Monday, 19 September 2011

Dale Farm: stand up and be counted

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.

9 comments:

Mrs Angry said...

This is a subject about which I find it very, very difficult to keep my temper. The centuries' long, vile, and shamelessly racist treatment of gypsies and travellers which is so endemic in country, and especially now in our national tabloid press is simply repellant, and should be universally condemned, but generally is not.

If you think I am exaggerating, take a look at any tabloid story involving this group, and imagine that is written about any other ethnic group - Jewish, muslim, black, Asian. It simply would not be acceptable, and it should not be in relation to gypsies or travellers. To condemn a whole group of people, and one that has been marginalised by main stream society for so long and been forced to adapt to a life apart from the things we all take for granted, is bigotry, pure and simple.
And yes, I do know what I am talking about: my great grandmother was from a gypsy family, and I have also had traveller neighbours, who were a bloody sight more civilsed than the low life drug abusing violent council tenants place next door to me by the London Borough of Barnet.

Excuse my rant. If you have an open mind, and you want to read my old post O Porrajamos, please do.

Don't Call Me Dave said...

Mrs Angry

You don’t half talk some crap sometimes. Perhaps you would like to visit a property owned by my company where travellers broke down the fence and illegally camped in the car park? Take a bucket and mop with you to help clear the shite (literally) that they left behind. While you are there, perhaps you could visit the building’s security guard who was locked inside (by means of a chain across the front door) and had to be rescued by the local Rozzers. I am sure he will be delighted to hear your justification for their criminal behaviour.

Charges of racism are ridiculous and offensive, unless you have hitherto undiscovered evidence which proves that “Jews, Muslims, Blacks and Asians” are allowed to flout planning laws with impunity.

This is an issue about law and order. The travellers own the site, but the same planning laws apply to them as to everyone else. If they don’t like the existing planning rules, they can campaign to change them.

David Duff said...

I'm tempted to sign myself 'DO call me Dave' because my namesake is absolutely correct, it is a matter of law. The judges, daft as some of them are, will decide the matter and it is the duty of the rest of us to uphold their ruling - whichever way it goes and irrespective of who it involves.

Mrs Angry said...

Grrr yes you were lucky I had not read this before we met in a dark car park or you might be hopping on the other foot ... It is about racism, whether you like it or not, the planning issue is a separate issue: obviously the law is there to be upheld but it is not upheld fairly, and yes I could name many transgressions by other groups in this borough which are overlooked. If you care so passionately aboutt he law being upheld, did you protest in the many years when it was a legal requirement for all boroughs to provide some basic stopping place for gypsies and travellers, and Tory run Barnet openly defied the law, refusing to allocate even a single pitch, and maintaining a policy of having any gypsies or travellers arrested if attempting to stay anywhere even overnight?

Don't Call Me Dave said...

It is only racist if you can prove that other ethnic groups would have been granted planning permission to do what the travellers were denied permission for.

The fact that Barnet - and presumably other local authorities - may have failed in their statutory obligations towards travellers is a completely separate matter, for which there is a legal remedy available.

Two wrongs do not make a right.

vickim57 said...

Every group has members who will commit antisocial behaviour - and marginalised groups might have more of them. What's to be done about it?

Some of the families from Dale Farm are now parked - illegally - in Luton. How is anyone better off from this?

The issue of councils not providing sites is a separate issue, but they are very related issues.

If councils provided more sites, over the years and now, there would be more scope for building relationships between local authorities, local communities, and travellers and gypsies themselves. Probably a lot of the mutual hostility and disrespect would be soothed.

Just because some travellers behaved badly at that site you talk about DCMD, doesn't mean that all travellers are bad. I have had numerous bad encounters with people who weren't like me in some way - a tight-fisted Jewish landlord, a group of rowdy and bullying black teenage girls, a Polish migrant - if I extrapolated from those bad experiences - ie, treated those individuals as representatives of a whole group - I'd be doing myself and other members of those groups a massive disservice.

People speak as though gypsies and travellers have nothing to contribute - and have contributed nothing - to society at large. That can't be true, can it?

I'm not denying there are problems, but it's a question of now they arose and how you can fix them. Travellers and gypsies are far and away the biggest victims of their precarious situation: they have much worse health than the rest of us, for example.

I'm starting to develop a real dislike of this concern for the Green Belt. I like the countryside as much as anyone, but reality is not as simple as that.

Colindale is not Green Belt, thus it's being built all over. That means the people living on Grahame Park estate lost their open space. If that's what 'respecting the Green Belt' entails, the world's upside down!

And isn't the Conservative Party about to allow housing development on the Green Belt after all?

Mrs Angry said...

Well said Vicki. The reason gypsies have become reliant on settling in places like Dale Farm is because of lack of alternative. FYI Barnet is almost unique in refusing to ever provide a single pitch. The reason no prosecution took place was because - and I asked about this myself - because no traveller/gypsy has ever been able to stay long enough in the borough to provide evidence, due to the joint efforts of council and police shoving them onwards. Historically gypsies made their livings, as in my family, from trades and crafts which were reliant on travelling: making and mending pots, baskets etc: Irish travellers sold and traded horses. Obviously these occupations are redundant now, but the prejudice which pushed such people to the margins of society remains. As Vicki says, there are good and bad people in all groups: to believe that an entire group of people is in some way intrinsically bad or naturally prone to criminal activity is racism, pure and simple.

David Duff said...

Well, Mrs 'A', you could always offer to put up one or two 'travellers' at your place. Perhaps, if you live in a house, you have room for a caravan or three, or four, after all, you don't really need those flower beds, do you? If you live in a flat then I'm sure there must be some grassland or parking areas around it which could offer refuge to these nice poor people, and they'd be ever so grateful, honestly they would!

vickim57 said...

All the people who think it is good that Basildon council has won its legal case over the planning laws breach need to answer the policy question of where should Dale Farm people go instead? (To hell is not an answer.)