be a discussion on the Charter of the Forest, which was developed as part of the Magna Carta at Runnymede. This was first issued on 6 November 1217 as a separate charter, giving commoning rights to common people. The day will consider the the viability of living in the forest today; is the tragedy of the commons inevitable or can we govern the commons collectively and live in harmony with nature?