Sunday, September 04, 2011

Dale Farm: UN recognises Basildon, some of it anyway

As a Borough Councillor I am a pretty small cog in the machine that governs our country. In general the sorts of things I deal with a well below the level of interest of global institutions. So, if you had told me a few weeks ago that I would be pondering an appropriate response to the UN, I don't think I would have believed you. Now though that is pretty much what I am doing. You see the UN Anti-Racism Committee has decided to intervene over Dale Farm, calling on the site clearance to be suspended and that:
The Committee urges the State party to find a peaceful and appropriate solution which fully respects the rights of the families involved. Travellers and Gypsies already face considerable discrimination and hostility in wider society and the Committee is deeply concerned that this could be worsened by actions taken by authorities in the current situation and by some media reporting on the issues.
Heavy stuff indeed, but sometimes things are not exactly what they seem. In coming to their conclusions in what is a complicated situation it appears that the UN Committee has talked to exactly one party: the Travellers. Let us be clear, at no point has the UN spoken to Basildon Borough Council, and they don't appear to have contacted any non-Traveller local residents, Cray's Hill Parish Council, Essex County Council, Essex Police or the local school. What is actually astonishing is that having decided to back one party in the dispute they think that any of the other parties would pay attention to them. If they had shown some simple decency and met with Basildon Council then that would have been one thing. As it is, I feel that I am being lectured by someone who has deliberately decided to ignore anything I might have to say from the first. Except that isn't even the case. The UN isn't even lecturing. They didn't even send us any of their documents. Their thesis is that Basildon Borough Council should read their press release off a random news website and just react to that. I just wonder if this ever actually, you know, works?

On the substantive side of this, and remembering that this is the UN Anti-Racism Committee, a few facts might help. Basildon Borough has one of the largest number of legal Traveller sites in the country. In terms of the number of sites per hectare we are actually number one. We have had Travellers in the Borough for decades. In fact we have had Travellers on the legal part of Dale Farm for decades without any issues. The idea that there is some sort of local pathological bias against Travellers is garbage. It has also been tested in the courts, as has our provision for Travellers as a distinct group. At every stage Basildon Council has been found to not only be acting legally, but also fairly and proportionally. This matter has also faced media scrutiny for the last ten years and especially recently. No actual evidence of racism has been turned up, but, of course, proving a negative is a logical impossibility, especially against people who do nothing but scream 'ethnic cleansing'.

The most depressing thing is that things like the UN intervention and the casual use of accusations of racism simply serve to devalue tolerance and obscure real instances where racism doesn't just blight lives, but ends them. If you accuse large numbers of people of being racists when they simply aren't, then you risk hardening them to the whole issue, or at least reducing it as something they care about. If you talk about ethnic cleansing regarding a planning dispute in Essex, what do you say when sub-Saharan Africans are being dragged off Tripoli's streets just because of their skin colour? Using the same language may make people care less about the second instead of more about the first.

So, what are we going to do about the UN? You know, I think I'll wait until they call to decide.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Dale Farm: Basildon Labour Leader Ashamed of Living in Basildon

Further to my recent post Lynda Gordon, who is the Leader of the Labour Councillors on Basildon Borough Council, has gone into print on Dale Farm. The newspaper is the Irish Times. The key section is this:

The leader of Labour councillors in Basildon, Cllr Linda Gordon, said she was “ashamed of living” in Basildon “and ashamed of the human race” over the level of support in the town for the removal of the Travellers.

Many locals, she said, misunderstand the issues, believing Dale Farm would be Traveller-free after the evictions, “but it won’t, since the ones living at the front of the site are living there legally and are not going anywhere”.

Mr Miliband supported the decision of the Conservative-controlled council to go ahead with the £18 million (€20.5 million) eviction plan, saying: “The law does have to be upheld right across the country, whatever background people are from, wherever people are.”

Cllr Gordon, who said she and her 10 Labour council colleagues had been subjected to local abuse for opposing the evictions, said she was “disappointed” with Mr Miliband’s comments. She believed he made them “without having any idea of the actual circumstances” at Dale Farm.

