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Guardian readers hate gypsies and travellers

If you don’t believe me, read the comments to this, this, this, or this or… do your own search of the archives for more. Note which comments get hundreds of recommendations, and which few or none.

OK, online comments are susceptible to being gamed in various ways. Do not look for statistically representative samples there. Still, if that is what the Guardian is like, just imagine what the Mail is like. (Upon inspection, slightly less angry, although it is difficult to judge.)

It did not used to be like this.

Within a few weeks of moving to my present home seventeen years ago someone mentioned that gypsies – or travellers, people made no distinction then and I will not now delve into the distinctions between Roma, Sinti, or English and Irish travellers – were camped on a nearby field. My neighbours then were a little dubious but not that bothered. I, being new, was more interested in hearing about the gypsies than the people telling me were in telling me. Nowadays? Instant, intense suspicion.

A decade back I hardly ever read about travellers or gypsies in the papers. Nowadays – well, looking at the links above, the Guardian mentioned them on February 5th, January 30th and January 21st.

Was the change in the gypsies themselves? Partly. “Welfare” has continued its steady work of ruin. I read a very fine article in the Telegraph about a decade ago which I cannot now find. It described with sadness rather than hostility how, although gypsies had lived half outside the law since time immemorial, there had at one time been countervailing incentives to build relationships of trust with settled people. The gypsies had regular circuits and seasonal work. They needed pitches, employment and customers. They needed people to remember them from last time as good workers and fair dealers. Welfare has eroded that, and their former means of making a living have gone the way of the cart horse and the tin bucket. Nor is the difficulty just that technology has moved on, it is also that the bureaucratic net of form-filling and taxes has tightened so that the casual jobs they once could do within the law must now be done outside it. As in the drugs trade, in illegal trade in labour where there can be no redress for swindling on either side, such swindling is commonplace.

But I really don’t think it is the gypsies themselves who have changed so much. What has changed in the last few years is that they have become a state-protected group. God help them. State protection is better than state persecution as cancer is better than a knife in the ribs. The scapegoat of the Bible was symbolically loaded with the sins of the people and driven out to starve in the wilderness. The anti-scapegoat of our times is symbolically bedecked with the conspicuous virtue and tolerance of the elite. Someone is set to feed it scraps so that it stays near to the common people, that their lack of virtue and tolerance may be made clear to them.

Some years ago a group of gypsies or travellers broke in and spent some time on land belonging to some people I know. They did damage, most as an accidental side effect of having broken in and lived there, and some for the hell of it, as far as anyone could tell. When hearing about this from several speakers, I noticed an interesting thing. The voices telling of the damage done and what it would cost to repair were annoyed but resigned. The real venom came into their voices when they described the police response, or rather the lack of it. The cops had hummed and hawed and then intimated that ejecting the trespassers was all too much of a political hot potato. If you want to poison a human soul with racial hatred, just do that. Tell him that the laws that burden him do not apply to them. The author of the first Guardian article to which I linked pretends in hope that we still romanticise gypsies; he cites modern authors of gypsy memoirs and George Borrow’s Lavengro and other works (here’s a fascinating snippet from Borrow on gypsy names). The commenters are not interested. What they want to talk about is planning permission: how come they need it and travellers do not. And what enemy of the gypsies could have done them as much harm as whoever thought up this?

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22 comments to Guardian readers hate gypsies and travellers

  • I’m sure that the Guardian comments are not really gamed. What I think happens, on the traveller subject, and on other left wing favourite topics aired on CiF, is that many right wingers such as myself just cannot resist leftie baiting.

    Left wing ideology seems to be particularly deeply and passionately held by its followers, more so than the views of right wingers which in my opinion are more pragmatic and empirical. I find that by injecting liberal doses of reality, common sense or reason on CiF generates useful feedback against which to test my own beliefs. The very angry responses one often gets from the true believers, and their frequent inability to argue logically or politely, reassures me that my beliefs are probably on the right track.

    This may be a cruel sport, but I manage to justify it on the grounds that openning debate to include the views of non-Guardianistas must surely be a good thing. Perhaps more truthfully, exercising my sadistic demon in this way is better than taking it out on my friends or family.

  • Tedd

    john east:

    The very angry responses one often gets from the true believers, and their frequent inability to argue logically or politely, reassures me that my beliefs are probably on the right track.

    I’m not sure that’s the right conclusion to draw. Polite, logical argumentation is too rare throughout the commentosphere, regardless of ideological orientation, so you’re going to get a lot of illogical or impolite responses regardless of the merit of your own ideas. It’s like fooling someone with insufficient background in math by using one of the bogus proofs that 1=2: fun for sport, perhaps, but it doesn’t really prove anything.

  • Natalie,
    Agree 100%. Nice piece. I think I shall borrow (if I may) the cancer knife in the ribs analogy sometimes.

  • Paul Marks

    Well I have a person “of the blood” visiting me in an hour (or two – time is relative….) so I had better be careful what I say……

    A joke of course. In reality there are good gypsies and bad (same as other folk). But I agree that welfare and the new P.C. (how many people know that this idenity politics “Politically Correctness” thing was an invention of the Marxist Frankfurt School back in the 1920s – and that the far left are still using it) “protected group” status has caused a great deal of harm.

  • Tedd,
    Your post raises the old chestnut, “Are socialists less intelligent…..”

    I don’t doubt that left wing intellectuals are often highly intelligent, certainly more clever than I am, it’s their motives and honesty that I would question. As for the socioeconomic groups that vote them into power, that’s another matter.
    I won’t go any further down this road here, it’s far too contentious, and O/T anyway.

