Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dale Farm Clearance

Held off posting for a while because of the legal processes associated with Dale Farm and then the sensitivities of the actual clearance. Frankly, I couldn't risk posting something that might further complicate the situation, so a bit of self-censorship was called for. Now though I think it is time to reflect on what has been going on.

First of all, no-one at Basildon Council wanted it to come to a forced clearance. Ridiculous and contemptible accusations that we are driven by testosterone or bigotry are just rubbish. The reason we are where we are is simply because the Dale Farm Travellers have been used as political pawns by a succession of self-interested people to boost their egos, their causes, or in some cases their incomes. The Travellers have been consistently given awful advice that prevented any effective negotiations with the Council, including when an 'activist' decided to wreck the ongoing negotiations we were having with the HCA to find alternative sites. For that individual his cause was more important than the Dale Farm families. He didn't live there of course.

Then we had the poor people of Cray's Hill, the village next to Dale Farm, who were consistently ignored by the do-gooders and hangers-on 'helping' the Travellers. Apparently, that community didn't matter you see. Well, the main reason why Basildon Borough Council has stuck to its guns over Dale Farm has been those forgotten people. Planning Law is there for many reasons, but one of the most important is to restrict what can be built right next to where you live. The largest Traveller site in Europe had a poisonous effect on Cray's Hill, but almost no-one seemed to notice or even care. Certainly the Labour Party was indifferent, both locally and nationally. In fact our local Labour party seemed to relish the idea of people who largely don't vote for them having their lives wrecked. It was appalling to see how much they hate some parts of the Basildon community, and I don't use the word lightly.

What about the Travellers? Well, I am going to be blunt: but any rational definition of the word, Dale Farm was a slum. It was even run by a couple of slum landlords who collected the rent. It had no proper sewage or basic facilities. If I had tried to get a housing estate built to those standards then I would probably have been locked up, but somehow Traveller 'culture' means that it is fine for them to live in rubbish housing. Unfortunately, the attitude that Travellers are free to live in conditions that the settled community largely moved on from a century ago is prevalent among the various do-gooders that surround them. The result is that Travellers'  social outcomes are catastrophic in terms of life expectancy, education, mental health, treatment of women, alcoholism and so on. Traveller culture is going to have to change, if the various professional enablers that surround them allow it of course.

Within the parameters you apply to such an operation, the clearance has gone well. The Council team have been excellent, and Essex Police have been nothing short of brilliant. They got control of the site against appalling violence with a minimum of injuries on all sides. The courage and professionalism of both Essex Police and the police from other forces has been inspiring. Despite the stupidity of the activists supposedly supporting the Travellers in finding all sorts of ways to put themselves in danger everyone has walked away from this. That is surely the most important thing. It should also be noted that it was these outside activists that caused all of the trouble on the site. For me it was epitomised by that Drama Queen with the crucifix, dancing around with a religious symbol that means nothing to her in one hand, apparently she's a Muslim, and with a coffee in her other hand. You just know she will be on some other protest next week, if it will get her into the newspapers that is. Meanwhile, the actual Travellers have only protested peacefully, because they are reasonably decent people who are not in this for a laugh.

So, we will press on with the clearance, not because of any macho posturing but because in the final analysis the law has to apply equally to everyone, and that's it. Dale Farm has always been about fairness and equality before the law. Being a minority culture does not get you out of obeying the law and this position has been confirmed by the highest courts in the land. It is also the view of the vast majority of the people of Basildon and of this country.

In the end, clearing Dale Farm was simply the right thing to do.


Phil Rackley said...

Its clearly not worth arguing with you on principles as we will always disagree but what is the manhandling of Richard Howitt but macho posturing and a denial of the right of one of our MEPs to speak to the media. Frankly Stephen you can't have it both ways!

Steve Horgan said...

I'll put up a post on this matter as people do seem to be interested. I was right there after all.

Alan (Chair) said...

Waiting with interest. Remember a lot of other people were also there. So Cllr Horgan a factual post please