“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.”

I hope you don’t think that allusion sounds like an exaggeration. This, after all, is a government that has made a point of demonising immigrants, not just under Priti Patel, but also, shockingly, under Theresa May, in her six dreadful years as home secretary, as I explained in an article in 2016, when she became Prime Minister, entitled, As Theresa May Becomes Prime Minister, A Look Back at Her Authoritarianism, Islamophobia and Harshness on Immigration — a sordid history that was then magnified when the true scale of May’s “hostile environment” became apparent via the Windrush scandal. And since the EU referendum, of course, the Tories — and their cheerleaders in the right-wing media — have not missed any opportunities to continue to stir up anti-immigrant hatred.

Nor are immigrants and travellers the only victims of the Tories’ drift into dangerously divisive territory. Since 2010, as I have written about repeatedly, the Tories have also persistently demonised the unemployed and those with disabilities.

The Beanfield, Castlemorton, the Public Order Act and the Criminal Justice Act

In addition, when it comes to travellers, the Tories have a long history of authoritarianism and oppression. It took until 1968, and the Caravan Sites Act, introduced by the Labour government of Harold Wilson, for travellers to get legislation providing them with sites — 400 around the country — where none had existed before.

Gypsy and traveller groups weren’t entirely happy with the Caravan Sites Act, for a variety of reasons, but it was an effort — however compromised — to deal with the problems that arose through nomadic people not having dedicated sites for their use.

By the 1980s, however, under Margaret Thatcher, a growing backlash against Gypsies and travellers was prompted by a growing New Traveller movement, whereby thousands of young people — unable to find a job in a Britain wracked by the mass unemployment that Thatcher was deliberately creating as she sought to crush Britain’s traditional manufacturing base, and to turn the UK into a banking- and services-led economy — took to the road in old vehicles, joining and adding to a free festival circuit of travellers that had been growing throughout the 70s. The free festival circuit’s central event was the Stonehenge Free Festival, which occupied the fields opposite Britain’s most famous ancient monument, and which, by the early 80s, lasted for the whole of the month of June and drew in tens of thousands of people.

The New Traveller culture — and the free festival circuit — was dealt a major blow on June 1, 1985, when a group of travellers — some of whom had been harried by police since the summer of 1984, and some of whom had been evicted in February from a protest camp at Molesworth in Cambridgeshire — were assaulted with genuinely shocking violence by 1,400 police from six counties and the MoD, in what has become known as The Battle of the Beanfield. For anyone interested to know more, my book, The Battle of the Beanfield, tells the whole disgraceful story, and my first book, Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion, a counter-cultural history of Stonehenge, is also still available.

Afterwards the government passed the Public Order Act of 1986, which contained specific passages introduced in response to the New Traveller, free festival and protest culture, including Section 39, which was specifically included as a response to the harrying of travellers the year after the battle of the Beanfield.

As Earl Ferrers, Minister of State for Home Affairs, stated in Parliament in October 1989, “Section 39 of the Public Order Act 1986 was introduced into the Public Order Bill as it was going through Parliament in response to the depredations suffered by landlowners by members of the so-called peace convoy during the summer of 1986.” As he further explained, “The section provides the police with a power to direct trespassers to leave land in certain circumstances. Only if the trespassers knowingly fail to obey such a direction do they commit a criminal offence. Section 39 put in place entirely new powers for the police and introduced an accompanying criminal sanction.”

And there was worse to come. Although parts of the traveller movement were broken by the extraordinary violence of the Beanfield, the survivors were reinvigorated when an unexpected new movement — the rave scene — manifested itself, with illegal parties taking place across the country, leading to new alliances of ravers and travellers, and culminating, over the Bank Holiday weekend in May 1992, with what became known as the Castlemorton Free Festival, the first truly huge anarchic gathering since the last Stonehenge festival in 1984, which promoted another legislative clampdown.

As the Friends, Families and Travellers website explains, the Criminal Justice Act of 1994 “greatly increased the powers of police and local authorities to evict Gypsies and Travellers camping illegally and removed the duty on local authorities, under the 1968 Caravan Sites Act, to provide sites.”

