Tuesday, 9 February 2010


It was the story that all the tabloids missed, but surreal as it may seem, during the late 1990's whilst a Member of Parliament, I was actually detained at O'Hara airport by armed members of the Chicago Fruit police for entering into US territory whilst concealing on my person an illegal substance, in the form of a banana.

It was the sniffer dogs that did for me, I was cautioned, my banana was confiscated and the details of my villainy were placed on the official record for future reference. They were not interested in my protestations of innocence at the time, and despite me telling them that the banana in question was for my own personal use, and that I had no intention of dealing in illegal fruit substances whilst in the USA they booked me. I even snitched on my supplier, to try to cut a deal, and told them that the said offending banana had been given to me on the flight over from Charles De Galle airport by a friendly American stewardess on a United Airlines Flight. All to no avail, I was done for. You see in the States the law is the law, unbending, unchallengeable and enforced with vigour.

So it was with some trepidation that I attempted last night to influence the views of the Borough Councils Overview and Scrutiny Committee not to support the Liberal Democrat Cabinets latest plans to introduce Leaflet Police onto the streets of Northampton. You see it seems that we have a big problem, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights with businesses advertising their mostly alchoholic wares via the exchange of hundreds of colourful leaflets handed out mostly by young men and women (probably being paid the minimum wage) to entice Joe Public into this bar or that night club. We were told that the leaflets were a Health and Safety hazard, that women in high heels might trip over them (one brave Councillor suggested that the public were under more threat from the pavements than the leaflets) We were also told they made it difficult for our street cleaners to clean up (Cllr Pam Varnsverry asked sensibly if they didn't have to clean up anyway, and sometimes clean up mess a lot worse than leaflets) But the officer class stood firm to their task of telling us all what they thought we we wanted and needed regardless of our views.

So the same Council that has bought to you "Talking CCTV" (this system barks out orders to you as you walk down Abington St, which most infamously told a couple to stop making love in a shop doorway) and now plays upbeat Muzac to shoppers and traders on the Market Square leading the Chronicle and Echo to compare Northampton to North Korean capital Pyongyang, now wants to add leafleting to the ever growing list of offences (including skateboarding and dropping a discarded cigarette stub) punishable by the inevitable £80 Fixed Penalty Notice.

Now I have nothing against punishing litterers, and we already have laws to do that, but when we start to introduce new bye laws to fine those supplying the litterers and those supplying the suppliers, then you have to question what the intention really is? After all what about the fast food shops whose customers leave the remains of their late night feast on the pavement (eaten or uneaten!) or all those discarded bus tickets courtesy of the bus companies? They it would seem were all to be exempted from the new by law? As were, believe it or not political parties ! and you should read some of the cr*p thats on thier leaflets!

I have said before that Councils used to be "Providers" of service to the public, we then, post Thatcher and Blair became "Enablers" whereby it mattered not who provided the service (or sometimes it seems to what standard) as long as it was done. But now local Councils are becoming "Enforcers" and I don't like the path we are setting ourselves on.

Thankfully last night the Scrutiny Committee mostly agreed with me (almost cross Party, one of the Tories Cllr Kevin Reeves made an input suggesting almost that hanging was too good for them and we needed to get tougher on these litter louts!) The committee to my relief have now suggested that when the Cabinet go on to consider the matter in full, that they might want to try out a voluntary code with businesses before we send in the heavy mob.

Let us hope the Cabinet listens, after all for a council that can't even afford a rat catcher, agreeing to employ leaflet police to chase around town after young underpaid leafleteers may not be seen by the public as a top priority for an "Improving" council.


  1. I knew you were trouble Councillor Clarke!

    Only a matter of time before you got in trouble for such an unspeakable act of terrorism if you ask me!!

    Think of all the damage that could have been done with that one little banana! (Unless of course you had hidden it down your trousers ~ then I am not sure we can be friends anymore...)

    Be serious though, I have to slightly agree with the Lib Dems on this matter... I cannot tell you how annoying these bloody leaflets are! I'd like to take it further personally and have the whole bloody lot given a talking too!

    It it so frustrating to be walking down Abington Street, minding your own business; only to be stop by all and sundry trying to give you something, sell you something or make you feel "bad for all those helpless souls out there that need help..."

    As sad as every case is that has people volunteering their time to help, I just simply cannot help out everyone; if I could I would not be walking down Abington Street... I would probably be living in some nice roof top apartment in New York City!!!

    If it's not these charity people then it is people trying to sell you cheaper gas or electricity or sky or cable or damned Littlewoods catalogues! They never do my bloody size anyway, so why do I want to buy from them... and like anyone can give me my gas or electric cheaper ~ can they do it for free? I thought not.

    Then when you get passed them, and passed "the Chron & Echo man" Brian and his famous patter, you hit the Big Issue sellers. (They have a reason to be there, I know...) Then if you are lucky (or unlucky, depending on how you look at it ~ and the time you go to town) you get the leaflets!

    I throw all these countless number of crap into my bag & throw them in the bin as soon as I can. But a lot of people don't. It looks a mess and makes the town look very dirty. In parts this town is actually starting to look nice, but with things like this it defeats all the good work done.

    And makes people like my folks unwilling to come into town because it is too expensive to park, dirty and full of intimidating people...

    (Be them gangs of kids or these million and one people I've encountered on my travels down Abington Street!!!)

  2. Nicki,

    Some nice thoughts, but the Lib Dems plan excludes charities and political parties so the Abington Street problem would still remain as it is.

    Also a lot of people like you are sensible and bag it before binning it later, but a lot just screw it up and throw it on the floor, and they are the real litterers.

    This isn't really about solving a litter problem, we already have laws that can do it. This is about finding another excuse to give out the Councils favourite new toy, i.e. the £80 Fixed Penalty Notice, and no one will mind of course because the leafleters are not exactly on their xmas card list.

    Its all a question of balance really, and my worry is that the a) The Council are too quick off the mark in suggesting a FPN solution before looking at whether or not the problem could be resolved in a different way and b) Too quick to exempt themselves and others from the new rule they are impinging on others. After all is a Charity Leaflet or a Political Party leaflet also not potential litter? If so why the exemption?

  3. I agree with you Tony, I guess that is like life; you need the right balance...
    For instance, I need some nutty than a fruitcake friends and some smarter than your average cookie friends to get the best from life right?
    I'll let you pick which group you and JD are in!!!




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