'The State It's In' - Squall Editorial
Travels In A Political Arena
Squall 5, Oct-Nov 1993, pg. 3.
When parliament goes into summer recess each year, journalists enter what they term the ‘silly season’. In the absence of the news coverage normally provided by parliamentary activity, other stories (often ‘silly’) receive more attention.
Last summer there was a heavy media assault on travellers and festivals, it seemed that hardly a week went by when Joe Public’s fear of travellers wasn’t stirred up with nightmare stories.
This year, global politics, particularly in Bosnia-Herzogovina, have consistently occupied the pages and, combined with the number of column inches spent taking the michael out of John, it has brought media relief to travellers who have been the usual targets for bored word processors.
Funnily enough, having used the ‘silly season’ to his advantage in the past, John Major wasn’t so happy with it this year. After an article written by Norman Lamont appeared to criticise his leadership, he was quoted as saying: 'This has been a silly season story for some time and I think it will prove to be silly.” (Ooooh what eloquence, what oratory!)
There was an attempt to raise a few PR points in June, however, when a source-less announcement appeared in the press declaring that squatting was to be criminalised with a punishment of a £5000 fine or 6 months imprisonment John Major was “getting tough” we were told by the press and a week of anti-squatter/traveller vitriol followed. But the story was a press fabrication/ home office plant and could not be attributed to any official source. The Home Office say that they had nothing to do with the announcement and reiterated that they are still committed to strengthening the law but that this might not entail outright criminalisation. They say that the specific legislative proposals will be announced via the Queen’s Speech in October.
We do know that any proposals concerning squatting will be a part of a much larger Criminal Justice Bill, which may also include an ‘aggravated trespass’ section to be used against Travellers, rave parties, press intrusions, protests like Twyford Down and hunt saboteurs. It is destined to be a piece of legislation around which the Government will hope to rally both the Tory faithful and its flagging public popularity.
Meanwhile, SQUASH (Squatters’ Action for Secure Homes) held a public meeting at Conway Hall on July 26th, that was attended by over 80 people. The aftermath of the meeting has seen SQUASH rapidly expand in terms of personnel, with the formation of six sub-groups dealing with lobbying, media, networking, actions, liaisons and fund-raising.
As regards any legislation concerning travellers and the repeal of the Caravan Sites Act, the DOE still stands by its March statement of this year. This said that legislation will be initiated when parliamentary time permits but what and when is still unknown. A spokesman for the Gypsy Sites Division of the DOE said early in September that, with a month to go before parliament re-sits, they still did not know whether any proposals would be presented in the Queen’s Speech.
For more articles about the Criminal Justice Act and Public Order Act 1994 - covering the build-up, the resistance, the consequences, plus commentary of discussions in the House of Commons about it click here.