FFT further explained that the Act specifically includes the following sections:

  • The repeal of Part II of the 1968 Act, removing the duty on local authorities to provide sites, and abolishing the government grant for constructing gypsy caravan sites.
  • An extended power for local authorities to direct unauthorised campers to leave land, including any land forming part of a highway, any other unoccupied land, or any land occupied without the owner’s consent. It would become a criminal offence for anyone so directed to refuse to leave, or to return to it within three months.
  • An extended power to Magistrate’s Courts to make orders authorising local authorities to enter land and remove vehicles and property, if persons are present in contravention of a direction to leave.
  • A strengthening of the powers contained in the Public Order Act 1986 (Section 39), giving the police power to direct trespassers to leave if they have damaged the land itself (as distinct from property on it), or if they have six vehicles. It also extends the application of this section to common land, highway verges, byways, green lanes and other minor highways, and includes new police powers to remove vehicles.

As FFT also explained, “The Government’s response to critics of the 1994 Act was that Gypsies and Travellers should buy their own land and set up sites. However, the reality is that the current planning system makes this virtually impossible. Although nomadism and unauthorised camping are not, in themselves, illegal, the effect of the legislation has been to criminalise a way of life.”

The result, as George Monbiot explained, in what he described as “the Conservative purge in the late 1980s and early 1990s”, was that “two thirds of traditional, informal stopping sites for travellers, some of which had been in use for thousands of years, were sealed off”, sowing the seeds of today’s crisis. As Monbiot also explained, the current consultation “acknowledges that there is nowhere else for these communities to go, other than the council house waiting list, which means abandoning the key elements of their culture.” No wonder he concluded that Priti Patel’s proposal “amounts to legislative cleansing.”

Opposition to Priti Patel’s proposals from the police

The good news, comparatively speaking, is that the police are overwhelmingly opposed to the plans. Submissions from the police, for a consultation launched last year, which were obtained by Friends, Families and Travellers under freedom of information legislation, “showed”, as the Guardian described it, “that 75% of police responses indicated that their current powers were sufficient and/or proportionate. Additionally, 84% did not support the criminalisation of unauthorised encampments and 65% said lack of site provision was the real problem.”

Abbie Kirkby, advice and policy manager at FFT, said, as the Guardian described it, that “the proposed laws would make the lives of Gypsies and Travellers a misery.” She said, “The evidence we have collected shows that the Home Office are deliberately ignoring police views on unauthorised encampments. The timing of the consultation announcement makes it clear that the government’s motive is to use Gypsies and Travellers to gather votes at election time.” She added, “There is no point in bringing in more laws which tell Travellers where they can’t go when you aren’t telling them where they can go.”

As the Guardian explained, FFT was obliged to make “FOI requests to individual forces, police and crime commissioners and three police bodies”, after the Home Office “refused to tell it how many constabularies supported criminalisation of trespass in their submissions to last year’s consultation.”

They discovered that the National Police Chiefs Council, and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners has stated, in their submission to the compilation, “The lack of sufficient and appropriate accommodation for Gypsies and Travellers remains the main cause of incidents of unauthorised encampment and unauthorised development by these groups”, adding that “criminalisation of trespass would likely breach the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Act 2010.”

The Cambridgeshire police force agreed, saying it “would be criminalising a culture and lifestyle”, while West Yorkshire police “said existing powers enabled a swift and effective response where necessary”, and Surrey police said, “Revised powers does not tackle the root cause of site provision.”

Charities, including FFT, have “warned that nomadic societies are in the midst of of a housing crisis because of a shortage of authorised sites for Gypsies and Travellers to set up on”, as the Guardian put it, leading to the establishment of increasing numbers of unauthorised encampments. FFT’s position is that the government “should be moving from an enforcement approach to one of provision”, and its recommendations “include reintroducing the statutory duty – repealed in 1994 – on local authorities to provide official sites for Gypsies and Travellers.”

The Guardian cited the experience of one particular traveller, Terry, who said, “The evictions are ridiculous. You’ve got children crying, women crying … There’s no time to do anything, you throw everything on to the back of your van and you’ve got to go. They escort you down the road, then after a while they leave you, and then you’ve got to pitch up somewhere else. Then you go through it all over again. It’s a never ending, vicious circle of hatred and racism.”

Beware the normalisation of a far-right drift

Unfortunately, however, the police will do what they’re told if the government changes the legislation regarding illegal encampments, and in the meantime, of course, the immediate effect of Priti Patel’s obnoxious announcement is to stir up additional hatred against Gypsies and travellers, who, lest we forget, have been the victims of hatred from settled people throughout history.

As George Monbiot explained in his article, “Over the past few weeks in Grimsby, Lincolnshire, local people have been debating the merits of the council’s proposal for an official transit site for travelling people. According to one councillor, there have been threats to stone, bottle and petrol bomb anyone who uses it, if planning permission is granted.” Monbiot also explained that, just last week, three travellers’ caravans in Somerset were torched by suspected arsonists.”

