In a press release dated 24th September 2020, MP Danny Kruger claimed Boris Johnson had called upon him to report for government calls for a new era of ‘community power.’ This included “proposals to sustain the community spirit we saw during the lockdown.” He christened his paper, “Levelling up our communities,” a vision for “a more local, more human, less bureaucratic, less centralised society in which people are supported and empowered to play an active role in their neighbourhoods.”
As shpil it sounds a-okay, a far cry from a Conservative Party of yore set against the people it’s supposed to serve, a Conservative Party which, on 1st June 1985, ordered police to viciously attack a Peace Convoy, setting up the 1985 Stonehenge Free Festival. History recalls it “The Battle of the Beanfields,” any witness could better perceive it as a politicide massacre. Its aim, to eliminate categories of people who either chose to live their life on the road, happened to stumble across this way of life by unpreventable circumstance, or grew up nurtured in such an environment, for political advantages. As a blanket term we call them travellers.
But that’s all it is, a blanket term, there is no organised grouping anymore than people who own a home are assembled, therefore there is no reason to presume any individual classed as such is part of a joint ethos, a collective philosophy or tenet. Attitudes and opinions of such a grouping differ as vastly as those who live in a house, or a bungalow, or a flat. To note someone who lives in a flat breaking the law, is ludicrous for bungalow dwellers to make a sweeping generalisation that, ergo everyone who lives in a flat is therefore a law-breaker. Yet prejudge typecasting seems to be systematically accepted, ingrained and encouraged when focussed on travellers.
Hard to define exactly as an ethnic group, as while Romany Gypsies are bound into the stereotype, not all are such, so, calling the racist card is unwarranted, but it is a definite form of prejudice, which aimed at other groupings would be frowned upon. Yet how does Danny Kruger remember the Battle of the Beanfields on its anniversary this week? His office, fronted by, I might add, Rebecca Hudson, the journalist who first broke the news of the Salisbury poisonings and therefore a far more articulate professional than the mere meanderings of a milkman, put out a Facebook post condemning the actions of a traveller site in Bromham. Despite Bromham isn’t his jurisdiction, it is in the division of Wiltshire councillor Laura Mayes, though.
I asked Laura why it’s necessary for Danny Kruger to get involved with, what seems to me, to be a simple planning permission issue. After all, planning permission disputes must be a regular occurrence in the county, and there’s never a need to involve an MP. Laura responded, “the problem is that the planning activity is illegal – there is an Enforcement Notice and an Emergency Stop Notice and the owners have ignored them.”
Danny’s post included the explanation, “deliveries of hardcore were made to the field, breaching the Enforcement Notice. The clear expectation is that an illegal Traveller encampment is being created and an influx of caravans is now expected.” Hardly an “expectation,” rather speculation; a big difference. A speculation driven by the aforementioned ingrained prejudge, is my “expectation.” Fair game by his own criteria?
In discussion with Gazette & Herald reporter Kirsten Robertson, The Ward family say the delivery of hardcore is to form a bund, an embankment to control the flow of water. Face it, evidence that it’s not a plan to expand the site or allow more travellers onto it. In a heartfelt plea for peace Bridget Ward, 21, told the Gazette, “We just want to live in peace and become part of the community.”
Yet negative, often offensive comments and name-calling slurs flood social media coverage of the simple planning dispute. It doesn’t help bridge the divide when the council “recommends the public stay away from the site.” Neither does it help when an MP lashes out, the post calculatedly shared on only one local Facebook group, known for an absence of admin regulations and therefore being a highly opinionated group.
We should note, they are not residing illegally, the land was bought in 2014, with an article 4 direction on it, which makes it unsuitable for development anyway. Any attempt to improve the site has been refused permission, the adding of fences, planting of trees and creation of an equestrian area. Constant refusal of simple improvement plans, the hostility against them verbally, constitutes the notion they’re simply not wanted there. Where in Wiltshire would they be welcome?
Wiltshire Council own and manage just three residential Gypsy and Traveller sites, with a total capacity to accommodate fifty-one families, who, in contrary to popular belief, are subject to rent charges, Council tax and service charges for site, water and electricity. Across a whole county, it’s a failure compared with Essex, with twelve sites accommodating 188 families, Somerset has eighteen sites, seven sites in Berkshire, the list continues not forgoing Wiltshire Council looks to possibly sell the three sites they do own under part of the recently concluded Regulation 18 consultation to prepare a Gypsy and Traveller Development Plan Document.
While we should respect permissions for planning need to be made, and upheld, little is done to provide a legal alternative for travellers in the county. Coupled with the ramifications of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which could see travellers facing a fine or prison if they set up unauthorised encampments rather than currently being a civil offence, Danny Kruger’s “levelling up our communities,” constitutes of the eradication of a way of life which has operated for centuries. In fact, pre-Neolithic age, we were all nomadic. Chew on that fat for a moment.
One comment added, “we don’t live in a lawless country,” yet when Danny illegally posted his campaign posters around polling stations, when he ignored lockdown regulations by failing to wear a mask on the train, when he allowed his dog to attack deer on Richmond Common, we brushed them under the carpet, I even defended the latter as an accident.
What about when the High Court said government acted unlawfully by failing to publish details of more than 500 Covid contracts, or abolishing the permit-free training scheme for doctors who qualified outside the United Kingdom or the rest of the European Union without proper consultation, or the case where it departed from the UK’s longstanding policy on opposing the death penalty in all circumstances? Need I continue? Why then, can we not give a little leeway here? Is a delivery of some hardcore to create a bund somehow more damaging to society as the examples given above?
The fact Danny’s offending Facebook post had a grammatical error I’d forgive a primary school pupil to overlook, “and a influx of caravans,” suggests this was not the calculated penning of a skilled journalist, rather a knee-jerk reaction handsome-faced Danny K needs to take a chill pill from before the silver spoon launches from his mouth.
And I say this because, the issue at hand is clearly overexposed by our prejudice, a presuppose striking fear into a family with a young child, for crying out loud, take a look at yourself! I plead you put the political matter aside for just a moment and think outside the box, would you try defend yourself given such hostilities towards you? Is it any different from Afrikaans erecting steel gates and barbed wire to protect their property in apartheid-era Johannesburg? How you can expect travellers not to be slightly anarchic when faced with such exacerbation against them?
Especially in this, quite honestly, trivial instant, far from the given stereotype, where we have a local family simply pleading to blend in and be part of a community. Bridget tells me, “I asked him [Danny Kruger] to stand up for us, against the hate and racism, and to sign the pledge card, but he has just ignored that. We just feel helpless.” This isn’t about hardcore delivery at all, is it?
What do you get out of this Danny, a permit to touch Pritti’s petticoat?! Hardly the “proposals to sustain the community spirit we saw during the lockdown,” is it, mucker?!