As the Gypsy and Traveller community at Dale Farm in Essex continues its long struggle against eviction with another High Court hearing today, seeking a judicial review on a number of grounds, including the absolutely crucial basis that it is “disproportionate” to remove a family from their home when no suitable alternative accommodation exists, a YouGov poll reveals that two-thirds of those asked believe that it is appropriate for Basildon Council to spend £18 million on evicting around 400 people (86 families, including many children) from land they own, but on which they were not given permission to build permanent residences by the council.
Many of those who support the eviction claim to believe that spending £18 million that surely could be spent more usefully elsewhere in the Basildon area is appropriate, because the site the Dale Farm residents own in on green belt land (albeit on the site of a former scrap yard) and it is a necessary principle.
There is some truth in this, to the extent that British people across the political spectrum are obsessed with protecting green belt land from anyone developing it — and not just Gypsies and Travellers — but I find it impossible not to detect the stench of hypocrisy emanating from those taking time out of their otherwise busy lives to obsess about the Dale Farm residents, as I cannot conceive of this happening if the men, women and children to be evicted — at £45,000 a head — were not Travellers and Gypsies.
Racism towards Gypsies is something that settled communities like to pretend doesn’t exist, but it remains virulent and disgraceful, and is clearly at the heart of the conflict over Dale Farm.
The state’s war against Gypsies and Travellers: The 1980s
Disliking one’s neighbours ought not to be sufficient to establish policies in council offices and in central government, but around the country it is and has been for decades — and historically, of course, there is a much longer record of conflict between settled and nomadic people.
Relentlessly persecuted by settled communities, Gypsies in the UK supposedly gained support and protection in 1968, with the passage of the Caravan Sites Act, which required local authorities to provide sites for Gypsies — defined as “persons of nomadic habit of life, whatever their race or origin” — and which empowered the Secretary of State for the Environment to force them to do so.
Despite the lofty aims, however, providing support for Gypsies and Travellers is never politically popular, because of racism — more generally recognised as NIMBYism, from the phrase “Not in My Back Yard” — and in 1986, there was bleak news when the Thatcher government came to review the legislation.
The context for the 1986 changes, as I explained in my books Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield, both of which deal with the state’s antipathy towards nomadic people in the UK, was the rise of the New Age Traveller movement which Margaret Thatcher had declared war on in 1985.
To deal with the New Age Travellers, Thatcher first — in February 1985 — evicted a community of 150 travellers and protestors from RAF Molesworth in Cambridgeshire, where they were protesting at its planned use as the second cruise missile base in the UK after Greenham Common (where, of course, there was a celebrated and long-established women’s peace camp), in what was the largest ever peacetime mobilisation of troops and police (1,500 Royal Engineers, 600 MoD police and a thousand regular police).
Thatcher’s forces then hounded the travellers across the country until, on June 1, 1985, 1,300 police from six counties and the MoD rounded up and destroyed a convoy of 420 travellers en route to Stonehenge, in an attempt to establish what would have been the 12th Stonehenge Free Festival.
When legislation was passed in the wake of the Beanfield, the victors attempted to secure the advantage they had gained through violence in a legislative manner. As I explained in Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion, Clause 39 of the Public Order Act of 1986 “edged closer to the criminalisation of trespass.” Applied to scheduled monuments (i.e. Stonehenge), “land forming part of a highway,” and agricultural buildings (and, by extension, the land around them), the clause “enabled the police to arrest two or more people for trespass, provided that ‘reasonable steps have been taken by or on behalf of the occupier to ask them to leave.’ In addition, the previous requirement for arrest under these circumstances — damage to property — was amended to include the use of ‘threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour’ and/or the presence of twelve or more vehicles.'”
When the Act was passed, the National Council for Civil Liberties (now Liberty) noted that, in January 1986, “less than 40 percent of ‘official’ Gypsies had been housed, that the Secretary of State had failed to enforce a single omission and that the ‘new’ travellers were not cared for, despite fulfilling the criteria outlined in the 1968 Act.” the NCCL “proposed immediate action to quell the traditional conflict between travelling people and settled people and to bring to an end the situation whereby ‘both central and local government sat back and waited for the police to use their public order powers to deal with the inevitable conflict.'”
