James Tozer's article begins:
Once they fought them on the beaches. Seventy years later it seems they are fighting them in the aisles.
But this time the enemy is the German-owned Aldi supermarket.
It has infuriated war veterans by refusing to let them sell remembrance poppies in one of its stores.
Except at the end of the very same story, Aldi say:
‘Requests to collect in-store or leave collection tins in-store are dealt with on a case-by-case basis, and due to Mr Myerscough’s age, we will gladly allow him to collect in store.’
It appears that one store - in Manchester - had originally said that the Royal British Legion could do their collecting:
under the ‘protective overhead canopy’ outside the store.
Tozer claims this was:
little more than a declaration of war.
But Aldi have since changed their mind and allowed him into the store.
So the Mail knew their headline and the spin on their article about poppy selling being 'banned' (and by Germans!) wasn't true. Yet they went ahead with it anyway.
This is the latest in a very long line of media reports about something being 'banned' which hasn't quite turned out to be entirely accurate.
At the weekened, the Star and the Telegraph both reported that traffic wardens and parking staff from one council have been 'banned' from smiling.
In the Star, Emily Hall wrote:
Traffic wardens have been banned from smiling in case it makes cheesed-off drivers more irate.
The Telegraph said clearly:
Quite how a council polices a 'ban' on facial expressions isn't immediately clear. But that implies Hall and the Telegraph churnalist have actually thought about this story.
In fact, the local paper revealed that during training, staff were told that smiling might not be appropriate when dealing with irate members of the public as it could upset them further.
Once again, a example of people being given guidance becomes a story about a 'ban'.
On Sunday, the Express claimed:
Nanny state rules have banned scissors, plasters and creams in council first aid kits to stop accident victims suing over medical mishaps.
Really? 'State rules' have 'banned' these things? There isn't a council first aid kit anywhere in the country with plasters and scissors inside? On what bit of comprehensive research has the Express come to this conclusion?
One worker for one of England’s biggest county councils, who didn’t want to be named, said: "It is ridiculous. The kit supplied in our pool car doesn’t have scissors, plasters or antiseptic cream and when I asked why not I was told about the legal implications."
Ah. One anonymous person from one unnamed council giving an example about one first aid kit. Even if what that one person says is true, it's a big jump to go from that to a nationwide ban.
Moreover, the HSE, in guidance revised in October 2009, say that in low-hazard work environments a 'minimum stock of first-aid items' would include 20 plasters, eye pads, triangle bandages, safety pins, wound dressings and disposable gloves.
Yes, it also says:
It is recommended that you don’t keep tablets and medicines in the first-aid box.
But that seems more like common sense than some indecipherable nanny-state ruling.
Then there was the story about Barnet Council 'banning' mother-in-law jokes which appeared in the Mail, Star and Telegraph (and many other places).
Had they? No:
Barnet Council has denied censoring staff by putting a ban on mother-in-law jokes, after a handout used at a training session described them as “sexist” and disrespectful to elders.
Around 30 staff members attending the equality and diversity practise workshop were given the booklet cautioning them on their use of humour.
In the document, put together by a £550-a-day independent trainer it says: “Careful on Humour: Humour can be incredibly culture-specific, and is very open to misinterpretation or even offense [sic] by other cultures. And don’t forget: when you don’t know what people are laughing at, it is easy to imagine that they are laughing at you.
“Example: British mother-in-law jokes, as well as offensively sexist in their own right, can also be seen as offensive on the grounds that they disrespect elders or parents.”
However, a spokesman for Barnet Council said the document was not a policy document, but merely used as an example of how workers should be mindful of causing offence to people of other cultures.
They added: "Barnet council does not have a policy on mother-in-law jokes. “The information was given in a handout to 30 staff who attended a one off training course by a third party trainer and is not a council document.
“Our advice to staff is that they should be polite and avoid giving offence to any member of the public.”
(More on that from Five Chinese Crackers)
One of the hacks who delights in this 'can you believe what they've banned now?' stuff is, of course, Richard Littlejohn. During the World Cup he claimed:
Just in time for the start of the World Cup in South Africa, a primary school in Essex has banned playground football. You guessed - elf 'n' safety.
Four days later, he had to publish an unqualified apology after the headteacher told him football had been suspended to punish bad behaviour.
But that didn't deter him. A few weeks ago, he wrote:
For the past 15 years, this column has made a good living out of elf 'n' safety.
How nice of him to admit that's he's been paid handsomely for flogging the same dead horse for a decade-and-a-half.
Now, though, the Government is promising to put an end to the madness, scrapping the stupid rules and risk assessments, and derailing the spiv lawyers cashing in on the com-pen-say-shun culture.
No one has told Lancaster City Council, which has banned revellers from watching the city's annual fireworks display from Castle Hill, citing - you guessed - elf 'n' safety.
Even though it has taken place for the past 18 years without anyone getting hurt.
Looks like there's still some mileage in it for me yet.
Of course, one of the reasons he's been able to get so much 'mileage' out of it is because he wildly exaggerates what 'elf'n'safety' is actually responsible for.
In the case of the Lancaster fireworks, Primly Stable did more research than Littlejohn could manage. He found a report in the Lancaster Guardian that told a rather different story:
Lancaster City Council has decided not to allow people into the Castle and Priory area on November 6, citing negative feedback from visitors last year and potential safety issues.
