Putting a banger in the works
spiked editor Mick Hume's Notebook in The Times (London).
- ‘Remember, remember the Fifth of November/
Gunpowder, Treason and plot/
I see no reason why Gunpowder Treason/
Should ever be forgot.’
Remember those opening lines of the traditional Bonfire Prayers? If the present-day plot to blow Bonfire Night off the calendar continues, we may have to forget about fun with fireworks on 5 November.
An old-fashioned Bonfire Night is now anathema to authorities that seem shell-shocked by the very idea of crowds of people enjoying themselves with alcohol and a little gunpowder. This year, police are enforcing new laws that ban under-18s from possessing fireworks, and anybody from letting them off in public places or after 11pm except on November 5, New Year’s Eve, Chinese New Year and Diwali. But it is getting harder for many grown-ups to stage a fireworks display on fireworks night, too.
My colleague Josie Appleton has just researched the issue for spiked, the website I edit. She found a sorry tale of bonfire parties cancelled because they cannot keep up with the explosion of health and safety regulations or rocketing insurance premiums. One insurer still prepared to cover fireworks displays told her that, whereas two years ago local bonfires could buy insurance for less than £60, many councils now demand £5 million of cover for events on their land – which means premiums of £1365 for 1000 people. ‘In the past,’ he said ‘councils would have just let people get on with it’.
Just let us get on with it! Such an anarchic outlook must surely be suppressed. Those who do go ahead have to comply with strict rules which mean that, at their school display tonight, my children will be banned from waving lethal sparklers about.
The few surviving traditional bonfires might soon risk prosecution under David Blunkett’s laws against inciting religious hatred. During the Bonfire Night parade at Lewes in East Sussex, members of the Cliffe bonfire society still uphold the event’s anti-Papist origins, flying ‘No Popery’ banners and burning an effigy of Camillo Borghese, the Pope at the time of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot. Their website reminds us of forgotten verses to ‘Remember, remember…’:
‘Burn him in a tub of tar/
Burn him like a blazing star/
Burn his body from his head/
Then we’ll say old Pope is dead’.’
This sounds like an example of religious freedom, which should include our freedom to offend all religions equally. The Secretary of State for Home Affairs and Intolerance may have other ideas.
Even the Lewes Bonfire Council is asking non-residents to stay away tonight. Sadly this is not because, as Tubbs and Edward from Royston Vasey in The League of Gentlemen might say, they want ‘a local riot for local people’, but on the grounds that standing around outdoors in November can be ‘an unpleasant experience’, and the event will be ‘confusing and frightening’ for children.
Why must children always be used as a stick to beat us into behaving ourselves?
- Jeremy Hardy, the cardigan-wearing socialist comedian, has been banned from appearing at a theatre in Burnley, due to ‘fears that he would offend members of the British National Party’.
He had suggested on Radio 4 that BNP supporters should be shot. This episode is more hilariously ironic than anything Hardy could think up. He is a stalwart of the Anti-Nazi League, whose illiberal, worse-than-useless campaign demanding ‘No Platform for Fascists’ I have opposed since my days on the student Left. Now he has been hoist with his own petard – or placard, anyway. You cannot deny the Right the right to be offensive and still expect to have it yourself. The only reason why Hardy should be denied a platform is because he is about as funny as a wet Wednesday in Burnley.
- In Paris last weekend, I took my wife to our first restaurant with three Michelin stars – fantastic, and fantastically expensive.
But I still can’t help feeling like the boy who ate in fiver-a-head cafes on my first Paris trip. So can some sophisticated reader please tell me: do the super-attentive waiters always escort you to le WC (for a moment I feared that my chair might not be the only thing they were expected to hold), or were they making sure that us plebs didn’t do un runner without paying?
Mick Hume is editor of spiked
This article is republished from The Times (London)
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