As Theresa May Becomes Prime Minister, A Look Back at Her Authoritarianism, Islamophobia and Harshness on Immigration

Theresa May, Britain's new Prime Minister, making her first speech as PM. I slightly edited the banner behind her.First off, it says little for democracy that, after the biggest constitutional crisis in most of our lifetimes (the result of the EU referendum, which may take years to resolve), the Conservative Party has responded by having just 199 MPs anoint a new leader to run the country after David Cameron, aging 20 years overnight, bumbled off into the sunset of a poisoned legacy.

Cameron, it is assumed, will forever be known as the worst Prime Minister since Neville Chamberlain (or Anthony Eden), a so-called leader who, because he was too cowardly to face down critics who were even more right-wing than him — in his own party, and in UKIP — called a referendum that he was then too arrogant to believe he could lose. I was fearful at the time Cameron announced the referendum, in January 2013, that it could all go horribly wrong, and on the morning of June 24 my fears were confirmed as 17 million voters — a weird mix of political vandals, racists, xenophobes, left-wing idealists and the ill-informed — voted for us to leave the EU.

Cameron left his mess for others to clear up, and within days most of those who had run with his idiocy and had campaigned to get us out of Europe fell too. Nigel Farage announced that he was standing down as UKIP leader, hopefully doing us all a favour by, as a result, diminishing UKIP’s weird reptilian personality cult. Read the rest of this entry »

30 Years On from the Last Stonehenge Free Festival, Where is the Spirit of Dissent?

As tens of thousands of people gathered at Stonehenge last night and this morning for the summer solstice — and, presumably, more photos were taken than ever before, including, of course, the ubiquitous “selfie,” an example of which can be seen in the photo to the left — I recall that, 30 years ago, in June 1984, the last Stonehenge Free Festival took place in the fields opposite Stonehenge, and I was one of the tens of thousands of people who took part in it.

I had first visited with friends the year before, and had been astonished to discover that, while Margaret Thatcher was embarking on her malevolent plan to create a taxpayer-funded privatised Britain of selfishness, consumerism and unfettered greed, tens of thousands of people were on Salisbury Plain — partying, yes, or just getting wasted, but also sidelining consumerism and embracing communalism and alternative ways of living and looking at the world.

My experiences were central to my book Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion, a social history of Stonehenge, which I wrote over an 18-month period from 2002 to 2004, and which was published ten years ago. It’s still in print, and you can buy it from me here, or from the publisher, Heart of Albion Press, or, if you must, from Amazon. After ten years, it is also — finally — being stocked at Stonehenge itself, in the new visitors’ centre that opened last December.

From humble beginnings ten years before, the Stonehenge Free Festival had grown to become the definitive counter-cultural expression of hedonism and dissent, a month-long manifestation of an alternative society, which so alarmed the authorities that the following year an advance convoy, travelling to Stonehenge to secure the festival site on June 1, was set upon by 1,400 police from six counties and the MoD, and decommissioned with shocking violence at an event that will forever be known as “The Battle of the Beanfield.” My book, The Battle of the Beanfield, about the terrible events of that day is also still available. For bulk orders, please contact Enabler Publications. Read the rest of this entry »

It’s 29 Years Since the Battle of the Beanfield, and the World Has Changed Immeasurably

Buy my book The Battle of the Beanfield here.

29 years ago, on June 1, 1985, a convoy of around 450 men, women and children — travellers, anarchists, free festival goers and green activists — were ambushed by 1,400 police from six counties and the Ministry of Defence, and decommissioned with a violence that has rarely been paralleled in modern British history.

The convoy was en route to Stonehenge, to set up what would have been the 11th annual free festival in the fields opposite Britain’s most famous ancient monument, but the savage decommissioning of the travellers’ vehicles, their mass arrest, and the raising of a military-style exclusion zone around Stonehenge put paid to that prospect.

The exclusion zone was raised every June for the next 13 years, until the law lords ruled it illegal in 1999, and since then English Heritage have allowed unfettered access to the stones on the summer solstice, with up to 30,000 revellers — everyone from pagan priests to teenage party-goers — availing themselves of the “Managed Open Access” policy. Read the rest of this entry »

Back in Print: The Battle of the Beanfield, Marking Margaret Thatcher’s Destruction of Britain’s Travellers

Buy The Battle of the Beanfield here.