The government, however, ignored the NCCL, and when the Public Order Act became law, not only were some of the worst fears of both the travellers and the NCCL confirmed, but more “traditional” Gypsies also suffered. As I explained, “despite assurances that traditional Gypsies, the long-suffering victims of the state’s aversion to a nomadic way of life, would not be targeted, a group of Gypsies in Somerset were evicted as soon as the Act became law.”
The state’s war against Gypsies and Travellers: The 1990s
With the 1986 Act, the government had stepped up its assault on nomadic people, and a further opportunity to attack Gypsies and Travellers came in 1992, after an unexpected new youth movement — acid house — had erupted in 1987 and 1988, leading to huge raves across the country and, eventually, a cross-over with travellers that led to a gigantic free party — of at least 50,000 people — on Castlemorton Common in Gloucestershire in May 1992. In response, the Criminal Justice Act of 1994, notorious for its attempt to criminalise music consisting of “a succession of repetitive beats,” largely completed what Thatcher had set out to achieve in 1985 and 1986.
As I explained in The Battle of the Beanfield, the 1994 Act, as well as attempting to criminalise dance music, reduced the number of vehicles that could come together in one place from twelve to six before their occupants could be arrested, and criminalised any unauthorised gatherings of 20 people or more to which the state took exception. Identified as “trespassory assemblies,” they could be broken up by the police if they feared “serious disruption to the life of the community,” even if the meeting was non-obstructive and non-violent. The Act also created the crime of “aggravated trespass,” which, as I explained, “fulfilled the right-wing dream of transforming trespass from a civil to a criminal concern.”
As I also explained, the creation of “trespassory assemblies” and “aggravated trespass” had “disturbing ramifications for almost al kinds of protests and alternative gatherings, and clearly had its origins in the problems encountered by the authorities both before and during the Beanfield, when there remained a quaint assumption in British law of a right of assembly without prior state permission.” In legal action taken by travellers after the Battle of the Beanfield, the state had been humiliated in its attempts to make an ancient charge of “unlawful assembly” stick, so the new legislation finally sealed that loophole.
However, although all of the above was bad news for those on the road, and for anyone perceived to be dissenting in any way against an authoritarian government, the Act’s impact on Gypsies and Travellers seeking the right to live on an officially sanctioned site was also a disaster, as it “repealed the 1968 Caravan Sites Act, removing the obligation on local authorities to provide sites for Gypsies,” as I explained in The Battle of the Beanfield, and “finally criminalised the entire way of life of Gypsies and travellers, with baleful effects that are still being felt to this day.”
New Labour’s failures revealed, and the coalition’s refusal to address the problems
I wrote that back in 2005, but the situation it described has existed for the last 17 years, and the Labour government did little to improve the living conditions of the nomadic communities in the UK (estimated to be between 120,000 and 300,000 people in total).
In 2003, in a report for the Deputy Prime Minister, Pat Niner of the Centre for Urban and Regional Studies at the University of Birmingham established that there was “an accommodation crisis” within the Gypsy and Traveller community. The report “estimated that between 3,000 and 4,500 pitches were required to provide secure accommodation for Gypsies and Travellers.” As Pat Niner explained, “We estimate that between 1,000 and 2,000 additional residential pitches will be needed over the next five years. Between 2,000 and 2,500 additional pitches on transit sites or stopping places will also be needed to accommodate nomadism. The latter need to form a national network.”
As was revealed in the Guardian yesterday, the Labour government’s belated response was The Gypsy and Traveller Sites Grant, launched in 2008, which claimed to have £97m available to “reduce the number of unauthorised sites” and “reduce the need for costly enforcement action.” However, in “a move described as shocking by the Equality and Human Rights Commission,” it was revealed that only £16.9m has been spent, and that “millions of pounds intended for new Gypsy and Traveller sites have been diverted to other projects,” because a “lack of ring-fencing” allowed millions of pounds to be “channelled into affordable homes not intended for Gypsies.”
