A West Midlands UKIP MEP, who is the grandson of a Romany Gypsy, is calling for the chronic shortage of traveller sites across the UK to be addressed.
This is EU Roma Week and James Carver has taken the opportunity to press for a national debate on why local authorities appear to spend more on enforcement than on provision for travellers.
He made the call despite advice that to support this minority group would be “political suicide”, believing that politicians should stand up for causes they genuinely support.
Mr Carver said: “I make absolutely no apology for who I am, and from where I come. Furthermore, by virtue of my belief that I am the only elected British Parliamentarian from a Romany background, I’m proud to use my unique position to highlight and challenge the public misconceptions surrounding the very real problems facing our traveller communities in modern day Britain.
“What is more, as a UKIP politician, for me to be saying as such, should hopefully draw better attention to this subject than what you’d expect to hear from the usual quarters.
“If this should turn into an act of “political suicide” as suggested, then so be it. Maybe, if more politicians were prepared to use their own elected positions to speak up for the causes that they genuinely support, no matter how unpopular those causes may be, then who knows, we might even see a better perception of our political class, and possibly even a greater public re-engagement with politics in general.”
Mr Carver said the shortage of official sites across the UK and subsequent unauthorised settlements, which led to further taxpayer expense and resentment, could be avoided if examples such as the Leeds Gate project were followed.
He said: “This involved setting up temporary travellers’ pitches in Leeds, increasing community relations whilst radically reducing the number of physical enforcements and saving the local ratepayer £200,000 in costs.
“This should be an example of how to address this issue, to everyone’s benefit, rather than hiding behind the usual nimbyism and scare stories.”
Out of 751 MEPs, Mr Carver is one of only three of Romany ancestry, others being Swedish and Romanian, and as a UKIP MEP – “not being flavour of the month” – he was not surprised to be left off the various invitations and platforms marking EU Roma Week, despite his frequent speeches in plenary sessions on this subject.
His paternal grandmother was Nanna Rose, a Romany Gypsy, whose place of birth on her birth certificate reads as “a caravan, West Street, Dartford”.
She married ‘a gorja’, (a non-gypsy), and growing up was tough for Mr Carver’s father, who was the eldest child, and his siblings.
Mr Carver said: “Dad would speak of his early years growing up in real poverty, reminiscing about the times when money was so tight that he would be sent to the butcher to buy a pig’s head to be made into brawn, or how my grandfather would cycle from Biggin Hill to work at the Elephant and Castle, laying rabbit snares on Question Common on his journey.
“He would check them on his return, bringing home any unfortunate quarry for the pot. My Auntie Shirley once revealed to me that, up until her teens, her bed ‘mattress’ was a hessian sack, stuffed full of old umbrella covers.”
His dad, who suffered from alcoholism, started off by selling reconditioned umbrellas around the London markets, before building up a successful bespoke umbrella-making business, which Mr Carver continued to develop, before entering politics.
In a sober moment, his dad dished out some well-remembered advice, to never forget where he came from if he wanted to stay true to himself.
Mr Carver said: “It’s been said to me, on a number of occasions, that I don’t necessarily reflect the perceived stereotype of a UKIP MEP - whatever that may be - even once being directly described by a well-known BBC newsreader as “somewhat of an enigma”.
“Maybe my happy go lucky approach is derived by virtue of my mixed background, not just through my Romany roots, but also my Cockney and Polish Jewish heritage, through my mother.
“It’s my contention that I’m a perfect example of modern day Britain - My country that has, by its very nature and history, evolved from its position as once controlling the largest empire known to mankind, whose descendants joined the real mixture of people who, like my maternal grandfather, took refuge in their hour of need, helping to mould the British success story.”
Mr Carver said he was not afraid to speak out to call for a better deal for the travelling fraternity, despite previously being verbally attacked for doing so, being called on Twitter “Ya Pikey Bastard”, “Vermin” and “Hog of Romany descent” by keyboard warriors.
It was after that, when he complained to the police, and Dudley North Labour MP Ian Austin accused him wasting police time, that it was suggested by the Traveller Movement that taking up the cudgels on their behalf would be committing political suicide.
That, he said, made him even more determined to speak out.