We love watching them on telly. But Travellers living next door? Not so much.By Alison Grinter
“Great news!” trumpets My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’s Facebook page. The fantastically popular TV show “has been nominated for a BBC Radio 1 Teen Award”.
And this only a few weeks after the fly-on-the-wall documentary’s star Paddy Doherty won Celebrity Big Brother. There’s never been a better time to be a Gypsy. Or has there?
Away from the TV hype, the public are far less accepting of Travellers. Even as I write this, 400 people on the Dale Farm site in Essex face imminent eviction. UN adviser Prof Yves Cabannes has weighed into the ‘should they stay or should they go’ debate, arguing that their forced eviction violates international law, and compared their plight to displaced people in Zimbabwe, China and Nigeria.
Yes, it’s easy to laugh and dismiss him as a namby-pamby Euro-meddler, but his observation at least drives home the reality that, away from TV land, Gypsies are unwanted at best and vilified at worst.
The Dale Farm case is particularly perturbing. The Travellers actually own the land on which they have been living on for the past ten years. But, because they have no planning permission to erect houses or mobile homes, Basildon Council is determined to send them all packing.
What is the point of uprooting a whole community over some red tape? And it’s not like they’ve trashed the site since taking up residence either – it’s a former scrap yard, for Christ’s sake.
With more economic turmoil looming, you’d think that our leaders would be looking for ways to ease these difficult times, not make them worse. I’m not an economics expert but I would have thought making 100 or so families homeless would put more of a burden on our already overstretched resources.
So it would seem that far from fostering understanding for the Traveller community, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding merely provided a means by which people could satisfy their voyeuristic urges. A friend confessed she enjoyed watching the show, “because it makes me realise some people have worse lives than me”.
I suspect that’s why a lot of people tuned in; not to get an insight into Travellers’ lives, but to laugh at them. And that says far more about us than it does about the Travellers.
Opinion: A new winter of discontent?
At the risk of being labelled a communist yet again, I’m going to take the wildly unpopular stance of defending the unions. Given the TUC has just announced widespread strikes for Wednesday, November 30 – the biggest mass walkouts since the 1926 General Strike – I’d say I’m inviting pariah status, but here goes anyway …
Contrary to popular opinion, unions don’t strike for the hell of it. They take this kind of action only when all other avenues of negotiation have been exhausted. And with Dave ‘n’ George ploughing on with their draconian cuts despite employment topping 2.5 million (geez, great strategy, guys) the unions, representing ordinary workers, lest we forget, have their backs against the wall.
Unison head Dave Prentis put it best when he said: “The campaigns we are fighting aren’t just about pensions, or jobs and pay – they are about the kind of society we leave to our children.”