The government’s Homes and Communities Agency attempted to brush the scandal aside, although their sums didn’t even add up. They told the Guardian that “£15m from the grant was allotted to ‘unfunded commitments in other programmes’ within the National Affordable Homes Programme.”
In light of the revelations, Simon Woolley, a commissioner with responsibility for Travellers, at the EHRC, told the Guardian, “Given that the lack of Traveller sites is central to the Dale Farm problem, it is shocking that millions have been taken away that should have been used for site provision and other projects.” In addition, Lord Avebury, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gypsy, Roma and Travellers, summed up the government’s contributions to travellers in recent years as “pretty measly”.
Lord Avebury added, “The government’s policy on Gypsies and Travellers is a shambles — if you are going to put a four-year programme in place then local authorities have to be aware of it and ready to use it. It is indicative of the total lack of willingness of successive governments to address the needs of Gypsies and Travellers.”
As the Guardian explained, “The grant programme, which had a stated aim of creating new, permanent, sites, to ‘tackle the inequalities experienced by Travellers … one of the most disadvantaged [groups] in the country,’ has led to building of just four new sites, with a total of 37 pitches; 62 new pitches were created on existing sites and 178 pitches were refurbished.”
Andrew Slaughter MP, who is a member of the APPG for Gypsy, Roma and Travellers, described a “lack of political will” as being “responsible for the failure to provide” the 3,000 sites required, according to the government’s annual caravan count,” which also echoes the findings of the report for John Prescott in 2003.
Touching on the heart of the racist problem that no one want to acknowledge officially, Andrew Slaughter told the Guardian, “Local authorities are unwilling to take the grant often because of pressure from electors who say they do not want a site near them even it will solve local problems and cost nothing.”
He also explained that the situation facing Gypsies and Travellers “will be worsened by the localism bill, which scraps the requirement for local authorities to use a common method for assessing the needs of Gypsies and Travellers,” and which also maintains the lack of an obligation on councils to allocate sites to Gypsies and Travellers.
The Guardian noted that, under the cover of its purportedly essential austerity cuts (which, in fact, mask a purely ideological assault on public spending), the coalition government had initially “scrapped the Gypsy and Traveller sites grant in 2010-11,” but had “reinstated a sum of £60m for 2011-15,” which is only “about half of the yearly total previously available.” Well primed, the Department for Communities and Local Government told the Guardian that the savage budget cut was part of its “contribution to reducing the national deficit”, and added that “targets had been abolished” because, according to the coalition, “they did not work, alienated communities and did not always accurately reflect the need on the ground.”
The Department also tried to claim that councils are being given “more powers to address local housing and planning issues with ‘incentives’ to provide appropriate sites,” including “the new homes bonus, whereby the government matches additional council tax raised by new homes,” but as Andrew Slaughter pointed out, shooting down another “big society” myth, that bonus is “a perverse incentive,” because councils can “draw significantly more council tax from luxury developments than Traveller sites.”
He added that the situation “was likely to create more Dale Farms,” explaining, “The government has given in to pressure from backbenchers to give local authorities a device to veto construction of new sites. That will mean few if any new sites built even if money’s available, more expensive evictions, more conflict and the continuation of appalling life-indicators for Gypsies and Travellers.”
A no-win situation for Gypsies and Travellers
At the end of this tour through the racism of Little England, no answer is provided to address the no-win situation position in which Gypsies and Travellers have found themselves. Deprived of a statutory requirement to be provided with sites, nomadic people have also found it harder to live on the road than ever before, as settled people’s intolerance of them has grown.
And yet, when travellers respond by buying land, as happened at Dale Farm, they are then prohibited from building on that land. As Jake Bowers, a Romani journalist, explained in an informative booklet, “Gypsies and Travellers: Their lifestyle, history and culture” (PDF), Gypsy families that attempt to live on their own land are often denied planning permission … The government’s own studies state that over 80% of planning applications from settled people are granted consent, while more than 90% of applications from Gypsies are refused.”
