Wednesday, 13 October 2010


The Daily Mail reports:

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.

He continued:

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...


  1. I think one has to sometimes allow a little latitude before condemning the word 'ban'. In the Telegraph example with traffic wardens, an overseeing authority giving 'guidance' on not doing something is good enough to be described as being banned for me. When my boss gives me 'guidance' on not doing something, he usually means 'don't f*$%#g do it'.

    How someone will police a ban is irrelevant really. A ban on smiling would still be a ban, even if the policing of it is an impossibility.

    Incidentally, from a Health and Safety POV, a ban on wardens smiling makes perfect sense. Everytime I see one smiling, I have to fight the urge not to knock his/her teeth down their throat.

  2. It's obvious why the DM does this. The headline is the total opposite of the actual story, but they nestle the facts deep, deep down where hardly any one will read it because they are already too outraged and foaming at the mouth by the end of the first paragraph. They then feel the need to post about thier outrage on the comments section and in this case go on a pointless anti-German/Germany rant about the War, EU, Foreigners bent-bannans blah blah blah.

    But this is exactly what the DM want, the comments section gets filled with this kind of dross, more people get attracted to the comments section (advert revenue) and the adding-fuel-to-the-fire effect gets bigger and bigger and before you know it people are only reading the comments and the headline and getting thier "news" from that, adding their own "precious" views. Then people think "wow, the DM really meets my news needs" and go out and continue to buy it insted of the much more factual andrex!

  3. Reading deeper into the ALDI article it appears to be a very nasty piece of work indeed and is easy to see the journo has an Anti-German agenda he's trying to whip up in the run up to Rememberance Day.

    The Journo fails to mention that several UK owned and operated stores refuse outright to stock poppies or any other charity (I used to work for one such well known high street retailer) and that this is quite common these days for fear of the charity money being nicked!

    He mentions that the two ALDI brothers fought as Nazis as if it is something that has enhanced this non-ban. He should know that they would have been forced into this as young men.

    He fails to mention also that ALDI is no longer run by the family at all.

    He states it's almost a delcaration of war, which just adds to the tastelessness of this article and cheapens the whole basis of the (non) story, which is selling poppies...a symbol of peace!

    I do wonder if it's also a subtle attack against a foreign company as well as thier crusade against the Irish airline Ryanair!

  4. I think modern society generally is overtly fearful and risk-averse, and part of the reason why I hate the Mail, Sun et al is that they discredit such arguments by turning them into "them-and-us" bigotry. They distort the issue and render a sensible debate on the matter impossible - just as they do over Islam, where their effect makes leftists fearful of criticising some pretty right-wing ideologies which the Mail should, logically, *support*!

    But this particular Mail article is dangerous and disturbing even compared to their usual fodder. It actively encourages people to judge Germany today - a mature, civilised democracy which has succeeded in almost every possible way and offers a far better model of public involvement within a reasoned form of capitalism than the UK as it stands ever could - on an evil creed (which could have happened in a great many other places) barely now in living memory, which was utterly unrepresentative of what Germany had been *before*, as much as after. Articles like this are why people who have almost everything in common with the British - certainly far more than most Americans do (and the Americans who are the closest cultural equivalent of Mail readers are the least like the British of all) - are beaten up and taunted because of things that happened a century before they were born (how do they like it when, as occasionally happens, British people are attacked because of our own past imperialism?). Completely innocent people's lives are damaged and poisoned as a result of articles like this.

  5. Judging by the comments posted on the Mail website 90% of those posting failed to read beyond the first paragraph.

    The shop clearly has a policy of no charity collections at all so it had nothing to do with the fact the collection was to help war veterans.

    Like so many Mail stories it will have been lifted from a local paper or web-site and just spiced up to press all the right buttons to get the predictable reaction.

  6. It wasn't just the Mail that ran with this story, The Sun did as well, and while not as overtly Germans=Nazis as the Mail's article seems to be, neglected to mention the store involved had a canopy outside.

  7. I must correct my earlier comment here.

    "A century before they were born" should have read "half a century before they were born" - the timespan, by now, between the worst Nazi atrocities and the births of the German students who are regularly attacked for no reason in this country (and never reported in the right-wing tabloids, though it's also sometimes under-reported in the Guardian because they're mostly white so it doesn't necessarily hit the right buttons for some of the left, who are often as Europhobic as the right, just for different reasons).

  8. ''although it's not clear why ensuring people are safe should be considered a 'bad thing'''

    I don't think that's the point. I think the point he was making was that safety issues are taken too much into consideration - even when there is a miniscule risk of a safety issue, it becaomes a major issue for those who could be help culpable.

    It's easy to see how easy it is to over-egg the H+S pudding, but, at the same time, it's also easy to see how increasingly ludicrous H+S legislation has become over the last ten years. Have you had to do a risk assessment at work lately? I have - it was very Kafkaesque.