Monbiot also explained how “[t]ravelling peoples have been attacked like this for centuries, and sometimes murdered”, and cited the death, in 2003, of 15-year-old Johnny Delaney, who was “kicked to death by a gang of teenagers in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire”, with one of the killers reportedly telling a passer-by, “He was only a fucking Gypsy.”

With Gypsies and travellers under attack, to add to long-standing, government-fuelled hostility towards immigrants, Muslims, the unemployed and the disabled, is it any wonder that the worlds of Pastor Niemöller are on my mind?

We need to stand up and be counted, in support of those subjected to dangerously inflammatory rhetoric from a government that has been remorselessly sliding further to the right since taking office in 2010, since the EU referendum, and. most recently, since the election by Tory Party members of Boris Johnson, who has brought dangerously judgmental figures like Priti Patel — who seems to have contempt for everyone except the rich — into the heart of government, where she most emphatically does not belong.

And if we’re looking at the bigger picture, it is time for the Tories to be removed from power, and for the toxic dream of a no deal Brexit — with the attendant collapse of the economy, civil unrest, and, very possibly, some sort of martial law — to also be done away with once and for all. History shows us not that certain groups of people, or certain nations are “evil”, as our nationalists would like to pretend, but that tyranny can become normalised by degrees, so that, often within a shockingly short amount of time, the unthinkable becomes normalised.

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here, or here for the US, or you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.55), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from seven years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the resistance continues.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

69 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, a condemnation of Priti Patel’s disgraceful attack on Britain’s Gypsy and traveller community, in which she is calling for new powers for the police to be able to immediately confiscate the vehicle of “anyone whom they suspect to be trespassing on land with the purpose of residing on it.”

    This is a policy change that the police themselves don’t even want, as they recognise that the main problem is the lack of site provision, a requirement that was repealed by the Tories in 1994’s Criminal Justice Act. Ultimately, though, the police will do whatever they’re told to do by the government.

    I urge all decent people to rise up against this foul government, and also to be particularly aware of where a far-right drift in government – from people who have spent the last ten years demonising the poor, the unemployed, the disabled, immigrants and Muslims – can lead.

  2. Debby Wakeham says...

    Excellent article. Thank you so much for putting it out there. The demonising of Gypsies, Travellers, Roma et al sickens me.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, Debbie. Thanks for caring.

  4. Elisabeth Robyn says...

    Excellent article! You have perfectly covered all the main issues facing the travellers! As a house born person, I lived with the gypsies in UK and France from 1974 to 1981. It was an eye opening and very enriching experience. I witnessed first hand the hatred and the racism of house-dwellers and Police obeying to racist laws and attitudes. I experienced the solidarity and support given to my family by the best of the gypsies families we met. Their resilience and resourcefulness faced with the endless rejection tactics from the settled folk are a human teaching by itself! They don’t own any land as, in their culture, the earth belongs to everybody! What a healing such philosophy would bring to so many of our civilisation’s worst traits! A world with no wars, no homelessness, no isolation. Their hospitality was unconditional! The illiterate matriarch i remember best for having adopted our family of five as her own family, used to say: “there is nothing to do in life but being kind”. Just the opposite of the supposedly highly educated and supposedly civilised home or mansion dwellers that form today’s government.

  5. pauline lee says...

    sites more sites needed for decent people to live on ! And They Are Needed Now !!! The idea of taking peoples homes and transport in this day and age is atrocious ! What Do They Not Get when the Lord says Live And Let Live ! Listen to His words and Help ! Not Condem !

  6. Annabella Laws says...

    she is a vile bit of shit who should be put down (just like she said disabled people should be) she is a disgusting neo nazi who should meet the same fate as any nazi in charge of death camps!
    yes i’m that angry that this vile “woman” is allowed anywhere near a government office. Sorry but she is a female Hitler and i do not say it to offend it is flat out WHAT SHE IS. She wants sick and disabled people and anyone that god forbid has the misfortune of falling into the need of benefits Killed. and now she attacks the Travailing communities. this is exactly how it started with Hitler before he turned fully on the Jewish community. This Woman should NEVER be allowed to hold ANY office in government again and placed under lifetime watch as a suspect member of the Neo nazi’s

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, Elisabeth – and thank you for your moving memories of your family’s relationship with gypsies.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your comments, Pauline. Good to hear from you – and yes, more sites are needed, not the horrible attitude of Priti Patel.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Good to hear from you, Annabella – and yes, Priti Patel’s attitudes are exactly how the exterminations in Nazi Germany began. We need many more people to insist that this type of attitude is absolutely unacceptable from anyone in government office.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Adam Crighton wrote:

    tobacco lobbyist. pure evil.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Anita Gwynn wrote:

    She’s SUCH a f*cking bitch.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Mary Woodward wrote:

    “Suspicion” now to become ”conviction”?
    Is this Kafka or Police State?

