The catalogue of atrocities perpetrated against
Gypsies from the mid 1400s through to the present times, endorsed by state
and church, is a tragedy that no author could pen, no single mind conceive,
and in a civilised world, no people should have to endure.
Traditionally, Gypsies in this country have had very little reason to
be interested in or concerned with politics. For hundreds of years they
have travelled the country performing menial tasks, taking and often begging
whatever employment they could find, fighting the elements, bigotry and
mistrust, often being hounded and harassed from county to county by the
constabulary pursuing outdated and archaic laws, very often I may add with
much more vigour than was necessary. Many a poor Gypsy family went hungry
for the day due to a well aimed police regulation boot being aimed at a
pot suspended from a kettle iron over an open fire containing the whole
days food supply for a family.
It is generally accepted that Gypsies arrived in
Europe around the 14th century. Almost from the time they arrived, right
up to the present day, they have been despised and persecuted. No people
on Earth have such a history of persecution and hatred directed at them
for such a prolonged period of time and for no reason. Tell me one war
which the Gypsies started. Tell me one land they tried to occupy by force.
Tell me one monarch they tried to dethrone. Tell me one crime against humanity
they have committed. Is it through lack of understanding, jealousy or fear?
True, their manners and customs must have seemed strange, their nomadic
way of life must have been at variance with the convention of settled societies.
Fear though is often triggered with a fascination. Countless painters,
musicians and writers have had their imagination stirred, and some of the
public had their heads turned by romantic notions about Gypsy weddings
and blood brotherhood, scenes of passion to the sound of violins, moonlight,
mystery, magic, fortune telling and secret powers. Then there is the disenchanted
view of the landowners and gamekeepers who find their coverts raided and
their land fouled and littered (often may I say by non-Gypsy Travellers).
Somewhere between these two extremes the Gypsies exist. A people who in
the course of their history have preserved and sometimes acquired beliefs,
customs and traditions which are paralleled in many cultures. A people
who's history is preserved in oral traditions and legends, for being nomadic
the Gypsies have not left behind archaeological evidence of settlement
or cultivation, and because of their history of illiteracy no written documentation
of any note. But other documentation is available in various archives and
this much is known, that by 1471 the first anti-Gypsy laws had been passed
in Lucerne, and by 1637 anti-Gypsy laws had spread via Brandenburgh, Spain,
Germany, Holland, Portugal, England, Denmark, France, Flanders, Scotland,
Bohemia, Poland, Lithuania and Sweden to encompass the whole of Europe.
The punishment that these laws demanded was varied and vicious. Flogging,
torture, branding, mutilation, hanging, shooting, being hunted like animals
for sport, bounties being put on their heads and hunted as vermin, the
list is endless, the misery incalculable. In England in 1554 Queen Elizabeth
I imposed the death penalty, not only for the crime of being a Gypsy, but
for anyone in their fellowship and company. Gypsy Liaison Officers were
a scarce commodity in those days. Scotland continued to enforce such legislation
right through to the 18th century, and indeed much Scottish anti-Gypsy
law was on the statute book up until 1906. In 1994 a Conservative government
in England is still passing anti-Gypsy laws, threatening to destroy homes,
confiscate property, split up families, provoke needless confrontations,
traumatise innocent children caught in the middle of it all, a stark similarity
to Germany in the late 30's and early 40's don't you think? This, under
a back to basics banner in 1994, the Year of the Family, in democratic
England, by a government more dedicated to legalising buggery with sixteen
year old boys, than providing conditions for Travellers to live within
the law, following the only way of life they and their ancestors have known.
We now have ethnic cleansing by legislation, far
more subtle and far more dangerous than ethnic cleansing by violence. That
can be fought against, you can see your enemy, fight your enemy, crush
your enemy. There is no such recourse with cleansing by legislation, unjust
laws and legislation are something different. You may despise them, you
may disobey them, you may argue against them, but you cannot destroy them,
cannot crush them. They are always there and your way of life is always
in peril, constantly under threat.
Once on the statute books, history has shown they will not readily be
repealed, if anything they will be reinforced by reforms. Too many species
on this planet have become extinct and too many species today are on the
endangered list. Are the Gypsies now to be added to it? In this country,
and quite rightly too, there are laws to protect the birds of the air,
the flowers of the field and the majority of our natural wildlife, with
penalties ranging from heavy fines to imprisonment, yet there is not one
law to protect the Gypsy.
British justice, we are told, is the envy of the
world. The British sense of fair play is legendary. They will lay down
their lives in defence of the underprivileged and oppressed. How and where
these myths originated is a mystery, and how they have lasted and endured
is an even greater mystery. The British Empire was one of the greatest
the world has ever seen. Taken by the sword, and held down by oppression
and exploitation. How many poor souls perished through torture, slavery
and trying to defend their freedom, is anybody's guess. Millions is a conservative
estimate. These atrocities were not only confined to foreign shores either.
