The appearance of two books on landownership in Britain, within the space of a year or
so, is yet another “flagging up” of the growing importance of the “land question” and a “wake-
up call” for the Left.
We have to take the question of the land on which we live – who owns it, how it is exploited,
how the overwhelming majority of us are excluded from it – much more seriously than we
have in the past.
Guy Shrubsole’s Who Owns England? (William Collins, 2019) gives us a long term overview of
how the land in England has been progressively exploited and expropriated by an obscenely
wealthy elite from the time of William the Conqueror up to the present day. Brett Christophers’s The
New Enclosure (Verso, 2018) deals almost entirely with the privatisation of public land by the
ideologues of neo-liberalism, from Margaret Thatcher, through Blair and Brown, to Theresa
Successive governments have encouraged and coerced the sale of land to the private sector
from school playing fields, one-time nationalised industries such as British Rail, the NHS;
and the Ministry of Defence.
The neo-liberal drive for profit has fuelled such bizarre calculations as the so-called “space-
utilisations targets”. In other words, how little space does a full-time employee (FTE) need to
perform their duties?
The figure has been whittled down from 14.5 metres per FTE to 8 square metres per FTE
and recently a new target of 6 metres per FTE has been established for government multi-
regional departments (or “Government Hubs”). This reduces workers to the level of battery
hens. Take a second to measure it out on your living room floor and you’ll see what I mean.
The fundamentally undemocratic, oligarchic, greed-driven nature of landownership in
England is shown by a picture in Guy Shrubsole’s book, with a sign reading: “St. George’s
Hill. Private Estate. Restricted access. Next Entrance 200 yards”.
The “private estate” referred to is a gated community, with a private golf course, of mainly,
offshore-owned mansions (the Beatles once owned some of the properties).
St. George’s Hill is also the historic site of the Diggers’ Commune – a radical group of
dissenters who, at the end of the English Revolution in 1649, established a community
based on communal ownership and working the land in common, the very antithesis of what
St. George’s Hill is today.
One of the prominent Diggers, Gerald Winstanley, proclaimed: “The Earth must be set free
of intanglements of Lords and Landlords, and…become a common treasury for all”.
These ringing words come to us across a void of over 350 years, but they retain all their truth
and validity today.