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    She has a strategy and it’s utterly appalling.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Neil McKenna wrote:

    God how I hate that woman.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your comments, Adam, Anita, Mary, David and Neil. Pretty unanimous contempt for Priti Patel, understandably.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Anita Stacey wrote:

    This is appalling.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    It certainly is, Anita. Good to hear from you.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Anita Stacey wrote:

    When I was a child, we always loved the visit of the Gypsies every year and my mum welcomed the ladies into our home for cuppa and a nice long chat.
    (The men never came.)
    When I had a home of my own I always did the same.
    They never come now, but there seems to be a big friendly gypsy community here. Whenever I come across them, I find them so warm.
    What is happening in this country is dangerously like the uprising of the Nazis.
    How do you think we can do something about it?
    When we care about justice in our society tempered with mercy, we will have a society that will be worth living in.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Powerful comments, Anita. We need to get rid of the existing political system, which, it seems to me, only the left of the Labour Party and the Green Party fundamentally oppose. And stopping this horrendous Brexit nonsense is also hugely important. But most of all, I think, we need to put common decency back at the centre of public life.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Anita Stacey wrote:

    Yes I agree, all of those.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    🙂 Anita!

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Paul Turpin wrote:

    I fear she will be the next prime-minister.

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Now there’s a chilling thought, Paul.

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    John Mann wrote:

    Obeying her owners orders by causing hate & division while displaying a complete lack of humanity

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, John. Good to hear from you.

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    Pauline Frederica Kiernan wrote:

    Madam Smirk. Loathsome, vile creature.

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    It’s hard to disagree with that assessment, Pauline.

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    Saleyha Ahsan wrote:

    When we arrive at a point where Priti Patel with all her abhorrent views is Home Secretary you know the country is not in a good place.

  29. Andy Worthington says...

    Agreed, Saleyha. Not that Theresa May was any better, but there’s a kind of brisk upbeatness about Patel, which is particularly alarming.

  30. Andy Worthington says...

    Richard Palmer wrote:

    Vile and spiteful. Favours the death penalty too.

  31. Andy Worthington says...

    I despise any MP who supports the death penalty, Richard.

  32. Andy Worthington says...

    Richard Palmer wrote:

    Me too, Andy.

  33. Andy Worthington says...

    Hannan Majid wrote:

    Hi Andy, have you seen this campaign video we made?
    ‘Challenging councils that criminalise Gypsies and Travellers’

    “London Gypsies and Travellers is trying to raise £8000 to help fund its legal challenge to local councils who have won injunction orders banning Gypsies and Travellers from stopping on open spaces – effectively criminalising a way of life. We believe these injunctions break the Equality Act and discriminate against Gypsies and Travellers. Please support us.”

  34. Andy Worthington says...

    I hadn’t seen that, Hannan. I just watched it. Very powerful.

  35. Andy Worthington says...

    Ruth Gilbert wrote:

    If this proposal becomes law, “the police will have the power to kick my door in, take my home, arrest me and take the children into care. We won’t get them back because we won’t have a home. Because of my work, I can’t afford a criminal record. When I walk out of the police station, I will have no home, no assets, no children and no career.”

  36. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, that’s a very powerful quote from a traveller in George Monbiot’s article, Ruth.

  37. Andy Worthington says...

    Hazel Barker wrote:

    Here is a link to the consultation which we all need to do and share widely:

    Open consultation
    Strengthening police powers to tackle unauthorised encampments

  38. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for that, Hazel.