  9. Why does everyone hate traffic wardens? They are just people like everyone else and they have a job to do which must be very difficult when it widely viewed as acceptable to verbally abuse them and shout at them in a way that would not be acceptable if applied to any other profession.

    Surely it makes much more sense to be angry at people who have chosen to park illegally?

  10. @spudman

    It's the same as people getting angry at shop workers, waiters, cabin crew, railway staff etc who are just doing thier job. I used to work in a shop. When we ran out of those free (BBC) DVDs the Mail always pushed people started shouting, I mean really getting angry at us, accusing us of stealing, swearing at us, demanding we got them a free DVD, they simply wouldn't accept the fact that the Mail only sent enough DVD's to cover about 30-50% of the papers they sent in.

    Too many people are unable to accept thier own actions are the problem whether it be the illegal parker getting a fine or the person who left it til 5pm to buy thier paper, missing out on the free DVD!

    Of course the media doesn't help by having a go at people who are simply doing thier jobs, most of the time they're doing jobs that they don't want to do but for one reason or another have to. People like Littlejohn and other Journos never have to "lower" themselves to doing public facing jobs so are smug and feel the need to belittle those who do them as if they are meaningless and deserve all the abuse they get given!

    I do so enjoy reading the odd story about someone being asked for ID and the papers taking the customers side, making the shop/staff out to be the anti-christ. At the end of the day that person did what they were trained to do, had they given the '16 year old looking 21 year old with no ID' that bottle of superglue they could have faced prison or a heafty fine from Trading Standards!

  11. I think it's exactly this 'jobsworth' attitude that gets on peoples wick. In terms of traffic wardens, it's not enough that most councils have designed systems in our towns to make it virtually impossible to park legally (without emptying our pockets), but that these public servants utterly refuse to apply any latitude or common sense. About 5 years ago, I had a puncture in the town centre. A policeman actually directed me across this busy junction and I started to change the wheel - the policeman drove off, and halfway through changing the wheel, some warden turns up and tickets me! Wouldn't hear a word of my protests. I appealed the ticket and they rescinded it, and that was only because i'd clocked the copper's number and approached him for a statement. I mean, bloody hell!

    So, f**k 'em, and f**k all shop assistants who look horribly pissed off if you have the temerity to actually ask them a question, or the assistant that asks a 89-year old for ID because 'that's what they've been trained to do.

    Mor van me jobbswurf, innit.

  12. If you look under the age you need to be when buying a restricted item then you should be ID'd. No if's, no but's. If a person who looks 16 tries to buy an 18 DVD then they should be ID'd even if they are actually 18 or over. They should have the proper form of ID to show, otherwise how is the shop worker supposed to know?

    A shop assistant has to decide there and then and any sensible one will ID someone who looks too young. Speaking from personal experience I've ID'd people who, when they show something, tuened out to be in their late 20's or early 30's but looked like a teenager! The risk of it being an undercover Trading Standards employee is just too high!

    No one seems to care or understand that it is the shop assistant who will suffer. Up to £5K fine, up to 6 Months in prison, would no doubt lose thier job and have a criminal record all over some kid trying to get thier hands on something they shouldn't!

    The shop on the other hand would get no more than a slap on the wrist or at most be banned from selling the item for up to a year! So you can excuse them for being a little bit jobsworthy about it!

    Totally thankless job and one that seems to get abuse from all sections of society! So, rude customers and columnists can argue and rant all they like but until they have been in a situation where several hundred customers a week look too young for the thing they are buying then they have no right to comment!

  13. The traffic warden saw you in an illegal spot and took action, but your fine was dismissed, so there is no problem. For all you know that warden may have had 20 other people that week pretending to have just fixed a burst tyre, or pretending thier car had broken down, it must be a very common excuse. You were just unlucky enough to have already fixed the tyre as the warden approached. You;d be even more annoyed if traffic wardens let illegal parkers get away with it if they accepted every excuse going. You can be sure parking fees would go through the roof!

    As for anyone who is blatantly old enough being asked for ID. The shop worker is still well within thier rights to ask ANYONE for ID should they feel the need, although the odds are it would be an innocent mistake that the customer took too far in order to get some attention.

    The scene would read like this:

    Elderly person takes something restricted to the till being manned by a young person, probably on a weekend job.

    Worker scans item, till prompts for ID check.mWorker goes into autopilot, asks for ID, see's customer is clearly old enough and apologises, putting the sale through without ID.

    Customer is not happy, won't accept shop workers apology for whatever reason, complains to manager, worker gets into trouble even though they put through the sale without ID.

    Customer feels he wants to go further due to innocent mistake so sells story to the tabloids for a quick £150, no doubt missing out the fact the worker said sorry and put the sale through anyway.

    Tabloid paper totally laps it up, loves getting some "youth" into the spotlight for an innocent mistake, customer is seen as a champion for common sense and gets another £100 shopping vouchers off the offending shop. Youth is probably sacked.

  14. Nice post!! Thanks for sharing.

  15. Shouldn't that have been "little less than a declaration of war"?


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