If you won't tolerate this . . .

The Downs

With a crisis meeting of the Avon Fire & Rescue Authority, called by maverick Avonmouth Tory Spud Murphy, due to take place on Friday about the notorious “gay fire fighter incident” on The Downs, the silence on the liberal-left of the city is becoming deafening.

With the exception of Lib Dem councillor, Tim Kent, who sits on the authority and has made a dutiful, timid and illiberal statement of support for his beleagured authority on his blog, there’s been a total silence on the matter from progressives in the city.

They seem to neither want to back the fire service’s rather strange and under-fire equalities policies nor admit that these kind of policies – that have been tirelessly promoted by politicians of the liberal-left – are in fact failing to achieve what they’re supposed to.

The silence of the local MP for The Downs area, Stephen Williams is particularly intriguing. As the only openly gay Lib Dem MP you might have thought he would have some strong views on this matter. Evidently not.

What are they all afraid of? Why are they remaining silent and handing the initiative to Murphy and The Cancer and the right on this issue?

Anyway here’s The Blogger’s take . . .

Is an unholy alliance of the gay lobby and the diversity industry making this city a less tolerant place in the name of equality?

It’s never really bothered The Blogger – in common with the vast majority of Bristolians – that there’s a section of grown men in this city who regularly visit The Downs to play with each others’ willies in the bushes there.

Until very recently there was an unspoken, unwritten, unlegislated and peculiarly Bristolian kind of tolerance observed over what happened up there. None of us have ever been formally told or asked to accept that gay men use the Downs for sex but most of us just took it for granted as something that happens. A little bit pathetic maybe – but not really worth the effort of making much of a fuss about.

The result is that a fragile consensus has quietly been built on this issue over many years. The prevailing attitude seems to be: so what? Yes this stuff is going on but it’s not really that important and it shouldn’t be stopped or prevented because it’s victimless crimes being committed anyway and a broadly liberal attitude on issues like this helps to maintain good community relations.

This unspoken consensus also seemed to include the police who have for years remained very low-key and have appeared to turn a blind eye to a lot of stuff happening on the Downs; the local authority and its Downs Committee who have done very little to see the law enforced; obviously the majority of gay men in the city who appeared to enjoy the freedom they had and, of course, the many, many ordinary Bristolians who have also quietly turned a blind eye and instead had a wry smile or a laugh about these “goings-on” on The Downs that are technically illegal.

This consensus always seemed to work pretty well. Bristol is a relatively tolerant place for gay people. There’s never been crazed mobs of homophobes stalking the streets – or The Downs. Homophobic attacks are few and far between. Even the local press was not especially unsupportive – or at least it was politely silent on matters of sexuality pertaining to The Downs.

All-in-all Bristol might not have the buzz of London or Manchester but it is, on the whole, a pretty tolerant and accepting place for gay people to live and work. Recently Times columnist Matthew Parris said: “In the whole history of mankind there has been no better, luckier, time or place to be gay than Britain in 2007.” Is there any reason why Parris would not include Bristol in that conclusion?

Well that seems to be the case being made by the local branch of gay lobbyist charity The Terrence Higgins Trust (THT); sections of the Avon Fire & Rescue Service’s senior management team firmly in the grip of the latest “equalities” policies and the Trot-influenced Fire Brigades Union (FBU).

It would have been hard to miss the fuss during the last few weeks over the four fire fighters from Avonmouth Blue Watch who were disciplined for bringing the service into disrepute and for the misuse of fire equipment amid hysterical allegations of homophobia from their own managers.

To begin with, these events have turned the city into a national laughing stock. Just about every national newspaper amusedly reported the fact that the local Terrence Higgins Trust had formally complained to the Avon Fire & Rescue Service about a fire crew who may have disturbed some gay men having sex on The Downs one evening.

Remarkably Avon Fire & Rescue Service upheld this complaint and after initially suspending the four fire fighters for three months, they have now disbanded the crew, heavily fined them and ordered them to attend some wanky Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transexual awareness course last week.

These actions, we’re publicly assured by the management of Avon Fire & Rescue Service and by the silence of the Terrence Higgins Trust and FBU – who appear to be providing nil public support to its own members – are all about putting a stop to homophobia and helping create a more tolerant environment here in Bristol.

