Thursday, 5 April 2012

The police must step in to make sure Brighton Traveller meeting doesn't stray into hate speech

After months of consultation with residents and hours of officer time Brighton and Hove City Council last month approved plans to build a new permanent traveller site in the city - alongside the temporary facility at Horsdean.

This is a step forward in terms of allowing members of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities who can demonstrate a local connection to our city to live here - without giving up their traditional caravan-dwelling lifestyle.

It will only have 16 pitches (almost certainly not enough) but seems likely to have a major impact in terms of dealing with the many inequalities faced by the GRT communities: basically, they do less well at school, are likely to die much younger, disproportionately to be the victims of crime and domestic violence, and so on - a really good summary of these issues was published early this week by, of all people, the Government. A permanent site will undoubtedly help reverse some of these outcomes, at least for those families lucky enough to get a pitch.

But judging by the words of some local politicians, you'd think  the council had just authorised a nuclear power station on their doorstep!

Of course there are always tensions between Brighton's settled and GRT communities: but to my mind the new site will lessen these.

That's why I'm so disappointed that some politicians seem to be exacerbating them.

Take Hove's Tory MP Mike Weatherley, for example.

Next week he will hold a public meeting at the site (despite the fact that it isn't even in his Hove constituency!), not to try and dampen down and address any concerns, but, as far as I can see, to stoke them up.

His website proclaims:

Any resident who has concerns about the Green Party’s soft stance on the illegal invasion of our parks by travellers is encouraged to attend.
Residents have quite frankly had enough of travellers infringing the law at their expense.

Well, we'll see what happens, of course.

Residents have got an absolute right to freely discuss any matters of concern to them - especially when it concerns public policy - and politicians have an absolute right to facilitate those discussions by hosting public meetings and so on.

But such discussions must remain lawful - and politicians must be quick to stamp on any hate speech, racist mutterings or incitement to violence.

And when politicians are themselves guilty of that themselves, the police must take swift, decisive action.

Otherwise, we'll see a familiar pattern play itself out: tolerated hate speech turning into actual, physical violence: whether that takes the form of a 'torched' caravan, or an escalation in the bullying of GRT children attending our schools, or anything else.

I'm sure no-one, least of all any of our city's politicians, would want to see that.

I hope police will attend the meeting with enough numbers - and resolve - to send out a very clear signal: that they will not tolerate any form of hate speech in our city, whether it's directed at GRT communities or anyone else, and that they will make arrests if that's appropriate response.


  1. As part of the "settled community" i believe passonately in EQUALITY. That mean EQUALITY for the settled community and GRT community. May I there fore suggest that the settled community should not pay council tax, refuge cleaning charges and of course be let off of parking fines, towing charges and then we are becoming EQUAL

  2. Personally I'd rather seek solutions - like permanent sites for those with a local connection - that bring more GRT people into the local community. I want everyone to pay their way - years of neglect of the issue locally and nationally have exacerbated the frustration you feel.
    I want equality for all - but I don't think relaxing current rules help attain that - yes it's wrong to avoid tax (personally I think we've got more of a problem with the super-rich than with Travellers), but two wrongs don't make a right!