There are a few phrases in the language of middle England, the mere mention of which causes the red mist to fall. European integration is one such phrase, benefit claimant another, softly softly policing yet another but if you want one to really annoy people the word “squatter” really sends middle England completely potty. It implies everything it stands against: something for nothing, scroungers jumping the queue getting things for free that they haven’t worked for. So just imagine if all of these phrases can be thrown together into one story. It happened today in the Daily Telegraph . A Latvian travels 1,500 miles to squat in a mansion in London because he’s heard how soft this country is on squatters. He did himself no favours by saying, “I’m going to stay round here. It’s great, it’s free and I don’t have to pay rent like a normal person.”
Saying "I knew before I came that people live in squats and have legal protection. It’s easy here.” wasn’t great, or particualrly accurate, either.
The BBC are onto the story now and I’ve just been interviewd for the evening news. The question that this has raised for them is, should squatting be banned? Reading the Telegraph you might quite reasonably answer yes. But look at it another way. The law already provides a very simple easy way for property owners to remove squatters. All you have to do, as the owner, is go to court, as the owner has done in this case, and you are virtually guarrenteed to get an order that tells the squatters to go. You can choose to give them a month or 24 hours notice. After that, if the squatters stay they are breaking the law. So what needs changing? should the state really take away the responsibility from the property owner and ask the police to deal with it instead? If you think that a property owner should take responsibility for securing their own empty property and be responsible for managing it, the law should stay exactly as it is.
As for that word, middle England may be interested to know the word squatter has the same origin as a word they will be much more comfortable with: cottage. Both derive from Cotter, an ancient word meaning a subsistence farmer.