  39. Freedom ocean kale says...

    Well well Mrs Patel your family originate from India gypsies came from Asia
    Do you not like the people from the country your family come from? Maybe we shouldn’t have let your family into the UK
    Gypsies started coming here in the 1500s probably BEFORE your family came here so the fact is gypsies have been here longer than your family
    if your family came here before the gypsies then OK I apologies for the last comment
    Maggie thatcher failed and so will you
    Back in the 80’S we were told to buy our own land and live on it????? So we bought our own land and was evicted because
    we don’t need your sort here
    If your a travellor then travel bye bye
    That’s the sort of thing we’re always told
    Personally I’m in a 6 year battle to stay on land, land the council put me on, we’ve agreed a purchase price, oh we’ve changed our mind but you can have a licence to live on the land yeah alright whatever cus I’m still waiting for this licence I’m still waiting for the council to visit the yard been waiting since January
    Yes the council have been pretty good to me because they just leave me alone
    Then there’s you and your team who just want people like me gone forever
    Gypsies and travellors gave there lives in WW1 and WW11
    Gypsies helped in Europe to transport people and goods
    Showman bought a spitfire along with ambulances ect
    Travellor woman drove your trucks moving goods around the uk
    We made nets with no training needed during the war
    We made batteries during WW11
    You took our horses WW1 and our trucks and steam engines in WW11
    You have repeatedly attacked our communities the worst one being the battle of the bean fields
    Gypsies cleaned up your cities after they were bombed we were the raters catching them and destroying them to stop disease from developing
    But gypsies have been victimised for a thousand years and you not got rid of us yet so what makes you think your the one that’s going to be the one that does

  40. Judith Okely says...

    Thanks Andy and others for supporting Gypsies and Travellers. I lived with them for over a year when there was a duty to provide sites. Many of us lobbied outside Parliament against the monstrous 1994 Act. Gradually Gypsies and Travellers did not dare move from any established plot of land AND the farmers could no longer rely on their seasonal labour. How ironic that a post war Act declared that NO Gypsies would be prosecuted for not sending their children to school in the summer as it was recognised the latter were with their parents collecting seasonal fruit and vegetables. Yes I joined them picking potatoes. The farmer simply came to our camp asking for labourers. Post Brexit we now learn that Eu migrants are not coming to pick the fruit etc. It is left to rot. But the conservative government destroyed the traditional dependence on travelling Gypsy workers who brought their own accommodation then left after the work was finished.
    Michael Howard tried to win the election as Tory leader by having a full page anti Gypsy advert in every newspaper. He was offspring of migrants, like the last and current Home Secretary. Why affirm your Britishness by demonising a minority who were first recorded centuries ago? Why join in the destruction of a group who were also victims of Nazi genocide? The Gypsies and Travellers were pioneers in recycling waste metal. For all this work, geographical mobility was essential. Now it seems caravans and chalets are reserved as rich holiday homes for house dwellers.

  41. Andy Worthington says...

    Powerful comments. Thanks! I doubt Priti Patel or any of the other bigots in positions of power, past and present, would have an answer to your list of everything Gypsies and travellers have done to help the nation whose representatives, time and again, have tried to hound them out of existence, and are threatening to do so yet again.

  42. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Judith, for your powerful analysis of the counter-productive cruelty and stupidity of those in power. It struck me while reading it how they have become less and less interested in ordinary working people as the decades have gone on, caring only about corporate profits, outsourcing, mechanisation and now AI. Now they apparently don’t even care if the crops in the fields rot.

  43. Steve Tremmel says...

    How dare she deny the freedom and right to choose how to live and where.
    Her and her vile party who are using what ever means possible to bring about social cleansing need locking up.

  44. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your thoughts, Steve. Yes, she is clearly another of those vile bigots in government who believe that the entire way of life of nomadic people is unacceptable and must be stamped out, with no recognition that it was her own Party that undertook the policies that led to the situation that she deplores by systematically dismantling the requirement of local authorities to provide sites for Gypsies and travellers 25 years ago.

  45. Kate Swann says...

    We are becoming, perhaps we are are already there, a nation of bigots. The travelling community has always been part of the patchwork of our culture. They live on the detritus and waste of our extravagant society. We owe them the same respect as we give each other , more really as they take less from the environment than we in the settled community do.

  46. Leigh French says...

    thanks Andy, much needed and much appreciated work!

    Your title’s spot on, question is where we are in that timeframe of assaults Niemöller identified?

    Not to diminish from the historical and ongoing attacks on travelling communities you document, I’d also argue Patel’s emphasis on travellers is the rabid populist carrier for these legal contrivances (in England&Wales, Scotland being different?). As written, the law is wide open to interpretation as to its application, which seems to increasingly be the intention.

    So I’d say it’s actually indicative of a far-right drift that’s already normalised. That is, it’s a way to politically sell its wider application within those other framings of an ‘underserving poor’ and through racialisation.

