Sunday, May 22, 2011

How Green is our valley and at whose expense?

“First They came...” - Pastor Martin Niemoller. Well we all know how that famous anti-fascist poem went but we also know that Romani people were slaughtered and victimized by the Nazis just as much as any other minority. Even today in Hungary and Italy, they face daily threats from both the authorities and fascist gangs. The harassment and racism against the Traveller community in this country has also been widely reported over the decades.

It is with extreme regret then that one of the first acts of the Brighton and Hove Greens, who claim that they offer a new approach to radical politics, reverted to the old ways of populism, racism and opportunism. This is a continuation of the old policies of both Labour and Tories. “No we are not racist, but not in our back yard!”

In expelling travellers’ families from Woolard Field, Falmer, the new Green administration joined a long line of councils up and down this country who say yes we would like to help but we do not have the space. Using so-called eco arguments, this has nothing to do with ecology. Woollard's Field is an urban fringe site with - no doubt - a population of Common Lizards and Slow-worms and other common disturbed land and scrub species. The issue for the Greens, though, is about getting the site free'd up for the builders to move in this summer. The critical issue is not about a conflict with threatened wildlife. Translocation of sensistive and protected species is standard practice nowadays. This is a complete failure of political will by the Greens in finding an alternative temporary encampment site.

Joseph Jones, from the Gypsy Council secretariat, said there was a lack of sites across the South East, with more than a thousand pitches needed.He said: "The idea of slow worms taking priority over people - it is amazing really to think animals take priority over people.

"But gypsies and travellers are the lowest on anyone's welfare agenda. They have the lowest health and education outcomes and have the most problems in achieving standards of human rights."

As we know, racism unfortunately takes many forms and in failing to ensure an alternative site that is both suitable and acceptable to the Travellers, makes this decision extremely worrying. Land sell offs being put before the needs of people is unacceptable. This is something we would expect from the previous Council not the Greens.

Questions need to be asked of :
  1. Were representatives of the Travellers and their various organizations consulted or involved before ejecting the families?
  2. What methods of communications were made with the Travellers or were the police and security just sent in ?
  3. What alternative arrangements were made for the families?
  4. What alternatives are being planned?

According to Amnesty International, the Roma community suffers massive discrimination throughout Europe. Denied their rights to housing, employment, healthcare and education, Roma are often victims of forced evictions, racist attacks and police ill-treatment. Living predominantly on the margins of society, Roma are among the most deprived communities in Europe. In some countries, they are prevented from obtaining citizenship and personal documents required for social insurance, health care and other benefits. Romani children are frequently unjustifiably placed in "special schools" where curtailed curricula limit their possibilities for fulfilling their potential.

Let us ensure that the “new” Brighton is not tainted with this breach of human rights. Are the Greens turning red or blue on this and other issues?

1 comment:

  1. With the greatest respect, this article is wide of the mark. The Greens in Brighton have a history of constructive work with the Traveller community and implying that the first sniff of power has turned the Greens into barbarians is not a helpful way to encourage good partnership working. Indeed, one of the new councillors (Liz Wakefield) has worked with the Traveller community and campaigned on their behalf for years.

    From what I have read about the issue, the Travellers were camped on a site that had already been earmarked for development (not by the Greens) and had a sizeable population of rare wildlife, which could only be moved in the Spring. The Council apparently also could face a bill of £100k a month for delays to the project.

    Can you imagine if the first Green Council went ahead with the development without moving the wildlife? Or if they let the Travellers stay as long as they wanted and then had to cut services to pay £300k as the project was 3 months late? It must have been an impossibly hard decision, and Cllr Pete West did say that it was regrettable and that the Council would work hard to increase the number of Traveller sites, something already widely reported.

    Let's give them a chance and see what they do and then judge them on their record in four years' time.