It is fundamental to human nature to dislike people, even to hate people. Individually. It is bigotry to dislike or hate people collectively – to judge someone because of the group they belong to rather than their individual merits.
If you dislike all Jews or all black people you will be labelled a racist. If you take a dislike to travellers then that equally displays prejudice.
I am writing this because of a particularly depressing round of emails from some of my fellow councillors. The thought of travellers coming to Southend-on-Sea, and of us being at all welcoming, gives a number of them the jitters.
Do not get me wrong – I take a zero-tolerance approach to criminality (despite my admiration for the Howard League for Penal Reform) and do expect the full majesty of the law to be visited upon any wrong-doer. But ban them? No.
The travelling community has its fair share of ne’er-do-wells, but then so does the settled community. I have been burgled twice in my current home; it could have been gypsies, but it is far more likely to have been an indigent local.
I do not like litter, yet regularly follow motorists who discard all sorts from their moving vehicles – shall we ban them too?
I do not know whether there is a suitable site for travellers to set up a temporary home whilst visiting the borough. I doubt there are enough traveller sites anywhere (there are twelve in Essex).
I would not want to live next to law-breaking and littering people – but actually, I already do. I get enough reports about fly-tipping, dog poo, drug dealing, etc to know that Southend-on-Sea already has people who ought to be behaving better. Are travellers actually any worse?
I received an email as follows (from a council officer):
We have had a number of incidents of Travellers potentially scouting sites around the town over the last couple of days.
Today we have been advised that Travellers have been evicted from Rainham, are heading along the A13 and could be on their way to Southend for the Easter Weekend.
The Council’s Emergency Planning Officer, XXXXXXXX is liaising with Essex Police on the matter.
Perhaps I am also guilty of a knee-jerk reaction, but I do not recall receiving any emails when others sorts of people come to visit our town.
My one-line response was: Do we have somewhere they can stop, rest and enjoy our hospitality?
This was the cue for some quite silly comments.
I make no apology for attempting to defend travellers, as I would anyone who I thought was being unfairly treated. This is not my first writing on this subject – see The T-word.