Or so it seems. More to the point, the objects of that liberal conscience take full advantage of its owners naivety and stupidity. Funnily enough the rest of us are not remotely surprised at George Monbiot's predicament:
We had no idea how to handle them without offending our agonised liberal consciences. They saw this and exploited it ruthlessly.
Oh what a delight to see this posh leftie getting what might be called his comeuppance. You've lost count at the number of times some trendy or other has, through misty-eyes and rose-tinted glasses waxed lyrically at the traveller lifestyle. At how we should protect - even sustain - this culture rather than, on first sight of an old Transit towing a caravan, call the cops.
And this is the whole point. We can and should make the distinction between allowing people to roam around in caravans (just so long as they're not in front of me on the A64) and not allowing people to ignore the law. If someone wishes to live this life that's fine but they have to clear up their mess, refrain from destroying property to find pitches, try not to see public parks or cricket squares as camp sites and respect laws such as not stealing.
I recall sitting in a caravan at Mary Street in Bradford talking to a family (or rather several generations of women - didn't see a man) while eating cheap, shop-bought cakes and drinking sweet tea. Nice they were - illiterate but perfectly pleasant and I dealt with them on that basis. But I have no illusions about some of their relations - those still travelling, those on permanent sites like Mary Street and those now in houses. These people are just as George Monbiot describes - not all of them, all the time but enough for that "call the cops" reaction to be justified.
I also recall sitting in a neighbour's house with a dozen or so travellers - and friends of travellers - drinking and making music. I was asked - I'm the local councillor after all - what I thought of travellers. My response - as I recall - was that travellers are fine just so long as they don't steal stuff and break stuff. And that I'd like it if they got permission before they parked up. This was accepted and I was able to listen to the stories - most of these guys were in the antiques trade (in that loveable rogue, Lovejoy-esque way) and travelled from show to show up and down the country.
We have always to take people as they come. Rather than making sweeping assumptions about "groups marginalised by the concentration of control and ownership of land in Britain", we should look at them and decide whether they're good or bad, whether we want to associate with them and if they might be a threat to the peace. If we don't take this view, they will take full advantage of our indulgence with the result that:
At night they roamed the camp, staffies straining at the leash, cans of Special Brew in their free hands, shouting "fucking hippies, we're going to burn you in your tents!"
Part of me wants to laugh at the 'hippies'' predicament but part also thinks that there were children there (well I've never seen a hippy camp without children) who must have been terrified. What depresses me is that George and his mates didn't call the cops, didn't go for help - it was crimes elsewhere by these people that got them dealt with.
In closing, one last traveller tale. A friend of mine was a police officer in Essex - Grays and South Ockenden to be precise - and spoke of receiving the call announcing the arrival of some travellers. His response - as the grandson of travellers - was to ask what they had done.
"Nothing"; came the reply.
"What would you like me to do then" my friend asked?
"Arrest them before they do something!"
The right approach, I guess, lies somewhere between treating travellers as "marginalised" by our evil capitalist world and arresting them on sight. Society - that's us the taxpayer - invests a fair amount in these folk: providing designated sites, employing 'liaison' officers, setting on special education units and preparing grand strategies for working with "gypsies and travellers". I guess what society wants is for those travellers to respect this fact and cut the rest of society a little slack. That and stop breaking the law quite so often.