What a load of bollocks! They’re achieving the precise opposite. The people behind this nonsense – described rather colourfully by one national newspaper reader as “worthless over important idiots who I assume are recruited from mental asylums somewhere in outer space” – are likely to make the city a more homophobic place. They are also likely to have helped create a much less liberal policing and criminal justice environment for gay people in Bristol. What a result!

This has come about because the kind of people working in these charities, lobby organisations and in equalities positions in the public sector generally have completely lost their bearings on these issues.

Generally underemployed (what the hell does a public sector equalities worker actually do all day that is of any productive use whatsoever?), badly educated humanities graduates, they don’t seem capable of even acknowledging – let alone understanding – the consensus the city has quietly but effectively built over many years around this very issue they’re blundering into.

For most of us, the tolerant attitude the city has always shown towards the gay community and their activities on The Downs also applies to the four fire fighters. In our tolerant city, few people seriously view the fire fighters’ childish behaviour as “homophobic” or in any way related to a hate crime and therefore see no need to punish them.

The simple fact is that it doesn’t matter and never will matter to the majority of people in this city that four firefighters from Avonmouth Blue Watch went up to The Downs one evening and right-royally ripped the piss out of a bunch grown men up there playing with each others’ willies in the bushes.

And perhaps with some reservations, most Bristolians were probably equally happy to tolerate both of these groups and their behavior and don’t really want anyone to be punished for anything

This is not, however, the view of the Avon Fire & Rescue Service/THT/FBU equalities set who couldn’t give a toss about any consensus we might already have as a city and instead want to impose a new one – of their devising – upon us. Naturally, in an attempt to stifle any dissent they are likely to receive, anyone who dares to question their arrogance in doing this is – stifle the yawns please – obviously HOMOPHOBIC!!! themselves.

And what they seem to want to impose is a regime in the city where we are forced to respect the right of certain groups to use the Downs as a sex playground as we always have done anyway – while we must not tolerate the childish activities of another section of men who use the place as a bit of a school playground.

How reasonable and fair is that?

The problem here is that this equalities worldview being imposed upon us is based on a theory rather than on the reality of what goes on in this city. And since when have theories been reasonable or fair? Their theory – regardless of the empirical truth – claims that homophobia, racism and sexism are rife in this city. It then randomly attributes the blame for this, with scant evidence, to the working classes – characterising them as crude racist, wife-beating, homophobes.

Since, rather conveniently, this group can’t answer back very easily, it’s simple enough – for those who can – to then argue that what we need are a whole lot of new, wonderful equalities industry values imposed upon us for our own good.

It’s a nice, simple – if crude – theory. It’s got an easily identifiable, unfashionable group to blame who – handily – have no influential voice to answer back with and who no-one’s interested in defending anyway. It keeps the wannabe sophisticated and well-educated middle class liberals who think they’re better than everyone else feeling morally superior and it also creates a lucrative little mini-industry, funded from the public purse, of job-for-life consultants, workers, trainers, policy wonks and academics especially for these middle class idiots.

But what their theory doesn’t do, unfortunately, is engage with reality. This city is not especially homophobic. Neither are the vast majority of the people in it. The opposite is true. This, as we have already seen, is a very tolerant city towards gay people and some of their unusual habits.

So why has this small, noisy, opinionated authoritarian clique of people taken it upon themselves to claim differently and deliberately set out to wreck a long-standing consensus and try to impose a new set of values upon us? And why can’t these authoritarian idiots see that it isn’t possible to impose tolerance from above in the way they want? It will miserably fail as events over the last few week have demonstrated.

Firstly, the equalities set have completely failed to carry their argument, whatever the fuck it is, to the city. All they have done is create uproar and mass sympathy for the fire fighters while garnering significant levels of negative publicity for Bristol’s gay community. This has been further compounded by their sneering “we know best” high-handed attitude towards virtually the whole of the city who happen to disagree with them quite virulently over their actions.

But this is not just a bit of a PR disaster for the fire service. Their efforts to tackle the homophobia they insist is rife in the city have completely backfired. There’s been more negativity and public condemnation towards gay men in Bristol in the last few weeks – since this story broke – than there’s been in the last year.

