Controversial Guardian columnist George Monbiot received an award on Friday from the organisers of the Wigan Diggers Festival. Monbiot was given the Gerrard Winstanley Spade Award for his ‘outstanding contribution’ to the cause of making the Earth a common treasury for all, in the spirit of the 17th Century Wigan man the award is named after.
The Award has previously been given to the late Labour MP Tony Benn, film director Ken Loach, screenwriter Jimmy McGovern, and also actor Maxine Peake.
The Wigan Diggers festival is a celebration of the life and beliefs of Gerrard Winstanley, who founded the True Levellers - later known as the Diggers movement - in 1649. The Diggers were a group of religious and political dissidents; angered by land lying empty while ordinary people starved, the group attempted to occupy former common land that had been privatised by planting crops.
However, the movement was short-lived and they were forced out by the state and vested interests - retaliation against their occupation of land included attacks organised by local 'lords of the manor' in several parts of the country, and trumped-up court cases where accused Diggers were barred from speaking in their own defence.
Their ethos and beliefs, however, remain. Diggers Festival organiser Ian Hayes, who presented the award said: "George Monbiot is a really good environmentalist and Gerrard Winstanley was one of the first environmentalists".
On receiving the award Monbiot said: "I'm incredibly honoured to receive this. I'm just delighted to see how the flame is being kept alive. I mean, this is what the Diggers’ organisers are doing and they will be doing it year after year. And they are ensuring that people don't forget this radical legacy".