    How did “unauthorised encampments” make it onto the statute, it seems so incredibly ambiguous / broad it belies the all-encompassing intent, worded to catch everything from sleeping rough, to tents, awnings, cars, caravans, camper and motorhomes, to canal boats (whether gentrification has ‘stalled’ or not).

    It’s lawfare covering the crises already here and to come – what Brexit means as regards exposing millions of non-UK EU citzs to the ‘hostile environment’, likely making homelessness a deportable offence, and the ending of current bilateral agreements as with the destruction of the Calais encampments. Maybe we ought to be on the look out for C21st workhouses of a US private prison contract variety?

    * More than 9,000 people to spend Christmas sleeping in cars, trains, buses and tents, Crisis warns (22.12.2017)

    * Desperate to stay dry, hundreds living in cars and caravans across UK
    A charity says it is “not uncommon” for families with children to live in a car, as rent has risen six times faster than incomes.
    By Rebecca Williams, West of England correspondent (24 October 2018)

    * Homelessness crisis: Thousands left living in cars and tents across UK, figures reveal
    ‘Christmas can be an incredibly difficult time for people who are homeless’
    Eleanor Busby (23 December 2018)

    * ‘Hundreds’ forced to live in caravans and cars in UK as they can’t afford rent
    One man who has been living in his truck for eight months said it was his only option as he can’t afford a proper home
    By Danya Bazaraa, News Reporter Krishan Davis (24 OCT 2018)

    * Will there be migrant camps in Kent if Britain leaves the EU?
    David Cameron has suggested camps similar to the Calais Jungle would appear in south-east England after Brexit
    Alan Travis (8 Feb 2016)

    * Calais camp evictions fuelling rise in Channel crossings as situation reaches tipping point, say charities
    Surge coincides with imminent eviction of two major camps in northern France charities say is pushing displaced people to take ‘urgent’ attempts to reach UK
    May Bulman (11 September 2019)

  47. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your comments, Kate. Good to hear from you. You’re absolutely right to point out that the travelling community “has always been part of the patchwork of our culture”, who “live on the detritus and waste of our extravagant society.” Unfortunately, since the Criminal Justice Act of 1994 removed the requirement for councils to provide sites, their way of life has become ever more precarious, and one of the side-effects has been to make it much more difficult for travellers to engage in the type of seasonal work they used to engage in – like fruit and vegetable picking. This was largely taken over by immigrants, although with the “hostile environment’ of Brexit, the irony is that immigrants are now so unwelcome in the UK that their numbers have fallen hugely, and now the crops are literally rotting in the fields.
    As for us becoming a nation of bigots, I fear that the toxic rhetoric around immigration in the EU referendum has, in the three and a half years since, hardened into outright bigotry and hostility, and I struggle to comprehend how it can be adequately challenged, when we have politicians who are either cowards or, increasingly, in Boris Johnson’s far-right cabinet, bigots themselves, when we still have Nigel Farage treated as some kind of credible commentator on the state of the nation, and when we have such a malignant tabloid and right-wing media, stoking prejudice on a daily basis, and such a supine, allegedly ‘liberal’ media – like the BBC – that consistently fails to challenge it. It is a though we live in a society in which strong moral guidance has been exterminated.

  48. Andy Worthington says...

    Good to hear from you, Leigh, and thanks for mentioning the wider context of the war on the “underserving poor” that the Tories have been waging since they regained power in 2010, reviving one of the vilest notions of Victorian society. I genuinely dread to think what will happen if Johnson secures a general election victory and Brexit goes ahead – mass deportations of “undesirables”, as you say, and perhaps the return of the workhouse. What’s always been most alarming about the Tories’ “undeserving poor’ narrative is how it so coldly and clinically rejects those regarded as “undeserving” from being regarded as part of society; i.e. that they are not wanted, that they are surplus to requirements. I was shocked by this at the time, and have regularly, ever since, remarked about how, since 2010, the Tories have been the first government in my lifetime to not even pretend that government has an obligation towards all members of society, and that, of course, is what happened in Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
    Thanks also for all the links. I hope to find the time to follow up on the extent of homelessness and hidden homelessness in Britain today, which, like so many topics of huge importance, is barely covered by the mainstream media.

  49. Julia Michell says...

    Brilliant, you forgot single mothers, demonizing, I was a single mother in 1988

  50. Andy Worthington says...

    My apologies, Julia. I didn’t mean to forget single mothers. I was friends with a number of singles mums in late 80s, when Thatcher launched her cynical attack on single mothers’ welfare rights. I found that whole period to be very dark indeed.

