The public would happily support a ban so it’s time to take fireworks off the shelves now and forever - David Behrens
You might think it’s a fortnight too early to be worrying about this but not so, and that’s precisely the problem. In many parts of Yorkshire – perhaps in your neighbourhood – it’s already impossible to get through the night without being woken by fizzes, bangs and Neanderthal noises from people who still think playing with fire is amusing.
Firework Night has become a whole season that starts before the mince pies go on sale at Morrisons and doesn’t end until the Easter eggs arrive in January.
Residents in Keighley are complaining of being woken by bangers at three in the morning. And in the Wibsey area of nearby Bradford, one man described the noise as “like living in Beirut”. This, by the way, in a city that will be Britain’s capital of culture the year after next.
So it’s a social nuisance on a par with vandalism and other manifestations of loutism. Yet doing anything about it seems beyond the ken of policymakers who can otherwise, with the mere flourish of a pen, ‘declare’ a climate emergency, impose a congestion charge or in a thousand other ways curtail our ability to do as we please.
And I’m not saying that’s always wrong – but surely it must be possible to also impose the sort of draconian restriction people would actually support.
We are after all a country that is leading the world with a lifetime ban on smoking by anyone born before 2009 – and that’s a far harder piece of legislation to have pulled off, given the obvious opposition from powerful tobacco corporations.
And where is the resistance to a firework ban even coming from? Not a single MP, so far as I can see, has made the case against restricting their sale to operators licensed to organise public displays.
The answer is that there existed in Britain a surprisingly powerful gunpowder lobby. A few years back, a motion to stop putting the clocks forward every spring was defeated by politicians who claimed the later sunset would be unfair to firms who put on summer pyrotechnic displays, as if their existence was somehow pivotal to the whole economy.
Those companies would now be the very ones to benefit from banning the sale of fireworks to all and sundry. They would gain a monopoly on owning them. But the industry as a whole has built a business model on shifting as many selection boxes as possible through every available off-licence, garden centre and pound shop. Asking them to restrict their sale is like telling Rowntree’s to ration fruit gums.
It used to be argued that fireworks manufacturers were important employers, especially in Yorkshire where hundreds of women had full-time jobs rolling up bits of cardboard and gunpowder in vast sheds around Huddersfield. But their jobs have long since gone to China, where fireworks have been made for centuries and no-one cares about the effect they have on communities in far flung lands like ours.
So when the Keighley MP Robbie Moore argued in parliament recently for better enforcement and tougher licensing, he should have been shooting at an open goal.
Instead, the government simply referred him to an existing law that bans setting off fireworks between 11pm and 7am except on November 5, New Year’s Eve and a few other ‘traditional’ dates.
But that isn’t enough. In Keighley, Bradford and a hundred other Northern communities the rules are impossible to police and consequently ignored, and the complicity of ministers in also turning a blind eye compounds the problem. It’s time to take fireworks off the shelves now and forever.
It’s ironic that Bradford has implemented a clean air zone, a controversial regime in which drivers are charged up to £50 to enter the area in a commercial vehicle that doesn’t meet the required emission standards. But the green lobby that decreed this – a body more powerful than the pyrotechnic pressure groups ever were – seems oblivious to the environmental danger that fireworks also pose by propelling cocktails of harmful chemicals indiscriminately into the atmosphere.
Given all this, does anyone seriously think they should remain on sale to any passing idler with a five pound note burning a hole in his pocket? Will it take a modern-day Guy Fawkes to put a proverbial rocket under Westminster before legislators finally send them the way of the cigarette?