Ashtray politics

Student unions haven't got the bottle to halt smoking in bars.

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Politics
  • Leeds united

What with reports that city councils in Liverpool, Cambridge, Coventry, Exeter, Birmingham and Manchester are formulating plans to ban smoking in all public places, it is heartening to read that one institution has already been forced to realise the folly of such a prohibitive, fantasy-land philosophy.

On 16 February, Leeds University Union introduced a daytime ban on smoking in its five bars. While it paid no heed to 100 complaints that it subsequently received from smokers, the union has succumbed to the might of market forces. Since the ban, sales in the bars have dropped by a third, costing the union £26,000 in lost bar takings. The ban will now be lifted on 16 March.

Anyone who thinks that forbidding smoking in Britain will be as simple as banning it in California or New York should take heed from this tale. Britain does not have the same Puritan culture as the USA (thankfully, we expelled all of our Protestant loonies in the seventeenth century, sending them packing across the Atlantic), and therefore we are not so easily given to being bossed around by the moral minority. What’s more, the pub plays a central role in British culture. We consider it integral to the community, an almost sacrosanct refuge from the norms and constraints of society.

If our government can’t even get around to forcing a ban on foxhunting, what hope is there for councils who want to introduce an even more pointless infringement on our liberties? What with so many people already in revolt about council tax increases and local government waste, are councils sure that devoting more resources to spying on people smoking in pubs is a wise course of action?

Most councils in this country are frankly hopeless at performing even the most rudimentary tasks, such as cleaning the streets or repairing the roads, so it seems unlikely that they could actually enforce such a measure. The only thing our rulers appear proficient at today is launching eye-catching ‘initiatives’ that never come to anything.

  • We do like them

Spin-doctor Alastair Campbell and journalist Rod Liddle have been enjoying a recent spat in the public eye as to whose club has got the most racist fans: Campbell’s Burnley or Liddle’s Millwall.

It began when Campbell complained that during the two aforementioned clubs’ clash, Millwall fans were making ‘monkey chants’ at Burnley’s black left-back, Mo Camara. Liddle responded indignantly that the fans in question were merely booing him because he ‘had clobbered a Millwall player in a cup game the week before’.

It’s not surprising that the verbal altercation has generated so many column inches: you have racism (a media fixation), Campbell (the godfather of spin-doctors) Liddle (superlative motormouth hack with a hang-dog face), Burnley (BNP, more racism) and Millwall (hooliganism). Perfect ingredients for a media brouhaha.

As someone who has witnessed the misbehaviour of Millwall fans, I am not one to defend the southeast London team. Their reputation for violence is well deserved, but the club has gone to many lengths to try to eradicate the problem, not least introducing a membership card system, which has caused the club to lose thousands of pounds in gate receipts. They have also invested thousands of pounds in community schemes.

Of all the Millwall fans I have met, only one barely fits the stereotype of the skinhead troublemaker – and even he gave up going to matches 15 years ago, having come to the conclusion that ‘football is for losers’. He now edits a lads’ mag, while Millwall can also count as supporters a former editor of the Guardian and the current deputy editor of The Times.

The strange thing about Millwall is that in people’s minds the name is not only associated with hooliganism, but also with racism and far-right politics. While the first enjoys a long pedigree, the last two do not. One Millwall fan I know (a fanatical Irish republican, incidentally) remarks that the display of Red Hand of Ulster flags at games and fascist literature is but a recent development. The club is from a traditionally Irish area of London, and the fans traditionally had no political or sectarian agenda. Like most hooligans, the hard lads of the past were merely concerned with protecting the reputation of their club, their area and their supporters.

Similarly, the idea that Millwall fans are racist betrays the reality that in the bad old days of hooliganism, many of their troublemakers were black. You only have to look at the infamous riot at Luton in 1985: I recently saw a video of the coverage and I counted at least three black Millwall fans on the pitch throwing plastic seats at the police. This is fitting, in that the club was one of the first to employ a black player back in 1912 and has black players today.

It’s easy to throw proverbial brickbats at Millwall fans in general. The truth is that the club itself should be applauded, that their supporters are a very mixed bunch indeed, and the club has an impeccable multicultural heritage – being a multi-racial team and having multi-racial hooligans. What more could today’s liberals ask for?

  • F*** this

Not only is Ireland to ban smoking in public places from the end of this month, but you may soon have to mind your language in Irish pubs as well. John Bolger, former mayor of Killenny, is to lobby local pubs to set up ‘swear boxes’ to discourage customers from emitting profanities.

‘There seems to be an overwhelming acceptance of the f-word in everyday language’, he says. ‘We have become lazy in the way we talk, so that it’s fuck this and fuck that in every sentence.’ According to the Dublin edition of the Sunday Times, he plans to take his movement nationwide.

It’s like the Catholic Church never went away. So make sure you behave yourself on St Patrick’s Day.

Patrick West is the author of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind, Civitas, 2004. Buy this book from Amazon (UK).

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Topics Politics


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