Half Steppers Sayeed Step With Doorstep
Exodus Collective defeat last minute attempt to evict farm
Squall Download 2, Dec-1999/Jan-2000, pp. 14-15.
After door-stepping a junior environment minister outside his London home, Luton’s Exodus Collective have managed to defeat a hair-raising last minute attempt to evict them from a farmstead they have occupied since 1992.
With a TV camera in tow, members of Exodus collared Lord Larry Whitty as he headed off to work at 7.45am on November 1 and managed to explain the case details to the minister. During the course of a cordial exchange, Exodus informed him that his department was about to commit a gross injustice and asked him to take a personal interest in the case given that local right wing politicians in Bedfordshire were playing with the truth in their attempt to have the Collective forcibly removed. Lord Whitty gave Exodus’s spokesperson, Glenn Jenkins, the opportunity to explain the Collective’s predicament before personally taking charge of the case. Within a day of looking more closely at the details, Lord Whitty decided that Exodus should, afterall, be allowed to purchase the property as previously agreed. The contracts were signed on November 3.
The eviction notice had been entirely unexpected given that Exodus had successfully pitched for the property in a sealed bid auction in 1998. However, with no legal binding on completion of sale until contracts and deposits had been exchanged, the Department decided to pull out of the deal after extensive lobbying from Tory MP Jonathan Sayeed (Mid Beds).
The attempted eviction of Long Meadow Community Free Farm was subsequently planned for the morning of November 5th and hundreds of activists from as far away as Manchester were preparing for an emergency mobilisation after news of the threat had swept round the country via e-mail networks.
Along with Liz Ledster, a Lib Dem South Beds District Councillor, Tory MP Jonathan Sayeed had been vociferously campaigning against Exodus for some time, using the 3rd Free the Spirit Festival which took place at the farm this summer, as an added excuse to seek their eviction. Following the event, described by all participants as the best festival of the year, Cllr Ledster had circulated a questionnaire to local residents in an effort to solicit local antagonism towards Exodus. The questionnaire led with the headline: “Are you scared? I know I am”. Sayeed had subsequently persuaded the local Department of Environment office to pull out of the deal and to recommend to Lord Whitty that he consent to their immediate eviction. Trusting the advice of his department’s local office, Whitty had given the go ahead unaware of the details of the case.
However, following Exodus’s personal appeal to Lord Whitty, Sayeed’s campaign to evict the farm faltered just two days before the planned arrival of bailiffs. Appearing on BBC Three Counties Radio the following day, Sayeed said that he was “furious” by Exodus’s canny victory and that he had personally spoken to ex-Tory ministers, John Redwood and Tim Yeo, in a further effort to harness right wing support on a national basis. Sayeed also described his attempts to match Exodus’s personal approach by waiting three hours for Lord Whitty to emerge from a committee room in the Houses of Parliament. Upon emerging from the room, however, Lord Whitty blanked Sayeed, refusing to entertain his pro-eviction appeal. Despite his fury, there is now nothing that Sayeed can do to alter Exodus’s legal possession of the 17 acre farm.
“We’re as happy as Larry at having Sayeed-stepped the right wing attempt to evict us,” a jubilant Glenn Jenkins told SQUALL.
To see Squall's full coverage of Exodus click here