  51. Kristian Ravnkilde says...

    Another example of the hostile environment – it spreads everywhere

  52. Andy Worthington says...

    Sadly, yes, Kristian. Good to hear from you.

  53. Phien says...

    Can I just say; The term ‘Traveller’ is a very ubiquitous term. If the piece is referring to the ethnic minority ‘Travellers’ (aka Irish Travellers) then the correct term for them is Pavee. There are of course many different communities of Travellers who are not considered ethnic minorities. Pavees are not Roma or Romany Gypsy but a very different community from both these communities. Nor , as many from the community state, are they in fact, Irish but the indigenous people of Ireland. There before the celts (Irish) arrived on the shores.

  54. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your comments, Phien. In the context of the article, the Tories are clearly taking a broad aim at anyone who could be defined as a ‘traveller’, regardless of their actual background. I’d be tempted to suggest that they don’t actually care about the kind of detail you’ve provided, further underlining their dangerous contempt for all nomadic people.

  55. Ella says...

    Priti Patel represents the ruling class. It should be no surprise that her ideology sounds cruel and psychopathic.

    Recently she has lambasted those who are not working (because they’re sick or unemployed) as being ‘economically inactive’.

    This is a shamefully dishonest, victim blaming label for two reasons:

    Capitalist governments always make sure there are more people than jobs. As crazy as it sounds, unemployment is deliberately cultivated to protect the ruling class from strikes and loss of profits. Thatcher alluded to it as ‘natural unemployment’. It is ‘The Reserve Army Of Labour’ (Engels/Marx).

    And the ‘economy’ that she speaks of is not something which benefits everyone equally. The economy is the ruling class’ coffers. The economy is the piles of money in the bank accounts of the super rich.

    Priti Patel is shaming the victims her class have created and blaming them for making them richer.

  56. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, Ella, and thanks for that very clear analysis of how and why Priti Patel’s position is so despicable. I do often fear, however, that bigots in power – like Patel – often don’t even understand any of this deeper analysis. They target the unemployed because they think they’re work-shy (with no evidence to justify that prejudice), and gypsies and travellers because they encroach on private land and don’t live “normal” lives, and they also do this because they’re part of the mainstream political system, which increasingly secures votes by demonising some group of other – and we’re in a particularly bleak period for that right now, because of the demonising of so many “others”: the EU, immigrants, Muslims, the disabled, as well as other familiar targets like gypsies and travellers, and the unemployed. I would say that any government that targets “others” to secure support is actually a huge threat to the peace and stability of the country.

  57. Adele Cresswell says...

    This chilled me. My first ever job 35 years ago was working on a mobile clinic for gypsies and travellers. One night we were called out to a site where the police had seized everything without a receipt. Tellies, crown derby, kettles, the lot. It’s not a community big on the paperwork. They’d taken every man over 15 into custody. They weren’t even allowed medication. A lot of the men were elderly. We arrived to about 40 traumatised women and children. The police had pissed and crapped up the caravans and in the communal area in the middle of the trailers. The charge was conspiracy to burgle, i.e. They hadn’t done anything. To this day I go back there in my minds eye frequently like PTSD. Now Patel wants to take their homes too. I’m very mainstream now with a cv in the nhs. Basically I’m credible in anybodies eyes. I can swear this really happened.

  58. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you very much for your powerful memories, Adele. That is a damning indictment of the kind of prejudice against gypsies and travellers that has for so long been a stain on “settled” people’s claims of any kind of intrinsic moral decency – and if it was 35 years ago then it was the same year that police from six counties and the MoD violently assaulted a convoy of new age travellers trying to get to Stonehenge to set up a free festival, destroying their homes and their possessions, killing their dogs, and putting their kids into care. Sadly, as we see from Priti Patel’s position, prejudice towards gypsies and travellers is still rife, and I can imagine that, because of the coronavirus, governments will be trying to wipe out the last vestiges of nomadic activity, citing health concerns.

  59. Seema Gill says...

    Please get Priti Patel out, she’s dangerous.

