I’m having a dilemma.
On the one hand there is the rule of law: The concept that the law is supreme and everyone is subject to it equally – its one of the key principles of a democratic and liberal society.
On the other is the human consequence of that law being applied, played on our TV screens in full technicolour. Whatever the rights and wrongs of what the Traveller community have done in illegally developing land they own, the British state, or more precisely, Tory run Basildon Council, are using riot police and diggers to force people from homes they have lived in for a decade.
The eviction notice served today is the classic immovable force meeting an unstoppable object. In this case a community who don’t want to be moved on and the bureaucracy of the council planning department. Neither side have wanted to compromise and for a decade or more the situation has remained deadlocked but using the full force of the law, the unstoppable object has gained momentum somewhat.
If twitter is any barometer, the Tories on my feed have been downright gleeful about the whole affair. I’ve seen the residents called pikeys, I’ve seen holocaust jokes and a fair few tasteless lucky heather jokes. I don’t share their glee, and despise the thinly veiled discrimination. If this was a black community or a gay community that sort of behaviour would be rightly and roundly condemned.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of what’s happening people are losing homes they’ve built up themselves, today. They have no-where else to go. I am concerned that those prejudices have played more than a meagre role in the council’s political decision making.
The eviction can’t have been the best way to resolve this situation. Was sending in the bulldozers and the riot police, breaking down fences with axes and tasering people ever going to avoid evoking the imagery of Gaza or Narobi? Did the council really think the residents wouldn’t fight back? Was this really an act resulting from sound and shrewd political judgement?
No doubt, the Travellers have taken the mickey when it comes to breaking planning and zoning laws. Those being evicted (and it should be noted that some of the plots are legal) are living there illegally and have been doing so for a decade or more. It is not reasonable to flout the law and expect no action to be taken against you, and it is not fair on those residents of the town who are living there legally. You can’t reasonably have one rule for one community and allow another to flout it so blatantly.
Yes the actions of the community resisting the eviction notice are unreasonable, it’s hardly a peaceful protest, nonetheless the politicians in charge have a duty to try and come to a negotiated solution. As well as uphold the rule of law, the authorities have a duty to keep the peace.
This is the worst possible outcome for one simple reason. The authorities will get their way, but they will only ‘move along’ the community who will probably go elsewhere, set up a pitch and start all over again. The forced eviction we are witnessing today is no long term solution, quite the contrary – it is an abject failure of politicians to do what they’re meant to do – fix things and build cohesive communities.
No good will come of today’s events.