Magazine article The Spectator

Digging the Dirt

Magazine article The Spectator

Digging the Dirt

Article excerpt

News that the government is setting up a 'land bank' of brownfield sites, consisting of bits and pieces of spare or disused land, and encouraging councils and private landowners to lease these out to local groups as allotments, underscores the impression of a national appetite for 'growing your own'. Certainly, according to the National Society of Allotments and Leisure Gardeners, there are at least 100,000 names presently on allotment waiting lists.

John Denham, Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government (or DoSAC, as we devotees of The Thick of It like to call it), compared this initiative to the wartime 'Dig for Victory' campaign. Presumably, he did so on the grounds that this is the first time since the war that allotments might be created by local authorities, rather than relentlessly sold off for building or other construction works - most famously, the century-old Manor Garden Allotments, which were bulldozed to make a path on the periphery of the Olympic Park.

'From guerrilla gardeners to community growers, ' intoned the minister, 'there is a real keenness to combine '40s-style frugality and '70s-style good-life ethics to meet 21stcentury demands for healthy living, cheaper meals and locally sourced food.' In the words of Malcolm Tucker, 'What the f**k does this fellow know about Forties frugality, when his government has helped saddle us with debts of £860 billion?'

There are profound differences between the Dig for Victory campaign of the 1940s and today's headline-snatching initiative.

Then, we were a country at war, ruled by a coalition government with authoritarian powers. Now, we are experiencing a shortterm economic crisis, however uncomfortable, and stoutly (I hope) resisting curtailment of our freedoms. It is impossible to argue that the sense of common purpose, although it exists in many allotment societies, is universally as strong. …

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