Burning resentment at smoking ban in Labour's heartlands
Lighting up might not be the only habit broken in working men's clubs, where feelings are running high, writes Chris Tighe
If Labour wished to alienate supporters in its traditional heartlands, it is difficult to imagine a more effective way than presiding over a ban on smoking in working men's clubs.
Tony Blair might be well advised to stay away from Trimdon Labour Club. The one-time bedrock of grassroots support in his Sedgefield constituency, its members were outraged by Tuesday night's vote to ban smoking. They had hoped that membership clubs would be excluded from the ban.
"Disgraceful"; "nanny state"; an "encroachment of civil liberties"; "Margaret Thatcher in trousers" are some of the printable responses from north-east clubmen to the decision to ban smoking in their premises.
Tom Satterthwaitfe, secretary of the Northumberland Club and Institute Union, says: "Labour's not the working man's party now; it's not what it was when Wilson and them were in charge." His Newcastle office has been inundated with calls from angry clubmen. Labour, he says, might get a shock at the next election. "They've lost the plot."
It is not only the prospect that some clubs, if deserted by smokers, might close that has irritated him. Recent licensing and regulatory changes, all adding enormously to club overheads, have left him smarting about Labour's priorities.
Breaking a lifetime's habit, Mr Satterthwaite will not vote Labour at the next general election. He says he might switch to the Conservatives, depending on how David Cameron, the leader, shapes up. For a former miner, the son of a miner, this is a huge shift.
Down at Lemington Labour Club, on Newcastle's western edge, many share his disillusion. Traditional allegiances were already wobbling. Of a group of four one-time Labour men, one voted National Front at the last general election and one Conservative.
The two who stayed loyal are perturbed now. "Margaret Thatcher was replaced by a rightwing Labour government which has been trying to tell the working man what to do ever since," says ex-smoker Michael Lyon.
Some north-east clubs have contacted the CIU nationally suggesting that MPs be barred from clubs in protest.
David Clelland, MP for Tyne Bridge and Labour chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for non-profit making private members' clubs, accepts there will be a backlash against the total ban, which he did not support, but does not expect a disproportionate effect".
However Paul Trippett, manager of Trimdon Labour Club and one of the men who helped the young Blair secure nomination as Labour's Sedgefield candidate, is among those worried by the ban. He feels it illustrates Labour's "middle clas-sism". As a general election edges nearer, it will be a "running sore".
Banning fox hunting; promoting ID cards; outlawing public smoking; all trouble Mr Trippett, a Labour Durham county councillor. People worry "what next?", he says. The Conservatives can gain advantage here, he warns, by talking about freedom of the individual.
Mr Trippett fears the nanny state is taking hold. "I think people should be helped to stand on their own - and then left."
He suspects some middle-class Labour MPs do not understand the working class - especially those not motivated by health issues.
"Those who don't want to get into shape very much don't want to," he says. "I drive everywhere, I drink too much, I eat too much. That's what I want to do."
19 February 2006
HOW TO LOSE THE NEXT ELECTION - 2
Here's the FT on the smoking ban:
Posted by Paul Anderson at 02:27