The bottom line is that, if land had been provided for the Dale Farm residents, there would have been no need for them to buy the land in the first place from which, on a point of principle, Basildon Council is seeking to remove them at a cost of £18 million. If that was my council, I’d be up in arms about the waste of money and the hypocrisy towards Gypsies and Travellers, but in modern Britain, where racism and xenophobia have been permanently stoked over the last two decades, only a third of British people seem able to look beyond their disgraceful prejudices to see that the residents of Dale Farm were, essentially, driven into a trap by a society that, fundamentally, doesn’t want to make any provision for Gypsies and Travellers, and wants them to give up their way of life.
When they refuse, as the erosion of their rights over the last 25 years reveals, settled society has no answer as to what it expects them to do. Basically, if Gypsies and Travellers won’t give up their way of life, settled people want them to disappear. It is the triumph of NIMBYism — a deeply unpleasant manifestation of collective intolerance — and it fails to create a solution to a long-standing problem that settled people and their elected representatives have contributed to over many years.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in June 2011, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
As America’s Irish Gypsy Queen I have put a curse on Cameron; Blair; Sarkozy Obama & Rasmussen. Europe has become a cesspool of racism and America an IDIOCRACY of violence to tribes & travellers.
I don’t blame you for cursing, Julia. Gypsies and travellers have always borne the brunt of settled people’s violence when opportunities have arisen, and it’s got much worse over the last 30 years, as people have accumulated more material wealth, and have become more insular and intolerant and racist and xenophobic than before. I have been ashamed at the slide towards racism in this country since the late 70s, when I grew up, and when Rock Against Racism was a large part of the lives of teenagers growing up at the time. The complicity of the media, and the silence of politicians is also a disgrace,
On Facebook, Pete Lomax wrote:
to be honest I had to deal with gypsies in my last job and those gypsies were thieves constantly trying to distract you so they can help themselves to stuff.some are vermin some are decent folk however lots of traveler camps are illegal so I got no problem with them being moved on.frankly we had one murder few years ago because they lost at a bet so killed a man and there was no investigation because of fear of appearing racist.sometimes its justified I am not a racist but I dont trust them,like them or have any dealings with them.I wont go out and shout or scream or do anything I dont have anything against them but I will watch my pockets so I dont get pickpocketed again
John Lovell wrote:
You had to deal with gypsies to be honest?
OK, well, Pete, I really didn’t enjoy your comments, particularly because of the reference to “vermin.” That’s pretty low, and a demonstration of the kind of racism to which Gypsies and Travellers are casually subjected. If you used the word “vermin” to describe any other group of people it would be regarded as nakedly racist, so I have to say that’s thoroughly unacceptable.
Fw Sparrow wrote:
Had severe alzheimer’s client for SSI disability in S.F. SSA examining psychologist records noted, “This is a gypsy case – question malingering”. When psych saw “gypsy” tattooed on his arm, he said, “Oh you’re a gypsy? You sing and dance?” and psych started jumping around.
Thanks, Fw, for that other example of what we’re talking about here.
Lewis Mackenzie wrote:
As a rule, any sentence that begins “I am not a racist, but…” generally indicates that the author is, well, racist.
Lewis Mackenzie wrote:
Apart from maybe “I am not a racist, but I do like Genesis”. Which would still mark you out as a bit of a numpty.
Ha! Thanks, Lewis. Thanks also to those of you who’ve shared this. Still hoping it will get out to more people …
Andy, I remember a few years back (roughly ten, maybe less), when it was acknowledged in some quarters that there was a lack of places for Gypsies and Travellers to stop, some politicians actually ADVISED them to buy their own land to live on. I remember this advice being given….travellers were encouraged to do this, no mention was made of planning permission needed in the encouragement given. It led to quite a number of travellers buying their own land and then being prevented from living on it. I have a feeling that it was related to some change of law or legislation or other.