This episode is not doing the city’s gay men any favours at all. Neither is it doing much for the city’s gay charities and support groups. THT has gone, in the space of a few days, from being a quite serious, reasonably well-respected organisation to, at best, a laughing stock and, at worst, actively disliked.

THT have certainly made their job supposedly working on behalf of gay men in this city a whole lot harder if not impossible. Who’s gonna seriously give a toss about the views of a bunch of people who seem happy to stand by and cost working men with families their jobs over a load of really petty bullshit?

THT, the gay lobby and the rest of the equalities set also need to be aware that things might get even worse. An awful lot of needless attention has now been drawn to gay men and their activities in Bristol. Who would bet against a backlash? And it’ll be interesting to see who the equalities set try to blame for that (step forward now please that all-purpose blame machine – THE MEDIA, or worse, THE DAILY MAIL!!!!).

The other thing the equalities set has managed to do through their own stupidity is to more-or-less force the police to reevaluate their policing policy on The Downs. Within hours of the story hitting The Evening Cancer last week an anonymous police officer was claiming:

“Having worked as a police officer at Redland (which covers the downs) officers were warned off some years ago about driving past and shining spotlights from vehicles into the hedges (to detect offences of illegal acts). This was, again, following complaints from the terrence Higgins trust. Can I suggest you contact Avon & Somerset Constabulary and ask if officers are allowed to ‘pro-actively’ patrol this area to tackle what are actually illegal acts (sex in public). Robberies and assaults do go on at that location because of the nature of what goes on there but many are unreported. The reason the firefighters were not reported to the Police is probably because the police would not pursue such an allegation.”

In the circumstances the coppers have had little choice but to issue denials and reassurances to the public that they do in fact police The Downs as they would anywhere else. The Saturday before last the police told the Cancer (and have reiterated the point on DCI Andy Bennett’s blog):

“Police patrol the Downs in Bristol and deal with incidents as they would with any other area. In fact such is the presence of officers in the area a substantial number of cannabis warnings are issued to people using the Downs.
Whenever incidents of lewd acts are reported to police they are fully investigated and last year saw 250 people arrested throughout the force for such offences including and ranging from outraging public decency to kerb crawling.
Officers will not hesitate to deal with offences positively whenever they are formerly reported to police. “

250 arrests for these kind of offences across the whole force area is piffling and does not reflect anything like the level of activity on The Downs. This seems to confirm that a “light touch” approach has indeed been taken to the policing of the area. There’s little doubt Avon & Somerset could get 250 convictions – if not more – in 6 months on the Downs alone if it were heavily policed, which now looks the grim possibility given the recent public outcry.

Indeed a new consensus seems to be emerging, which The Blogger admittedly has some sympathy with, where if the equalities set want to be intolerant and start threatening ordinary people’s livelihoods in order to impose their set of rather peculiar views, then a lot of ordinary Bristolians in turn are going to start asking why their values, backed up by law, aren’t being imposed. If one form of behaviour must be punished why not another?

So it rather looks like the fire service and their equalities friends have created a new zero sum game for the city to play – “you call us homophobes – we’ll call you criminals” – where we all end up living in a less tolerant and fun place.

That’s some result.

This entry was posted in Bristol, The British Left, The Downs, Trade Unionism and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to If you won't tolerate this . . .

  1. Dr Martin Luther King says:

    It’s bleedin’ obvious. We now have an equality and diversity INDUSTRY. An industry will strive to survive. An equality industry will only survive if there is inequality. Therefore it is in their interest to stir up homophobia and racism.

    Those who fought, as opposed to drew a wage, for equality must be spinning in their graves as to the state we’ve reached.

  2. WOW! Dont get too carried away there horse.

    You have a point about the equalities industry. Even if you do come over all conspiracy theory on us.

    But it was the Fire Authority equipment they were messing around with. We dont give these guy’s £100,000 fire engines to go lamping around on the downs. They were off route and that does matter as minutes can cost lives.

  3. PS not sure how I get to be dutiful, timid and illiberal – oh yeh right I get it I did not say exactly what you wanted me to. Umm tough – I said what I think.

