Saturday 16 July 2011

The Stony Standoff: Sanity 1, Bartlett 0

I've just returned from the beautiful town of Stony Stratford to join many others in offering my scorn for Paul Bartlett's ASH-approved plans for an outdoor smoking ban. It was standing room only in The Bull pub where a crowd of well over a hundred (*UPDATE: the BBC estimates 200) heard various politicians and pundits condemning the proposal and calling for the nanny/bully state to the reined in.

Protesters had travelled from Cumbria, North Yorkshire and even further afield to make themselves heard, making my own five hour round trip from the south coast look like a short commute. Some had stayed overnight in the town to make sure they were around when things kicked off at 11 am. And all at their own expense, on a Saturday and in torrential rain.

As for the residents, many of them popped into the pub from time to time to show support for their visitors. They seem bemused by the proposal and embarrassed by their councillor, who may be called to account at the next election. A rather splendid article in today's Guardian gives a flavour of the atmosphere:

Bartlett is well known for his zero tolerance views. He's a kind of mayor Giuliani for Milton Keynes or to put it another way "a total twat". So said Stony resident Gina Sherwood. "I think it's absurd. There are too many people against it. I don't know one person who is for it."

The head of the local business association called for the proposal to be quashed and expressed disappointment that the town's efforts to pull in tourists were being undermined by Bartlett's mania—although today was clearly an exception. Needless to say, the man himself did not put in an appearance and if anyone in Stony Stratford agrees with him, they did not make their presence felt. And if, as the councillor has claimed, Stony Stratford has a problem with cigarette litter, somebody had helpfully cleared it up before we arrived. The streets were as spotless as they presumably were on the day Bartlett was forced to travel 10 miles to Milton Keynes for his publicity shot.

Several speakers pointed out this is not an issue of health, but liberty—a point underlined by the large number of nonsmokers in attendance, including Roger Helmer MEP who pledged to smoke a cigarette in the streets of Stony if the anti-smokers got their way. I doubt that will be necessary. Such has been the public interest that the vote has been moved from the council office to the (much larger) church and it seems likely that Bartlett will lose by a wide margin. Perhaps that would have always been the outcome. The people of Stony Stratford seem a sensible lot and are not prone to intolerance or extremism. Bartlett is the cuckoo in the nest. As a Stony resident said in the Guardian article:

"This is just victimising people. Can't we just be non-smokers? Why do we have to be anti-smokers?"

A perceptive comment, that. The anti-smoking movement relies on a small handful of obsessives claiming to represent all non-smokers. They don't, they never have and they never will. Normal people do not wish to create division, segregation and 'denormalisation' in society (one of the placards today read 'Denormalise Councillor Bartlett'). ASH and Bartlett represent non-smokers about as much as David Koresh represented Christianity. Claiming that there is a war that must be fought is the great deception that the zealots must commit to fulfill their long-term goal of prohibition. More and more people are beginning to see through that lie.

No doubt similar proposals will be raised by unhinged councillors and attention-seeking MPs in the future. With a few tweaks here and a few bogus health scares there, outdoor smoking bans could yet become palatable to voters in the least liberal parts of the country. They are, after all, 'the next logical step'. But, for now, the sane majority looks likely to prevail. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Bartlett.


Anonymous said...

Have a nice trip Herr Bartlett...

To the funny farm

Twenty_Rothmans said...

I agree that I found the locals with whom I spoke to be charming and accommodating people.

I hope that others will do what I'll do - make a shopping excursion to Stony Stratford one Saturday. I have already roped one friend in - a former resident of the Fegan's home there.

One thing I want to know is - many of us looked like a bunch of librarians. Where were the students, with fire in their bellies and time on their hands?

Those of us who are unlucky enough to be so old as to remember when life was different need to bear in mind that the generation beneath has been continually squeezed - so much so, that it's a way of life for them.

They're inured to the contradictory health reports they see each day in the newspapers. They don't laugh at it the way we do - they switch their opinions to follow the trend. Simple-minded parents follow - the blind leading the blind.

Water's good. Water's bad.
Sunlight's good. Sunlight's bad.
Salt's good. Salt's bad.
Red wine's good. All alcohol is carcinogenic.

On the other hand, they might just be slackers and not rise until after midday.

Anonymous said...

Looking at the picture in the Guardian article, I see vehicles parked along the side of the high street. Think of the fumes being pumped into the faces of children in pushchairs on the pavement! Disgusting, filthy drivers! Every time I get home after a visit to town, I have to shower......."

subrosa said...

Thanks for this Chris. Shame about the weather but it does show my rain dancing isn't always successful. :)

Pleased to hear the day was though.

Anonymous said...

From the pictures, it would seem to be -Sanity 100+ and Bartlett 0.

Gary K.

Anonymous said...

Interesting for Guardian to compare Bartlett with Guiliani, who had nothing to do with the NYC smoking bans, instead of much left-winged beloved and politically correct Bloomberg, who stole his third term into office and had everything to do with NYC's outdoor smoking bans. Funny that, how the Guardian compares.

Anonymous said...

Barlett may have done us a favour in that such a ban is really hated, and other councils may think twice before trying to introduce a similar ban.

wcoaphorse2010 said...

Not that impressed with the Grauniad article, these bits in particular:

"The purity of this war makes everybody's position more robust, and as certain as the local councillors are of success – many from both parties support the ban – so the opponents are sure they will overturn it, if necessary, with sheer attitude"

How the flying funk does she know that many councillors support the ban? Even mad Bartlett on the radio the other night didn't know that.

"Perhaps this is what such decisions looked like in America; the non-smokers on one side of the process – possibly having better access to the corridors of power because they don't waste time standing around outside smoking"

Wouldn't be the Graun without a sly dig at smokers at the end, supporting the ASH myth that smokers waste time at work.

irritable bile syndrome said...

"Protesters had travelled from Cumbria..."

Yay! That's me. Was a bloody good day, and good to have a chat Chris (though reminder to self: don't introduce yourself to people in toilets. Not the done thing.)

Hope you enjoyed the fish n chips; me, The Boy and Frank went and got a burger, the last of the protest cowboys, before Frank drove off into the sunset with The Boy's phone in the back of his car... but that's another story.