The Peasants Revolts of 1431 led by Watt Tyler, Richard Kett, and John
Ball against the closing of common lands to the common people - does that
ring a bell? - and the imposition of a poll tax, - do I hear another bell
ringing? - was brutally and savagely put down by the Earl of Warwick later
elevated to the Duke of Northumberland, who it is said thought solely of
money and power - does that also ring a bell? His accomplice was Humphrey
Arundel of Cornwall and Devon who's main claim to fame was that he was
a powerful landowner who also denied the ancient common rights to his tenants.
The Tolpuddle Martyrs deported for standing up for their rights. The Jarrow
Marchers, and more recently the workers at G.C.H.Q. at Cheltenham and the
miners all having their rights denied them by legislation in this free
and democratic country.
English history is littered with such instances, in fact it is almost
entirely made up of them, oppression and subservience hand in hand, taking
away the citizens rights of any land they occupied and of this land when
it suited them.
However, to get back to the Gypsies, the 1968 Caravan
Act gave us cause to believe that at long last our struggle for recognition
was being acknowledged, progress was being made. At long last our children
would be educated, would receive proper health care, we would be accepted
by society, in short, we would be treated like human beings. How short
lived that jubilation turned out to be, how empty those promises proved,
how typical of this government's hypocrisy. The wheel has turned full circle,
the wrath of the state is again being vented upon the Gypsy population,
with laws exhibiting not just a dislike for the underprivileged and despised
but portraying a physical expression of hatred. Laws being wheedled through
Parliament by chicanery and deception, trickery and guile, devoid of democracy,
devoid of compassion, devoid of shame. A purely social problem given pride
of place in a Criminal Justice Bill. What an indictment of British Democracy.
I stated earlier that politics played no great part in the Gypsies'
life. That is rapidly changing. The Gypsy is beginning to realise that
it is not the man in the street, not the man in the blue uniform, that
is his enemy. It is the pin-striped suited politician stomping through
the corridors of Whitehall in jackboot fashion, calling each other honourable
and not knowing the meaning of the word, that is his true enemy. It is
ironic that the laws now being framed, that this government claims are
for the benefit of the Gypsies, are so Machiavellian in their structure.
Misleading information oozes from this government like puss from an ulcer,
whilst beneath the skin the problem festers on, untreated.
Certain segments of society have always from time
to time had Draconic laws aimed at them resulting in bloodshed, misery
and torment. Witches, Heretics and Jews spring readily to mind. All have
one thing in common, the laws are now repealed and the persecution is a
thing of the past. The Gypsies stand alone, unique, as the only segment
of society whereby such laws have not been repealed. In fact, today the
laws are being strengthened and made even more insidious. Leave or be hounded
to death. Every country in Europe has attempted this legislation at least
once against the Gypsies. Britain is now falling in line with that maxim
Let us ponder here for a moment on what the problem really is. It is
a government induced situation, induced deliberately, mischievously, and
with malice, intent on destroying the nomadic way of life. Give us back
our traditional stopping places, give us back our freedom, freedom to travel
without let or hindrance. Set aside basic sites which allow us to follow
our way of life without trespass, give us the rights which have always
been denied us, then where is the problem? If a Traveller wishes to purchase
a piece of land and settle, for God's sake, why not encourage him? As the
law stands you do not want him to settle down (at least not where he wants
to be) and you do not want him to travel. What do you want? The answer
is self evident. You do not want Gypsies, anywhere, at any cost.
A popular concept of a Gypsy camp is a roadside
settlement littered and fouled, with no sanitation or refuse disposal.
Filth and squalor unbridled. Everyone of you here can imagine it in your
mind's eye quite visibly, I am sure. The next part takes a bit more concentration.
Imagine one of your council estates in the middle of town, before it
becomes privatised, with it's high concentration of children and household
pets such as cats and dogs. Now imagine the water supply being disconnected,
permanently, no more water on tap, no more hot baths, no more hot showers,
no more toilets being flushed. Now imagine it's road being torn up and
the refuse disposal service being abolished, you now have no water, no
road and your own litter in your house is in the garden. After four to
five days the refuse bin is full, after a week it is overflowing with cats
and dogs foraging around amongst it. The toilet is still not getting flushed,
three days, three weeks, three months later. Can you now imagine it? Imagine
it! You can almost smell it! After six months of council tenants or private
house owners living in conditions like this, it would be the Gypsies down
the road complaining to the authorities about the health hazards, the squalor
and the filth which would be lowering the tone of their neighbourhood.