  4. thebristolblogger says:

    Tim I described you as illiberal because you said this:

    The guys in the car were wrong. Listen up . . . Sex in public ain’t allowed. It does not matter whether you are gay, straight or from Mars . . .

    This is not in any way a libertarian position you’d expect from a liberal party. At best you should be positively promoting cruising and cottaging (by say, distributing condoms on the Downs). If that’s not possible a discrete blind eye is the next best option.

    Condemning it is the New Labour “nanny state” approach. No doubt you want to ban it too?

    As for timid. Well your claim that this disciplinary action had nothing to do with homophobia is plain bullshit. Why were the firefighters sent on a LGBT course then? And why are the fines going to a gay charity?

    I do apologise. I should have called you a coward not timid if I was being strictly accurate.

    Anyway where’s your boy Williams? Quick enough to accuse us all of homophobia in schools isn’t he? Why the sudden silence on this?

    Surely nothing to do with votes is it?

  5. Jografer says:

    Aha, an anonymous blogger/blagger accusing some one who is posting under their real name a coward…… only slightly ironic, wot….

  6. Good point Jografer!

    I did not realise that it was illiberal to simply state the current law of the land.

    I said that what they did does not mean they were homophobic – it was incensitive and crass though and a bit of equalities training sounds like a great punishment.
    As far as I know they have been sent on no LGBT course. THey were never sent to the conference – which was a pretty stupid idea IMHO.
    I did not know that Stephen had accused you of anything. If you really do not think there is a bullying problem in our schools then I do not know what planet you are on.
    It is good to be contraversial – just head in the sand is making you look fairly stupid.
    All the best,

  7. Steve Collins says:

    Jografer you really are priceless!

    Accusing the anonymous Blogger of accusing Tim Kent of cowardice whilst posting under a pseudonym yourself.

    Oh, the irony – and how it’s so clearly lost upon you!

    The main thrust of the Blogger’s post and some of Tim Kent’s comments are quite true. The firefighters behaved is a highly peurile manner and certainly needed a slap on the wrist for misuse of Fire Service equipment if nothing else.

    But the way the whole affair has been handled hasn’t exactly covered the Fire Service, FBU and THT in glory either. A quiet word and a final warning would have sufficed, but now everybody loses.

    What’s the betting that carfulls of meatheads descend onto the Downs to shine torches, and maybe worse, on activities in the bushes after this pointless furore and the inevitable backlash.

    Just goes to show what a total waste of money the equalities industry is. They’ve actually made a bad situation, much, much worse.

  8. Jografer says:

    Wasn’t aware I was calling anyone names from the safety of anonymity…. but heyho


  9. We should not forget that there are plenty of heterosexuals having sex in open, green spaces like the Downs . I dont recall any stories about these people being picked out by spotlights.

  10. I do think the punishment of the firefighters has gone over the top though.

  11. Pingback: Is fire chief Pearson telling porkies to politicians? « The Bristol Blogger

  12. Robert Ham says:

    Cllr Kent,

    A minor point: you didn’t state the law of the land; you said that sex in public “ain’t allowed.” There’s a difference between something being allowed and something being legal. This is kind of the point.

    Even so, and forgive me for being obtuse but wouldn’t a libertarian, instead of restating the law, argue that the law is unnecessary? I can’t think of a better example of a law being unnecessary than this particular case. Surely as a libertarian you would not be saying that people should “listen up” just because the law says you can’t do something? It seems to me The Blogger was right in his characterisation, at least in this respect.

  13. Robert – I do not support people having sex in open public places – think it is a little anti social really. Fairly surprised you think that should be the be all and end all of liberalism! Enough said on this topic I think now.

  14. Robert Ham says:

    Evidently enough hasn’t been said on this topic. Are you saying, as a Liberal Democrat, that you support the idea of there being laws which dictate whether people can have sex in public?

    Note that I’m not asking about what you think of sex in public; I’m asking about what you think should or shouldn’t be legislated on (irrespective of whether that legislation is for or against.)

  15. Bluebaldee says:

    There’s a very big difference between being a Liberal Democrat and being libertarian.

    The former is a fan of big, top-down government and telling people what to do, whilst the latter is keen for people to do as they wish, as long as they accord others the same right.

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