Could be interesting to do some digging about this! Cheers.
Thanks, Emma. Yes, it’s certainly true that Gypsies and Travellers were officially encouraged to provide for themselves, and that this encouragement involved suggestions about buying their own land — for which planning permission was then refused.
As the BBC noted in an “Inside Out” programme in September 2005, after the passage of the Criminal Justice Act, removing the obligation on councils to provide sites for Gypsies and Travellers, the Major government “released a guidance to planning authorities called Circular 1/94 which advised them to encourage gypsies to provide for themselves.” This, incidentally, was replaced with Circular 1/06 in February 2006.
I also found the following in a report by the UN Habitat Advisory Group on Forced Evictions, dealing with Dale Farm, which was written in 2005 or 2006. The Group wrote (key passage highlighted):
Since the passage of the 1994 Criminal Justice Act … nomadism has been rendered practically illegal. Police now have more powers to “move on” those attempting to encamp on roadsides [and] local councils have increasingly used “direct action” to evict Travellers from council-owned land. The Act withdrew the duty placed on local authorities by the 1968 Caravan Sites Act, under which some 400 caravan parks had been built. Now Travellers were advised to buy their own land but those that did faced a “Catch 22” situation; local authorities refused planning permission in almost every case. Instead, councils hired outfits like Constant & Co., private security firms “specialising in the removal of Gypsies.” As a result, under the smokescreen of planning regulations, thousands of Travellers have ben evicted from their own grounds and tier homes bulldozed in what is being experienced as ethnic cleansing.
Back on Facebook, Pete Lomax wrote:
hey I am not lol I was expecting that but yes I had to deal with them in a sawmill and they were always stealing wood even one time had a big muscular guy take dipping fluid threatening to break my nose and smash my face in its simple like I said that may have been ignored there are decent gypsies but the ones we have here are criminals its that simple.
Well, you know, Pete, that’s more specific, and I couldn’t argue with your particular experiences. It’s just a question of not generalizing from personal experience and using words like “vermin” that concerns me.
Lewis Mackenzie wrote:
Pete, try substituting “gypsies” in your last post for “blacks”, “Jews”, “Muslims” or “Irish”.
Pete Lomax wrote:
yeah I never met half of them we might just have the worse ones here who knows I agree there.yeah the ones here at least are vermin in my eyes.and they have no respect for anyone,the police seem scared of them even my old work got robbed fella lost a finger on a gate or a fence or something not sure what the police wouldn’t even do a investigation.I see walking around travelers aged about 5 or 6 driving vans down the street. I been pickpocketed so has a load of ppl I met.they crashed a stolen car into a bus stop near my house so as far as I am concerned I dont like them.I get your moral high ground but you dont live near them I am willing to wager.
[…] …on September 29th, 2011 at 5:25 pm […]
I did live near Gypsies when I was young, Pete. Some were in my school, and they were given a hard time. And I then met travellers when I was writing about them in my two books on British social history, which partly dealt with the travelling community. I can acknowledge problems with specific groups of people in a specific location, but again, as I say, you can’t extrapolate from that to tar a whole race or ethnic group. It’s not a moral high ground; it’s just not racism.
Pete Lomax wrote:
again also I am Muslim I am not against any religious group or ethnic race the prophet Muhammad sallahu alayhi wa sallam taught that the only difference between people is piousness and good deeds meaning it doesnt matter what skin colour you have
Pete Lomax wrote:
my problem is they are criminals
Lewis Mackenzie wrote:
My problem with Muslims is they are all terrorists. See what I did there?
Lewis Mackenzie wrote:
not a true statement
Pete Lomax wrote:
yeah I had them in my school too a good friend was one my aunt is from the same bunch this lot are different
Pete Lomax wrote:
yeah and your statement is different from what I am saying I never said they are all criminals all over the country I said my local vermin are criminals
Lewis Mackenzie wrote:
You didn’t really make that clear, to be fair, and even so – saying “they are criminals” is different from saying that there’s a strong criminal element amongst them.