  60. Andy Worthington says...

    Absolutely, Seema. She is a new type of dangerous Tory bigot.
    Here’s a recent article in Byline Times criticising her for claiming that her rise to the top, despite her Indian heritage, showed that Britain is not a racist country. As the author, Hardeep Matharu, says, “That her presence in one of the four great offices of state or the racism she has faced shows that the UK is not structurally racist and that the Conservative Party understands inequality and discrimination, is – at the very least – an intellectual hollowness devoid of any nuance, and – at worst – a sinister form of gaslighting.”
    See: https://bylinetimes.com/2020/06/15/priti-patel-cannot-make-herself-a-poster-girl-for-a-non-racist-britain/

  61. M Goodhall says...

    Any one who have seen the filth and rubbish left by these travellers on private land including playing fields would Not agree with your sentiment

  62. Juliet Kearns says...

    Great article. Thank you!
    I’m not part of any travelling community but I am nomadic in my heart and I have always, strongly believed that this whole planet and the land we stand on, belongs to everyone.
    Also, if If we allow this woman and this government to succeed, this concept of “trespass” will be extended to include all of us, so that NONE OF US will be able to go anywhere that is technically ‘owned’ by another person. This would eventually limit our freedom to go on country walks, via public rights of way, using current byways and easements!
    I believe this is the longer term plan, so attacking travellers is the first – and easiest – target for this vile government.
    This is yet another part of its larger agenda to remove more freedoms from us all ….!

  63. John Molineux says...

    Many thanks for your article, Andy.
    This brings back a terrible memory of Walsall (in early ’70s) when fellow-musician friends protected a travellers’ encampment for several nights; a vigilante-style group arrived one evening (directed, I think I remember correctly, by an ex-police inspector, acting apparently for the local authority), and a number of adults were removed. One caravan contained very young children who were knowingly left on their own. The fire was on, an accident happened, the caravan was destroyed by fire and at least one child died.
    I live in France now, and have seen several sites where travellers were rounded up during WW2, many being then sent to Camps.
    I have a good number of friends here in Brittany who lived for many years on the roads (with horses & tipis, or horse-drawn wagons): nearly all are now sedentary, some by choice but most due to the growing difficulty of finding stopping-places (even when offering music & circus shows in exchange).
    Throughout France, non-standard living quarters, constructed by owners on their own land (yurts, parked wagons, tree-houses etc) are increasingly repressed and often ordered to be destroyed.
    Nomads, immigrants and refugees are the most visible “different” people, but the so-strong human fear of “others” and especially “different others” (and the resulting anger and violence) seems insoluble everywhere : but it’s encouraging that folks like you write well and with such passion, backed by facts and personal knowledge, and with concrete propositions (restoring the law for creating sites etc).

  64. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Juliet. Great to hear from you. I share your concerns.

  65. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re welcome, John. Great to hear from you. This was by far the most liked and shared article I’ve ever written, so it’s clear that the defence of the “other” – in this case being any type of nomadic people, or simply those different from the prevailing mindset – is popular with a great many people. Sadly, however, as you note, hatred of the “other” – as Gypsies have known for millennia – seems to be perennially attractive to a number of settled people, and there seems to be no end in sight to this problem. I just hope it doesn’t take a turn for the worse, with the rise in what is mistakenly called “populism”, but should correctly be identified as dangerous far-right intolerance. Our memories are not that short, are they?

  66. Amy says...

    When making comparisons to Nazi Germany and the persecution of Jewish people it’s worth noting that the Roma people were also targeted by the Nazis. It’s estimated that up to 200,000 Roma people were killed in concentration camps, a fact that often gets overlooked.

  67. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, thanks for mentioning the Nazis’ murder of the Roma, Amy – they and others are often overlooked: Russians, Poles, and gay men, for example, and socialists, communists and trade unionists in the early days.

  68. Vee says...

    I have always from a young age had a fascination with the Roma and would approach them and chat amiably (I still do if I can) . Now everywhere I look in the local community they are hated, The moment a few arrive in the area there are demands for them to be kicked off wherever they have settled. There are complaints of the mess they leave, their lawlessness, the fear they evoke, letters to the papers and to the council. . This proposal will go down very well with a lot of people who would prefer all travelers to disappear.
    I am afraid this is very much a case of the many suffering for the actions of a few, because it cannot be denied that – as in all walks of life – there are some people on the road who are no better than they should be (as the saying goes) and so all who travel have been tarred with the same brush.
    In earlier days there were a lot more areas where they could stop; but now land is at such a premium that their options have been severely reduced. So designated stopover sites would seem to be a necessity. However, cash strapped councils are unlikely to make this a priority unless they get support.

  69. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Vee, for your interest in nomadic people, and your recognition of an unfortunate hardening of attitudes in recent years – no doubt part of an increasing intolerance promoted by the tabloid media and by politicians, as with general anti-immigrant sentiment, and not sufficiently challenged by people in positions of power and influence. The future doesn’t look very bright unless sufficient money is made available to make an adequate number of sites available for Gypsies and travellers.

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Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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