A pensioner like myself, an elderly man accosted me outside the railway station: “Hey, Mr Gypsy - you. You're a lot of land-grabbers! We don't want you in Crays Hill.” “If you mean Dale Farm,” I said, hiding my anger, “Travellers bought that land.” “Come off it,” he said, coming up closer. “Fucking thieves the lot of you. You should be put off there.”
In the exchange that followed, he said he was voting for the British National Party and wanted Gypsies deported or dead. It was two days before the UK local elections. The BNP candidate in Crays Hill, who had gone door-to-door getting names on a petition against Dale Farm, did not win a seat but got a significant number of votes - more than 700. Throughout south Essex, neo-Nazi support was greatly increased, putting a dozen BNP councillors into town halls in the area. Over Britain as a whole, they more than doubled their political strength.
Much of the BNP effort was concentrated in Grays, Thurrock and Billericay, as well as the big east London borough of Dagenham and Barking. These are home to many thousands of English Gypsies and Travellers, and more recently Roma migrants from Poland, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria. The party message was: protect white culture and get rid of the immigrants, Roma included.
Also campaigning on the white only ticket in Basildon was the English Democracy Party, sporting St George's flag instead of the Union Jack. Lurking in the background, though without successful candidates, the National Socialist Party put out a statement again denying the Holocaust.
The Guardian noted in mid-May that where the BNP makes gains, racial attacks invariably follow. It's calling Barking, Essex, the new far-right capital of Britain.
But for us it's hard to distinguish a difference in attitude and policy between right, far-right and extreme-right. At Dale Farm, especially since the visit last year of former Tory leader Michael Howard, with his anti-Gypsy rhetoric, residents are feeling ever more hemmed in and under siege.
Local Tory boss Malcolm Buckley now has an extra three votes at his command, the election having given Conservative 27, Labour 12 and Liberal Democrats 3. The Conservative decision to spend five million euro demolishing Dale Farm appears to have collected a strong poplar mandate.
”We're a step nearer to the final solution,” commented Kathleen McCarthy, of the new Irish Travellers Movement 2006. “Buckley will carry on ethnic-cleansing whenever he has a chance.” Stopping him for the moment is an upcoming judicial review in the High Court, supported by the Commission for Racial Equality, and planning appeals due to be heard from 1 August.