Much of the local opposition, she said, was coming from people who live nowhere near Dale Farm: “I don’t know if many of them have even driven past the place. It makes me quite ashamed to live in the borough. You would think that we are living in some Third World dictatorship. This isn’t some oasis of loveliness, it was a scrapyard.”

So, let's get this straight: most of the people in Basildon support the Council clearing the Dale Farm site and instead of at least understanding their point of of view she is ashamed to be living amongst them. Remember, she is not some random person off the street, she is a person who is saying she wants to lead the community of Basildon Borough, while at the same time she is ashamed to be living in Basildon and ashamed of its people.

To an outsider this would seem to be unbelievable, but to those who know about local politics it is not much of a surprise. Basildon Labour view Conservatives not as having a different argument, but as basically evil. So, the fact that the nearest settled community in Cray's Hill is in a Conservative-held Council ward is a key factor. If you already dislike the people near Dale Farm because of their politics then their plight is easily discounted when compared to that of the Travellers. Couple that with the desire to see yourself as a paragon of liberal and progressive human rights, which is a common thread among local Labour Councillors, and it is but a short step from damning everyone who doesn't agree with your world view, regardless of the fact that they happen to be your very own people.

Lynda's contempt for those who don't share her views even extend to her own party leader. The idea that the Leader of the Opposition would not have had at least a condensed brief on a major national news story is ridiculous. At the very least she seems to think his staff are morons.

The fact is that on this issue the very well-informed people of Basildon Borough have got it absolutely right. They see a flagrant breach of the law and a Council that has spent years to try and get the Travellers of Dale Farm to leave peacefully. No one wants a forced clearance of the site, but in the final analysis the law is for everyone and must be applied fairly. The vast majority of Basildon's people understand that and expect their Council to act on their behalf. That is what we are doing.

As for Lynda, if you are truly so ashamed to be living in Basildon then I suggest you move somewhere else. Islington is nice I hear.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Dale Farm: Labour leader Ed Miliband supports evictions

As reported by the BBC. I just wish that the local Labour Councillors had the same view. They have voted against every proposed action to remove the illegal settlement at Dale Farm and have stated that if they were running Basildon Council then they would give Dale Farm planning permission.

I just wonder if the Council had been united on this matter, especially when we had a Labour government, then we might have arrived at a solution years ago. Instead Labour's attitude must have helped lead the Travellers to the view that somehow they would be allowed to continue in their illegal Green Belt development.

I hope that this does come to a forced eviction. I hope that the Travellers move off, and the Council has offered accommodation to the vulnerable under our homelessness duty. All the talk of women with young children and the sick elderly being left with nowhere to go is simply nonsense. However, I fear that the outsiders that have attached themselves to Dale Farm will cause trouble.

I just hope that no-one is hurt, but local Labour Councillors bear much of the responsibility of getting us to this point.

Hopefully, Miliband has had a word with them. They have certainly been very quiet on this issue lately.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Riots - Firm punishment and hand-wringers

So, the courts are being firm with rioters. Clearly, a riot is an aggravating factor for any crime and couple that with the fear imposed on whole communities it is right and proper that rioters be punished at the upper end of the scale for their actions. That hasn't stopped the professional do-gooders though, who have complained both about the length of sentences and supposed inconsistencies. For the former it is both a matter of deterrence and public confidence. People who may be considering involvement in a future riot will be brought up short by what has happened to the very large number of those caught for mayhem this time. No-one can argue that people are getting off with a slap on the wrist, and the fact that so many people have been arrested and processed so rapidly should make all but the thickest potential rioter think again. As for inconsistencies, sentencing is not an automatic process and reflects the details of a particular case. The idea that punishments should be drawn from a tightly drawn set of rules regardless of circumstance is actually quite illiberal.

This plays into public confidence. Consider a parallel universe where the police had been less vigorous and the courts had been handing out community service orders for assaults and property damage. Ordinary people would conclude that the system was not there to protect them and would act on that, abandoning high streets or whole areas and engaging in vigilante actions to protect themselves, because who else would be doing it? Society would be seen as distorted in favour of criminals and the loss of faith in our country and institutions would be corrosive. However, this hasn't stopped some talking heads telling us that the poor, misunderstood rioters shouldn't be treated so badly.