Yesterday, December 1, 2013, was a cheerless anniversary of sorts — 28 and a half years since the Battle of the Beanfield, on June 1, 1985, when 1,300 police from six counties and the MoD trapped and violently decommissioned a convoy of several hundred travellers — men, women and children, the new nomads of the UK, including free festival goers, anarchists, and anti-nuclear activists — en route to Stonehenge to establish what would have been the 12th annual Stonehenge Free Festival. From humble origins in 1974, the festival had grown, by 1984, into a month-long counter-cultural extravaganza attended by tens of thousands of people, and in 1985, fresh from her success in suppressing the miners, Margaret Thatcher turned her attention to the festival and its loose network of organisers, planning to destroy it as ruthlessly as she was destroying British industry.

in 2005, to mark the 20th anniversary of this key event in the modern state’s clampdown on dissent, I compiled and edited a book about the Battle of the Beanfield, drawing on transcripts I made of interviews with travellers and witnesses to the events of the day and the months building up to it that were recorded for a 1991 TV documentary, “Operation Solstice” (screened on Channel 4 and available to buy here); the police log, liberated from a court case brought by some of the victims of the Beanfield; and other relevant information, book-ended with essays putting the Beanfield in context, written by myself and Alan Dearling, whose publishing company, Enabler Publications, launched the book in June 2005.

Eight and a half years later, The Battle of the Beanfield is still in print, and, to slightly contradict the heading of this article, it has never actually been out of print, although in summer, when Alan and I reprinted it, I was down to my last few copies. You can buy it here, in time for Christmas, if you, or anyone you’re hoping to buy a present for, was there, was affected by it, or is simply interested in knowing more about one of the key events that shaped the relationship between the state and those perceived as difficult. I should note that my previous book, Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion, is also still available, as is my third book, The Guantánamo FilesRead the rest of this entry »

It’s 28 Years Since Margaret Thatcher Crushed Travellers at the Battle of the Beanfield

It has become something of a tradition that, on June 1 every year, I add another year to the counter and write an article explaining how many years it has been since the Battle of the Beanfield, and why it is important for people of all ages to recall — or to find out about — the day when, in a field in Wiltshire, the late and unlamented Margaret Thatcher sent a militarised army of police from six counties and the MoD to decommission, with outrageous violence, a convoy of new age travellers, free festival goers, green activists, anarchists and — most crucially — those opposed to the establishment of US nuclear weapons based on British soil. Last year, I wrote, “Remember the Battle of the Beanfield: It’s the 27th Anniversary Today of Thatcher’s Brutal Suppression of Traveller Society,” incorporating an article I wrote for the Guardian on June 1, 2009, and I’m pleased to note that my commemoration of the Battle of the Beanfield a year ago has been liked on Facebook by over 6,700 people — the majority, I believe, since Margaret Thatcher’s death in April.

Unlike the women of Greenham Common, opposed to the establishment of a US cruise missile base on UK soil, who couldn’t be truncheoned en masse for PR reasons, the convoy of men, women and children who had set up a second peace camp at Molesworth in Cambridgeshire in the summer of 1984 could be — and were — evicted by 1,500 police and troops on February 6, 1985, with further violence obviously planned. The Molesworth eviction was the single largest mobilisation of police and troops since the war, and, for the Royal Engineers, their largest operation since the bridging of The Rhine in 1944. Afterwards, the travellers were harried around southern England for four months until their annual exodus to Stonehenge, to set up the anarchic festival that had occupied the fields opposite Stonehenge every June since 1974, when the planned opportunity came for them to be violently attacked, the festival stopped, and the travellers’ movement crippled.

