The last few days have been good days for the Millwall Football Club of Bermondsey, South London. The Lions, as they are known, on Sunday defeated Watford FC, of the Premier League, 1-0 in the fourth round of the FA Cup. This was an upset, as Millwall plays two divisions below Watford in League One.(1)
Even better than that sporting result, on the previous Wednesday the club learned that it could remain in South London, as a compulsory purchase order (CPO) which would have sold the club’s ground from underneath their feet to some redevelopment schemers was abandoned by the local government council. The council’s would-be development partner was “an opaque offshore-registered entity called Renewal.”(2)
The actual details of the disingenuousness of Renewal and its cosy intertwining of business and politics is too complex (and irrelevant to our purpose) to outline here (see the afore-referenced Guardian article for those details). One thing we can be sure of is that had the project gone through, the principals of Renewal would not be going hungry.
A few hundred years earlier—481, for those of a pedantic nature—common people in the North of England arose in protest against what they saw as many intolerable actions by the King, Henry VIII, and his ministers. To focus on only one grievance: the rebellion, known as the Pilgrimage of Grace, was that of “a nation already made uneasy by the treatment of its Queen [Katherine of Aragon] and by the alienation of its Church from Rome,” stirred further “as the lesser monasteries were suppressed and their fabric was laid waste.”(3)
It is Geoffrey Moorhouse’s belief that the rebels could easily have overcome the King’s forces at Doncaster and descended upon London had they not temporized, believing that they could negotiate with the sovereign’s representatives. But they eventually disbanded, and an enraged Henry took bloody revenge against the leaders of the Pilgrimage.
And what happened to the seized monastic lands? The overwhelming majority of allotments were sold off to the highest bidders.
While we looked at the Pilgrimage of Grace and the reaction to the confiscation and subsequent selling off of ecclesiastical property, it’s public property we are concerned with here. Between the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 and this week's victories of Millwall FC there have been many instances of common land in Great Britain being lost to the majority of the populace for the benefit of the already wealthy. In “A Short History of Enclosure in Britain” Simon Fairlie offers a long history of such happenings. He opens his account thusly:
Over the course of a few hundred years, much of Britain's land has been privatized — that is to say taken out of some form of collective ownership and management and handed over to individuals. Currently, in our "property-owning democracy", nearly half the country is owned by 40,000 land millionaires, or 0.06 per cent of the population, while most of the rest of us spend half our working lives paying off the debt on a patch of land barely large enough to accommodate a dwelling and a washing line.(4)
We could expand this discussion with examples beyond public land and Great Britain (think post-Soviet Russia and gas, mining, and other industries, for example), but the point we are trying to make here is that there is a mindset too prevalent (especially here in the United States) that everything that exists in the world is allowed to be sold to the very rich so that they can become even richer.
Note to my fellow Americans: Looking at Trump’s choice for Education Secretary, how long will it be before there are no more public schools?
1—In reality, the third division of English football. The second division is called the Championship. The English, surely, can match any other nation in the use of euphemism.
Also note the wonderful euphemism for “destruction.”
3—Geoffrey Moorhouse, The Pilgrimage of Grace: The rebellion that shook Henry VIII’s throne. The north of England, then as now, was economically worse off than the south, and many monasteries there provided basic welfare services to the common people.
A few hours after this post was put online the Guardian published an article on the pushback in the US against public financing of facilities for millionaire-owned sports teams (specifically focusing on soccer). One example from the article:
Newly-elected Missouri governor Eric Greitens, sensing an electoral no-brainer, said before he took office in early January that public money for the construction of a downtown St Louis stadium was “nothing more than welfare for millionaires.”(5)
One more day and one more example in the news of what the richest people can do: add a new citizenship without leaving one's old home: