There was something embarrassingly pathetic about seeing the images of hundreds of police advance in their dawn assault last Wednesday morning on the illegal traveller site at Dale Farm. It made me feel uneasy.
The public has grown used to seeing riot police displayed on the front pages of the newspapers this year, whether it’s those seeking to oppress the uprisings in the Middle East, or images of police on the streets of Britain dealing with our own version of disaffected youth.
Both sought to put down revolt…
Despite the chasm in their ideologies and morality, both of these examples deserved and prompted a strong reaction from the responsible authorities. Both sought to put down revolt. What happened at Dale Farm, Essex on Wednesday 19 October does not fall into the same category (a few stones thrown by deluded anarchists does not qualify it.)
I would imagine that if you were to select the top ten dullest pieces of legal legislation in this country, planning permission would feature fairly high on that list. That an issue that revolves around such a thrilling topic has been turned into such a high heated, selling news story is a credit to the sensationalist skulduggery of the nation’s newspaper editors.
…a serious problem…
Someone in Basildon Council has got something very badly wrong. How did this issue manage to spiral so badly out of control that the estimated cost of the eviction will be over £20 million? It is not as though these people were serious dissidents who posed a major threat to the British public. And yet, the issue of traveller (an ironic choice adjective in this case) families in the United Kingdom is a serious problem that the government needs to address.
Quite clearly the residents have been pretty shrewd and played the system well, over the years. And yet a disregarded fact in the whole story is that the evictions have occurred not because the travellers do not own the land upon which they are settled, but that they have no planning permission for it. Regardless of this technicality, it is illegal to break the law… and so quite simply, legally the residents of Dale Farm are in the wrong.
…are these people not their equal?
Despite some of them claiming they pay taxes, I would argue their moral integrity be called into question, too. No one likes a benefit fraud, and as many have pointed out, are these people not their equal? Condemning the travellers does not however let the council or for that matter the government off the hook.
But what to do about this problem? One thing that is clear is that the government isn’t going to invest any money into sorting it out, despite the publishing of a report next month on the issue of travellers’ rights by the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles. Secondly, evicting the inhabitants of Dale Farm will do nothing to solve the problem of traveller and gypsy accommodation. According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, one fifth of travellers in the UK have nowhere legal to live.
If the long-term nature of this problem isn’t obvious enough, next month, the inhabitants of Meriden, Warwickshire will find out whether they also must leave on account of having no planning permission. As has been said, the law must be obeyed, but this is dangerous ground for the government. They cannot be seen to ostracize this very specific ethnic group. The lifestyle of a minority group cannot be forcibly changed by the state. Such is the inclusive responsibility of the country we live in that the state must provide for the traveller community, like they would do for any other ethnic minority. A solution must be found. But no more riot police please.