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Last Updated: Friday, 18 June, 2004, 09:38 GMT 10:38 UK
North West: Commoners, after 1066
Elizabeth Fordham
Politics Show North West

A way of life enjoyed by farmers for hundreds of years could be under threat in the North West. Politics Show looks at the issue of common land.

Bow Fell
Common land is widespread in Cumbria

Common land has been available for grazing cattle and sheep, in the North West, since the Norman invasion in 1066.

But environmentalists are putting pressure on commoners to restrict the numbers of sheep grazing on this land.

There are also concerns about increasing public access to the land through legislation.

In an attempt to combat these problems, farmers who have rights over the common land in Cumbria have formed the Federation of Cumbrian Commoners.

This gives them a voice both locally and nationally to help stop what they see as an undermining of commoners' rights and retain a way of life that has been around for hundreds of years.

Politics Show North West hears both sides of the argument as our reporter Gill Dummigan speaks to:

  • Harry Hutchinson, Chairman of the Federation
  • Malcolm Petyt from the Ramblers' Association
  • Jean Johnstone from English Nature

And After the Local and European parliament elections ...

The rise and rise of minor parties

Politics Show North West focuses on the Community Action Party in Wigan.

Labour lost 13 seats to this community driven alternative to the mainstream parties, with not a mention of Iraq.

Instead, they campaigned on local issues, such as saving a special school and preventing developers building on a local park.

They are credited with introducing alcohol bans and tackling local crime and vandalism.

Councillor Peter Franzen
Peter Franzen is a founder member of the Community Action Party

Their supporters say they actually listen to what really matters to voters, and it is this approach to local politics that has given them a total of 18 seats on the council.

Peter Franzen, of the Community Action Party, says: "We have tapped into the voter's disaffection with the major parties.

"We have made an impact because we campaign on local issues that people really care about."

Labour disagrees

Community Action is, essentially, a negative party
Councillor Peter Smith, Labour

However, Peter Smith, the Labour Leader of the council, believes they are taking credit for things they have not done.

He says:"They are essentially a negative party, good at coming up with issues to campaign on, but not very good at finding solutions.

"I think their support will wane once people realise this."

But the rise of this community action group mirrors the rise of other minor, single issue parties elsewhere in the region, and we ask whether or not this is the future of politics?

Peter Smith thinks not, believing that political parties without central ideology have no long term future in mainstream politics: "What the country needs is a big party with a strong central ideology."

We present this for discussion with our panel of guests, made up this week of:

  • Andy Burnham, MP for Leigh, whose constituency has seen labour council seats lost to the Community Action Party
  • Andy Russell, a political analyst

Have your say

Let us know what you think. That is the Politics Show Sunday 20 June at Midday.

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