My take on this is that if you don't want to do the time, and incidently probably mess up the rest of your life with that criminal record, then don't do the crime. As for those two clowns who used Facebook to try and organise riots in their own communities and got four years apiece for it. All I can say is LOL.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Riots - fools argue the case for doing nothing

There are pretty standard techniques in politics when you don't want anything to happen. One is to seek to widen whatever the issue is until it becomes too broad to be addressed. So, let's link the riots to bankers and MPs expenses or better yet the morals of our entire society. Then argue that unless you fix all of that you can't or shouldn't do anything. This is pretty much Miliband's approach, and that of many commentators on the left, and a few on the right. You see it sounds all grown-up and the voice of wisdom, when in reality it is an abdication of any practical measures. In this case it means having a high-level debate about public morality while dismissing any other measure as 'knee-jerk'. Let's leave our estates under the control of criminal gangs and don't make any practical policing and criminal justice changes while we let the leader writer's pontificate. It's a recipe for people in leafy suburbs or nice detached cottages to feel good about themselves because they aren’t just condemning the criminals who torched our city centres. Of course, while they are off being mature those same inner cities have to deal with criminal thugs who are effectively being protected by the people for whom extended debate is a substitute for action. In fact, these are people who actually hold those who advocate action with contempt.

This approach melds into the second great way to make sure that nothing changes, which is to hold a public enquiry, Miliband's second great idea. So, everything is put on hold until the enquiry reports, which typically takes a year or two. Then the measures that it proposes may or may not be adopted. Meanwhile on the ground nothing changes, which is, of course, what certain people want.

It is one thing for a fool like Miliband to adopt a policy of doing nothing. After all, anything else would mean confronting his own prejudices that families don't matter and that the only issue is how much public money is thrown at a problem. I do find it depressing when those on the right start to ape his language, as if dealing with financial regulation will help the family living next door to a bunch of 'gangstas' on one of our inner-city estates. To those people I simply say that the majority of the public are simply not interested in your hot air and want the primary problems of criminals and gangs dealt with.

If you don't understand that then you need to get out more.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday Times Camilla Long decides British teenagers are worthless

This in today's Sunday Times from the pen of Camilla Long:
no British teenagers would dream of attending a camp like Utoya with there is ketamine and tombstoning to be done
She is commenting on the Norwegian tragedy and how much better Norwegian teenagers are than their British counterparts. This is offensive rubbish on many levels. British young people are often involved in politics via the main parties youth organisations. They are not inveterate drug takers, a survey this week actually showed that substance abuse was falling among British teenagers. Then there is the absurdity of generalising about all of the young people in a country of sixty million.

Another question does occur, why is it that Camilla is so prepared to believe that British children a uniformly hard drug users? Did she spend her teenage years tombstoning while out of her mind on Class A substances? Given this piece, a supplementary question is if she actually stopped when she became a journalist?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

John Baron MP appeals for young men to join Anthony Nolan stem cell register

MP highlights fact 1600 people need potentially lifesaving stem cell transplant

John Baron MP is calling for young men in Basildon and Billericay to do something special this summer. The MP has joined other politicians in helping to recruit men between the ages to 18 and 30 to join the Anthony Nolan stem cell register. Anthony Nolan is a pioneering charity that saves the lives of people with blood cancer. Every day, they use their register to match remarkable donors willing to donate their blood stem cells to people who desperately need potentially lifesaving transplants. However, there is a shortage of young male donors on the bone marrow register.

John said:

“Presently, the Anthony Nolan charity can only find a matching donor for half the people who come to them in desperate need of a lifesaving stem cell transplant. There are around 1600 people in the UK in need of this transplant.”

“We therefore need more young men to come forward as donors and join the Anthony Nolan register. By doing so, these young men will be offering patients the chance of life and a new hope to their families.”

Anthony Nolan can be reached on 0303 303 0303 or by email at

Speaking as someone who is alive because of a stem cell transplant, I can only endorse John's call. Donors rapidly replace donated stem cells, it's like giving blood, not like giving up a kidney, and you get to save someone's life.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tragedy in Norway

Our hearts must go out to the people of Norway, especially the relatives and friends of those killed and wounded in the terrible events there.