Politicians at both local and national level, have created a ridiculous set of circumstances which have let a tragedy like Dale Farm unfold. The national politicians did not have the vision to properly grasp the issue of travelling people and create sufficient pitches for them, and local politicians responded with NIMTO and NIMBY policies. NIMTO is ‘not in my term of office’, where local politicians see it as a political suicide to approve planning for traveller sites when they are in office. Tony Balls has taken this to another level, with his zealous hounding of the Dale Farm site which is nothing more than a ploy to curry favour with voters.
I take heart that 1/3 of the population believe that the travellers should not be evicted from the unauthorised part of Dale Farm. That is one in three people who can see beyond narrow racist stereotypes and through to the large issues of marginalisation which you outline in your article. I actually think that the current legal situation with the Judicial Review process will increase the number of settled people who can see the travellers have some justifiable claims. The judge is already exposing many of the ways in which Basildon Council have not been following due process (and therefore their legal obligations) and there are more twists and turns to come.
Thanks, Matt. And in return may I direct readers to your excellent article about Dale Farm:
I’ll also try and keep a close eye on what’s happening in the courts, as it seems that a door is opening for a proper discussion, which, will go beyond the head of Basildon Council talking about his £18 million principles, and will reveal, as you say, “the ways in which Basildon Council have not been following due process (and therefore their legal obligations).”
Sharon Askew wrote:
”only a third of British people seem able to look beyond their disgraceful prejudices to see that the residents of Dale Farm were, essentially, driven into a trap by a society that, fundamentally, doesn’t want to make any provision for Gypsies and Travellers, and wants them to give up their way of life.” Yeah that’s about right, nice one Andy.
Time the focus was on the ruthless property developers.
Thanks, Sharon. Focus on “ruthless property developers”? What, you mean, live in a world where some kind of rules might be imposed on people making money? Wouldn’t that be nice? But it would involve a return to values, and our leaders don’t believe in values anymore — just money …
I am so sick and tired of the narrow minded people especialy the ones who say there not racist but realy are, saying things like the gipsys done this and the gipsys done that, its not the gipsys its individuals that have done the wrong dont blame all of us for the bad others do. its time to understand and not wich hunt
Thanks, Patrick. I’m very glad to hear from you, and to have another voice pointing out that the kind of comments that people make are racist generalizations, and thoroughly unacceptable.
when young girls on the news that live on the essex site say they crap in the woods rather than dirty the caravan toilets it does not really sit well does it (excuse the pun) nb not sure if they meant whilst on their summer rambles but i presume so. racist no, dont like walking in shite yes .
i am sick of every ethnic group in this country doing as it pleases .rule are for everyone not just the poor and middle class that pay their bills and get stuffed in return.think about the middle ground those that work 7 days a week to better themselves only to wake up with a traveller site on their doorstep.to travel means just that ,so either accept the council house that is offered (way ahead of any que )or just accept your life choice and get on with it.
its no good pete you will be ground down by the dogooders i should just get an i love gypsies tatoo and join the love rest of the luvvies in laa laa land .
Ah well, the slights and generalizations continue …
Sharon Askew wrote (in response to 29):
Ah, live in a world where some kind of rules might be imposed on how people go about making money would be nice, a return to values would be refreshing.
Wouldn’t it just, Sharon? At least with what’s happening now on Wall Street and in the financial markets, we’re able to start talking about it …
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
I’m digging this now, Andy.
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
Oh Dear, Mr Lomax. If there was a murder in your area but no investigation, how can you be so certain who “they” are, or perhaps who the killer is?
Thanks, George. Good to hear from you. And yes, welcome to discussions involving the apparently acceptable face of racism. It reminds me that my earlier writing on travellers was a training ground for Guantanamo not just in that studying civil liberties issues led to human rights, but also in treating groups of reviled, scapegoated people as human beings.
Fw Sparrow wrote:
The face of racism – a greater percentage of the Gypsy worldwide population were exterminated by the Nazi Holocaust than any other racial or ethnic group, including Jews.
