ROBIN CARMODY on the origins of a great many progressive ideas increasingly accepted into mainstream British thinking.
The old guard of backward ruralists have been well and truly rattled, both at the ballot box and in the general mood of British life. When we see The Times ranting against the fact that some people in the countryside have wind chimes and invoking ancient, tired cliches about the Green Party, or The Daily Telegraph falsely proclaiming the death of Dave Swarbrick (whose former band Fairport Convention were, of course, a defiant call against both Tory ideas of British folk music and the most extreme puritan socialist theories), we know how they scared they now are. And they have every right to be, because a great many ideas on the countryside which were pioneered by the less aggressive, less apparently-revolutionary wing of the hippy movement have now seeped through into the mainstream of British life and thinking, far more than the values of those who stormed the barricades (and what an irony that is). Opinions on genetically modified food, global warming, animal welfare, the health effects of mobile phone masts and similar objects, and of course organic farming, are now accepted and endorsed by people who even 10 years ago - let alone in the 1970s - would have dismissed them as the cranky, eccentric, ignorable view of an extremist fringe with beards and sandals.
Still you get the same old cliches being invoked sometimes - I get the feeling that some people who know I support the beliefs of the Green Party would, even now, be not surprised at all to learn that I like the Incredible String Band but very surprised indeed to learn that I like Missy Elliott. For all that, though, the British people have moved on dramatically, and their government is lagging behind in this field. It is an indictment of the cowardice of Tony Blair's New Labour (and their love affair with big business and reluctance to offend their threads from the global corporations) that they have so downplayed the environment in their agenda, and it says a lot for the far greater radicalism of the Liberal Democrats that they have emphasised this aspect.
And for those who want to know where these ideas originally came from, extracts from the 1970s' Rural Resettlement Handbook - published by the Norfolk-based Rural Resettlement Group - are illustrated here. Of course, some of the information contained is out of date, but all is still relevant for those considering relocation in the countryside, and considering working the land, and it gives a fascinating illustration into the ideas of a group of people who were, although they could hardly have known it as Thatcher's Conservative government swept to power at that cusp-of-history moment in May 1979, well ahead of their time.
Robin Carmody, 7th June 2001
With thanks to Paul Whitehead for sending me the second edition of the book from 1979, from which these pages come.
move on ... http://www.elidor.freeserve.co.uk/resettlement2.htm
back home ... http://www.elidor.freeserve.co.uk/ruralbritain.htm