Gypsies or Travellers divide opinion. Half of people hate them and think it's fine to call them any name under the sun including criminal, thug, etc. While the other half of people hate them and are more circumspect in their remarks.
Is there anyone that actually is prepared to say they like them? Go on, there must be someone.
Like any minority or 'outsider' group, the whole lot tends to get collectively branded according to what one of them has done. A good, socialist friend of mine has a negative image of gypsies because one of them called him a paki on his way to school. I have a positive image of them, perhaps because of my own early encounters.
At one of my junior schools, I had a mile walk along a country road to the school. Another mile up the road was a traveller site. As I walked to school I would sometimes be joined by a small boy from the site called Christopher. He was a delightful little boy, cheerful and friendly and playful. As we neared the school other kids would call him names, however. I felt ashamed though did nothing to defend him.
Two older gypsy girls joined the school. They split up into different classes. I was asked to sit next to the girl who joined our class, when other children wouldn't. I wasn't some kind of anti-racist at that age, I was just a bit more civil than other children, possibly because I'd moved schools a few times myself.
Whatever you think of gypsies, it's clear that policy towards travellers and gypsies in this country needs drastic improvement. The traveller site at Dale Farm contravenes planning regulations - but so do many things that people build (the celebrated Belmont Farm in Mill Hill, for example). But does that mean it should now be expunged from the earth?
Councils have ducked their legal obligations to provide official sites - Barnet is in the premier rank of offenders in this regard, providing no sites. Councils have simply sat on their hands for so long that now the Tories have declared the targets for building sites a dead letter: the Localism Bill would remove obligations on local authorities to provide sites.
Barnet Councillor Brian Coleman has made ignorant and offensive remarks about travellers that he simply wouldn't get away with saying about any other group. Few have troubled to contradict him.
The evictions at Dale Farm will divide opinion, and there won't be entirely rational reasons for people deciding "which side they are on". I have to confess that if I didn't have so much going on in my personal life right now, I would probably be down at Dale Farm this week manning the barricades; yes, I'd be one of those activists who have lent their expertise to the travellers in the fight to defend their homes.