From the violent eviction of travellers from Dale Farm in 2011 to more recent scaremongering over an influx of Roma ‘child snatchers’ and ‘beggars’ over the New Year, Travellers and Gypsies continue to be the media’s favourite folk devils and antiziganism shows no signs of ceasing to be the most socially acceptable form of racism. In this article, resident Romanichal Craig McVegas gives 5 reasons why travellers of all cultures hate Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and why you should too:
1. Special powers in the guise of ‘Article 25’.
In an effort to crush any attempts to rectify the chronic shortage of halting sites travelling people can use, Pickles has taken to dishing out ‘Article 25s’ across the country. This means a local planning application – and decision – to establish an ‘authorised’ halting site is taken out of the hands of local government and given to either the planning inspectorate or to Pickles himself. No prizes for guessing which way those decisions go. Coalition ‘localism’ in action.
2. Somebody think of the green belt!
Perhaps most common among the ‘legitimate’ excuses for opposing new halting sites is that they often infringe upon green belt land. This was the primary excuse deployed by Basildon council while they spent millions of pounds over a decade trying to remove travellers. Not content with sites already being ghettoized dwellings by landfill sites, motorways and sewage works, Pickles and other assorted NIMBYs are keen to fly in the face of National Parks opinion and oppose new sites wherever they may appear. Recognizing the desperate need for more pitches, South Downs National Park in Sussex – which has the highest traveller population of all UK regions – approved a scheme to increase Braypool Lane halting site to (a frankly measly) 33 pitches. On appeal from local Tory councillors, Pickles stepped in with an Article 25 to halt the process.
3. Pickles the crime-fighter.
Of course when the environmental arguments go out the window, Pickles will happily rely on the all-too-familiar stereotype of travellers bringing ‘social problems’ wherever they roam. Upon finding out that an Essex cricket ground had been ploughed days after he had personally seen that police moved Gypsies on (having followed them from the motorway), Pickles appeared in the press saying, “I’m pleased that they have gone but such appalling behaviour clearly demonstrates we are dealing with a small minority of people who have no respect for the law.” Exactly how he arrived at painting Gypsies as persistent criminals from following 15 caravans down the motorway remains to be seen.
4. Good traveller, bad traveller.
Of course like most antiziganists, Pickles has no quarrel with Gypsies who fit the romanticized caricature of the Romani of olden times. Travelling musicians, craftspeople and carnival folk are all okay; even more so if they come with a Cob horse pulling a vardo. It’s the troublemakers – the ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’ types – that Pickles wants to stamp out. Employing typical ‘minority giving the rest a bad name’ rhetoric, as though other ethnic groups don’t have their share of social issues, Pickles wants to make sure travelling folk display a sufficiently nomadic lifestyle before they are allowed to make new sites, lest they stay too long and become a scourge on the neighbouring community. Never mind that travellers face the worse socioeconomic conditions of any ethnic group or that they are in the poorest health, with the highest long-term sick who may not be able to travel easily, if they’re not selling horses or strumming guitars they have no place in any town.
5. Relentless harassment.
Gypsies and Irish Travellers make up just 0.1% of the population of England and Wales, with about 58,000 overall. Together, they form what is perhaps the smallest ethnic minority in the UK. Of those 58,000, only 1 in 4 resides in either caravans or other mobile or temporary homes: under 14,000 in total. This is a minute number of people as a proportion of the population, in fact it’s about 3,000 fewer than Pickles’ constituency majority. Now think again about the hours of fanatical television exposés, the column inches dedicated to ‘baby snatchers’, ‘beggars’, ‘traveller gangs’, and Mr Pickles’ own personal crusade. If this is not harassment, what is?