I’ve just watched the Channel 4 documentary Kilroy’s Week With The Gypsies. It followed idiotic hobby politician Robert Kilroy-Silk’s week-long expedition onto a gypsy residential site. The gypsies in question were about to be evicted.

Kilroy, fresh from writing one of his inflammatory newspaper articles on travelling communities, went along to “experience a gypsy lifestyle from the inside”. This seemed to be rather the wrong way round, but better late than never.

From Channel 4’s point of view, it was commissioned in the not unfounded hope that Kilroy would say lots of bigoted and stupid remarks on camera. But the subject himself was clearly approaching it as a PR opportunity. He reined in his outspoken views wherever possible, though some seeped out at the edges.

Kilroy was visibly shaken by the fact that he was expected to sleep in a caravan, so he opted to spend most nights in a local hotel instead. Let’s face it, the absence of an on-site sunbed was always going to cause problems. But he did bunk down one night, after complaining about everything from the water pressure to the length of the fold-out bed. Claustrophobia was unavoidable – imagine having to squeeze such a colossal ego into a confined space! – but he struggled on gamely. The big orange hero.

The main thrust of his Romany hosts’ complaint was that they were being evicted from land they’d bought, on the whims of planning laws. His response was predictably simplistic and ill-conceived – “Well, why don’t you just buy houses instead?” – and in the end, the families were evicted.

Evicted from their own land, remember. Not squatting. Not using public land for residential purposes. They had just contravened planning regulations by parking caravans on the site which they owned outright. It is evidently easier for Tesco to get planning permission to build yet another superstore than it is for a Romany community to plant their temporary living structures on empty land which they have paid for in full. Go, as they say across the Atlantic, figure.

In response to this bizarre interpretation of property laws, travelling communities have requested that councils designate areas for them to stay. If they can’t just buy their own land and use that, what else can they do? Unfortunately for them, councils have been under no legal obligation to provide sites since 1994. Guess what? That means they don’t bother.

Now there are too many Romany families chasing too few sites. Those who are evicted from the land they legally own are forced to park on roadsides or borrow friends’ back yards. They’re unwelcome with the tabloid-baited locals, who fear the unknown and “the mess”, and entirely abandoned by the local authorities which are supposed to serve all British residents.

I’m sure the fact that nomadic people live outside the tax and electoral roll structures has absolutely nothing to do with governmental indifference to their welfare. Just as I’m quite sure the hatemongering tabloids don’t pick on gypsies, immigrants and those below the poverty line solely because they’re groups without the financial clout or consumerist inclinations to matter to their advertisers.

Oh wait, no. I do think that.

You know, our world is packed with cruel ironies. (Terri Schiavo, a woman who fell into a coma as a result of severe bulimia, was starved to death by court order.)

It’s also full of frankly incomprehensible decision-making. (Michael Howard, a man whose own parents fled Hitler’s death camps for asylum in Britain, is Britain’s highest profile anti-immigration politician.)

And at the end of Kilroy’s PR-thirsty documentary, a voiceover told us that Nottingham Council had spent £500,000 in court proceedings to evict that single group of gypsy settlers from their very own land. That’s half a million quid. (Americans, we’re talking about not much change from a million dollars here.)

Did it occur to anyone at the council to:

(a) spend that cash on a designated site for the travelling community, as requested;


(b) waive those biased planning laws in cases where they are clearly ludicrous, to prevent the pointless expense of evicting families from land they have owned and occupied peacefully for years?

Apparently it did not. Vacancy at Nottingham City Council for someone with a triple figure IQ, then.

I don’t live in that council tax catchment area, but I’m pretty sure that my own council would have squandered my contributions in the same way. I’m ashamed that my tax can be used to persecute a group of people who choose to live outside the prescription of tabloid-sanctioned society. I’m ashamed at the despicable way in which the corporate media and the Tory party are manipulating public feelings about travellers, with scarcely a murmur of dissent from the usually garrulous Guardian-reading middle class. I’m ashamed that, in 2005, it’s still possible to openly discriminate against an ethnic group with a non-mainstream lifestyle and remain inside the law.

Is it just me?