Thanks, Fw. A very necessary and sobering statistic.
Sharon Askew wrote (in response to 37):
Yes absolutely, they are doing far more than I am right now to make a point that’s for sure. Read an ineresting article by Caroline Lucas today about property developers: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/sep/28/planning-reforms-threat-to-countryside
Thanks, Sharon. I had missed Caroline’s article. Also glad to see “Occupy Wall Street” taking off across the US …
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Dejanka Bryant wrote:
Andy, what can I say? Thank you so much for this post, exposing our racist society. I have lived all my life in Montenegro, being surrounded with Roma people. When I was child they would frequently knock on our door, during winter times. People were giving them bread and remains of their lunch. They usually came when my parents were at work. I was so moved by their tragedy and poverty. All my new clothes, shoes, books were given to them. My patents were not happy at all, but my father, a Holocaust survivor, a communist, understood my emotions. Never he cursed me for what I had done. He started opening our door, inviting them to clean our carpets, or floors, telling them that he would pay them for their hard work. When I was 18 I was so curious about their nomadic life. Mum gave me a beautiful book of poetry by our famous Yugoslav poet, Miroslav Antic, who devoted it to Roma people. It was that year, me being 22, when i decided to spent my entire day with them, on their biggest celebration in the world, 6th of May. My friend and I went to the most unprivileged part of our city to pay tribute to their culture. Many times in my life I stood against the abuse they faced on a daily basis. Our British system failed them miserably. Giving them a right to purchase the land without the explanation of the planning permission is just the case of miscarriage of justice. It’s all about money, again.
Dejanka Bryant wrote:
Andy, I will share your post when I go to my PC tonight. Thank you for writing about this case.
Thanks for sharing your experiences with me. I’m honored.
As for my article, it’s my pleasure. As I mention, I have a long-standng interest in Gypsy and traveller culture, particularly through what we knew as the “new age travellers” in the 1980s, who I met at the crazy Stonehenge Free Festival in 1983 and 1984. And then I watched as Margaret Thatcher tried to wipe them out at the Battle of the Beanfield.
It’s been so horrible the last 15 years, as money became the only measure of success, and property has become fetishized, and people have — horribly, predictably — become racist, insular and intolerant to an extent that many of them don’t even realize how far they have drifted away from decency and tolerance.
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
I am Digging this now, Andy. I was so naive and preoccupied with finding a reasonably secure job in the Netherlands, that I did not follow the UK affair of the New Age Travellers. I did, though, know of their existence. My partner frequently asked me, “Why can’t they just be left alone to follow their way of life?” In the Netherlands, where analogues to the Travellers existed, and the Roma and Sinti have for centuries, one reason to annoy them was an exaggerated desire to get everyone registered by the numbers and not to tolerate any lifestyle that might make that difficult. I know almost nothing about their position here in Sweden.
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
I *did* Digg this several days ago. Let me add that the bureaucratic urge I mentioned became mixed with racism and xenophobia at a time that coincided with the start of Thatcher’s regime. I experienced a bit of this personally in Amsterdam.
Thanks, George, for the obvious empathy, and for the historical perspective from Holland in the 1980s. You remind me how xenophobia and racism on nationalistic grounds always depend on making sure that no one compares and contrasts the activities of different countries — something that, as we know, is still too prevalent.
Bob Lewis wrote:
I took part as a researcher a few years ago inteerveiwing traveller and gypsy men about their health – the study was a major one published by sheffield hallam. I spent hundreds of hours talking to these guys about their daily experiences of being harrassed, moved on, rejected from access to health services and other servieces. Gypsy health is in total crisis with the average age of death 10 – 15 years below the national average, and prevalence of heart disease (stress and poor life style), mental health issues, etc etc etc – I was always treated with total respect and I have no doubt that this community suffers from the most intense racism. Attemtping to argue that the dale farm thing is simply about applying the same rules to everyone ignores a basic principle of equality law in this country – indirect discrimination. Travellers and gypsys are deeply nomadic. The health of ‘settled’ travelling people is just as bad by the way cos they continuer to suffer the racism.
