Simon Hughes, at the Lib-Dem conference, has said that it’s his party’s job to “Rein-in the ruthless Tories”, especially those on the right wing (he means, of course, the conservative wing of the Conservative Party). I don’t know exactly whom he had in mind, but as a eurosceptic and climate-sceptic Tory MEP who wants to see lower taxes and limited government, I suppose I’d qualify for his strictures. Especially as I support the Dale Farm evictions.
I hadn’t intended to return to the Dale Farm travellers (or “squatters”, as they are more accurately called). Dale Farm is not even on my patch (though we have our own problems with such folk in the East Midlands). But I was moved to do so by a couple of comments from Dale Farm squatters which I heard this morning on our highly-esteemed nationalised radio.
A woman (maybe the one in my photograph — who knows?) insisted “We have the same right to stay in our homes as everyone else”. But that’s just the point, lady. You don’t. Most people live in property that they’ve bought or rented. If bought, the buyer will have had his solicitor check out the status of the property and ensure that it is legal and conforms to planning laws. If rented, the landlord will have done so. And you, Mrs. Squatter, have exactly the same rights as everyone else. You are equal under the law. You can go and rent or buy a legal property, like everyone else, and then you will have the same right as everyone else to live there. But right now you don’t, which is why you’re being evicted.
According to press reports, many of these people do in fact own property (presumably legal) in Ireland. They just choose not to live there, and prefer instead to squat illegally in Essex.
The second comment, from a man, was that the Council had spent £18 million on the eviction, to recover a site worth only £2 million. (I have no idea if these numbers are correct, but let’s take them at face value). He condemned this as a waste of public money. But I suggest that the main purpose of the eviction was not to recover the land, but to up-hold the rule of law, in which case it was money well spent.
The squatter used the £18 million figure to condemn the Council for waste. What he ought to have done was to accept responsibility, and apologise, on behalf of the squatters, for wilfully imposing this cost on the good people of Essex, and on their Council. I hope that Essex County Council has its Legal Department considering whether it should seek to recover the costs of the eviction from the squatters. It may be, of course, that they have no assets to recover in the first place. On the other hand, maybe they own extensive properties in Ireland.