Magazine article The Spectator

The Seeds of Hate

Magazine article The Spectator

The Seeds of Hate

Article excerpt

Illegal asylum-seekers can rest a little easier in their beds for the moment because right now the Fleet Street redtops have got it in for the gypsies instead. We haven't quite got to the stage of Kill a Pikey and Win a Metro, but one assumes it is just around the corner. For the Daily Mail, in particular, the whole issue of gypsies - or Roma, or travellers, whatever you want to call them - unites a number of key themes: gyppoes are renowned criminals and probably never pay taxes or the council charge; they depress house prices when they move in next door; they're dirty and they make a mess; they are the beneficiaries of fatuous legislation which favours them over Ordinary' people; they are a bit thick and prone to violence; they get free legal advice, paid for by you and me, on how to move their teeming, thieving families into that nice fallow field down the road; John Prescott seems to like them; we're not allowed to set them on fire in their caravans because that would be politically incorrect; they cock a snook at authority, ill-treat animals and give you cancer. Well, OK, I made the last one up. But the Daily Mail's twin obsessions of falling house prices and the ever present threat of cancer fizzing away on a fuse in the middle distance means that the connection will surely be made sooner or later.

Of course, there is some truth in most of the prejudices I've detailed above. As we have recently discovered, gypsies do indeed get free advice from the Legal Services Commission about how to circumvent planning restrictions and avoid eviction from unauthorised sites. Gypsy children perform very, very badly at school in general and literacy rates among the multifarious travelling communities are, you have to say, on the lowish side, compared with that which pertains in, say, Paul Dacre's family. It is John Prescott's department that has custody of gypsies and it is upon his front door that the outraged folk of Middle England make their protests, usually in vain. Voice any criticism of the gypsies and you tend to get called a 'racist', despite the fact that, so far as I understand it, 90 per cent of those called gypsies do not constitute a separate race at all: being a gypsy is, in most cases (except for the Roma) not acquired through the genes.

Their caravan sites do indeed look a little messy, and as for the thieving and the violence and the non-payment of tax, well, I do not have the figures to hand, for which many apologies.

But it is this other issue - that they are the beneficiaries of fatuous or at least unpopular legislation which favours them over Ordinary' people that I find most interesting. There is indeed a plethora of legislation, national and supranational, encompassing the 1968 Caravan Act, the European Convention on Human Rights and the 2000 Human Rights Act which protects 'gypsies' from the animus and loathing of Paul Dacre and, it has to be said, 70 per cent of the British people (at my estimate). You can, for example, call yourself a traveller regardless of whether or not you travel. If you have not even the slightest intention of wandering down to the shops for a packet of fags and a copy of the Racing Post, you can still qualify as a traveller provided that you can concoct a description of yourself as someone who would travel, were there sufficient incentive or reason to do so. …

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