You see, my Twitter mate Uncle Marv really isn't too enamoured with Gypsies, in fact it's probably fair to say that he has a passionate dislike for them. I have to disagree and mentioned to 'Unc' that I'd explain why.
I've had a long acquaintance with Travellers and Gypsies (there is a difference though I'm still unclear of it myself, so for this article take one as also meaning the other and vice versa) stretching back to the early 80s up to and including the present day.
The first I met were a couple of guys who turned up in the Puddlecote-owned pub when I was a young teen. Ordering half a pint each, they sat quietly and chatted whilst some regulars demanded Mr Puddlecote Snr throw them out. He being fair and liberal (well, as a Puddlecote, he would be) told them that he may do but only if they did something to merit it, which didn't happen.
It didn't happen the next night either as they sipped on their half pints again, whilst again some regulars decided they knew what was best for the Mr Puddlecote Snr's pub. Ignoring the naysayers, and curious as to why these two harmless guys were so derided, Mr P approached the new arrivals to have a chat (lesson for kids, that's what landlords used to do in pubs). They instantly bristled.
"Are you fer barring us?", they asked
"No, why would I?"
"We seen yer talking there, thought that's why you was coming over, like", his eyes scanning the bar as he talked in a rural drawl
"Look, if you respect my pub, you're quite welcome to stay. OK?"
"Yer a Gent, Boss"
And then they had a bit of a chat. Just the usual stuff when one meets new people, really. That's when they ordered their first pints. They had stuck to halves for the simple reason that they expected to be turfed out at any minute merely for being from a Traveller community. It's what tended to happen to them.
Later that night, they asked if it was OK to bring other members of their "family" into the pub. Yes, that's right, they asked. Mr P replied that the same rules applied - no trouble, no problem - so they slowly increased in number. Four came in the next night, then five, then six, then - although there were about a dozen in all - they turned up regularly in small groups of that kind of size just as any other subset of customers.
They were good customers too, spending well and joining in with pub activities just like anyone else. A couple joined the darts teams and others - once the mistrust evaporated - would prop up the bar in friendly discussion with our other regulars.
A barrier had been broken down and those who opposed their inclusion that first night were as willing to chat to them as anyone else. A bit rough and ready, yes, but not any different to a roadworker with a cockney accent or a scouse bricklayer.
Fast forward nearly three decades and I have had no reason to change my view of Gypsies. My company employs around a dozen and, although feisty by nature, they are some of the best workers we have. They'll try it on occasionally - as do non-Traveller employees - but are perfectly accepting when knocked back, and are very reliable. Outside of work, I've also a few social Traveller acquaintances who are entertaining, witty and respectful, especially to Mrs P.
It shouldn't be difficult to understand why. Gypsies and Travellers have a deep commitment to family and community, whilst also respecting elders implicitly and possessing a very strong work ethic.
Yes, really. One of the biggest myths I hear about Travellers is that they don't pay taxes and just rip us off for our benefits, but nothing could be further from the truth in my experience. The men, especially, have a pride in being able to make their own income and will work harder than I've ever done in my life, without complaint. Remember that one reason for their being called Travellers is quite simply that they used to travel to where the work is ('used to' being operative and to be tackled further on) just as ultra-Conservative Tebbit was exhorting years ago, and as Iain Duncan-Smith advised recently.
They pay taxes too, and many would be very happy to pay more (I'll expand on that later as well). In most Traveller communities, the shame of not earning one's own living still exists where it has disappeared amongst other, more accepted, sections of society. Considering the determination of the MSM to only portray Travellers in a bad light, and at every opportunity** - anti-Gypsy articles sell many a newspaper - you won't find too many stories about egregious benefit fraud involving those who are UK-born.
But instead of all this being seen as a good thing, as one would expect, it is linked to the problem that the British population at large generally have with Gypsies and Travellers ... their unapologetic adherence to tradition.
And this is what I find most odd about criticism of Gypsies. They are proud of their traditions and want to hang onto them yet are constantly being coerced to change by the same people who spit bile at British traditions being threatened.
They're disliked because they live differently; they're looked down on for being tacky or unambitious; and most of all, they are marginalised for not conforming to how others wish them to live. For not moving with the times; for not being 'progressive', one could say.
As a libertarian, I can feel every sympathy with them.
As alluded to earlier, Travellers mostly don't travel anymore, the vast majority live in houses and are therefore generally tolerated if still not entirely trusted. But for the minority who still wish to travel for seasonal work, or even who don't wish to live in a house as they are told they should, the irrational hatred is absurd.
The obligation on local authorities to find somewhere for them to settle was abolished in the 90s, so Travellers now buy their own land on which to live. Of course, once word gets out they have no chance of actually living there since a public whipped up by an unsympathetic media will routinely object to any plans they submit. So they began to move in and apply for retrospective planning permission, but Eric Pickles has stopped that now, too.
Remember that if they were allowed to live on the land that they own, their buildings would become taxable in any number of different ways, and they'd be pleased to pay it. Bloody tax-dodging Gypsies, eh?
They will live in a house like everyone else, or we won't let them live anywhere. Well, not near us, anyway, that just wouldn't do .. and of course, 'us' are everywhere.
A love of family, a natural propensity to work for a living wherever that work may be, respect for one's elders and refusal to dispense with tradition are surely Tory qualities by their very nature. Yet the laws which have most denied Travellers from living happily alongside the rest of us have all emanated from Tories, and the anti-Gypsy sentiment is mercilessly pumped out from Tory-leaning press.
Now, Uncle Marv pointed specifically to criminality being the problem. In fact, he uniquely pointed to criminality being the problem. I make no excuses for anything that Gypsies do which break any law (well, apart from one, obviously), but they aren't criminals because they are Gypsies, they are just criminals. Just as any other group of people shouldn't be dismissed for the few who cause trouble, neither should Gypsies, and d'you know what? Gypsies themselves would massively agree with that, it's not some conspiracy.
Like my example at the start of this, err, rather long piece (that coffee is keeping you awake, yes?) hopefully shows, if you extend some trust and respect to Travellers, they will return it. If you show them nothing but derision and condemnation, they're not going to respect you very much, either. It's not a Gypsy thing, it's just human nature.
The Libertarian view, I venture, is to treat Travellers of any hue as one finds them and to allow them to live how they choose as long as it doesn't harm others. If it does, then they are to be tackled appropriately and I bet you tons they'd fully co-operate, too. The (mostly) Tory press approach which so permeates public perception is to deny Gypsies their traditions until they comply with the consensus, the state invariably follows for fear of a voter backlash.
Our current approach to travelling communities is counteractive, self-perpetuating, and doomed to eternal failure. Sorry, Uncle Marv.
** This accident is a near family tragedy, this wilful attack on a family won't make any national newspaper.