Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dale Farm: Clearance Nearly Complete

The clearance of the illegal part of the Dale Farm traveller site is nearly complete. The work has been carried out without any undue interference, thank God, and an injunction is in place to prevent any illegal reoccupation of the site.

Unfortunately, this is likely to be only the latest phase in an ongoing story. Some of the travellers from the illegal site have moved onto the legal portion next door. The Council cannot allow protracted occupation of the legal part with a vastly increased population of caravans. This is for very practical reasons of fire and service access, and because it is downright dangerous. Caravan sites by their very nature have to especially guard against fire. There was a tragedy on the illegal part of Dale Farm for example. Too high a density of Caravans are simply too much of a hazard to the people in them.

There is also the matter of costs and other legal matters to conclude. The taxpayers of Basildon Borough expect the monies due to their Council to be recovered, and we will certainly be pursuing those who owe us. 

Predictably, most of the traveller 'representatives' and 'supporters' appear to have moved on to other things. After years of giving the Dale Farm residents the worst possible advice and then throwing their own urine at the police another cause beckons I suppose.

That St. Paul's thing looks fun...




John Baron MP criticises Government over Dartford Crossing toll increases during Commons exchange

MP says new technology on existing Crossing should be tried before toll increases introduced

Today in the House of Commons during Transport Questions, John Baron MP criticised the Government for planned toll charge increases to fund the construction of a second crossing so that congestion could be eased. The Government has proposed to increase toll charges to £2 and then to £2.50 in 2012. John has previously raised this issue with Government Ministers and has written to the Government outlining his objections as part of the consultation – see Notes to Editors.

John said:

“Government thinking is flawed. Given that the existing crossing makes £35-40 million profit a year, why not first introduce Automatic Number-Plate Recognition technology at the existing Crossing to see if this solves the problem of congestion, before raising tariffs to fund a second crossing?”

“With a new Secretary of State in post, can we now have some fresh thinking on this issue?”

The Minister said in response that the Government did not think new technology would solve the congestion problem and therefore toll increases are necessary to help fund a second crossing

John said afterwards:

“Increasing toll charges in these difficult economic times is a nonsense. Hard pressed businesses and families need all the help they can get. New free-flow technology would substantially ease congestion. Nothing would be lost in seeing if this works first before raising toll charges for a second crossing.”

“I have written to the Secretary of State requesting a meeting and will be inviting other Essex MPs if I am successful.”


John is, of course, absolutely right on this one. Hiking the crossing fees in these difficult times makes no sense and the options for a second crossing are hopelessly limited anyway.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Richard Howitt ejected from Basildon Council site at Dale Farm

Richard Howitt was ejected from the Basildon Council site at Dale Farm on Wednesday 19th October. The key facts are:
  • The general area in question was a site controlled and operated by Basildon Borough Council. 
  • Access to the site was, and is, strictly controlled because of the general requirement for proper insurance and the real risk that the site would be targeted by violent protesters. 
  • All visitors have to go through an accreditation process, which includes the issue of safety gear. This typically takes a day, so apply on the Wednesday, and access granted on Thursday etc. 
  • The site includes a media area, arranged for their convenience but also to prevent journalists getting in the way of heavy machinery etc. 
  • Subject to obvious practical considerations, journalists do not and did not confine themselves to the Council's media area. Interviews and reports were made from many other locations in and around Dale Farm. 
  • Richard Howitt had asked to come onto the Council site and was accredited for Thursday 20th. There is an email trail to his office confirming this. He was not accredited for Wednesday 19th. 
  • Mr. Howitt came on site in a media vehicle, with gate security mistakenly assuming he was a media staffer. He then proceeded to the Council's media area and presented himself for interviews and so on. 
  • The operational command structure decided that Mr. Howitt should be removed from the Council site. That means exactly what it says; the Dale Farm clearance being run under the standard Gold/Silver/Bronze model that is used for large scale operations. It was not a decision for Councillors, though I am fully support it and I would have made the same call had it been up to me. 
  • Mr. Howitt was duly removed from the Council site. 
Facts aside, the question is was it right to remove Richard Howitt from the Council site? On the basis of the simple application of the rules that have applied to everyone else, including at least one other MEP, then the answer is surely yes. About the last thing that was needed in the middle of a clearance operation that had already turned violent was someone wandering around in a business suit with no safety gear, insurance and where the party in question could not be relied on to obey instructions.

There is also the matter of the astonishing bad faith displayed by Mr. Howitt in sneaking onto the Council site when he was officially due the next day.

Hang on though, what about free speech? Well, what was stopping Mr. Howitt exercising his rights somewhere else? There were plenty of journalists not on the Council site, why didn't he go and talk to them? I note that his ejection from the Council site did not not put an end to his media activities on that day.

What was he even doing there?

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.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dale Farm and Racism

Most of the commentary from those supporting the illegal Traveller site at Dale Farm has included some accusation of racism. The implied, or sometimes explicit statement is that Basildon Council and the settled community are motivated not by a desire to see fairness and equality under the law but by some pathological hatred of Travellers. That Basildon has the largest number of legal Traveller pitches per hectare in England seems to make no odds, we still must be a bunch of racists.

