1. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Statement on Dale Farm, 1 September 2011, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, posted here
2. Vanessa Redgrave, quoted in 'London court rules Dale Farm eviction can proceed', 31 August 2011, posted on www.thejournal.ie
3. Ian Abley, 'Pickles Plans a Pogrom', 23 April 2011, New Geography, reposted here
4. Vanessa Redgrave, quoted in 'Dale Farm travellers lose High Court eviction appeal', 31 August 2011, posted on www.bbc.co.uk
5. Vanessa Redgrave, quoted in 'Vanessa Redgrave and bishops fight Dale Farm eviction', 30 August 2011, posted on www.bbc.co.uk
6. Lewis Goodall, 'The Dale Farm eviction is the ugly side of localism', 2 September 2011, The Staggers Blog, New Statesman, posted here
7. Tony Ball, quoted in Rhiannon Bury, 'UN calls for peaceful solution to Dale Farm', 2 September 2011, Inside Housing
8. Arthur Martin, 'Anger as UN says: Don't knock down illegal traveller site until "culturally appropriate" homes are found', 2 September 2011, The Daily Mail, Mail Online, posted on www.dailymail.co.uk
9. Rhiannon Bury, 'Homeless could live in boats and caravans', 2 September 2011, Inside Housing
10. Rhiannon Bury, 'Shapps calls for boats to ease housing crisis', 30 August 2011, Inside Housing
The United Nations will not stop the forced eviction at Dale Farm
Experience has repeatedly shown that the British Government chooses when to invoke or ignore resolutions from the United Nations. It is obvious that the UN is only as strong as the strongest member governments allow it to be. The UN allows the competing interests between the unequally powerful member governments to be talked through, and often talked about endlessly. For many nationalists who don't understand the mediating role the institution plays the UN always represents an intrusion. For those who imagine the UN to be a positive force for internationalism it is never doing enough to intrude in the affairs of national governments, whether elected or imposed. When it acts the UN has often made conflicts worse, and has allowed competing national interests to hide behind the appearance of unity. Often support for the UN comes from those who lack the political strength to challenge their own governments at home. Invariably the UN make promises, and prove unable to solve problems. The UN is an undemocratic mess, and makes a mess of most situations regardless of good intentions. Always beware the consequences of good intentions.
It is best to avoid relying on the UN. Many movements have seen hopes dashed, and their efforts end in disaster thanks to involvement with the UN. The UN today promise much for Dale Farm, but cannot stop the forced eviction. This is a tragedy for the Gypsies and Travellers.
The Dale Farm Gypsies and Travellers have turned to the UN for support because they lack any other political means to confront a Local Authority that has turned against them with government support. The wider population is sadly not rallying to support them against the stupid planning law. So the Dale Farm residents have understandably welcomed the intervention of The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The OHCHR committee has called on David Cameron's government '... to suspend the planned eviction which would disproportionately affect the lives of the Gypsy and Traveller families, particularly women, children and older people, and create hardship, until culturally appropriate accommodation is identified and provided.' (1) Cameron will ignore the appeal, and the Light Blue UN flags that now fly over Dale Farm, making a few statements about the sovereignty of Britain and its long established planning law.
The call to suspend the planned eviction will be ignored, as were the appeals from Special Rapporteur to the OHCHR, Raquel Rolnik, and from Rita Izsák, an Independent Expert on Minorities reporting to the United Nations Human Rights Council at the end of August 2011. As the OHCHR observed, some of the Romani and Irish Traveller members of the Dale Farm community own the land. In fact the Gypsy and Traveller families were encouraged by the Local Authority to buy the old scrapyard in the mid-1990s as a place to make their home. However, some families have been repeatedly denied planning permission for their caravans, due to the Green Belt policy applied by the Local Authority, as part of wider national government planning law. The UN OHCHR understand this so far, but has failed to draw out the point that there is no reason for the Local Authority to designate Dale Farm as undevelopable Green Belt.
Dale Farm supporter Vanessa Redgrave told the Irish journal that '... I am certain that the eviction of the Dale Farm Traveller families is illegal under international, mandatory, human rights conventions. I am appalled that such an eviction can be upheld by our government'. (2) The trouble for the Dale Farm residents is that the British government does not care. Indeed, the more the Dale Farm residents argue their human rights are being denied as an ethnic group, the more determined government seems to be to ignore the UN insistence that Gypsies and Travellers have a Human Right to Adequate Housing that fits their culture. Redgrave may be "appalled", but the government is perfectly willing to treat the UN with contempt to support a Local Planning Authority that has decided to attack an unpopular and self-organised community for daring to house itself.
The UN insists on the Human Right to Adequate Housing as '... the right of every woman, man, youth and child to gain and sustain a safe and secure home and community in which to live in peace and dignity.' Yet this statement has no force behind it. It is wishful thinking. Allowing the UN flag to be flown is easy. It is not as if the UN will be sending a division of peace-keeping troops with Light Blue helmets to stand guard over Dale Farm, to force Cameron's government to take notice. The UN would not dare. Focused on formal rights the UN OHCHR can be easily ignored by the government who choose to see this as a planning issue. Yet the Local Authority could at any time, and even now, choose to remove a Green Belt planning designation they have applied to the scrapyard as a frustration to Gypsies and Travellers. Of course the Local Authority will not relent, and particularly with the weight of national government behind them pushing for a Pogróm. (3) The Local Authority is intent on devastating Dale Farm, when they could have let them alone.
