Since September 11 2001, the actions of the British and American governments have been dominated by the need, one might even say a mania, for security.
This paranoia is hugely overblown, our chances of becoming victims of terrorism tiny. Yet, we are all victims in losing our ‘essential liberties’, with new anti-terror legislation (and the mentality that goes with it) reducing our freedoms and abolishing safeguards against arbitrary injustice.
This goes far beyond the confines of Guantanamo Bay, it’s here in the UK with 28- or 90-day detention without charge, ‘control orders’, national identity cards, new stop-and-search powers and the demonisation of anyone with a brown skin.
It even extends to the Big Green Gathering (BGG), a five day family camping event combining education on sustainable lifestyles with entertainment. The disproportionate security provisions we had to put in place this year to get our licence approved by Mendip District Council have caused a financial crisis, threatening to kill off the event.
The BGG is not a terrorist target. It is a very peaceful event, full of peaceful people enjoying themselves in the summer sunshine and exercising their traditional liberties of freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and expression. In 14 years of virtually trouble-free operation it has built a reputation as probably the most family-friendly event on the summer festival circuit.
The licensing process this year has been a nightmare. The costs of
satisfying the security concerns of over £200,000 were forced on us just a few weeks before the event. We had set the ticket price the previous November on the assumption costs would be no more than £100,000. A figure considered adequate because of our good record on health and safety and the recommendation by the previous police inspector that the Big Green Gathering did not needed policing.
Sadly, this year we have a new police inspector with a completely different attitude. He seems to have absorbed the antiterrorist vocabulary, with an often-repeated insistence on the need for us to “target-harden” our event. Demanding additional security measures, including extra security patrols, watchtowers and steel shield fencing.
The associated costs left us with a shortfall of around £75,000 on this year’s event – about 10% of our total annual turnover. When added to a similar deficit over the past two years we may be forced out of business, unless an emergency rescue appeal can save us.
Last year the government’s new Licensing Act came into effect and the BGG needed a licence for the first time since its inception in 1994, pushing up costs for security personnel by around 50% (about £80,000).
The new Licensing Act was designed for pubs and clubs, now applies to anywhere music is played or entertainment performed. Even places serving tea or coffee after 11pm. The government has admitted its had a disastrous effect on many outdoor events but says they have no plans to amend it.
We were not alone. There is a growing list of long-established events which have not taken place this year because of the increases imposed by the new licensing regime.
Combined with the security paranoia and control-freak mentality fostered by the ‘war on terror’, it is potentially ruinous to the Big Green Gathering. We do not want to make the BGG unpleasant and financially unviable by turning our site into a fortress.
The steel fortress and security provisions of the Glastonbury Festival site should not become the model for smaller, more laid-back events which have neither the security problems to justify it nor the financial resources to pay for it. The 2005 Licensing Act, as it relates to festivals and outdoor events is in urgent need of amendment-surely an issue worth a letter to your MP?
Otherwise, as Benjamin Franklin said, ‘They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty nor security.’
If you can help rescue the Big Green Gathering, please send donations to the BGG Rescue Fund, The Old Clinic, 10 St John’s Square, Glastonbury BA6 9LJ www.big-green-gathering.com