Well, here is my experience: people who casually bandy around accusations that question the motives of others usually do it because of something within themselves. Accusing others of corruption in the first instance and without any evidence for example is a good indication that the accuser would be in the market for a brown envelope if the opportunity arose. Such people cannot conceive that others would not behave in that way, because that is what they themselves are like.

So, on to the people who bandy about accusations of racism, my experience with them is that is because they themselves nurture some deep-seated hatred and so assume everyone else must as well. On the activist left, hatred is usually reserved for the settled middle-class, who are detested because they obey the law and refuse to share is some world-revolutionary view. In the Dale Farm situation the settled community in Cray's Hill doesn't even register with the protesters on the site, because, frankly, they hate them and everything that they stand for. So, one community is lauded and the other ignored and treated with contempt, except to be labelled as racists of course.

Well folks I have a disappointment for you. Most people live their lives without hate and think that those who palpably burn with it are kind of sad. My advice to the people who equate the Dale Farm clearance with ethnic cleansing is first to read a history book or two and try to actually understand what the term means and secondly to have a bit of a think about your world view.

If you find yourself burning with hatred for any group then you are badly in need of a change, or a religious experience, or something.

John Baron MP criticises Dale Farm court ruling

John Baron MP criticises Dale Farm court ruling

MP expects Basildon Council to overturn decision on Friday

Having been on the Dale Farm site yesterday with Cllr Tony Ball and Council officials, John Baron MP has described as “bizarre” the court ruling which prevented the bailiffs from proceeding with the site clearance yesterday afternoon.

John said:
The ruling is bizarre. How can there have been a fair hearing if the Council was unable to be represented? The highest courts in the land have declared Basildon Council right. It is therefore unfortunate that this local judge has fallen for this delaying tactic and added to the cost of the operation. I am confident that the Council will overturn this rogue decision on Friday.
The Council will then proceed with this site clearance. My hope is that it can be achieved peacefully through negotiation. However, this site will be cleared - one way or the other - on behalf of the law abiding majority.
We all accept that minorities have human rights. But all too often in this country we tend to forget that the majority have human rights too, and these include an expectation that the law will be applied fairly and equitably across all of society.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Dale Farm - Clearance starts tomorrow

Tomorrow is the day that we have all worked so hard to avoid: the start of the Dale Farm clearance. After ten years of legal battles and pleas that the Irish Traveller occupiers of the illegal pitches there should leave of their own accord, Basildon Council is having to forcibly clear the site.

I suppose the question is how has it come to this? How can it be that an ordinary English local Council is having to spend a fortune on evicting a community numbering in the hundreds and which includes young children and the elderly? There are a whole range of reasons, but if I had to pick just one then I think it would be the non-Travellers that have attached themselves to the Dale Farm saga down the years. We have had the whole spectrum, from lawyers paid from legal aid who were determined to push a weak legal case as far as it would go in the various courts, to 'activists' deliberately sabotaging confidential negotiations. Various academics and UN 'advisors' have dipped in and out claiming spurious and often simply bogus legal points and most have questioned Basildon Council's motives in the most abusive terms, as if that helps when any deal to help the Traveller community would ultimately have to be done with the Council. Our local Labour Councillors did not help, deciding that the moral high ground demanded that they not support any direct action against Dale Farm. God knows what they were saying to the former Labour government, who were in power for most of the dispute. We certainly had no help from them.

Now as we reach the end-game the cavalcade has continued. Vanessa Redgrave, more UN 'advisors' and a range of protesters at the site itself. Against that background and the time all of these interventions have taken we have now come to a forced clearance. I believe that if it had just been between Basildon Council and the Travellers then we would have sorted things out by now. With all of the various do-gooders and hangers-on then we had no chance.

I hope that it all goes peacefully tomorrow, but I worry that the malign influence of outsiders on the Dale Farm situation has not yet finished.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

John Baron MP visits Dale Farm site clearance preparations

MP says he is impressed with Basildon Council and police plans

Today, John Baron MP met with Council Leader Tony Ball, Assistant Chief Constable Sue Harrison and Police Superintendent Tim Stokes, and senior Basildon Council officials when visiting both the ‘Gold’ and ‘Silver’ Cell control rooms in Basildon Council. He also visited the site itself at Dale Farm where he discussed plans with the bailiffs and other officials. John was fully briefed as to preparations for the start of the site clearance on 19th September, and will be with Councillor Tony Ball on site on the day.

John said:

I am impressed with the preparations to clear this site in a safe and professional manner. Every precaution is being taken to ensure everyone’s safety, but the travellers should be in no doubt that this site will be cleared. Anyone breaking the law will be arrested by the police.

At this eleventh hour I once again urge the travellers and their supporters to move off peacefully. Nothing will be gained from resisting the Council’s action to reclaim this greenbelt land on behalf of the law-abiding majority.

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.