To commemorate the anniversary this year, I’m posting below excerpts from the opening chapter of my book The Battle of the Beanfield, published eight years ago, and still in print, in which my analysis bookends transcripts of accounts by many of the major players. You can, if you wish, buy it from me here. Read the rest of this entry »

Stonehenge and the Summer Solstice: On the 28th Anniversary of the Last Free Festival, Check Out “Festivals Britannia”

So today, as 14,000 revellers at Stonehenge faced a rainy summer solstice morning, with some of them, at least, echoing the reverence that those who built this giant sun temple over 4,000 years ago had for the great axis of the solar year, many of those in attendance may not have known of the long struggles that enabled them to party in the world’s most famous stone circle, or of the free festival that sprawled across the fields opposite Stonehenge every June for 11 years from 1974 to 1984, or of the brutal suppression, in 1985, of the convoy of travellers, anarchists and environmental activists heading to Stonehenge to set up what would have been the 12th Stonehenge Free Festival, who were violently set upon and “decommissioned” in what has become known as the Battle of the Beanfield.

Those who want to know more can check out my books Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield, and can also find out more via my most recent article on the Beanfield, three weeks ago, and my recent radio interview, which I posted yesterday. However, I believe this is also an excellent opportunity for people to watch “Festivals Britannia,” a 90-minute long BBC4 documentary by Sam Bridger, first broadcast in December 2010, which I’m posting below in six parts, as available on YouTube.

This is an important programme, with excellent commentators and some astounding footage (including dreamlike Super-8 footage from the ’70s by Chris Waite, and equally dreamlike images from the last great gathering of the tribes, at Castlemorton in 1992), even though watching it was a rather surreal experience, as its narrative arc seemed to be drawn entirely — but without credit — from Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion. Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: On Eve of Summer Solstice at Stonehenge, Andy Worthington Discusses the Battle of the Beanfield and Dissent in the UK

Listen to my interview here!

A month ago, I was delighted to meet up with — and be interviewed by — an old friend and colleague, Tony Gosling, a journalist and broadcaster, who also has a long-established mail order service, Culture Shop, making videos and books on important political topics available. For many years, Tony has sold videos and DVDs of “Operation Solstice,” the documentary about the showdown between new age travellers and Margaret Thatcher’s government that took place on June 1, 1985, in a field in Wiltshire, when police from six forces and the MoD savagely “decommissioned” a convoy of travellers, anarchists and environmental and anti-nuclear activists, assaulting men, women and children, and destroying vehicles.

The government succeeded in preventing the convoy from reaching their planned destination, Stonehenge, where they had intended to establish the 12th annual Stonehenge Free Festival — a huge free event that was a gigantic inspiration for all kinds of dissidents, but was, of course, feared and despised by the establishment.

After I published my first book, Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion, in June 2004, a social history of Stonehenge that was, essentially, a wider British counter-cultural history, in which the Battle of the Beanfield was pivotal, I swiftly followed up with another book, focusing specifically on The Battle of the Beanfield, through original essays, transcripts of interviews with people involved on the day, and excerpts from the police log, which was published on the 21st anniversary of the Beanfield in 2005. Read the rest of this entry »

Remember the Battle of the Beanfield: It’s the 27th Anniversary Today of Thatcher’s Brutal Suppression of Traveller Society

27 years ago, a convoy of vehicles driven by refugees from the chronic unemployment of Margaret Thatcher’s Britain — commonly described as new age travellers, but also including environmental and anti-nuclear activists and land reformers — was set upon by police from six counties and the MoD, en route to Stonehenge, to establish what would have been the 12th Stonehenge Free Festival, an anarchic annual event that drew tens of thousands of visitors every June.

Cornered in a field by the A303, the convoy members — including women and children — were eventually set upon by the police in a distressingly violent manner, albeit one that was typical of life under Thatcher, bearing remarkable similarities to the violence meted out to the miners at Orgreave, in South Yorkshire, the year before.

I was one of those visitors to the Stonehenge Free Festival in 1983 and 1984, and the freedom and anarchy I experienced there helped to shape my belief that there are many different ways to live, and that dissent is a vital part of any functioning democracy. However, in the year that followed the Battle of the Beanfield, laws were implemented to try to make sure that the right to gather freely — and in huge numbers — would never be able to happen again, although they were not immediately successful. The new age traveller culture was severely damaged, but dissent reemerged unexpectedly in the form of the acid house movement , or rave culture, and was followed by the road protest movement, and groups like Reclaim the Streets, which helped to fuel a worldwide anti-globalization movement by the late 1990s. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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