Land and Freedom

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Michael Howard has again scoured the gutter by attacking travellers and Gypsies.

He has taken aim at families unable to get planning permission for encampments, and proposed a raft of draconian measures to aid their persecution. As home secretary in 1994 he drew up the notorious Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, removing the duty of local authorities to provide caravan sites. Gypsies and travellers were to be 'encouraged' to purchase land and legitimise their sites through the planning system. The act criminalised trespass and gave the police harsh powers of eviction.

While 80 percent of planning applications by the settled community are accepted, 90 percent made by Gypsies and travellers are initially rejected. Tackling such blatant discrimination is not what Howard means by 'fairness'. He wants to channel the anger and disillusionment people rightly feel about New Labour into further hammering some of the most persecuted members of society.

Since the introduction of the 1994 act the amount of public sites has declined by 650. The 1,855 traveller and Gypsy families who have clubbed together to buy land are not the problem. Vacant privately owned land could easily accommodate them if the government was willing to curtail a fraction of the privileges of the large landowners. Many landowners make huge profits by employing travellers and Gypsies as seasonal workers, but would rather set them against poor settled populations than provide a decent wage or facilities. So once again New Labour's subservience to property leaves it unable to provide a credible riposte to the Tories' bigotry.