I say to you, any encampment of Travellers without the basic facilities
of water, sanitary and refuse disposal is an indictment of the local authorities
who should have by law the legal obligation to supply such minimal services
which every householder takes for granted and all too often would willingly
deny to others.
The attempts by government and a few local authorities
to wriggle out of their duties of difficult situations by promoting Romanies
and marginalizing Tinkers, Didicoys, New Age Travellers, etc., is a scapegoat
mechanism used by society against the Gypsies and by the Gypsies against
each other. Government propaganda aggravating the situation, not addressing
it. If the needs of the people of a nomadic way of life are ever going
to be addressed, the definition must be simplified, not made more complicated.
The plight they find themselves in is the same for one and all. All the
rubbish being talked (more propaganda) about the New Age Travellers and
so on making it more difficult for government to solve the situation, is
meaningless rhetoric aimed at stirring up discontent. The problem should
have been solved before the New Age Travellers appeared on the scene.
Much has been made about how much the government has spent on sites.
Seventy-eight million pounds has been quoted. That represents about three
million pounds a year for the duration of the Caravan Act. The Drinks Bill
for the government last year was fifteen million pounds. That gives some
idea of the seriousness with which they tackled the problem of site provision,
less than a quarter of what they spend on beer and spirits.
I will not take up your time and analyse clause by clause the new amendments,
they speak for themselves, and you are all probably aware of them:
Clause 45 strengthens section 39 of the Public Orders Act 1986,
altering the definition of damage to the heights of lunacy, and changing
from twelve to six the number of vehicles required to trigger implementation
of the law;
Clause 46 gives the police power to confiscate vehicles;
Clause 51 provides for the retention of property seized and the
imposition of charges;
Clause 58/59 provides local authorities with special powers,
and includes all the highways and byways and all the little back lanes
in England, no matter how secluded or unobtrusive they may be. It will
be an offence to stop anywhere;
Clause 61 everyone knows, the repealing of the Caravan Act as
we know it.
As I stated earlier, it is very ironic that
all these laws, supposedly for the benefit of Gypsies, appear to be so
Machiavellian in their structure. The greatest triumphs of propaganda have
been accomplished not by doing something, but by refraining from doing
it. Great is truth, but still greater is silence about the truth. By simply
not mentioning certain points, by lowering an iron curtain, as Mr Churchill
put it, between the masses and such facts or arguments that local politicians
regard as undesirable. Propagandists have influenced opinion much more
effectively than they could have done by the most eloquent of denials.
Over 92 percent of District Councils, the Police Federation and, I believe,
the synod of the Church of England, all say that these new proposals are
either flawed, wrong or unworkable. Does this government listen? No.
We have a government with absolutely no commitment to resolving the
situation. A government intent on focusing its attention on preventing
offences against itself. A government making itself accountable to no one.
Democratic? The word "despotic" would seem more appropriate.
Framing ambiguous laws aimed at specific sections of the community,
laws which will be interpreted arbitrarily, the great danger in that, is
that a law administered arbitrarily is an uncertain law, and an uncertain
law is not a law. The very roots of freedom and democracy are being denied
the sustenance they exist on. With certain exceptions, such as a mentally
unstable person in secure confinement, if you can still find one open,
there are only two good reasons in England for subjecting a person to prison
or restraint. One is that he is accused of an offence and must be brought
before a court of law, the other is that he has been convicted of an offence
and is undergoing punishment.
A man may not have his liberty of movement interfered
with except as a suspected or actual criminal. Where does that leave the
Gypsy, a criminal by birth, a criminal by virtue of having no legal and
lawful sites to move onto? His liberty of movement denied him. An exile
in his homeland. This is democratic Britain in 1994, the land millions
have died for to preserve us from tyranny and oppression.
Would their sacrifice have been so willing if they could see their beloved
country as it is today?
The corruption that permeates through sport, politics and the law, the
unaccountability of the ruling class, the persecution of the working class,
the indifference and hatred of the underclass, the impotence of the Church
in combating our moral decline, the despair that is choking the life from
the young and old alike, the apathy from those causing and condoning it.
Helplessness hangs like a dense fog over all the land.
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, God had
given him ten laws, ten laws which our creator deemed sufficient for man
to live in peace and harmony, if he heeded them. Today we have 10,000 laws
for each of the ten, all man made. We now have also more starvation, more
misery, more wars, more envy, more hatred, more greed, more murder, more
rape, more injustice, and more social discontent than any time in our history.
Surely there is a moral in there somewhere. Maybe we only need one law,
one law that is constant, that needs no amendments, no sub-clauses, no
That law is: Live and Let Live.