    On the question of travellers, the comment that I posted on the CiF thread, which earned me 47 up ticks the last time I looked was:

    “We need urgent legislation to force Guardian writers to live alongside a traveller site for at least six months before they are allowed to write on the subject.”

    (I have had this honour so I wasn’t being hypocritical.)

  • I despise travellers, in particular the ones that go “backpacking” in the “Himarleeyas” in their “gap year” and bore you to death about how people who have to shit in a hole in the ground and live on half a cup of rice a day are really much happier than us pampered “Westerners”.

  • Richard Thomas

    I’m not sure if your past experience is universal, Natalie. I well remember visiting relatives in Bristol and hearing complaints about the “Gypoes” camped down the road. Thieving, cons and poor building work are mostly what I recall. It was so long ago, it’s hard to recall a time exactly but certainly around 1980 give or take a few years.

    Though that kind of thing aside, referring to a previous thread, Gypsies are another group that has a different view of real estate property than what is commonly accepted in the mainstream. And who is to say they’re wrong?

  • pete

    MY cousin’s wife is heavily into genealogy & has been recently been proud to announce that she has discovered a gypsy connection in our family. Now, I do know that family legend has it that our great grandfather sold horses but I’ve no reason to think that, if so, they were nothing but his own.
    I’ve asked cuz & like myself he’s never had the slightest inclination to tarmac a neighbour’s driveway, although he confesses to once laying some crazy paving.

    Do you think we might need counselling?

  • Grumpy Old Man

    I second john east. When Hattie was vying for party leader, I enthusiasticly supported her bid as the best way of rendering Labour impotent. I and many others failed to sway sufficient opinion, but it was great fun while it lasted.
    Lefty- baiting does release negative feelings, but after a while it gets boring – a bit like fishing with dynamite.

  • The question as to why the Gypsies (be they Roma, Sinti, Dom, Lyuli, Lom, Banjara, Pavee or Yeniche) have all been subjected to intolerance and abuse by the settled people since time immemorial.

    However, some of the modern problems with Irish Travellers (Pavee) in recent years has to do with the passing of Amendment to the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994, as inserted by Section 24 of the Housing (Miscellaneous provisions) Act 2002 – colloquially known as the Anti-Trespass Act.

    This effectively makes it illegal for anyone to park a caravan on land not explicitly allowed for that purpose. The effect of this law has been to ‘outlaw’ are large part of the traveller lifestyle. In desperation, they have resorted to come to the UK, which is not their preference and to which their lifestyle is ill suited.

    Under similar circumstances, what would you do?

  • Richard

    “Gypsies are another group that has a different view of real estate property than what is commonly accepted in the mainstream. And who is to say they’re wrong?”

    What is wrong is for them to inflict their understanding of property rights on the settled community. What they do within their own communities is their business. If they want to “borrow” tools from each other, fine. They cannot, however, “borrow” tools from me without my permission.

  • people are afraid of strangers

    the gypsies also don’t love the outsiders the gadjos

    or the jap’s gaijin

    barbarous r ‘ us

    universal values don’t exist

    only universal hate

  • Soy

    soylent green?

    and plenty of people read the Guardian

    generalizations are ….dangerous?

    the snobs und limmies in general hate everything that are unBritish american’s can included

  • Soy Gitano?

    soylent green?

    and plenty of people read the Guardian

    generalizations are ….dangerous?

    the snobs und limmies in general hate everything that are unBritish american’s can included

  • soylent green?

    and plenty of people read the Guardian

    generalizations are ….dangerous?

    the snobs und limmies in general hate everything that are unBritish american’s can included

  • Mike James

    So, Soy Gitano…what are you trying to say?

  • My wife is an avid gypsyologist (take that, spellchecker!), has all of George Borrow’s books, and speaks several dialects of the language conversationally. She is even owner of the domain name Gypsies.com.

    I asked her once why gypsies seemed so universally reviled, and her reply was immediate: almost every conflict with non-gypsies comes down to a fundamental difference of opinion as to what it means to own property. Oh sure, someone will drag religion into it from time to time, but for the most part, it gets back to property conflicts.

  • Richard Thomas

    John Galt, you illustrate my point about real estate property.

    Richard, I am just talking about real estate property. When a nomadic people have been using land for centuries and perhaps millennia, what is the libertarian way to reconcile that with settlers? Regular property violation is, of course, inexcusable as such people tend to have a similar outlook viz their own property.

  • Richard Thomas

    Darryl, I’d be interested to hear the gypsy perspective on non-real estate property. (Hearing the perspective on actual real estate property would probably be interesting too. I’m only working on vague assumptions there).

  • Ah Samizdata – it always comes down to property rights!

    (It usually does but the imp of the perverse snatched me)

    I wonder if Mark Wadsworth has any thought as to Gypsies and LVT?

  • Sigivald

    John: Perhaps they should get jobs and settle down.

    Or pool some money, buy land, and give themselves permission to park their trailers there.

    “But we’ve been doing this for centuries” is not, in itself, morally justifying – countless examples abound in history of things that should be ceased immediately and permanently despite being age-old habit.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Instead of posting this link


    which is 357 characters long and failed the first time I tried it (page view quota exceeded)

    one could post this link


    which is only 57 characters and, I suspect, a lot more reliable.

    (I recently read Romany Rye. Borrow was a man who knew how to g=carry a grudge, wasn’t he?)