There is no justification of such mass-murder, none. There would be no justification if Norway was some sort of repressive dictatorship as opposed to one of the most open democracies in Europe. Mass murder of innocents in a deliberate effort to advance a cause is always wrong. When that mass murder extends to children it becomes especially heinous. What has been astonishing is that some moral bankrupts on the internet have been trying to use the events in Norway to make political points. So, we have idiots on the Right muttering about 'anger' caused by politicians supposedly ignoring their pet causes and idiots on the Left almost gleeful that the vicious murderer is a political enemy. Both are contemptible.

All of the evidence in this case is that these crimes were the work of a narcissistic psychopathic lunatic who either worked alone or received very limited support by some other extremists via the internet. Sadly, the world has always had nutcases with an inflated view of their own importance relative to the rest of us. Sometimes they do things like this, but it doesn't change their total irrelevance to any political debate carried on by the overwhelming moral and sane majority. The Norweigans are determined that they won't change their society in response to one evil, crazed fruitcake, and that should be our response as well.

We should have nothing but revulsion for anyone on either the Right or the Left who tries to use these events to advance their pet causes. But they will.

John Baron MP backs campaign to save lives from England’s biggest cancer killer

MP highlights postcode lottery and lung cancer survival rates

As Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Cancer, John Baron MP today backed calls to save lives from England’s biggest cancer killer by tackling variations in lung cancer services in England. Your chance of surviving lung cancer depends on where you live in the country, according to a new report from The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation recently launched in the Houses of Parliament. The ‘Explaining Variations in Lung Cancer in England’ report shines a spotlight on the postcode lottery that exists in lung cancer.

John said:

“Someone dies from lung cancer every 15 minutes in the UK. I commend The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation’s new report which shows that we need to urgently tackle the unacceptable postcode lottery in lung cancer. Everyone deserves to have good quality care, no matter where they live.”

“We need to do more to make sure that people with lung cancer are diagnosed early, when the chances of curative treatment are at their best. I’d encourage everyone to be aware of the signs and symptoms and to go to their doctor if they are concerned. There’s nothing to lose by getting checked out – and everything to gain.”

“And we need to make sure that, when someone is diagnosed, they have a good experience of care, including access to a lung cancer specialist nurse to support them and their families.”

Dr Rosemary Gillespie, chief executive of The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, said:

“Despite recent advances, lung cancer remains a devastating disease and the most common cause of cancer death in England. Your chance of surviving lung cancer and receiving a treatment which could benefit you should not be decided by where you live in the country. Sadly, it is clear that this is indeed the case and there is significant geographical variation in patient survival and patient access to care and treatment.”
“We hope this report will act as a tool to help bring those areas with a poorer service and outcomes up to the standard of the best, so we can improve the experience of all lung cancer patients and save lives.”
The report was developed using existing data to give a local picture of lung cancer outcomes, services and care.

A full copy of the report is available by visiting or calling 0151 254 7200 to request a copy.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Big Gypsy Eviction

The BBC ran this programme last night, a documentary with a human-interest slant on the unauthorised Dale Farm Traveller site and the eviction that may take place shortly. It was reasonably fair, though it didn't go into the technicalities of the matter, rather concentrating on the people involved. Those technicalities are briefly that the Dale Farm land is owned by the Travellers, but it is Green Belt and has no planning permission. Planning rules are there for very good reasons and you just cannot pitch up and build what effectively constitutes a village in any field that you think fit. There has been considerable adverse impact on nearby residents for example, and the documentary illustrated this to some extent.

It also illustrated the culture clash that has made this whole issue so much more difficult. There have been threats of violence from the Travellers when they don't get what they want, as illustrated in this BBC article:

"We're fighting for our homes," says one man, as he adds gas cylinders to a barricade.

He demonstrates how the cylinders can be be lit so a large flame flies out. "The first man that comes in is going to die," the man warns.

And Mimi also has a warning: "Basildon will go up in fire before we go."

The police take this sort of stuff seriously, which is why they are on hand at the Council whenever there is any Traveller business under consideration. So, the professionals think that this is more than just bluster.

I don't know who is advising the Travellers, but do they actually think that this sort of thing helps their cause? Certainly, support among the settled community for action on any unauthorised development in the Green Belt remains high.

Most people do not react well to threats.