Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Monbiot - a new Jeremy Sandford ?

George Monbiot is horrified at racism towards gypsies, as shown by the burning of "pikey" effigies at a Sussex bonfire. What would he think about the following incident ?

It was giro day, and the Price travelling family, or their menfolk, had arrived at the DSS office in the High Street to collect the child benefit and social security. A group of men from my village were waiting for them in vans, armed with iron bars and baseball bats. The Prices fought back but were outnumbered and badly beaten in front of horrified shoppers. Several were hospitalised, some for months.

But no outraged editorials were penned in the Guardian or Independent. The Gypsy Council didn't get an interview on the Today programme. The incident slipped under national news radar. Why ? The perpetrators were another branch of the same travelling family, the branch who lived on a site at the edge of my village. No-one in the village seemed particularly fussed - the general view was of a rather spectacular and large-scale 'domestic'.

Police eventually arrested the culprits, several of whom, including the patriarch, served prison sentences.

Monbiot worries about racism, I'm more worried about the enduring hostility to lower-middle class people like the "good burghers of Firle" from upper-class snobs who romanticise travellers. Though to give him his due, he managed to avoid the usual net curtains and privet hedge cliches used by those who think true evil comes with a neat lawn and a second-hand Mondeo.

His logic defies belief. After giving chapter and verse on the sufferings of gypsies ("Throughout eastern Europe, the Roma are still denied employment, herded into ghettoes and beaten to death by skinheads." What, all of them ? How about 'throughout Britain, old people are still denied employment, herded into nursing homes and beaten to death by muggers." ? ) he wonders "why, despite so much evidence of persecution, are expressions of hatred towards Gypsies still acceptable in public discourse" ?

Well, if gypsies are the subject of State and private persecution in the UK, then surely you can see that the likelihood of people saying bad things about them is greater than if they were a cosseted and lauded group ? Though I would query how public a discourse Firle Bonfire Society's parade might have been, were it not for the BBC and people who write Guardian articles.

But he knows why we do the evil that we do. "Envy lies at the root of racism. Racists associate Jews with money and black people with sexual power, but our hatred of Gypsies may arise from a still deeper grievance, the envy of a people whose instinct for continual movement is frustrated by the constraints of the humdrum settled life."

Now there's a grain of truth in that last part. Anyone who's witnessed a suburban cricket or rugby side on tour, or young Brits on holiday, knows the wild, liberating power of (temporary) rootlessness, manifested though it may be in drunken vandalism or sexual misbehaviour. But the first part is surely as wrong as wrong can be. Did the poor people of Poland and the Ukraine really associate the (equally poor) Jews with money ? Did they envy them ? Did the slave-owners of America and Jamaica, or the British imperialists of Africa, associate black people with sexual power ? Did they envy them ? To ask the question is to answer it.

Surely these are more modern concepts. Perhaps they tell us more about George Monbiot than about racism. Projection, anyone ?

Anyway, the good news for George Monbiot is that those few Roma who escape being herded and beaten by skinheads will be starting to arrive here next May, when the Eastern European countries join the EU. The existing European nations, fearing a sudden influx of Eastern Europeans, have imposed a seven year restriction period on immigration from the East.

Only one major EU nation will allow unrestricted immigration immediately. Guess which one.

Currently the British Government maintain representatives at Prague Airport whose job it is to stop illegal immigrants, mostly 'Roma' gypsies, from boarding flights to the UK. From May next year all the citizens of Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic, including the 1.6 million Roma, will be free to reside, work or claim benefit in the UK.

The Government are relaxed about this prospect, Migrationwatch are not.

"The really wild card is the Roma question. A UN study last year found that 80% were unemployed and one in five were permanently hungry. The governments of Eastern Europe have been urged to pass laws to outlaw discrimination. It is, however, hard to say what impact this will have on the lives of the Roma and how they will perceive the alternative of migrating to Western Europe, particularly Britain.

Any forecasts are highly questionable for such changed circumstances. However, the Home Office upper estimate of 13,000 is both highly theoretical and divorced from the realities of the new situation after accession. It is almost worthless. A more realistic “back of the envelope calculation” suggests 40,000 a year. A major factor will be the reaction of the 1.6 million Roma in the candidate countries to the new opportunities which they will enjoy."

George Monbiot's romantic view of travellers is reminiscent of the late Jeremy Sandford, playwright, travellers advocate, and author of "Gypsies" (quotes when I find my copy), another upper-class enviro-hippy with a dislike of straight suburban types. A hilarious Telegraph obituary here - I particularly like Sandford's portrait of his second wife.

"Sometimes she spends part of the night roaming the woods," wrote Sandford. "And at times she has refined her spirit through gazing at a candle. I return to find her composing a song with the help of her autoharp while concocting a flower remedy by distilling the essence of rare flowers."

Very Spinal Tap.

"Throughout his life Sandford continued to dislike the middle class. Either side of that bracket lay an aristocracy, whether of the dispossessed or the rich. He was a snob in both areas."

Peter Briffa also takes aim at 'Moonbat'.