Yes, safety was one issue (although it's not clear why ensuring people are safe should be considered a 'bad thing'). But what about the negative feedback?
Gill Hague, the council’s assistant head of community engagement, said that the area would be completely closed off to the public.
She added: “Visitors told us that the castle precinct was cramped and is not a particularly good area from which to view the fireworks due to its historic layout.
“Many people found that their view of the fireworks was blocked by spectators, buildings and trees. Last year we experimented with limiting numbers at the castle but we received similar comments.”
She added that people’s safety was one consideration.
So although safety was 'one consideration', the Council have actually 'cited' the fact that last year's spectators thought the area was cramped and didn't give a good view of the firework display.
That 'elf'n'safety' story appeared just a few days after the tabloids had given the Winterval myth yet another outing.
And on the 2 October the media was falling over itself to come up with examples of silly health and safety rules following a series of interviews by Lord Young - who has been asked by the Government to produce recommendations that will put an end to such 'madness'.
The Sun came up with several examples of health and safety gone mad. For example:
Residents in flats were barred from hanging washing on lines from their balconies by officials in Croydon, South London. They said the clothes may fall on passers-by beneath the flats and hurt them.
Except they didn't say that at all. Croydon Council weren't worried about a wet shirt falling on to passers-by, but entire rotary washing lines:
The use of rotary dryers attached to a balcony or a walkway...presents a health and safety risk to other residents if they fall. This could happen in high winds or when the dryer is overloaded with heavy and wet washing. They are also an eyesore and can cause damage to the council’s property. The council does not give permission to any resident to use a rotary dryer in this way.
Instead of fixing a rotary dryer to the building there are lots of other folding dryers available that are free-standing and can be taken indoors after use.
That might still strike the 'health and safety gone mad' brigade as needlessly officious, but at least they should be honest about what is actually being said.
Another example the Sun quoted was about a ban on toothpicks:
A restaurant in Cheshire banned toothpicks from being given to customers in case they hurt themselves and sued. The barmy call came after advice from a health and safety consultant without any qualifications.
In fact, one customer who wanted to pick his teeth in public (shudder) had been told he couldn't have one. The Mail blamed the 'Toothpick Taliban' and said:
it seems the toothpick has become the latest victim of the health and safety police.
But later in the article they acknowledged:
However, a Macdonald Hotels spokesman denied there was a toothpick ban, and suggested 'there were simply none available on the night'.
Indeed, the hotel's Regional General Manager explained:
- There is absolutely no directive from Head Office with regards toothpicks, and this was not noted to the guest by the senior manager on duty, as implied by the various articles
- There is no law against toothpicks, and this was certainly not reported to the guest concerned
- The hotel had genuinely run out of toothpicks, and we are at a complete loss as to why the waiter would have come up with the Health & Safety excuse, unfortunately being a casual staff member and University student, we haven't as yet seem him to ask
- The guest concerned had in fact ordered a bespoke meal for himself and his wife, and this was different to the rest of the visiting diners
- The guest was found a "toothpick" once the situation had been brought to the attention of the manager on duty that evening
So how has the Sun concluded a 'health and safety consultant without any qualifications' had 'banned' toothpicks?
One other example the Sun uses is about a pancake race:
People taking part in a Shrove Tuesday pancake race in St Albans, Herts, were told by a council official to walk rather than run - because recent rain made it dangerous.
Lord Young calls this 'the worst case I've come across.' Now this one is actually true. But was it a big deal? The St Albans Review reported:
Organisers and competitors alike have denied a national press report that yesterday's St Albans pancake race was ruined by excessive safety fears...
The Daily Mail reported that the event was booed, and some competitors complained the ban was pointless as the rain was very light.
But district councillor Melvyn Teare, the responsible cabinet member, said: "It was raining heavily so it was decided for safety reasons that people would have to walk rather than run...But despite the rain, it was a successful event and everybody seemed to enjoy themselves."
He was backed by competitor Louise Miller from a team representing the Grove House hospice, who said: "How sad that certain daily newspapers need to put a negative spin on such a fun, community event...It was raining, there was no booing - in fact as ever there was a great atmosphere and lots of laughter and cheering"...
Nicola O'Donnell, from the winning team Strutt and Parker, said: "We had a really good time. I thought it was a great event and we'll do it again next year. It was a shame it was raining, but the ban on running didn't affect us in any way."
The paper adds:
Just a stone's throw away in Rickmansworth, one pancake race competitor took a tumble on a slippery pavement, which perhaps could have been avoided if the same health and safety regulations had been applied.
Yes, the walking pancake race may have been over-cautious, but it didn't seem to have much effect on the event itself. So what's the problem?
There is a clear agenda behind these 'banned' stories - that people can't do what they want any more because of health and safety or political correctness or the EU or because it might offend some minority.
Certain newspapers treat every bit of guidance as a 'ban'. Safety concerns are seen as needless meddling. One-off incidents are considered to be part of nationwide diktats.
Very often the examples are exaggerated, if not completely wrong. For example, there have been other stories about bans on buying a dozen eggs, on England flags and football shirts and on milk jugs. None of them were true.
But newspapers know that readers (and, it seems, politicians) react to this stuff so, as Littlejohn warned, there's still plenty of mileage in it for them yet...