Thanks for that, Bob. That’s a powerful analysis.
Great articles Andy (and Matt). Thanks. Did some searching around and found these:
Good links, Paul. Thanks.
On the topic of building bridges (instead of bulldozing homes) does anyone know of any online resources for Gypsy or Traveller dialects and/or languages? Or any texts in these languages/dialects?
My (limited) understanding is that there is a Traveller dialectic in England which is a dialect of English with a large corpus of substituted vocabulary. Is this correct? If so, are there equivalent regional Traveller dialects of French, etc?
Also, as I understand it, this dialect is distinct from the Romani language which originated in, or derives from, India. (And, infact, has many dialects of its own – some distinct enough to be thought of as separate languages.)
If the above is correct, are Romani (language) and Traveller (dialect) speakers distinct communities? Or is there an overlap?
But they are not travellers – as they have been in the same place for 10 years.
A lot also have homes in Ireland.
Hmm … that kind of misses the point about how Gypsies and travellers have been obliged to stop travelling.
As for the “homes in Ireland” angle, I have’t researched it, but it sounds like a kind of racist urban myth.
On Facebook, Pamela Hardyment wrote:
Decades ago the Brits decided that there were to be no stopping off points for travellers, meaning they couldn’t travel, because they couldn’t stop! So they encouraged them to stop and take up housing options and live like you and me, and all over the place many did, but still retained their links to their nationwide family. Their only recourse to finding a home was to buy something so nobody could tell them they had to move on, despite being travellers, and travelling was banned. It became even more of an issue when young hippies also decided to travel and avoid the mortgage trap, they were disabused of that idea in the Beanfield riots, so yes, if you wanna travel, you can’t basically, yet when you stop, you wil be moved on, anyhow. Its all madness.
Thank you, Pamela, for capturing the madness. The problem now, of course, is that those that have set it in motion, deliberately to dispossess Gypsies and Travellers, now smugly insist they are being reasonable, and the Gypsies and Travellers are not. It’s extraordinarily hypocritical, and in many ways the settled people with the power are behaving worse than ever.
Anyone wanting to condemn this on human rights ground needs to be very careful. There’s a serious danger to our basic rights today, and campaigning on the wrong side of key issues makes things worse. http://rebellionkidsblog.blogspot.com/2011/09/human-rights.html
You make some good points, and I recommend people to read your article, but much of what’s going on here involves racism, pure and simple, using planning laws as an excuse. That doesn’t mean that supporters of the travellers should be imprecise in their discussion of human rights, but it does mean that they’re touching on a sub-text to the racist undercurrent of the whole Dale Farm story, which shouldn’t be ignored. It just needs framing differently.
[…] weeks ago, in my article, The Dale Farm Eviction: How Racism Against Gypsies and Travellers Grips Modern-Day Britain, I ran throughout he whole sad history of how, frost under Margaret Thacher, and then under John […]
I have just closed down my facebook account due to the disgust and revulsion I felt due to the vile posts I found regarding gypsy’s and travellers, it never ceases to amaze me the venom and hatred that spills out of ordinary british people regarding this subject, I will never understand it. I left a suitably scathing post which will hopefully shame some of these individuals into a bit of self examination re their appalling behaviour and veiws, then I closed my account.
I’m sorry that there are so many poisonous people around, and that you ran into so many of them. Armchair fascists. They think they’re justified, but they forget where Nazism started.
I understand the points made here but disagree. You (all) would reduce this to an issue of ‘racism’. It’s not. These groups of people have a well-desrved reputation and it is THAT against which I rail. It has absolutely NOTHING to do with race or ethnicity – it is their behaviour which is repulsive. But then, were you to start grouping together the ethnic bands that leads to prejudicial attitudes. I resent the individual groups of people based upon their behaviour not their whole race.
Writer, campaigner, investigative journalist and commentator. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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