It’s not over yet. Guy Fawkes Night has been and gone, yet at around seven this evening, the sky will be alive once more with whooshes, fizzes and, worst of all, bangs. Where are the noise abatement people when you need them?
The British let off fireworks with the same abandon that people in the Balkans fire guns into the air when they have something to celebrate. Here, of course, any excuse for a celebration will do, so we bring out the Roman candles and sky rockets not only to rejoice at the failed assassination of James I, but also to mark New Year’s Eve, Aunt Edith’s birthday and whatever else we feel like. And each event seems to last a fortnight.
Why do we still put up with this year after year?
There is no harm in lighting up the night sky with brightly coloured sparks – although what it does to the ozone layer I cannot say – but the constant interruption of pops and cracks across the rooftops is a greater infringement of civil liberties than anything perpetrated by prying companies on the internet.
There is no need for fireworks to be noisy. They are made that way just for showmanship. And as part of an organised display, preferably away from houses – mine in particular – they’re fine. But there is no reason to sell them over the counter to individuals.
Indeed, in a country where it’s impossible for adults to buy more than two packets of ibuprofen at the same time, one can only marvel at the logic that allows them to walk out of a shop with bags stuffed full of explosives.
And that doesn’t take into account the black market. Bangers – fireworks whose only purpose is to make a noise – were banned 22 years ago yet they continue to be imported from China and to be readily available.
It’s time to put a rocket up the industry, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. On the eve of bonfire night this year, the cross-party Commons Petitions Committee called on the Government to crack down on the irresponsible use of gunpowder and to usher in an era of greater regulation. The inconsiderate letting-off of noisy and often dangerous fireworks, it said, should be considered as socially unacceptable as drink-driving. The effects on the mental health of veterans, on animal welfare and the health of young children were more important than the mindless pleasure to an individual of hearing a loud noise.
It is not the first time such a demand has been made, and I hope this one gains traction with the next Government. But I’m not optimistic. Whitehall has dithered on the issue for so long that it’s beginning to look like the National Rifle Association in the US, standing in the way of even the most basic security checks.
It’s not only noise that’s the issue, either. At two locations in West Yorkshire this week, police and firefighters had fireworks launched at them by exactly the sort of louts to whom new laws would deprive access. Four officers were hurt and two were taken to hospital.
The Police Federation has echoed the voices from the Commons in demanding action. And some 750,000 members of the public have signed petitions calling for a change in the way fireworks are sold over the counter or, better still, an outright ban.
That is not to suggest that organised displays, including the type run by local communities to raise funds, should be outlawed. But common sense dictates that in future they should at least be licensed. And while that might sound like another layer of unnecessary red tape, it would actually work in the organisers’ favour by making theirs the only show in town. Families who might otherwise have spent a fortune on fireworks for their back gardens would instead be drawn to communal events where they would see more for their money and have enough left for the charity tombola.
And let’s not get sidetracked by arguments about preserving an important British tradition. It is a mark of our contempt for parliament that the only time we come together to celebrate it, is in honour of the man who tried to blow it up.
If we’re really so keen on replicating what happens in Westminster, why don’t we all go out with our toffee apples on November 5 and quietly hold second meaningful votes around the bonfire? Better still, let’s prorogue the whole thing.