As the High Court made it's decision on 31 August 2011 to allow the forced eviction to proceed Redgrave told the BBC that '... the whole situation is really about planning - there is no crime that has been committed'. For Redgrave the eviction at Dale Farm is '... totally unreasonable and irresponsible'. (4) The day before she had publicly visited Dale Farm residents with Stephen Cottrell, the Bishop of Chelmsford, and Thomas McMahon, the Catholic Bishop of Brentwood. They promised '... the people of Dale Farm will go if there is an alternative site provided for them', while objecting that '... Basildon Council will not sit down with these people and discuss that'. (5)
While pleading for last minute negotiation the Actress and the Bishops badly underestimate the determination of this government and the Local Authority to ignore what they know to be ineffective appeals for housing rights. Those with the planning power have the authoritarian willingness to act as if they were not responsible for planning policies, or their administration. This is cynical and deliberate, allowing the Local Authority to pose as the victim. Yet it is the Local Authority that has used it's destructive planning power against people who have dared to refuse to move on and go homeless. The trouble is that by appealing to international human rights law the Dale Farm residents have also sought to appear as victims. They were more idependently minded when they set about housing themselves, knowing that over 90 per cent of planning applications from Gypsies and Travellers are initially rejected. No tinkering with planning administration will address the prejudice that Gypsies and Travellers face. (6) Collective action is their strength.
Dale Farm really isn't an example of Ethnic Cleansing. It surely feels like that to the Dale Farm residents and their ardent supporters, like Grattan Puxon, but it isn't. It involves racism, and that makes the Gypsies and Travellers an easy target for the government and Local Authority.
What matters more is the sensible contempt the Gypsies and Travellers have for the stupidity of the British planning law that is failing to house their own community, and the wider population. They are willing to act collectively as a community to solve a mundane problem like cheap housing. Their tragedy is that the wider population largely supports the enforcement of the planning law against them, as most people clearly imagine the Green Belt to be sacrosanct. That may change.
What really scares the British government is a proliferation of this sort of collective action, so that "unauthorised" developments become increasingly commonplace among the wider population. That would shake the planning system, and by rattling the housing market in more ways than Gypsies and Travellers do alone, worry the financial system that depends on the securitisation of mortgage lending. The government is encouraging the Local Authority to devastate Dale Farm as an example to anyone in the wider population who might dare to act collectively to house themselves cheaply on Britain's abundant redundant farmland.
Thrust into the national media, Basildon Council Leader Tony Ball clearly believes that '... the action Basildon Council taking is about upholding the law, which the travellers have broken. It has nothing to do with their lifestyle or background. We would treat any member of the local community who developed or built on green belt land without permission exactly the same'. (7) Whether or not Ball shares popular prejudices against Gypsies and Travellers is hardly the point. He is clearly worried that others might follow their example, and question Local Authority planning decisions head on. If only that fear had more immediate reality.
Yes it is about planning - the planning power exercised by the state to deny development rights to landowners, and particularly landowners who dare to build on their own land. It is a pity that the wider population have not yet learned from the positive example the Dale Farm residents have set - that when the planning system fails to ensure adequate housing, we can always try to house ourselves. It is no surprise that when isolated from the wider population, except to the extent that they experience hostility and discrimination, the Gypsies and Travellers have come to rely on empty promises like the Human Right to Adequate Housing. In so far as they hope for UN support the Dale Farm residents have lost sight of their own achievement in attempting to house themselves. Their reward for that independence has been a decade of criticism and frustration, only increasing the risk that they will lose any money spent.
Yet the Dale Farm residents fight on... and need support from the wider population. Predictably enough The Daily Mail whines that '... more than 100 anarchists and seasoned activists have descended on the site over the past few days'. (8) Many more people should show their support, and not be put off by the cheap taunts of the national press.
The Local Authority chooses to absolve itself of responsibility for trapping the Dale Farm residents in the planning law they administer on behalf of national government. The government itself chooses to ignore the formally recorded calls and appeals of the United Nations committees. Organisations who might agree with the UN, like Amnesty International, can say what they like - this government is not listening.
This government is not listening, but they are also desperate for any ideas about housing. While Inside Housing quoted Tony Ball over UN criticism of the forced eviction, they reported that the struggling Communities and Local Government department responsible for the planning system was hoping to allow caravans, mobile homes, and houseboats as "suitable" permanent accommodation. (9) Housing Minister Grant Shapps was warming to the idea that "unconventional housing" can be used to partially tackle the evident problems of under supply and unaffordability. (10) This may come too late to help the Dale Farm residents, who have exhausted the legal means available to them, but it shows this government holds no promise of planning to provide adequate housing for the wider population. Many more of us will be living like Gypsies and Travellers. We must think independently of the state, as Gypsies and Travellers do, and plan collectively to house ourselves.
This government and every Local Authority in Britain should be ashamed of the way they hold planning power, but use it destructively, and often with extreme prejudice against people who just want a home. The United Nations interventions will not stop the Dale Farm eviction, unless the government loses it's nerve at the last moment. The political problem is that the wider population is not collectively scaring the government.
Ian Abley 04.09.2011
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