Despite the best efforts of the assembled hackery of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, dumping on folks who are not white is not easy nowadays, although the use of other categories, such as “asylum seeker”, “terrorist” and “Muslim” helps papers like the Mail slip a disproportionate number of black and brown faces into their pages and on to their website.
But there is one group that they can kick to their hearts’ content: Gypsies. It was thus with Dale Farm, and now it’s happening with Roma, with the stories kicking off over a Big Issue vendor called Firuta Vasile, who sells the magazine in Bristol city centre, sometimes in a location that those of us who have waited patiently for a Number 9 up to Clifton will know well.
Ms Vasile won her case to claim housing benefit, and thus those who scrabble around the dunghill that is Grubstreet descended. The story, which started life in the Bristol Evening Post, leapt to the Telegraph. This caused James “saviour of Western civilisation” Delingpole to rant about it, using the language of true moderation: “fleece the British taxpayer ... greedy shysters ... cash-cow welfare state”.
Del Boy then followed up by constructing a strawman of victimhood as he wailed “Why should broke Britain bankroll immigrant spongers?”, and telling his adoring fan club (Sid and Doris Bonkers) that he’d been accused of being “one step away from endorsing Hitler’s death camps” and told that he was “probably a Nazi”. But Delingpole is a mere amateur beside the Mail.
From the moment the Mail got hold of the story, the drip-drip started: “a Romanian immigrant ... Miss (!) Vasile, whose marital status is unknown ... speaking through an interpreter”. Then the story was passed to the punditry, where appalling Glenda (guess who) Amanda Bloody Platell talked of “bullying beggars ... single mothers ... can simply arrive here and help themselves to ... benefits”.
Then, following the warm-up acts, came the Mail investigation, under the by-line of Nick Constable. “One third of Big Issue sellers now Romanian” readers are told, although how the Mail came across this information is not revealed. But what is told is that the job “once reserved (!) for Britain’s homeless has been swamped by Eastern European immigrants. And many of them have homes AND claim benefits”.
And, with the audience coming to the boil, the smears start: “some Roma ‘gypsies’ organise gangs ... turning up ... in luxury cars and intimidate other sellers ... BMWs and Mercedes ... organised crime”. Only at the very end does someone from the magazine get a word in: “They have a legal right to be in this country and a legal right to sell The Big Issue”.
But most minds are already made up. Kick the soft target. It was ever thus.