“First They Came for the Travellers”: Priti Patel’s Chilling Attack on Britain’s Travelling Communities

A composite image of the home secretary Priti Patel and a Gypsy caravan.

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I’ve chosen my headline with care, in response to the news that the home secretary, Priti Patel, has launched a horrible attack on Britain’s travelling community, suggesting that the police should be able to immediately confiscate the vehicle of “anyone whom they suspect to be trespassing on land with the purpose of residing on it”, and announcing her intention to “test the appetite to go further” than any previous proposals for dealing with Gypsies and travellers.

As George Monbiot explained in an article for the Guardian on Wednesday, “Until successive Conservative governments began working on it, trespass was a civil and trivial matter. Now it is treated as a crime so serious that on mere suspicion you can lose your home.” Monbiot added, “The government’s proposal, criminalising the use of any place without planning permission for Roma and Travellers to stop, would extinguish the travelling life.” 

“First they came for the travellers” alludes to the famous poem by the German pastor Martin Niemöller with reference to the Nazis, which begins, “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a socialist”, and continues with reference to trade unionists and Jews, and ending, “Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Read the rest of this entry »

The Dale Farm Eviction: Using Planning Laws to Justify Racism Towards Gypsies and Travellers

What a disgraceful day to be British.

In Basildon today, riot police have been leading the eviction of 86 Gypsy and traveller families from land they own at Dale Farm, but for which they do not have planning permission, hospitalising several residents, tasering others, and generally creating a situation that is reminiscent of the 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher regularly used the police as her own private army. See here for more photos.

After a ten-year struggle between Basildon Council and the residents of Dale Farm, the last legal appeal was exhausted last week, when, in the High Court, Mr. Justice Ouseley ruled that the removal of the 86 families was necessary to avoid “the criminal law and the planning system being brought into serious disrepute.”

I don’t deny that the residents of Dale Farm who erected permanent structures on their land, without planning permission, have broken the law, but what seems to be generally ignored, in the haze of self-righteousness from settled people, is the blunt truth that Gypsies and travellers are rarely given planning permission for land they buy. Read the rest of this entry »

The Dale Farm Eviction: How Racism Against Gypsies and Travellers Grips Modern-Day Britain

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. 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 (The State of London).
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