Jayne Dowle: I welcome new fight for decency and respect

ERIC Pickles, I salute you. You have struck a blow for decent people everywhere with your decision to make spitting in the street an offence punishable with an £80 fine. This might not sound like the stuff of which revolutionary politics is made, but it proves that someone up there in government notices the nasty things that annoy us.

It shows that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government actually cares enough to spend time sorting out a matter others might dismiss as trivial. And it makes us all ask ourselves what is and isn’t acceptable in public.

The new legislation comes into force in Enfield, north London, in the autumn. Other local councils are expected to follow suit. I say grant Keighley-born Pickles the power not just to enforce this, but to come down like a ton of bricks on all the other inconsiderate things that people do in the street.

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For starters, he should extend his reach of decency to those who think it is acceptable to walk along stuffing their faces with takeaways. Extend it especially to those who consider it perfectly acceptable to throw the disgusting remnants of their “meal” into a bush or a shop doorway afterwards. I am aware that litter laws do exist, but some people need reminding of them.

Then please take to task those selfish parents who shove along buggies while blithely blowing cigarette smoke over their unfortunate babies and toddlers. These people are beyond reasoning with. I know, because on occasion I have tried – even at the risk of a black eye or a bloody nose. And those poor children, passive smokers all, have no recourse. Who will stand up for them?

Eric Pickles, you could become their champion. I can see you now, riding to their rescue in a chariot of your own.

And as you are in gladiatorial mood, please could you do something about all those men who use the slightest glimmer of sunshine as an excuse to strip off their shirts? At what point since the Stone Age did it become acceptable for blokes to walk round in public in what amounts to nothing more than a loin-cloth? If women did it, there would be uproar. I don’t care if it is some weird way of proving masculinity in an emasculated age or whatever the sociologists say it is. It’s not necessary. And it’s simply not civilised.

I could go on. And I know, perhaps I should just chill out and not get so worked up about such things. Do they really matter? Well, yes they do. It’s not getting worked up which has got us into this moral mess. In the name of civil liberties we’ve let things slide.

Once upon a time – and it’s not that long ago – people knew how to behave. Whatever their class or upbringing, they followed a broadly-accepted set of rules that kept civilisation ticking along nicely. These days, too many people just don’t have a clue. The pendulum has swung the other way. And if balance can only be regained by coming down hard, so be it. The sad truth is that too many people have lost the ability to judge when something might be acceptable or not. They can’t police themselves. That’s why they need Eric the Champion to guide them back to the straight and narrow.

The weird thing is, I’m normally the last person to advocate a string of petty rules and regulations. I certainly don’t want to spend my days stalking the streets looking for potential loopholes in the law. However, this is not about legislation for legislation’s sake. It is about reminding people that respect for each other, especially in a public place, is important.

Tough sanctions against spitting might sound harsh, but they ram the point home. The prospect of a hefty fine will make offenders think twice the next time they get the urge to cough up the contents of their lungs onto the pavement. And they might also think again about other aspects of their behaviour best classed as anti-social.

Taken as a whole, the kind of misdemeanours I’m talking about make our country less comfortable to live in. And not only do they get us down, they present a bad impression. It is no wonder that we Brits are regarded as the slobs of Europe.

What must foreign tourists think of our supposedly great nation? That 
it is characterised by a half-naked 
man with his beer belly on show 
and his face in a doner kebab? Is 
this the way we want the rest of the world to see us when the Tour de France sets off from Yorkshire in a 
year’s time? I don’t think so. Or rather, 
I hope not.

That is why I’m behind Eric Pickles 
all the way. His decision to bring in 
fines for spitting in the street is just a small step taken by a minister whose heart is in the right place. I hope that it turns into a giant leap towards a new kind of civilisation.