Podium: Ogoniland is just Oxford writ large

MIKE WOODIN: From the keynote speech by the Principal Male Speaker of the Green Party to their annual conference
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The Independent Culture
Imagine my shock when on Wednesday, barely 20 minutes after getting up, I found myself locked in a two-foot square cell in the back of a police prison van. It was not until some time after my period of incarceration that I realised that, far from preventing me from getting on with preparing for conference, the events surrounding my impromptu lesson in the workings of the criminal justice system were in fact to be my muse.

What happened in Oxford on Wednesday morning was an object lesson in what is wrong with much of the world. A rich and powerful landowner, Oxford University, decides it wants to build on a site partly occupied by an important listed, if somewhat neglected, building and a row of mature trees. Conveniently, the county council wants to build a road across the edge of the same site and so, together, the University and county council used their not inconsiderable influence to convince John Prescott that it is just fine to demolish the listed building, promising repeatedly along the way that as many of the trees as possible would be saved. The protesters duly moved in to dig their tunnels and build their lock-ons, and the early morning phone call to let me know that the eviction had started came as no great surprise. But when I arrived, it became clear that all the trees were to be felled despite previous assurances that Tree Preservation Orders would not be necessary. It was at this point that my dialogue with the police took a turn that led them to believe that I was obstructing them - when of course it was they who were obstructing me.

With the tree dwellers and myself safely locked up, the trees came down and the building will follow. Meanwhile, the city's planning committee, minus its incarcerated member, hurriedly issued emergency tree preservation orders - its officers arriving on site to serve them only to find the trees felled and to be rewarded for their efforts by getting soaked in a dramatic and symbolically apt thunderstorm. Clearly Oxford's gods, as well as its Greens, were angered by the destruction of yet another part of the city's environment.

As I said, and as is so often the case, what happened in Oxford is an object lesson, a parable if you like, of so much of what goes on in the world. How often do we hear of conflicts where rapacious landowners and multi-nationals carve up the environment and dispossess the local community?

Those who protest are locked up, or worse, and all that social and environmental regulations do is play the metaphorical role of a Council Tree Officer, turning up dripping wet and too late to do anything.

Of course, a few trees and a rather tatty Victorian Railway station in Oxford is nothing on the scale of Ogoniland, but the principles aren't that different. In fact, what draws the comparison even closer is that the university is building a business school on the site, funded by a man who made his millions fixing arms deals between British Aerospace and Saudi Arabia, and the sheriff who effected the evictions was a gentleman many would recognise from Newbury.

So the well-anticipated lesson of the parable is that if we want to stop protesters having to get locked up we must curb the landowners and multi-nationals and make corrupt governments clean.

Trying to unpick the logic of current government economic policy is a taxing, yet instructive business, so if you could just bear with me for just a minute or two, let's give it a go! As the Government sees it, the overriding priority is to create a stable and internationally competitive environment for business investment in the long-term, avoiding short-term boom and bust and promoting so-called "sustainable" growth. Day-to-day economic management has been delegated to that bastion of progressive social concern, the Bank of England, which must set interest rates with the sole objective of meeting the Government's inflation target. Now I'm not launching a new "vote Green for more inflation" campaign today, but as we'll see, there are many other things in life to worry about as well as inflation, and there are even ways of containing that, other than handing the levers of economic control to a monetarist bunch of unelected bankers.

Only Green politics will create a strong social economy and put the construction of a "happy society" above the unquestioning pursuit of profit and ever- growing material wealth. Only our policies will make communities the masters of their economies by promoting local production and regulating the unfettered stampede of investment capital around the globe.

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